Last night Debbie (my wife) and I were having dinner with some long-time friends and the issue of church discipline came up in our conversation. We had a lively and spirited discussion. As we talked my mind was drawn to times in the past when friends, teachers, and mentors loved me enough to risk speaking to me about attitudes or behaviors of mine that were hurting me—and often harming others.
Wise, kind, difficult, direct words are hard to hear and accept when they are directed at you. Yet if they are spoken with sensitivity and discernment—a combination often hard to achieve—words can change a life. I remember, for instance, a word of kindness and warning spoken to me shortly after my twenty-first birthday. I had enjoyed a night out on the town in LA and, to speak frankly, had had too much to drink. In my inebriated state, I somehow thought it a good idea to climb into a shopping cart at two in the morning, and launched myself down a local hill into downtown Westwood, all the while shouting at the top of my voice, “Whoo Pah, Whoo Pah.” This was not a good idea. My moral perceptions and behaviors required drastic reformation; I needed help.
“Wise, kind, difficult, direct words are hard to hear and accept when they are directed at you. Yet if they are spoken with sensitivity and discernment—a combination often hard to achieve—words can change a life.”
Word of my late-night antics quickly rippled through the Bible school I was attending in West LA, close to the UCLA campus. During a morning class break a teacher and mentor I deeply admired called me aside over a cup of coffee. “Chris,” he asked. “Can I ask you a question?” “Sure,” I replied. “Did you get drunk last night?” “Yep,” I immediately replied. I thought to myself, “People get drunk all the time. No big deal.” “Did you climb into a shopping cart and launch yourself down-hill into the center of Westwood at two in the morning, shouting ‘Whoo Pah’?” “Yep,” I again readily answered. “That was fun,” I thought to myself. “What a rush!”
My mentor paused before he replied. He never raised his voice. He never spoke in anger. His face was calm and gentle. But he said very directly, “Chris, if you ever do that again, you’ll be out of this school before you can blink.” “Really?”, I asked. “Really,” he responded.
“So, with love and courage, he talked to me gently and gracefully with words I could understand and receive. … Over forty years later I still remember that conversation.”
I’m happy to say he didn’t end our conversation with the warning. My kind teacher proceeded to explain to me in some detail why my behavior was really a bad idea. Indeed, it was not only a bad idea; it was sinful. Yet he spoke in a paced, kind, loving, very direct way. And I’m glad he did. He knew I was in the very beginning stages of learning to think and live like a Christian. He knew I trusted him. He understood that my spiritual and moral transformation in Christ had just begun. I was a very young Christian who needed help growing up. So, with love and courage, he talked to me gently and gracefully with words I could understand and receive. He didn’t overlook my behavior. He loved me enough to help me change it. Over forty years later I still remember that conversation.
The article was used with the permission of Renovare USA
Chris Hall currently serves as President of Renovaré. Previously Chris was Director of Academic Spiritual Formation and Distinguished Professor of Theology at Eastern University. Chris is the author of a number of books, including The Mystery of God (with Steven D. Boyer; Baker Academic), Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, Worshiping with the Church Fathers (InterVarsity Press), and The Trinity (with Roger Olson; Eerdmans). Chris and his wife Debbie reside in Philadelphia. They have three grown children.