It’s time to bring challenge!
I knew it was coming. I understood how important it was. I acknowledged that I needed to do this. I comprehended that this was indeed the most loving thing I could do. I had prayed and prayed about this for weeks… how to bring challenge to someone I was discipling…
Even still, I felt like I had a 25-pound rock in the center of my stomach weighing down every organ in my middle. The sweat across my brow began to trickle down my face. I found myself taking deep breaths every two minutes so that I could catch my breath, which was fast running away from me like a stray cat.
What am I going to say? How do I phrase this so that it brings the right amount of healthy pressure without crushing the person? What if they get offended and run away crying? (Ugh, that sounds horrible!) How do I sandwich it with enough love and encouragement but still speak the truth in love?
This is usually what I feel like when I need to bring challenge to someone that I’m discipling. As you can see, I’m a bit of a wreck!
Invitation AND Challenge
Two things are essential in every discipling relationship: invitation and challenge. We know this because this is how Jesus trained his own disciples.
He was amazingly invitational, inviting them into covenant relationship with him, where they had access to his life and he cared for them.
- “Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.” – Matthew 4:19
- “Do not fear little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom.” – Luke 12:32
He was also (at the same time!) incredible challenging, encouraging them to grow and learn and move forward in the journey of learning to represent God, who was their Father.
- “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
- (Speaking to Peter…) “Get behind me, satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God by merely human concerns.” – Matthew 16:23
If we want to make disciples like Jesus did, we need to learn how to calibrate BOTH invitation and challenge.
The trouble is that none of us are hard-wired to do this very well. We all tend to avoid bringing either invitation or challenge. My natural tendency is to be more invitational, avoiding challenge.
I’m pretty good at encouraging people, showing care and concern, reminding people of God’s promises, etc. But I always struggle when it’s time to challenge. That’s when I get butterflies in my stomach. That’s when I obsess and worry about how they will receive it. That’s when I feel anxious about exactly what I will say.
Like all of us, I walk with a limp when it comes to being a disciple-maker.
So How To Bring Challenge Like Jesus Did?
I knew I needed to get better at bringing challenge, so I asked for advice from several people I know who are better at it than me.
(By the way, this is a great strategy for almost every area of life: ask people for help.)
“Tell me everything you know about bringing challenge!” I implored my friends.
Here are 5 tips that I gathered from those conversations:
1. Remember the goal: you want to win the PERSON.
The ultimate goal of bringing challenge is NOT to win an argument, it’s to win the person.
It’s important to say “This issue doesn’t change our relationship. It doesn’t change my commitment to you or my love for you. It’s not that I’m frustrated with you or just want you to shape up! I want you to step into everything that God has for you and this is an issue or area that may be hindering that.”
Your job in bringing challenge is to shine light on reality, not undermine their humanity. They are a beloved child of the King!
[tweet “The ultimate goal of bringing challenge is to win the person.”]
2. Let the challenge be a CONVERSATION.
Instead of bringing challenge as a demand or an ultimatum, bring it as a question that leads to a conversation:
- “Can we have a conversation about this?”
- “This is what I’m seeing or hearing, could you help me understand where you are coming from?”
- “Can you help me see what you see?”
It’s important to remember that your perspective is only a perspective, it’s not objective truth. Humbly acknowledge that you don’t see the full picture and seek to understand their perspective. Beginning the conversation by asking questions is a great way to calibrate some invitation into the challenge. Get clarity – “Here is what I’m seeing… do you agree? Help me understand. Let’s talk about this.”
3. Check YOURSELF before bringing challenge
Self-awareness is a HUGE piece of bringing invitation and challenge. Knowing which way you naturally lean is crucial. Knowing how you’re doing internally is vital. So, before bringing challenge, check out how you’re doing physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Ask yourself:
- What is my tendency? Invitation or challenge? Do I need to calibrate one way or the other?
- How am I doing? What are the undercurrents of my life right now? Am I tired, hungry, stressed?
- What are my real motivations for bringing challenge right now? Is it mainly love or more frustration-based?
- What are my default avoidances?
Ask the Lord to reveal anything that may be hidden so you can go into the conversation with a clear heart. If you bring lots of baggage into a challenging conversation, it won’t help anyone.
4. OFFER challenge, don’t FORCE it.
In bringing challenge, you are offering it to someone, not forcing it down their throat. Make sure they understand that they have the option to “pick up what you’re laying down” or not.
A great phrase I’ve learned is, “Here’s something for you to consider…”
Challenge is not forcing or coercing anyone to do something. They need to always be free to choose, to receive or reject what you are bringing. If you can have an “open hand” with them, it will bring incredible freedom to the conversation.
[tweet “Challenge is not forcing or coercing anyone to do something.”]
5. CAREFULLY CHOOSE timing and location.
Timing and location is SO IMPORTANT for bringing challenge. Pray about when would be best the time to have the conversation. Also remember that just because you see something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re supposed to say something. Praying may be all you’re supposed to do for now.
Consider the location as well. Challenge is best brought in private. Don’t bring challenge to someone in front of others.
Also be aware that some of these conversations won’t have closure at the end. Don’t go for closure if it’s not time for it. Allow people to simply sit with challenge for awhile, and trust that God will be working and speaking in the meantime.
P.S. For more on bringing invitation and challenge like Jesus did, pick up Building a Discipling Culture.