People are easily offended and sometimes we can be easily offensive. You put those two things together and you’ve got trouble.
The writer of Proverbs put it this way, “It would be easier for you to break into a fortified city than to regain the trust and loyalty of someone you have offended.” (Proverbs 18:19)
I know, I know, some of you might be thinking, “But speaking the truth will offend people. The gospel is offensive: I Corinthians 1:23 and Galatians 5:11. Besides Jesus offended people: Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:3.”
That’s not the type of offense I’m talking about. I’m referring to offense that is not necessary, offense that could be avoided.
There is an offense that comes because we’ve said or done something stupid or insensitive.
I remember listening to a pastor at a conference say, “The only way not to offend people is to say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing.” The people around me burst into applause and cheers but I could not help but think that some had interpreted this as permission to offend.
Think about it, why would I want to offend someone if I didn’t need to? Four times the Bible tells me to avoid offending or placing a stumbling block before someone: I Corinthians 8:9, 10:32, II Corinthians 6:3 and Romans 14:13.
Despite my greatest efforts not to, I will still occasionally offend people. In order to keep being offensive to a minimal I need to ask myself these four questions:
- How might my words or actions offend this person?
- Do I care if I offend them?
- Should I care if I offend them?
- Can I achieve my objective in a way that might be less likely to offend?
A good rule to live by: If you have to ask yourself if what you’re about to say or do will be offensive…it will probably be offensive.
What should I do if I have discovered that I have offended someone?
- Resist the temptation to become defensive and justify my actions.
- In prayer and quiet reflection ask the Father to show me how I contributed to the offense.
- Apologize without any explanations or qualifiers. Here are some examples of poor apologies:
“I’m sorry that you were offended but…”
“I apologize but…”
A good rule to live by in regards to apologizing: If you use the word ‘but’ you’ll come off as a ‘butt.’ What’s an example of a good apology?
“I’m sorry that I… PERIOD!” No butts
You might be saying to yourself, “Yeah, but it wasn’t all my fault. They needed to hear this.” You might be right. However, you will probably have an opportunity to revisit whatever it is you think they need to hear. Do your best to clear the air and approach the matter another day in another way.
A good rule to remember: An offended person will not objectively listen to anything you have to say to them.
A good friend emailed me with a fascinating tidbit:
“The Greek word for offense is the word scandalon. It’s where we get the English word scandal from. Interestingly enough, the small metal piece on a mouse-trap where you put the cheese is called a scandalon. The picture is obvious … offense is a trap. If you take the bait and become offended, you are the one who ends up being trapped.”
I couldn’t help but turn this around by thinking about how many churches have been trapped in stunted growth, conflict, and disunity because one or two offended people in the church slowly spread their toxic attitude throughout the fellowship.
My Latest Book Just Came Out!
Second Thoughts: 100 things small church pastors need to reconsider.
From the back cover:
I was a pastor for thirty years before I retired and began coaching pastors. I’m now into my twelfth year of working with ministers and church leaders. The older I get, and the longer I do what I do, the more I find myself having second thoughts about how we do church. And not just church, but how pastors think. It’s not that I am worried that we’ve got it all wrong, but maybe there is another way to look at things. Maybe it would be helpful for us to reconsider things. Maybe the way we run our churches made sense at one time, but now there might be a more effective way to do it. Maybe there are things that fill our minds as pastors of smaller churches that aren’t doing us any good. We need to rethink, reconsider, challenge our approach to ministry and our role as a pastor.