What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

When Do You Hold Prodigals Accountable?

I just got back from spending several days with about 70 other InterVarsity staff at our Regional staff conference. We typically alternate at these annual meetings between training years and spiritual formation years. This year was a spiritual formation year.

We spent a couple days living, breathing, and soaking in Jesus' parable of the two lost sons and one recklessly generous Father. Hence my blog posts last week pondering the story.

Of course, since there's 70 InterVarsity staff all together studying this passage and sharing together, the time in Scripture and prayer and the caliber of the testimonies was outstanding. It's an honor to work alongside such tremendously gifted and honest people.

But also given that it was IV staff who were studying this passage together, the majority of us resonated more with the older son's lost-ness than we did with the younger. The older son is the one who follows the rules, obeys the Father, stays at home and works hard while the younger son goes off and parties his Father's money away.

But the older son is so caught up in his own self-righteousness that he misses the heart of the Father.

So towards the end of the time, as many staff confessed their resonance with the older son's issues, one staff asked me a great and very thoughtful question. If I'm an older son-type, I know that the worst parts of my staff work will be to want my students to behave like older sons. I want them to work hard. I want them to be diligent and faithful. If they sign up to be a small group Bible study leader, they need to do it. My chapter runs much better if I've got a leadership team of older sons!

So if in the parable the younger son is welcomed home seemingly without consequences for his drunk and disorderliness, what does that mean for us in terms of holding others accountable for their actions?

I was pondering this in the car with my wife on the way home and I think there's a couple directions to go with this.

First, the younger son's part of the parable ends with the welcome-back party. But part of being welcomed back into the family means precisely to enter into the common life of the household. The next day there will be chores to do around the farm. There's a certain level of entering responsibly into the daily life of the family that would naturally occur.

In other words, eventually the party is over and there is at the very least work for the younger son to do. He's not doing it as a servant, he's been welcomed back fully as a son. But there's work to do nonetheless.

But perhaps the bigger issue for those of us in authority over others as we think about accountability is the question of the "no" serving the "yes" that has often been a topic of reflection here.

If I'm going to confront someone for something they've done or not done, the question of my own motive can never be far from my thoughts. I have all kinds of older-son-syndrome motivations that can hijack a perfectly reasonable and good conversation that I'd need to have with someone.

So the question is this for me: if I'm confronting someone with a "no" to their activities--say it's someone who's not following through on a commitment to lead a small group Bible study--then the question is can I see the "yes" that my "no" is supposed to be pointing to and articulate that faithfully?

In the Scriptures, God's "no" is never the last word on us...at least, not yet. Throughout the Scriptures, God's last word to us is always "yes." There are lots of no's, of course. But the no's of God are always meant to serve his final and absolute yes to us in Jesus Christ.

"No" to idolatory, because if you worship some no-god, your soul will shrivel up and die. No to broken sexual expression because our sexuality is meant to bless us and others around us, not used like some weapon to exploit, consume, or entertain us. Every no points to a yes.

So if I'm going at someone and holding them accountable out of anger or frustration--just with my no, in other words--then I'm probably not in step with the Spirit. If I can approach someone with a no in order to point them to God's greater yes, then at least I'm in a posture of loving them and being for them, not just dropping the proverbial hammer on them.

This doesn't solve every issue, but it's at least a decent place to start.


laurie said...

I am not InterVarsity staff, but a friend of mine posted this on FB today. It was a very encouraging confirmation to a struggle I experienced after "dropping the hammer" on a younger person who has been seeking me out for mentoring in his own inner battle for relationship with God. Pointing him "to God's greater yes" was definitely the posture of my confrontation, and it was a positive reinforcement to see it reflected back to me in your blog. Thanks. :)

Saint Gregory the Melancholic said...

Have you read "The Prodigal God"? Tim Keller. Life changing.