Here are some thoughts on giving advice and opinions, especially in a church context. The first thing to say is that it is best not to offer unsolicited advice, it is very rarely welcome. Indeed, often when people tell you something, they are not particularly looking for advice. They are looking for three things
- The opportunity to inform you about something
- The desire to seek emotional empathy from you.
- Some form of permission or justification for their decision.
The latter is important because once people have made their mind up about something, then one way or another they will gain endorsement. In that respect you are in a no-win situation. If you encourage them, then it will be your fault if things go wrong, if you seek to dissuade them then this will be seen as opposition and they will be firmly justified in pressing on against the lack of faith from those around them.
So, before offering advice, the first step is to make sure that your advice is actually wanted. There are two helpful clues to this. First of all, so often, people will come to you very late in the day to share news. If your initial reaction is “I wish they had come to me sooner…” then there is probably a good reason why they did not. Secondly, who else are they talking to? Another habit is for people to go from person to person until they get the answer that they want. Of course the best thing to do is to ask them the question “what is it you are looking for from me?”
Secondly, before you go to offer advice, make sure that you have got as full a picture as possible. Remember that people often only tell us part of the story. Learn to ask lots of questions to ascertain the facts. Identify too where there are gaps in the person’s own knowledge. Who do you (both) need to go to in order to fill those gaps?
Thirdly, don’t feel rushed or pressurised to respond. Don’t be afraid of silences in the conversation and do be ready to go away in order to pray and reflect on a matter. Similarly, be prepared to seek the advice of others. This is important because sometimes we treat the situation as privileged. We assume that we and we only are in the know so we keep things to ourselves. At other times we confuse confidentiality with secrecy. Be open, explain that you would like to seek the advice of others.
Fourthly, don’t run with your own opinions. This is not what they need. What they need to hear is God’s Word on the matter. When you respond, take them to Scripture. It is never about you telling them your view, it is always about coming to God’s Word together to hear him.