As the administrator and moderator of various social media groups, it is my job to ensure that communication within a group is topic-relevant and generally non-offensive (no swearing or name-calling). From time to time I have to resolve conflicts, and most often this occurs behind the scenes via private message. It can be very frustrating to have these conversations because while I hope people will always operate in maturity, they don’t. Everyone is at different places in their personal growth, so while maturity is preferable, it’s not always present. My biggest job is to extend grace to the offender to help them grow, which is often difficult as their behavior usually stems from misguided heart motives.
In a recent encounter, I spoke with a woman we will call “Amelia” about this very thing. She had a domineering approach in the group so I wrote her privately. We had a manageable discussion at first, and the conversation continued for a few days as I struggled to effectively communicate with her. I sought counsel from my wife and another trusted friend to help me walk the line to both extend grace and set clear boundaries.
The boundaries are pretty simple: this is what is and is not acceptable in the group and these are the rules you need to abide by. Period. This is a black and white line of clearly defined expectations that is easy to understand. To extend grace is a bit more difficult, as it means swimming in the gray area during each conversation. This individual was highly dogmatic in her approach which I have a hard time with, and it also didn’t mesh with the group. As one can guess, this dogma also made communicating a need for change difficult as well, and it was poorly received. My biggest struggle when doing this is that I have to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) but to me that means I extend grace. It means I do my best to promote, uplift, and not quench another’s fervor even when requiring change.
I once heard a pastor preach a message out of 2 Timothy, and a concept he shared has stuck with me since. It comes from 2 Timothy 2:25: “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,”. When we give gentle instruction, we extend grace to our opponents and increase the likelihood they will actually hear our message and respond accordingly. How does this work? I believe it starts by assuming the other person has the best heart motive regardless of their actions, and then I speak to that motive.
In this instance, I spoke to Amelia about the wonderful intentions she had and that I recognized those intentions for what they were. It also meant I explained that these intentions, while well-meaning, were not received by the group based on the method used to express her heart. I offered a suggestion as to how that motive might be more clearly received by others–and I repeated this same tactic almost every time I responded. By assuming the best, I pulled on the good Amelia was trying to bring to the group instead of focusing on how it fell short of expectations. The goal was to reinforce the positives, helping Amelia feel her heart was heard even if she had to change her approach.
Unfortunately, in those few days the conversation moved from civil to caustic, complete with threats, and in the end I blocked her both personally and from the group. While the negotiation ultimately failed, I still believe in the process. It would have been really easy to click a few buttons and block her right away, but this doesn’t make room for growth. I believe one of the big struggles in our day is that we can electronically write people off in a few moments.
Working through conflict and taking the difficulty head-on can go by the wayside, especially when moderators aren’t necessarily more mature or emotionally healed than everyone else. I believe this method–to purposefully extend grace–is the way Jesus helped people to grow and I believe it’s something we all can learn to do better. Think of a current situation where you could use this and see if it affects the outcome–you might be surprised at the results, and even if it fails, you have built someone up when you could have torn them down. It’s what Jesus would do. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Matthew 12:20).