When a Friend Messes Up
When one of my best friends started making some bad choices, I knew I had to talk to her. Bekah (not her real name) was a leader in a couple of Christian clubs at our school, someone who'd always taken a strong stand for her faith. So when she went out drinking on that New Year's Eve, I felt, as a friend, that I needed to say something.
When she dropped by my house to return a sweater she'd borrowed, I swallowed hard and spoke up.
"I don't want you to think I'm judging you," I said. "But we promised each other that if we ever started doing stuff like this we'd call each other on it."
"You're right," Bekah said. "But I'm tired of being known as the 'good girl.' I had a lot of fun the other night, and even if it's wrong, it's what I want to do right now."
I went on to tell her that this was about more than just her. It was about her responsibilities as a leader. It was about the mixed messages she was sending. And it was about my concern for a good friend.
Bekah said she appreciated my concern, but she had decided this was how she wanted to live her life for now.
It was one of the hardest conversations I've ever had, but I knew it was the right thing to do.
So, how are we supposed to respond when a Christian friend messes up?
Confrontation is never comfortable, but sometimes it's just the right thing to do—like when I confronted Bekah.
But why bother? A few reasons:
First, Bekah's lifestyle choices contradicted the faith she proclaimed, and she knew it. The Bible calls this "willful sin" (Psalm 19:13, Isaiah 57:16-18). When we continue in willful sin, it becomes more comfortable, and our hearts and attitudes grow hard toward God.
Second, because Bekah was a Christian leader, she had a duty to be a godly example to other students. But her drinking and partying showed no difference between her life and that of a non-believer.
And it's not just Christian friends who may need confronting. Sometimes we should lovingly and graciously confront a non-believing friend who's making self-destructive choices. In any case, a close friendship is essential for any confrontation. Don't confront someone you hardly know; you haven't earned the right. But even with a strong friendship, you'll certainly want to pray about whether you should confront, and if so, what you should say.
How Do You Confront?
Here are five things to think about when considering confronting a friend:
- Seek guidance. Before you confront, ask for advice. And not from your peers, but from someone older and wiser, like your youth pastor or another Christian you trust.
- Let love lead. My main concern with Bekah was that she understood that I loved her and that I wasn't judging her. I wanted her to know I didn't want to see her hurt herself or others. Love should always be our main motivation.
- Keep it private. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us to first confront a fellow believer one-on-one (verse 15). If the person won't listen and change, then "take one or two others with you and go back again" (verse 16, NLT). If the person still refuses to change, then "take your case to the church" (verse 17)—which means it's time to get other Christian leaders involved, like a youth pastor or the adult leader of your Christian club. But remember: Start privately before bringing others into it.