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The following is a study which offers advice to those involved in counselling others.

1. The Devil Hates Grievance Meetings

What do backsliders hate more than anything else? Grievance meetings! And I think the devil hates them just as much as they do; so he will try any number of tricks to get us to drop them. I do agree that they can be overdone; but in the end, people must be free to take grievances pretty much any time they like. If someone is just trying to be obnoxious by taking grievances for petty causes, then I suggest that you take a grievance against that person and discipline them... if that's really what is happening. But be careful that you're not just kicking them out because you couldn't be bothered to listen to them.

In a grievance meeting we need to focus both on specifics and on generalities. With the specifics, we are mostly looking for specific instances or specific evidence of whatever the charge is. With the generalities, we are looking at the overall spirit of the people concerned.

Counsellors should ask themselves questions about (a) what actual evidence has been produced for the charges made against various people; and (b) what has been the overall spirit of the people involved in the dispute while you have personally observed them. Unless something dragged up from the distant past is very specific and very clearly evidence, it is usually better to stay as close as possible to the present, by examining the spirit of the people in the grievance meeting itself, as well as by examining specific evidence which is very close to the present.

Misunderstandings happen all the time; but when people are out of the spirit, they latch onto those misunderstandings and make mountains out of them. Error is not a sin, but refusal to recognise error when it is pointed out is, and the person who is out of the spirit finds it very difficult to own up to any fault. A simple apology by the party in error, and a simple acceptance by the other party when there is a misunderstanding should settle the dispute.

2. Don't be Afraid to Judge

Someone mentioned a very good anonymous quote: "How can you guys say you are going to rule over the nations one day if you can't resolve your own internal problems?" That's more or less what the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 6:2. And you don't resolve problems by just sweeping them under the carpet.

The only way to learn to be leaders is to tackle the overwhelming, depressing, and very complicated problems that can come up in a serious grievance meeting. Our natural tendency toward "lazy unfair" leadership is to just brush these things aside because they are too difficult. When we do that, we usually justify it with shallow clichés like, "Let's just agree to disagree," or "You're both wrong, so why don't you just forget the whole thing," or "Okay, so he's wrong; but then nobody's perfect."

There may be times when such clichés are appropriate; but we need to be clear about what the circumstances are before we prescribe something which may not be appropriate at all. Nine times out of ten, "Let's agree to disagree" just means that the person saying it doesn't want to be bothered. It's the same old false grace teaching, where we confuse indifference for love.

3. Painful vs Hateful

It's tempting to say that hurtful things were said by both parties, or in some way to try and cancel one wrong out with another, so that we don't have to deal with either. But a closer look often shows that one party is being hateful (i.e. saying unfair, exaggerated, and/or unkind things), while the other has simply made criticisms (which may be painful, but which should not be equated with a "hateful" statement). Saying that both parties are equally guilty is usually just a cop-out, and doesn't resolve anything. So when you start to feel like this, ask yourself whether you may be guilty of trying to escape the difficult task of wading through the issues one by one.

4. The Emperor's New Clothes

It bothers me that there are so many people in our community who go along with whatever is said by a couple of vocal individuals in whatever base they happen to be staying in at the time, so that when anyone is in Oz they agree with the Oz leadership, and when they are in India, they side with the India leadership. C'mon people, wake up and make the effort to think through the issues better than that. People are too quick to say things like, "Yes, I thought so and so was wrong too," after a decision has been made by leadership that something is wrong; but they don't speak up before a decision is made.

Such vague statements sound like people saying, "Oh, yes, I definitely think the king's clothes are beautiful. Don't you?" I don't know how we can ever stay on the rails if people keep playing these Emperor's New Clothes games: i.e. where they will agree with whoever is closest to them rather than make a personal effort to understand what is really going on, and to consider alternative explanations without waiting for someone else to express the alternative explanations first.

5. Group Think vs Disunity

Some people think that the way to avoid group think is to ignore the group altogether. But that too is wrong. The idea of bringing other witnesses into a grievance is so that, working as a group, we can arrive at a fair understanding of the facts. You don't just go off by yourself and form your own conclusion without two-way discussion. In the end, there needs to be some kind of consensus. Ideally consensus is not group think, but rather the end result of everyone listening to and actively thinking about all of the issues in an attempt to arrive at a kind of objective truth which is better than a lot of differing independent opinions.

6. 'Left-Handed' Apologies vs Repentance

Pay close attention to the various ways in which people express an "apology". A "left-handed apology" is one in which a person says something like, "I'm sorry that you were upset by what I said." Look at what it is saying and you will see that it really says nothing with regard to genuine repentance. Genuine repentance does not hang onto an excuse for the behaviour. If something is wrong, it is wrong. If we start saying that things like "frustration" or tiredness or being sick justify one party in a misunderstanding, then we must say that it justifies all parties.

People rarely make a conscious decision to be evil and then set out to do something evil to put it into effect. So when we recognise that the devil has tricked us into working for him, it is not easy to accept. We want others to know some of the levers the devil used to get us out of the spirit. Even when we are sorry for our behaviour, it is natural for all of us to want to explain why we did what we did. And this explanation often comes right on the heels of an apology. But we should realise that doing so usually weakens the genuineness of our apology.

At least when we are amongst friends like we have in this community, we should all realise that people do not interpret a sincere apology as an admission that we are the devil incarnate. If we try too hard to escape responsibility for our actions, then it is quite likely that the same thing will happen all over again in the near future.

Then there are the vague apologies. People say things like, "I see some truth in what you and others have said, and I'm sorry. I'll work on it." But for what exactly are they sorry? It's a bit like the churchies who read our lit and say, "You've given me a lot to think about." What we really want to know is exactly what they are thinking. But if they are just trying to think of ways to escape the uncomfortable truths that we have raised, then they will stay as vague as possible, and say as little as possible in the hope of getting the meeting over with.

People who cannot be specific about what they are apologising for are saying, between the lines, that they have for the most part rejected the grievance, and wish only to apologise for those points which have been inescapably proven against them. Anything else, they don't want to talk about. Some will talk about it being a matter of conscience that they not admit to something that they can't see; but often it is a matter of pride that they don't want to see their own sinfulness.

This happens when people become more interested in winning an argument than in finding the truth. It's like when a child does some serious injury to another child and ignores the injured child to either justify itself or to tell the parent that he or she is "sorry". What we really want to see in that child is a deep concern for the injured party. A person making an insincere apology may end up doing what he or she is "told" to do (i.e. they may apologise), but they will test the waters to see how weak an apology they can get away with, and they will close their eyes to the seriousness of their sin.

7. Public vs Private

Now we come to questions about grievances in general. We had a situation arise where one sister took a grievance against a brother over a disagreement between that brother and someone else. It can be argued that it is unchristian for one Christian to poke her nose into a private disagreement between two other Christians. But the error is in thinking that a problem between two people is a totally personal matter that no one else can make any comment on. If the matter is so personal that no one else knows anything about it, then yes, that may be true. But, if that were true, then it would be impossible for anyone else to comment on it, because no one else would have known how to comment on it... because it would have been totally secret.

But if I walk into the lounge room and Donna is throwing dishes at Darren, I have every right to intervene and take a grievance against Donna. And if I am called in as a witness at a second or third stage grievance between Donna and Darren, again I have every right to comment on their relationship. And Darren and Donna both have a right and a responsibility to fill me in on what was happening to them that they could not resolve their differences privately. You see, when a disagreement between any two people in our community becomes public, you cannot undo what has been done. You can't make "private" what has already been made "public".

8. Discerning Spirits

If there is any single lesson I would want to give people for discerning spirits (that isn't covered in the general class on discerning spirits) it is to learn English grammar... well, really, just listen very closely to what people are saying. Because the clues are usually there in what they say, when they stop using their normal grammar and start saying things which are deliberately confusing or have double meanings.

This is a broad enough subject for a whole series of studies in itself, as there are so many ways that people give away their secret feelings through what they say. But a general rule of thumb is that, when someone says something which doesn't seem quite right, ask them to clarify it. If it's really just a slip-up, everything should be cleared up quite easily. But if they have a little devil inside of them struggling to make itself heard, the contradictions will continue to come out.

9. Deliberate or Ignorant?

Sometimes we have to view a person or a situation in two different ways at the same time, e.g. that a person may be deliberately doing something wrong, or that they may simply not know better. But we are usually forced to operate on one or the other of these two impressions while keeping the secondary option covered up someplace in our back pocket. With some people, you will basically trust their good intentions (often based on their overall record) at the same time that you recognise the possibility that they may have a problem. With others, who have shown themselves to be spiritually antagonistic, you have to basically mistrust them, at the same time that you carry a little doubt about your doubts, i.e. allowing for a slight possibility that you may have judged them unfairly.

This is why only God can make absolute judgments. In grievance meetings we always face the possibility that we will make a wrong judgment. We may be too harsh on someone who is quite innocent. But don't forget that we are also guilty if we are too lenient on someone who is quite wrong. Although we are not perfect, we all must judge, and we should pray to God that he will make our judgments as accurate and fair as possible.

(See also Try the Spirits.)

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