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When a church faces a contentious issue people tend to respond in fairly predictable (and unhelpful) ways. 

These common responses can be represented with the chart pictured above.

The chart has four boxes. And two axes. The Y-axis (up and down) tells us how much a person thinks of their role as challenging others. How firm are you? How much do you operate out of conviction about what’s right and what’s wrong?

The x-axis (left to right) tells us how much a person thinks of their role as supporting people. These are folks who operate out of compassion. They think in terms of good process. They want to keep everyone feeling good together. 

The Prophetic

Now if you are high in challenge and low in support, we might call that posture “prophetic.” You tend to talk about the importance of upholding truth. You think of your role as telling people what they need to hear. If you’re in the prophet quadrant, the people around you probably won’t have to guess what you think about the issues, but they might wonder whether you like them or not. 

The Pastoral

Now, if you are low in challenge and high in support, you’re in the bottom right. We might call that posture “pastoral.” Instead of talking a lot about truth, you talk more about grace. You tend to think in terms of “how can we make room for everyone to be valued and belong.” You think of your job as meeting people where they’re at. If you’re more pastoral, the people around you probably won’t have any doubt that you care about them, but they might not know what you think about big issues. 

The Neglectful

Now, if you are low in challenge and low in support, that’s the neglectful box. Folks here like to say things like (in the time-honored tradition of Christian Reformed Churches), “let’s let the next council deal with this one!” These folks see a contentious issue and they look for reasons to avoid or delay. They like to kick the can down the road, they like to sweep things under the rug. They think, “out of sight, out of mind.” 

If your church is facing a contentious issue or difficult decision, whether you’re just learning about the issue, or making decisions about the issue, or just announcing your position on the issue, you’ll probably have people in the council room and the congregation that tend to fall into each of those three categories: prophetic, pastoral, or neglectful. 

The Gracious and Truthful (Restorative)

Can you tell where we would like you to be, in terms of the chart? In the golden quadrant! 

We want folks to be high in challenge and high in support. We call this the restorative box. When folks operate out of this box, you know that they care about you and you know what they believe about the big issues. They don’t sacrifice grace or truth. They are both firm, and fair. They are both prophetic and pastoral. 

Compromising Too Much?

I think a lot of us are skeptical that grace and truth can really be held together. A lot of the more prophetic folks fear that if we do any kind of listening, any kind of learning, anything like conversation, if we are anything but clear, and direct and authoritative, we will be compromising the truth, we will be giving up our leadership authority, and we risk leaving our people adrift in a confusing world. 

Meanwhile, a lot of the more pastoral folks fear that if we make any kind of decision, if we arrive at any kind of conclusion, if we are decisive and clear, we are really just being judgmental and closed-minded, aiming to cut people out. They fear we are prioritizing truth and rightness at the expense of real people and relationships. 

Don’t Compromise Grace or Truth

But the premise of Next Steps is that you shouldn’t have to compromise. You can be prophetic without being closed-minded. And you can be pastoral without compromising on truth. 

Here’s the thing we often tell churches: If we can’t name the real issues, if we can’t get to the truth, we won’t go anywhere. And if we can’t name the truth with grace and love, we won’t go anywhere together

Next Steps provides resources to help you tackle challenging issues in ways that hold both grace and truth together. Next Steps can help you with whatever stage you’re at: learning, discerning and deciding, or announcing. Or, it can help you work a process that moves your church and council through all the stages. There's a YouTube video (11:30) to explain more attached at the end of this article.

Learn More

To learn more about how Next Steps can help your church hold grace and truth together as you address challenging issues, check us out at

Next Steps can help you hold grace and truth with whatever stage you’re at: learning, discerning, deciding, or announcing about a challenging issue.

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Thank you, Sean. This is a good word for the church today. My prayer is that we can all learn to take next steps together - and have these conversations honestly and respectfully, honoring each other as fellow citizens of the kingdom. I hope (and trust) you will be busy facilitating these for the CRC in the upcoming weeks and months. 

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