Discern Without Labeling
Most people, even today, assume, If I am totally honest with my pastor, I will tell him about such-and-such sin in my life. In other words, "What is most true and determinative about me is my sin and brokenness."
Meanwhile, taking my cues from the prevailing medical model in our culture, I may enter that conversation with a matching assumption, My job is to discover what's wrong here and fix it, to find where your belief or practice is not biblical or godly, and to correct that.
Those assumptions lead to conversations like this: A person says, "I went to the porn site again," and I dispense a remedy, "You need to get into a men's support group and memorize Psalm 119:9."
That's helpful counsel—addictions never improve without confession in community—yet such a remedy may not help the person change his or her life. That's because both assumptions are wrong—or at least not wholly right. Let me explain.
When someone talks with me, it's hard enough for him or her to talk about sins. But there's an intimacy level that's deeper still, which I call "heart"—the person's true nature, gifts, and call in God. Long before Sam went to the porn site, he was created and loved by God. That is what is most true and determinative about him.
So instead of asking, "How do I fix the holes and hurts?" I ask, "How do I name, affirm, and encourage this person to embrace the heart?" That's the nuclear energy of the soul. As I bless that, it's unstoppable.
To have someone look beneath your pain, sin, brokenness, and see your heroic virtue—that is transformative. To be truly and rightly named—that is one of the most profound and beautiful experiences of life. In fact, the Lord promises to "the one who is victorious" this gift: "I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it" (Revelation 2:17).
Thirteen years ago, before a church service, a friend was praying for me, and he said—I think offhandedly—"Lord, bless Kevin, a leader who speaks the truth in practical ways." Those nine words ("a leader who speaks the truth in practical ways") lodged within me, named me, revealed part of who I am in God. They've given me courage when I did not want to lead and words when I did not want to speak.
Labeling, the demonic inverse of naming, focuses on what's wrong with a person. It locks the person in a category. It's too lazy to discover that person's true uniqueness and to stand in awe of it. For example, our church is in a college town, so we're blessed with many students. The moment I think, Here's yet another bright college student, post graduation, trying to figure out his life, I have labeled, not named. I have stopped listening. I cannot see the person's heart.
Invite Without Fixing
At this point, you may be wondering, "Yes, but don't you need to address sin?"
Of course—but that usually isn't effective until after I have listened without filtering and discerned without labeling. Then, when I call people to repent, I can bring possibility and hope. For example, I told one young man struggling with using porn, "You are an artist. You have a longing for beauty, to be captivated by that. Your true calling is being obscured by your use of pornography and illicit images. Those are false images that blind your ability to see. I'm calling you to fierce vigilance now because I believe in and want to see you protect your gift."