I have not always attended church. I did not always know God the way I know Him today, and for this new-found relationship I am eternally thankful.
What if I told you that God is the perfect leader? You may (as I did) question this because of things you've heard or misconceptions you have. If you get to know him and study him though, you will realize the only misconception is in the judgement and assessment of his character. This is a debate for another day though.
Let us move forward with the understanding that God is, by definition, good and loving.
In fact if we study his character we will find him not only good and loving, but supportive, comforting, healing, wise and ... convicting.
Those things all sound amazing. Except the last one. It sounds kind of icky.
Here's a secret I've learned though. We only shudder at the thought of conviction when we get it confused with condemnation. A lot of people get these two concepts confused. Especially those who are leaders. A lot of churches do too.
So what is the difference and does it really matter?
I have come to believe it matters unbelievably much, because the effects of each are the polar opposite.
Conviction rouses something deep in your soul. It speaks to the spirit part of you ... confirming something that (most times) seems right and aligned with the better life that we are all seeking. When you experience "conviction", the one administering it seems righteous and caring. They seem invested, like a team-mate cheering you on (often because they have been there themselves). An issue is brought forth (either by your subconscious, something you've read, or another person) and you realize you need to set your sails for different shores. Maybe its a small change, maybe its life-altering. Either way, even if you aren't able to immediately admit or recognize it, something in you resonates that this is for your greater good.
When someone you look to for guidance is trying to convict you, but instead condemns you (or they just outright condemn you, but usually this person would not be someone we would label as a leader ... more an enemy), we feel crushed. Condemnation isn't inspiring. It isn't motivating to make change.
It squashes and deflates any sense of hope or empowerment. It is isolating and judgmental. It might call itself loving but it feels cold and heartless. It is passive-aggressiveness trying to disguise itself as a leader.
I believe condemnation comes from a selfish need to be right, or maintain power or position. It is like a dominant and aggressive bully, flexing its muscles at the first signs of liberation or independence.
Conviction comes as a sincere gesture or plea to grab the rope, and pull one's self out of the pit (or let yourself be pulled out by someone stronger and wiser than you). It is collaborative, empathetic and fearless. When you are convicted of something, a small (or sometimes very large) spark ignites in your heart and soul. It may be painful, ugly, and even unsolicited, but conviction always comes with love. It always comes from some sense of camaraderie. I have been where you are, and I want to sit with you a moment and share my story. I want to help. It may take tough love, but we'll do this together.
It's interesting because it was church that got me thinking about the difference between conviction and condemnation. Why is it that some churches (and ministers, priests or pastors) are so inspirational, while some are so pious, disparaging, and depressing? I believe it lies in the differences above. Its all in their attitude.
But its not just people in ministry.
It's coaches, bosses, parents, teachers and leaders in general. The great ones don't avoid delivering lessons and corrections. They don't passively sit by and watch us spiral into our own pit of despair and bad choices.
They take our hands, free of judgement, blame or criticism and they shine a light on our shortcomings and failures. They look lovingly into our eyes and tell us we are destined for so much more, but not on the path we are on. They are somehow able to convey their message of the desperate need for change without crushing our spirits or breaking us completely.
But it must all be preceded by love. An intent to convict must ALWAYS be accompanied by a deep and unconditional love for that person, their humanity and their right to choose their own journey.
And this love can only be given if it is received.
So be patient when you meet someone who tries to lead you by condemnation. Understand that this is likely how they were raised and guided.
Be understanding, but don't allow yourself to be bullied for too long. You may need to venture out and find new leaders, new guides, new wisdom.
Life and transformation isn't always fun and its definitely not pain-free, but a great leader will inspire you to endure the transition anyways.
With much, much love.