This article is a guest post from my friend and fellow faith blogger, Sarah Koontz. When she isn’t tending to her little girls or her garden, Sarah writes to encourage families to build healthy hearts, homes and habits at GroundedAndSurrounded.com and SarahKoontz.com.
In my younger years, I mastered the art of giving unsolicited advice. If you had a problem, I had a solution, whether you wanted to hear it or not.
Fortunately, time and experience have taught me that a need is not an invitation. The fact that I have advice to offer a person, or insight into their situation, does not mean that I should offer it.
When I was 21 years old, I became involved with a ministry called Young Life. This ministry for teens focuses on building relationships through lifestyle evangelism. Simply put, Young Life leaders learn to build positive relationships with teens that are strong enough to carry the weight of the gospel message.
During my time in Young Life, I learned that relationship building is the key to successful evangelism. This truth has had a deep impact on how I live my life, and on how I approach all of my relationships.
In my experience, people want to let you into the broken places of their lives, but they need to know they can trust you first.
As a reformed “serial-advice-giver” who wants nothing more than to help others succeed at life, I have had to take some extreme measures to break my habit of unsolicited advising. These protective measures transformed me from a clanging gong (1 Cor 13:1) to a person sought out by others for wise counsel (Prov 12:15).
I have learned to patiently wait for people to invite me into their pain. Then, and only then, am I free to cautiously proceed through the five-step advice giving process. This process is set up to protect both the advice-giver and the advice-receiver, and to open the door for God to restore and redeem the brokenhearted.
Step 1: Listen
“The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” Proverbs 20:5 NIV
Good listening skills are essential if you want to build successful and vibrant relationships. Through active listening and thoughtful question asking, you will be able to to accurately assess a person.
You are not only gathering information but beginning to stir their heart with your questions and guiding the conversation toward step two. By giving your friend an opportunity to talk about what is important to them, you are building trust and increasing your understanding of their unique perspective.
Step 2: Discern
“Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,and discerning if he holds his tongue.“ Proverbs 17:28 NIV
In the New Testament, Jesus Christ utilized questions to reprove, to teach, to involve and to determine the quality of people’s faith. He also used them to guide thought and to awaken people morally. In fact, He asked more than 297 questions during his public ministry.
Asking thoughtful questions will help you to discern what your friend is looking for. Do they just need to vent or are they specifically seeking your counsel? Most of my conversations end on this
Most of my conversations end on this step because I have made a personal commitment not to proceed further unless people specifically ask for my advice. I would encourage you to do the same, as people are rarely receptive to unsolicited advice (I know this from experience).
Step 3: Advise
“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38 NIV
I will never forget the instruction of well-known counselor and interventionist, Jeff VanVonderen. He encourages advice-givers to say only the “shortest truest thing.”
It is imperative that we limit our advice to the particular aspect of the individual’s life that they are seeking help in. The more time and energy you have invested into this relationship, the more tempting it will be to get overly-enthusiastic in your advice giving.
The key to successful advice-giving is to only give one small piece of advice and immediately evaluate how they respond before giving more.
Step 4: Evaluate
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs.” Matthew 7:1 NIV
Although you’ve built the bridge of relationship to carry the weight of the truth, you still must navigate that bridge one small step at a time. One small truth at a time. Then evaluate how your friend responds.
Do they crack the door open a bit more by asking a follow-up question? Or do they toss it back in your face and withdraw behind the safety of a locked door? Do they quickly apply the truth, or do they fail to change?
This is the most valuable step of the advice-giving process because it will be the foundation upon which you build all future conversations. This is also the point where I often refer my hurting friends to a trained Biblical Counselor, either because I don’t know how to help or they are not following my advice.
Step 5: Release
“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose.” Phillippians 2:13 NIV
Once you have faithfully walked through the first four steps of the advice-giving process, it is time to release the results of the conversation into the hands of your loving Savior.
No matter how much you care for your friends, it is not your job to fix their problems. You’ve given your advice, now it’s time to trust that the Lord is at work in the midst of their pain. This step is absolutely crucial because it protects you from drowning in other people’s problems.
One of the most challenging aspects of the Christian faith, for me, has been learning how to effectively counsel others without becoming consumed by their problems. To temper my desire to help everyone with the knowledge that it is not my place to help everyone. This five-step process has been a fantastic guide for me, equipping me to be effective in my ministry without over-extending myself. I hope it will do the same for you.
Have you ever received unsolicited advice from well-meaning friends or strangers? How did it make you feel?
Sarah Koontz is passionate about helping families build healthy hearts, homes and habits. When Sarah is not writing, you are likely to find her covered in dirt, sitting in the middle of her garden, adoring her beautiful flock of backyard chickens. She is eternally grateful for her husband and two little girls, and revels in their simple, uncluttered life. Read more of Sarah’s writing at Grounded & Surrounded and SarahKoontz.com. Or connect with her onFacebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.