How to Tell People They are Wrong

Telling People They Are Wrong

National Association of Christian Ministers Leadership Series

By Michael Mooney, NACM Exec. Elder


Let’s face it, there is no fun in correcting people or telling them that they are wrong about something… However, if you are in ministry, or especially a pastor, you are bound to have to do it sometime.  Consider the following words of wisdom:


“People ask you for criticism but they only want praise” -Somerset Maugham

“The best argument is that which seems merely an explanation” -Dale Carnegie


Consider this Biblical example:


So the LORD sent Nathan to David. Nathan came to him and said, “There were two men in a certain city. One was rich, and the other was poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cows, but the poor man had only one little female lamb that he had bought. He raised her, and she grew up in his home with his children. She would eat his food and drink from his cup. She rested in his arms and was like a daughter. “Now, a visitor came to the rich man. The rich man thought it would be a pity to take one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler. So he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared her for the traveler.” David burned with anger against the man. “I solemnly swear, as the LORD lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this certainly deserves to die!  And he must pay back four times the price of the lamb because he did this and had no pity.” “You are the man!” Nathan told David. “This is what the LORD God of Israel says… (2Sa 12:1-7).


In the above passage of scripture we see a brilliant method of communicating a negative message. God told Nathan to go and tell the king that he was an adulterer. David could have shouted “off with his head”! But notice that Nathan told him that he was wrong in the form of a story.


Speaking from personal experience, I never met a person who really appreciated my telling them that they were wrong. Maybe a wise person “should” appreciate correction, but there is a vast difference between the way things “should” be and the way things “are”.  It is better to live and communicate in reality than in a world of ideals.


For this reason, communicating a word of fault or correction to people is easier done in the form of a storyJesus did this all the time in parables.  Stories allow people to separate themselves (and their egos) from the dissonance associated with correction.  They allow people to step outside of their own personal involvement and view the situation more objectively.  When this approach is used, you also protect yourself from being the “mean nasty person” or the target of the other person’s anger.


However, there is one more word of instruction. Nathan specifically told David that he was the object of the story. This is because God told him to do this.  Contrarily, Jesus rarely ever associated a specific person or group to his parables.  Jesus’ example will often prove the best way of using this technique.