When I worked in the small group ministry, a teammate of mine had the cutest idea.
When someone signed up for a small group, we’d follow up with them to find out more about what they were looking for or to connect them to a group. If we didn’t hear back, we’d try again. After a third try, if we still didn’t hear back, we sent them a postcard that said, “The ball’s in your court.”
It explained that we were glad to help them, we just needed to hear from them. We needed them to take the next step.
This is the same philosophy that we recommend with throwing PIES.
Remember, if a friend talks with you about something that is worthy of confronting with a Philippians 4:8 mindset, and if they approach it well with a James 3:17-18 approach, and if they model the love of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, then responding is easy. Being cared for and loved towards Christ is a joy of a journey, and to travel that road with a friend who desires to honor the Lord with you is truly the marrow of life.
But if someone approaches you with misperceptions – things they have chosen to think that are ignoble, impure, unlovely, and not admirable – it’s a different ballgame. They believe they are right, they believe you should own the things they are thinking about you, and they are not seeking to understand. In those situations, we
And then we add the S – suggest an alternative. A next step. A way to proceed in healthy conversation and relationship.
We give time and space for our brief explanation, yet we leave the door open. If they desire to understand, if they desire to communicate healthily, if they desire to move towards a healthy relationship, we provide a path.
For example, if our E looked like this,
“The things you are saying about me are not true. I choose not to fill my mind with untrue thoughts.”
Perhaps the follow up S is,
“If you’d like to better understand me, I’d be happy to answer questions you may have in a future conversation. Just let me know when you’d like to talk.”
The S suggests an alternative. It sets a clear expectation of what needs to change in the future interaction. And importantly, it leaves the ball in their court.
The three components of that are important:
1. Set a clear expectation of what needs to be different.
The S gives a path. It asserts our expectation of a healthy conversation. It asserts how we expect to be treated in a healthy relationship. Here, it is that I expect wise men seek understanding, not airing their inaccurate perceptions of me.
2. Offer the possibility of a *future* interaction.
This is rarely the time for an on-the-spot teachable moment, and you are likely not poised in their eyes to be their teacher. In interrupting the conversation, we have just thrown a curve ball. So we give some space. We give them time to regroup if they’d like to consider coming at the conversation differently.
Time away is wise for you:
“The prudent man sees the evil and hides himself.” ~ Proverbs 22:3
Sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes separating ourselves feels unloving. For me, this quote totally turned that way of thinking on its head:
“Separating ourselves protects love, because we are taking a stand against things that destroy love.” ~ Boundaries
We remove ourselves from the current unhealthy conversation. We eject ourselves from the unhealthiness and destruction that is taking place. In doing so, we take a stand against the things that destroy love. And we actually, ironically, end up taking a stand for love.
Creating space may be greatly beneficial for them as well:
“You can remove yourself to get away from the danger and put limits on evil. The Bible urges us to separate from those who continue to hurt us and to create a safe place for ourselves. Removing yourself from the situation will also cause the one who is left behind to experience a loss of fellowship that may lead to changed behavior (Matt. 18:17-18; 1 Cor. 5:11-13).”
3. We leave the ball in *their* court.
This is important for several reasons.
- It asks them to seek growth, just as Jesus did. It requires them to take the initiative, as Jesus modeled with his disciples.
- It teases out the fool from the wise man. If the person simply wanted to air their opinion, then you’ve set your boundary. But if they really do want to seek to understand you but just aren’t good at communicating that or have never been taught a healthy way to communicate that, it provides a path for the wise man to move forward.
- It keeps you from inviting yourself back into unhealthy dialogue. You needn’t prod around in the beehive to see if they are ready to play nice. Set a clear expectation, then give space. Let them take the next step. Let them reach back out to you if they’d like to try the conversation in a healthier manner.
Sometimes it can feel unloving to leave the ball in their court. We want to check in with them. We wonder if we’re being rude. We wonder if we should hear them out.
We were working with a volunteer who loved to sign up for things. He loved to schedule his training meeting. He totally had a heart to serve… but his follow-through wasn’t quite there yet. He’d miss the one-on-one training. He’d have to cancel the orientation meeting. He couldn’t make it when he was scheduled to serve.
But then he’d sign up again!
“As it stands now, he is irresponsible and happy, and you are responsible and miserable.“ ~ Boundaries
So we tried something a little different with him. We left the ball in his court. When he expressed interest, we expressed our concern. We asked him to pray about it every day for two weeks to be sure this is what the Lord was calling him to do. We asked him to follow up with us after he’d done so to let us know what He felt like the Lord was wanting him to do. The ball was in his court.
Our next step was going to be to have him shadow a volunteer. No special outside-of-normal-hours meetings. Just show up at an appointed time and shadow a volunteer. Again, he has to take the initiative. He has to show that he is committed and wants this.
When the ball is clearly in their court, we are free from the burden of the consequences of their actions. The Lord was clear with him in prayer that he needed to focus on some other things before committing to this serving opportunity. Putting the ball in his court helped clarify that.
This ‘ball in their court’ thing really works! I suppose it should – it’s what Jesus did : )
So we end our PIE with an S. We suggest an alternative that makes clear what needs to be different in a *future* conversation. And it leaves the ball in their court.
In doing so, we actually invite future relationship. Healthy relationship. The opportunity for interactions that truly honor the Lord… and each other.
photo credit: ChopShopStuK