One of my close friends recently got involved with a friend group that is influencing him in a bad way. My friend is a Christian, but this group has convinced him to participate in things that the Bible clearly states is wrong like having sex before marriage and getting drunk often. I’m worried about my friend, but don’t know how or if I can talk to him about my concerns. How do I have a heart-to-heart with a friend who is going down the wrong path?
Dear Fearful Friend,
It sounds like you are right to be worried about your friend, but unfortunately, there is no easy answer to your question. Experts have grappled with this topic for years--how to confront a friend about an issue or concern without ending the relationship. When you get down to it, it really depends on the other person and how well they respond to conflict. One potential way to approach the situation is to follow a few steps:
1: Be gentle in your approach.
What is your level of friendship with that person? It is important to discern if a conversation of this level would be out of place in your relationship with your friend. When a heavy conversation is brought up before a relationship is ready, it can lead to a lot more strain and rejection. This takes discernment, so if you aren’t sure whether or not your relationship is ready for this type of conversation, you can always ask! Say, “Hey friend, I’m so glad you found people who you can have fun with, but I have some concerns and I was wondering if I could share those with you?” If they say no, that is the end of the conversation--from here all you can do is pray for your friend and reaffirm how much you care about them. The only time you should push to talk about something is if it’s an emergency such as abuse, illegal behavior, or anything potentially dangerous to themselves or others. In those cases, you have to be ready to lose a friend in favor of protecting them or helping them grow.
Now, say your friend agrees to talk with you about your concerns. The door is open right? You can just let loose and tell them everything that’s on your heart! … Actually, you can’t. Though you may have gotten past the first boundary, you could still inadvertently shut down the conversation by moving through the next steps too fast.
You mentioned that your friend is a Christian, which means he must have a moral compass that kept him from making these mistakes earlier in life. Because of this, he likely knows what he is doing is wrong--this makes the conversation a tricky one. You will need to be gentle and tactful in your approach; if you start off with “What you’re doing is wrong and here’s what the Bible says about it…” he will likely shut down and your genuine concern will come off as belittling. Proverbs 18:19 states, “An offended brother is harder to win than a fortified city.”
2: Try to see his perspective.
When you talk to him, start off by trying to understand what’s going through his mind. Put yourself in his shoes. Ask your friend why he is doing what he's doing. Withhold all judgment and let him explain exactly what he is thinking. Ask him about his background with these types of things and, when you feel you understand him, find something he said that you agree with.
"When you talk to him, start off by trying to understand what's going through his mind. Put yourself in his shoes."
3: Assure him you understand.
This step is really important: reassure him that you are not seeking to condemn him. Say, “I completely understand your desire for emotional intimacy. I think that is natural and a good thing,” or, “I understand how stressed you are, and I’m so glad you found friends who can help you relieve that pressure!” Only after this can you decide what the most important thing is for him to hear right now. Does he need to hear Bible verses about their sin? Does he need encouragement and reminders of God’s ultimate intimacy? Or does he need to be reminded that you are always here for him if he needs help?
4: Remember, it may take time.
In the end, the most important thing to remember is this: we can easily fall into the trap of thinking, “If I can just craft the right words and convince him of the problems and consequences, he will change.” God can use your words to transform his wrong thinking, but it may take more than just one conversation with you. It may take time, and things may not change in his life. Keep in mind, people sometimes hear what they want to hear in order to justify continuing a certain behavior or way of thought. Perfectly crafted words may not do anything to change this pattern in his life.
"...people sometimes hear what they want to hear in order to justify continuting a certain behavior or way of thought."
This being said, a conversation with your friend is very possible, but it will take some conscious effort and a lot of prayer before, during, and afterward. If your friend does not come around, don’t lose heart. God can work to redeem him no matter how far he falls. Continuously pray for him and be there for him as a friend. If he hits rock bottom, it may be your relationship that is the rope to pull him back up.
Jessica Brest is the current marketing and communications intern for the Center for Marriage and Relationships. She will be graduating in spring 2019 from Biola University's public relations and broadcast journalism programs. Jessica loves writing and speaking. She is deeply interested in relationships and communication strategies and loves being able to grow in her knowledge and wisdom while she works! Also, her favorite holiday is Halloween and her favorite animal is ducks!