Pre-Fabricated Advice is Usually Bad Advice
About a month back I posted a miscellany of bad Christian advice. In response to some of the criticisms I received regarding that post, let me say two things. Firstly, I’m sure most advice is given with the best intentions. No one goes out of their way to offer bad advice. Well, at least I hope no one does that. Only, and secondly, this doesn’t change the fact that the advice collected in that post was bad. And by “bad” I mean misleading, wrong, and unhelpful.
In another post I plan to explore some of the reasons why bad advice seems to thrive almost as much as gossip in the church. However, in this short post I want to focus on our tendency to offer impersonal, recycled, and therefore largely platitudinal advice. Before that, I must point out that God affords tremendous value to counsel and community.
Christians Should Seek Out and Offer Counsel
Picking just two examples from Proverbs, God says: “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in the abundance of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14); and “the way of the fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Wisdom entails both seeking out and guidance and advice.
The wise person is “open to reason” (James 3:17). The purpose for my miscellany of bad advices was, therefore, not to discourage allowing others to speak into our lives. Nor did I want to create fear around the giving of advice. Christians should be those who regularly and readily ask for and offer sound advice.
Advice Must be the Result of Careful Listening
By listing select popular yet potentially harmful pieces of advice—given both to myself and others—I hoped to emphasise another aspect of wisdom. That it listens carefully and doesn’t rush to offer advice (James 1:19).
You see, my problem with so much conventional wisdom and Christian advice is that it is very often the opposite: half listening in order to thoughtlessly issue formulaic truisms. Almost none of the bad advice in my post was singular. Most of the examples came in various forms from different people. Thus most Christians aren’t suffering for a dearth of advice. Rather, they’re struggling to sift through lazily rehashed advice.
Too much advice is pre-fabricated and impersonal. Too much advice speaks without listening. Too much advice is more suited to being made into a motivational quote than meaningfully kneaded into a specific situation or context.
Good Advice isn’t
Owing to my line of work I’ve sat through many Christian conferences. I’ve read countless Christian books, articles, and blog posts; and sat under solid biblical preaching for decades. And as a result I’m never lacking for a great quote to share. I usually have more than one funny but ‘applicable’ anecdote on hand in response to a question. If you have a problem, I have a platitude.
I believe that much of the bad advice running rampant among Christians exists because it’s easier to recycle what someone else said. If we’re honest, genuinely listening to someone’s questions or problems in order to provide contextual and careful advice is laborious. I’d much rather reach into my memory banks for something I heard once, which sort of fits with what you’re telling me.
We offer bad advice because all of us live in a merry-go-round of counsel tidbits and well-crafted quotes. Added to that our lives are usually too busy to invest the time required to properly listen and then provide thoughtful advice. So, if your advice sounds like a greatest hits list of things you’ve heard other people say, it’s very likely unsuited to the person sitting in front of you—it’s also probably bad advice.