That’s what Ed Welch says in his helpful, short article Offer Advice Carefully. And he’s absolutely right.
Why are we so bad as Christians at giving advice? I have my thoughts, but the best thing to do about it is this: stop thinking we know everything about another person’s situation, and realize that when something isn’t a matter of explicit and clear biblical commands, advice is to be offered as an interchange that respects the person’s individuality and more detailed grasp of the situation.
One mark of bad advice, Welch notes, is that it is dispensed “quickly and casually.” Here are three examples he gives that I think most of us have encountered (and been incredibly annoyed by, even though they seem “spiritual” at first; Welch shows why they are not):
You just need to trust God. This advice sounds biblical, but the word “just” shows that it is tossed out as a platitude. The person might already be trusting God, it sounds superior—it is bad advice.
You need to forgive the person. This too seems to be a biblical exhortation, but it does not have the humility to realize that there are other biblical themes about God’s compassion or his stand against injustice that might be more relevant. Better to say, “I think that we should talk about forgiving this person, but Scripture says a lot to us when we have been hurt. What do you think are God’s good words to you now?”
You need to tell your boss what is bothering you or take it to a superior. This is bad advice because it never took the time to listen and recognize that the person was not asking for advice, but she was hoping to have a friend with whom she could share her struggles. This advice comes from the notorious “let me fix you and move on to someone else” school of advice.
Fantastic examples. Then he adds:
My point is not that it is wrong to give advice. It is that in our haste and casual handling of Scripture, we confuse our advice with “God has said . . . .” This can be disrespectful because we’ve offered a blanket statement without much thought to the particulars involved. Or maybe the person was not even seeking advice but only someone to listen. We need to be sure we know what the person is asking for before we start talking.