Authentic community and stinging honesty

Ben Reed —  January 30, 2012 — 4 Comments

Confession 1: I’m not a huge fan of American Idol.

Confession 2: I kind of like the first few weeks of auditions.

It’s probably completely the sinful side of me that enjoys those awful auditions that make our ears bleed. Oftentimes though, I’ll watch the first few weeks of a season then check out once the competition officially begin.

I watch as people who think they can sing like an angel crash and burn in front of 3 judges and millions of TV viewers. As the hour progresses, I’m struck by a strange combination of emotions, wanting to laugh, cry, and scream at my TV all at the same time.

The whole time I’m wondering why so many of these people’s friends told them that they were good. You know that they didn’t arrive at this conclusion all by themselves. Someone else must have told them, “Umm…yeah, that’s good. You should try out for American Idol!” Or, “You’ll really go somewhere with that voice.” Or, “Yes, you are a superstar!”

I began to wonder if we try to do similar things in “community,” encouraging people where they’re not gifted. Praising people when they don’t need to be praised.

Dishonest community

In the short-run, it’s easier to choose a ‘white lie” and preserve the peace than to find a way to lovingly speak the truth.

  • If I think I have the gift of teaching, but I’m awful at teaching, don’t tell me I’m good. If I didn’t do a good job, don’t tell me, “That’s the best sermon I’ve ever heard!” Be honest! It’ll sting in the short run, but like momma always said, “Honesty’s always the best policy.”
  • If I think I have the gift of hospitality, but I’m a jerk when I’m hosting people in my home, don’t let me keep thinking I’m doing a great job. Authentic community is honest.
  • If I think I’m a good writer, but my writing stinks, it would be unloving of you to tell me that it’s wonderful. And ultimately, if I think my writing is good, and I don’t work on it, in the long run I’ll never try to improve. And what I think I’m a superstar at will make me look foolish. I would bear the responsibility for that, but those along the way who were not honest with me would bear the load, too.

Authentic community is others-focused, not just you-focused.

Helping people understand their gifts is vital to the success of any leader. But don’t lead them to believe they’re awesome in something that they’re not. Speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to those you participate in community with is a difficult thing to do. But it’s incredibly honoring as you seek to help someone improve a gift they’re using. Your words are setting them on a path to utilizing their gifts, not just embarrassing themselves with it.

Gifts are like muscles…they need to be exercised in order to be effective. Sometimes exercise has to start with a little honesty. And honesty is best received in the context of healthy, authentic, loving community.

 Do not lie to each other. – Colossians 3:9


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Ben Reed

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Christ follower, husband, father, writer, pastor of small groups at Long Hollow Baptist Church. Communications director for the Small Group Network.
  • Loren Pinilis

    Haha – I’m the same way with American Idol. I love watching the ones they reject and then I move on.
    I totally agree with your thoughts about community reinforcing our gifts. Romans 12:3 talks about how we need to think of ourselves soberly, and I think that getting honest opinions from others is crucial. And the other side of that is we need to be giving the honest feedback too.

  • Mlh0767

    I loved this. I’ve thought so many times when I watched AI that surely some of these people have a mom that loves them enough to tell them the truth. I have to wait until the auditions are over & most of the screeching cats are weeded out before I can listen. Lol! But as for community groups-I’d much rather someone love me enough to make me cry over the truth than tickle my ear with something false.

  • Craig

    I don’t see the connection between telling the truth and community. Telling the truth is something you should do in every situation. Community is the network of relationships that tie people together. In the early church, this network was very close and relational. Today the kind of community the early church experienced does not exist. People don’t care for one another the way the early believers did. Why, they seldom even see one another outside of church. How can they build community?

    Paul’s one anothers are the building blocks of community – bearing one another’s burdens, loving one another, bearing with one another, encouraging one another, etc.   To do these things we would have to spend quality time together oon a regular basis and our schedules are too busy to allow that. So we don’t practice them anymore.

    I lost my family to a pedophile who molested my son and turned my life upside down. Medical and boarding school costs reached hundreds of thousands of dollars. TEAM mission, the man’s employer, disavowed any responsibility for putting him on the mission field or supervising him. He abused a total of five boys.

    When I asked the mission leaders to help me pay off some of the costs incurred because of this man’s actions, they refused to help bear my burdens. They said it was not their fault. When Christian leaders behave like this and the rest of the Christian community refuse to hold them accountable, then you don’t have community. The lies and cover up are nothing more than a symptom of a grave illness, not the cause of it.

    • Ben Reed

      Thanks for your reply. The connection between “truth telling” and “community” is that they go hand in hand.

      I was making the comparison to American Idol. Someone should have told these singers that they’re not as good as they think they are. Though that’s a “stinging” truth, it needed to be said…and that’s a great mark of “community.” Healthy, authentic community says the truth even when it’s going to be hard to share and hard to receive.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your tragic story. That’s beyond awful. It’s shameful, and should have never happened. I hate to hear that that’s your understanding of community. That’s not biblical community at all. Biblical community strives after the “one anothers,” like you rightly pointed out.

      The Church, the bride of Christ, will not be perfect this side of heaven. But I pray that you’ll give Her another shot, and that next time you won’t be burned like you were in the past.