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Authentic Community and Stinging Honesty

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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benreed@churchleaders.com'
Ben Reed is the small groups pastor at Long Hollow, a multi-site church in the Nashville, TN, area. He holds an Mdiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ben is also an avid coffee drinker and CrossFitter, but not at the same time. Catch up with Ben at BenReed.net. In his book, "Starting Small: The Ultimate Small Group Blueprint," he helps leaders through the process of putting a small group ministry together and creating a place where people belong so they can become.