[Note: This is my sole post this week as I am participating in a conference of Mid-Council leaders. See you next week.]
Telling the truth is not for the fainthearted. It’s so easy to lie. Lying helps us avoid conflict. Lying keeps us from having to explain things.
Sarah Niles – the actor who plays Dr. Sharon Fieldstone on Ted Lasso – was interviewed by Brene Brown last week and it’s worth a listen here. In both the podcast and in the show, Niles/Fieldstone is all about truthtelling.
The older I get, the more truthtelling factors into my ministry, my parenting, my humanity. Again – it’s so easy to lie.
For example, consider this scenario:
There’s a longtime church member who has presided over The Women’s Group for years and she has never been asked to serve as an Elder of her congregation – for good reasons about which she is unaware. She has always wanted to be an Elder but she has never been nominated and she wants to know why.
The reason is that her personality is harsh and she is not a good listener. She insists on her own way and – if only she had noticed – it’s been hard finding other women willing to work with her in The Women’s Group. She wants to talk with you – the pastor – on why she is never chosen to be an Elder. Your options for answering her might be these:
A) “We are looking for more men to serve as Elders and we are trying to recruit them first.”
B) “You do such a good job with The Women’s Group and we need you there more.”
C) “You have obvious gifts for getting things done, which is essential in many situations. What we are looking for in our Elders include spiritual gifts like listening well and equipping others to be leaders. Those are not your strongest gifts.” (Ouch. But this is the only true answer.)
In a world in which many of us have been taught that “we can do anything” the truth is that we can’t. Not everyone has the gifts to be a spiritual leader. Not everyone has the gifts to be a professional musician. Not everyone has the gifts to work effectively with preschoolers.
It’s okay. But if we’ve grown up to believe that if we can see it, we can be it, the truth hurts. And yet it’s important for us to be in relationships in which someone will tell us the truth – lovingly.
If Dr. Sharon Fieldstone told me something I would believe it. It’s not that she always offers feel good advice. In fact, she never gives feel good advice because that’s not her job. It’s not her job to give advice at all. Instead she says things like:
“That must have been hard” (regarding a painful childhood experience)
“I understand why you’re angry” (regarding an event that would anger any normal human being)
She asks questions that help people sort out their truth. “Are you good at your job?” she inquires of Ted Lasso.
Church people notoriously avoid conflict – which is interesting if we consider Jesus’ story and his interactions with Pharisees and Roman leaders. He spoke the God’s truth to them – literally – and they didn’t like it.
And our congregations suffer because we conflate niceness and goodness. Jesus was good. He was not particularly nice. And when we speak the truth – even in love – many people in our congregations don’t like it. We are being too political.
Speaking the truth is essential for spiritual growth though.
- When I hear that only 20% of the membership makes an annual pledge to support their church financially, there are difficult truths to say out loud about that.
- When I hear leaders share in the parking lot what they were not willing to say around the meeting table, there are difficult truths to say out loud about that.
- When I hear pastors bully their parishioners or parishioners bully their pastors, there are difficult truths to say out loud about that.
Thriving congregations and leaders speak the truth in love because it’s about what God wants and not what we want. It’s about spiritual maturity and authentic relationships. Susan Beaumont, who is leading the conference I’m attending this week, says that “leading with presence” means being “grounded in the true self, embracing a sense of wonder, and open to the leading of the Divine.“
Yes. You too can observe a master of helping people find their true self if you watch Season 2 of Ted Lasso. Or just watch how Jesus did it.
Image of the actor Sarah Niles who plays the role of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone exceedingly well in Ted Lasso. Source.