Being truthful can easily become harsh. On the other side, being encouraging can easily become weak. The truth can be hurtful, and seeking to overly encourage isn’t helpful. Any positive trait becomes negative if left unchecked. At Mercy Hill, we try hard to stay in the tension between truth and encouragement.
I don’t know if you have ever felt really bad after talking with someone even though everything they said was true. I know I have. And worse, I know there have been times when I discouraged someone else with truth telling. Now, sometimes hearing the truth is inherently discouraging because of the nature of what is being said. It is hard to hear that you are under performing no matter how your supervisor shares the news. It is hard to hear about blind spots in your leadership or ministry no matter how your peers are bringing that to light. But when truth tellers discourage, they do so more often in the way they share not what they share.
Two Reasons That Truth Tellers Leave People Discouraged
Truth tellers can leave people discouraged primarily for two reasons. First, instead of saying only necessary true things, they say every true thing. I am sure you have heard this before: we should say only true things, but not everything that is true should be said. Ministry leaders select what to say and should be grabbing from a mixed bag of true things. We want ministry leaders who understand that sharing a hard truth should always be mixed with sharing an encouraging one. Any of us can constantly harp on the negative. It takes work to make sure we can encourage as well as admonish.
Secondly, truth tellers discourage by saying true things in a harsh way. This is a real temptation for leaders of any kind. Having an edge to your voice and personality will get things done in the short term. Lighting fires under people through facts and fear will move the needle. But just as we believe in the gospel that love is a greater motivation than fear, the truth with love motivates more than the truth with an edge. Discouraging truth tellers may get results for a season, but they will never get buy in. At the end of the day, a discouraging truth teller may get people to work for them, but no one is willing to run through a wall for them. That type of buy in is reserved only for those who mix the truth with love. This is a hard lesson for any young leader, me included. I heard this recently and thought it was gold: leaders get much further by lighting fires in people rather than under them. One tangible application of that principle is mixing the truth with love rather than allowing the truth to be harsh.
Sometimes Hard Truth Is Necessary for Change
With that said, there are times when a fear of discouragement could lead us away from the truth. Because we fear how someone will react, we may decide never to bring them the brutal facts. It is possible to become overly encouraging. I remember seeing a special on legendary coach Jimmy V. One thing stuck with me. He said, “I never talked to my dad about anything where I didn’t leave the conversation feeling better.” I really loved that quote because in many ways I feel the same way. But with my father, the desire to encourage never came in front of the responsibility to be honest. Encouragers seek to say true things in a way that is easier to receive. But they do say them. Any encouragement that takes us away from the truth is superficial and sentimental. It is unhelpful.
At Mercy Hill we look hard for these traits among our staff. We can be truthful and encouraging. We can’t be either when both are essential.
-Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)
Read more from A Peek Behind the Curtain