How Honest Can We be and Still be Friends?

Have you ever struggled with how honest you should be with someone? Do we tell someone what they want to hear, or do we dare tell them what we honestly believe is best for them…even if it involves a hard conversation…and deeply disappointing them?

Doug made an appointment to see me. He wanted to discuss “his call” from God to be a pastor…and he wanted me to confirm it. Yikes! Frankly, I couldn’t imagine Doug as a Pastor! He was in conflict with several people who irritated him, and he wasn’t on speaking terms with his brother. In all honesty, Doug never struck me as a particularly patient person, nor did he seem to have a dynamic faith in God. My concerns were complicated by the fact that Doug’s parents were leaders in our congregation, and Doug had grown up there. I had been their pastor for several years. What should I tell Doug? How honest should I be?

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul urges Christians to “speak the truth in love… because we are members one of another.” In the Christian church, we do not function as individuals, but as a part of a body. If one member of the body suffers… we all suffer, and if one member rejoices… we all rejoice. Every member of the body is connected to the other members. We are not whole without each other. That is why people need us to speak the truth in love to them…and we need them to do the same.

When I think about “speaking the truth in love” to someone, I always ask myself five questions:

  1. Have I prayed about what to say and how to say it?
  2. Is the timing right? (Sometimes we can say the right thing at the wrong time!)
  3. Does what I’m about to say have integrity? Do I truly believe it?
  4. Is what I am about to say in the long-term best interest of the person to whom I am speaking?
  5. If I unintentionally hurt their feelings, am I willing to support them during the healing process?

These five questions are an important part of helping me examine my motives. Sometimes we say we are going to “speak the truth in love” to help the other person…when in reality we simply want to get back at them for hurting us. Speaking the truth in love is tricky. If we do it… we must do it care-fully and prayer-fully!

So…when I sat with Doug in my office I asked him two questions: what is your motive for wanting to be a pastor? And, what will you do if your sense of a “call” is not confirmed by others? Doug’s eyes filled with tears. He told me that he really wanted to be a pastor because “it’s what my parents want me to do. This is a chance for me to be somebody in their eyes.” I winced.

When I heard this… I decided to speak the truth gently…but firmly. I said, “Doug, I am surprised that you are thinking about being a pastor. You have so many gifts …but your gifts seem to me to be better suited to business, law or accounting than parish ministry. The ministry is a people business… and I know that many people frustrate you, and that you are in conflict with lots of people. I think you would be constantly frustrated. I can’t imagine that you would enjoy the ministry. And, in my opinion, the best thing you could do for your parents… is to be yourself.” As I said these words, Doug became visibly frustrated and angry with me…and his parents were angry with me too!

The whole family left our church and…believe me…I took some heat about this from several church members! The family rejected my invitations to talk further. They were finished with me. I thought that was the end of the story. But, in God’s providence, I saw Doug 4 or 5 years later… and (wonder of wonders!) he hugged me and said, “Thank you for being honest with me years ago. That took guts. I’m an accountant now and I love my job. And, you know what… the church near where we live asked my wife and me to be Sr. High advisors. I think that is my ministry. Thank you for helping me discern my call.”

[tweetable] As I reflected on this encounter with Doug, I was delighted that he had found his calling in the business world and as a husband, and an advisor with kids. Maybe my “speaking the truth in love” was more helpful to him than I initially thought. From this experience, I learned a valuable lesson… that when we speak the truth in love, we have to leave the results…to God!

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