Pastor and Christian Leadership Resources

How to Cultivate a Church Culture of Honesty

  • Betsy St. Amant Haddox
How to Cultivate a Church Culture of Honesty

Being real can be scary.

As women, we tend to identify by our insecurities. It’s easier to strive to project a particularly competent, have-it-all-together image, than be vulnerable and admit we struggle. Admit we (gasp) sin. Admit we don’t always have a clean house or clean thoughts or a clean heart.

Somehow, we’ve developed the idea that being authentic means being shunned. We think the punishment for genuineness is rejection. We’re scared to try because of the potential repercussions.

But think about this. Can you imagine if you walked into church, smiled at someone, said “how are you?” and they really answered? Instead of automatically saying “fine”, what if they said “I’m having a really rough morning” and asked you to pray for them? Or started crying and shared about a fight they had with their mom? Or opened up about a pending test result that was causing them anxiety or admitted their marriage was really struggling?

Would you judge them for admitting their hardship? Would you think they were an awful person, or a worse sinner than you? Would you say “no, figure it out yourself” and walk away? Would you run gossip to everyone else in the church lobby about what had happened?

Of course not. You would hug them, offer to pray (either then, or later—or both!) and provide encouragement. You’d lead them to someone you trusted who you thought might be able to help if you couldn’t. You would say things like “Man, you’re not alone, I feel that way a lot too”. You might make a joke to get them laughing or offer to sit with them in church or follow up with lunch or a text message the following week.

So why do we assume other people won’t do the same for us? Why do we never seem to have the nerve to answer honestly when we’re asked how we’re doing?

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You're not the only one.

You're not the only one.

Here’s the thing—none of us are ever truly fine. Sure, we might have some better days than others. Some (rare) Sundays our hair might have behaved perfectly and there’s nothing big looming on the horizon that we’re dreading, but that doesn’t mean we just didn’t get over something hard the week prior. And it doesn’t mean something isn’t coming our way next week.

How will we ever encourage each other if we never admit there are Hard Things?

Odds are, you weren’t the only one that morning running late, fussing at kids, arguing with your husband, cleaning up after the dog and regretting that you didn’t have time to make the bed. You weren’t the only one with a spiritual warfare target on your back on the way to church that was cutting down your womanhood and hammering your insecurities, attempting (and maybe succeeding) to convince you that you were too fat for those pants or that you have the worst haircut in your entire Sunday school class. You weren’t the only one shoving donuts in your kids’ faces instead of a healthy breakfast, or the one threatening to not go at all because you’re tired of the same ol’ dresses. You weren’t the only one wishing you could get back in bed and avoid the exhausting “game” of Sunday.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

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Talk about it.

Talk about it.

One of the biggest and most effective lies of the enemy camp within the church is convincing us we’re alone in these things, and that we must hide our reality at any cost because it’s shameful and embarrassing. After all, it’s just us, right?

Wrong.

Hear me now. I’m not saying we walk into church and air out our entire load of dirty laundry. But if there’s one soiled blouse that needs some attention, then talk about it, sister. Grab a friend and pray. Grab your mentor down the hall and admit what you’re struggling with. Talk about it in Sunday school. Ask for advice from another couple. Be honest. Be real.

I think you’ll be shocked at how surprised—and pleased—people are when you are genuine. It might feel awkward at first, but personal growth happens when issues can breathe. So give them some air.

Here are three keys to getting—and staying—real. 

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1. Remember that you're not alone in your struggles.

1. Remember that you're not alone in your struggles.

1 Corinthians 10: 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Whether you’re walking through a storm of your own doing, or one that was done to you, you’re not alone. Some of the specifics might look a little different, but there is nothing new under the sun. Relational, financial, and parental struggles are common across the entire world. This doesn’t downplay the severity of your situation, but isn’t it comforting to know that you don’t have to ride it out alone? When you start sharing about your burdens, you’re more likely to find someone who can relate and understand and encourage you. Someone who made the same mistake or went through the same storm. Sometimes, simply sharing out loud relieves a lot of the pressure, and can bring a measure of relief. 

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2. Know that your struggles are for a purpose.

2. Know that your struggles are for a purpose.

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

When I went through my divorce some five years ago, it was hard not to think of myself as wearing a giant scarlet letter. I didn’t want to advertise that at first, didn’t want to be defined by a big D. Yet I began to see that the comfort I received that helped the most came from others who had walked in my callous-rubbing shoes before. Ultimately, I wanted to be able to do that for others, too. But how could I, if I kept my pain, my struggle, and my story to myself? I had to be willing to share my heart and my brokenness, my embarrassment, my failure, my sin, in order to lift up a fellow sister in Christ going through a similar heartbreak. Sometimes this was through a verbal testimony. Other times it was through a fiction novel or through online articles or a blog.

Was it awkward? Sometimes. Was it worth it? Always. 

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3. Being real is being loving--and the Bible commands it.

3. Being real is being loving--and the Bible commands it.

The Bible is very clear on loving your neighbor—and Romans even specifically tells us to make sure our love is genuine. Love isn’t love if it’s fake. If God is love, then love must be real. That’s the example we are to follow.

Consider the following verses.

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Corinthians 16:14 Let all that you do be done in love.

Romans 12:9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.

1 Peter 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart…

Love. Honor. Earnestly. Covers. Genuine. These are the words that jump out at me from the above verses. We’re to love each other with honor, love each other earnestly, love each other genuinely. How can we love our neighbors well if we’re hiding behind walls, wearing masks, and keeping them at arms’ length? I don’t want to let insecurity or fear of rejection or embarrassment keep me from following a command in the Bible. 

The best part about being real and authentic is that it’s contagious. You’ll find that the more open and genuine you are with others, the more they’ll start to become that way with you. You’ll be creating an atmosphere and environment of safety for them to respond to. 

Go ahead, try it. Take the mask off today. Who cares if you’ve got an emotionally bloody lip under there or weary, blood-shot eyes? 

Let them see. Let them love. 


Betsy St. Amant Haddox is the author of fourteen inspirational romance novels and novellas. She resides in north Louisiana with her newlywed hubby, two story-telling young daughters, a collection of Austen novels, and an impressive stash of Pickle Pringles. Betsy has a B.A. in Communications and a deep-rooted passion for seeing women restored in Christ. When she's not composing her next book or trying to prove unicorns are real, Betsy can usually be found somewhere in the vicinity of a white-chocolate mocha. Look for her latest novel with HarperCollins, LOVE ARRIVES IN PIECES, and POCKET PRAYERS FOR FRIENDS with Max Lucado. Visit her at http://www.betsystamant.com./

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