Our Vibrant Faith Coaching Team, working with the 28 churches that are part of our Thriving Congregations Project, is gathering insights and learnings from the ministry leaders who are partnering with us. One key takeaway so far: Honesty leads to thriving (we define “thriving” as “increasing our capacity to be present to God and to one another”).
“Honesty leads to thriving” sounds like an over-simplification. But before this project, I don’t think we would’ve directly connected the practice of honesty to the fuel a church needs to thrive. We typically assume honesty is an important driver of our lives together but is it?
Honesty is not just a character quality, it’s a powerful spiritual practice. It calls us to see and name what is happening between people. Honesty claims the broken realities of our collective state as a church community. Yes, the challenge is that people can “honestly” see things very differently, and we might not agree. But honesty calls for a conversation rather than a declaration, humble hearts rather than high-horses. When we push into these spaces, we come to grips with the true state of ourselves and acknowledge our shortcomings as well as our strengths. All of this fuels thriving—increasing our capacity to be present to God and to others.
We are greatly hampered in the forming of our faith—to move from shallow consumerism to deep abiding in Christ—outside of a willingness to engage the truth about who we are and the challenges we face as followers of Jesus in a broken world.
Vibrant Faith coaches have focused on learnings from the early church to help these Thriving Congregations claim a way of living that helped move the first followed of Jesus from a group of scared Jews in Jerusalem to a movement that spread throughout the world in just a few hundred years. Our Thriving Congregations team has condensed this into a culture-goal:
Create a candid and caring congregation that addresses difficult issues and what matters in people’s lives.
In other words… Honesty
As our churches lean into honesty as a way of living with one another communally, they’re tackling this challenge from two different angles.
- Some of our churches have realized that they’ve developed patterns of “institutional sleepwalking”—and they’re determined to no longer carry these patterns into the future. One of our coaches reported: “[This Church] believes it has always swept difficult conversations under the rug, and they are suffering for it. They are moving into a conflict-resolution process that begins this Sunday with a formal meeting with an outside facilitator to address a sensitive issue involving the dismissal of a staff member. The Thriving Congregations process has given them courage to face this.”
- Coming at “honesty” from the opposite direction, another one of our churches has adopted the practice of Testimony as an experiment. They now begin each EVERYTHING THING THEY DO TOGETHER, with someone sharing a testimony of what “God has done.” This is a wholly different kind of honesty, that focuses the congregation on the persistency of God’s good work in and around them, reflecting back the beauty of His movement among them.
We all know that “honesty is the best policy,” but it’s also one of the keys to health, growth, and thriving in a congregation.
Dr. Nancy Going serves as the Director of Research & Resource Development for Vibrant Faith. Nancy lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her husband Art, an Anglican priest, and they have launched two new families from their children.