Clarity is Kindess

written by Kat Bair
5 · 20 · 24

We’ve talked on this blog before about the importance of being crystal clear on who you are as a community before embarking on the work of innovation. About how, when a community doesn’t have a clear sense of mission and values, change is difficult, because, without a sense of identity, any shift in the programming, decorations, or fonts in the bulletin can feel like an existential threat. When we don’t know what makes us “us,” then we don’t know what doesn’t matter so much, and therefore can be changed without threatening our identity. 

I told the story before playfully, in terms of kolaches and airplanes painted to look like salmon. But the reality is not always playful. 

I have a friend who works for a church that always has prided itself on being a “big tent” theologically. But they used this identity as a reason to be a bit evasive on their beliefs when it came to hot topic cultural conversations. Leadership danced expertly around giving answers when the questions were asked, careful not to offend, scolding staff who made too clear a statement in a lesson, an email, or on social media. This was all done under the mantle of ensuring a theologically diverse community, of pushing back against cultural narratives that seek to divide us and which reward grandstanding over nuance. 

And I believe that is important, we can definitely show the love of Christ in the midst of a polarized world by rejecting the temptation to divide ourselves between “us” and “them.” However, in the name of nuance, allow me to suggest one of my own:

When it comes to theological beliefs, clarity is kindness. To be truly open to embracing a diversity of beliefs, you have to be crystal clear on your own. 

My friend spoke to me about how he was feeling frustrated that, behind closed doors, his boss had privately agreed with him on an issue, but then wouldn’t say anything publicly about it, or act as though he believed it. I listened and offered an uncomfortable suggestion, is there any chance that, behind different closed doors, he also privately agreed with people who believe very differently from you? 

He then asked how he should know what his boss really believed. I offered that maybe he couldn’t know. And that maybe his boss didn’t know either.

I’m not unsympathetic to his boss. It is unbelievably hard to be a leader in a context that is divided and polarized. I absolutely understand the temptation to avoid an uncomfortable conversation, to dodge a question to keep the peace. I can’t imagine the challenge of trying to hold a community together, when political and cultural divides seek to fracture it into pieces. But the sense of betrayal amongst the staff, and which will inevitably echo through the congregation when a decision is made one way or the other, doesn’t feel like it can be what Christ calls us to as leaders. 

Not all leaders feel called to speak in all cultural conversations, and that’s fine, Jesus didn’t speak to every issue of His day, but He did present a clear rubric of beliefs, He did represent Himself accurately, and did allow people to follow or reject Him based on as clear a picture of Himself as He could offer them (even if they didn’t always get it).

We work with a lot of leaders who are seeking to reach new audiences, which is beautiful and worthwhile, but we encourage you, before you start any of that, to make sure your community is clear on who you are and who you are called to be. We seek to offer the light of Christ, the hope of God, the communion of the Spirit to people, and those things are enough without us needing to bait-and-switch people into trying them.

Leading in divided and divisive times is hard. But honesty with ourselves, our congregations, and our communities about who we believe God is, what we’re willing to compromise on, and what we’re not, is an act of bravery and kindness that we are called to. Praise God, it is not our responsibility to knit the community of God together, it is God’s alone. Spend some time this week with trusted leaders, talking about those theological beliefs that are most central to your theological identity, and practice having honest, grace-filled conversations about them, let us know what comes up for you. And, if you feel like you’re ready, talk to one of our team about what is next for you and your community.

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Kat Bair

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