As an image-conscious Enneagram Pattern 3, I confess radical candor is not my best gift. My tendency to shape-shift to be what the context demands sometimes means I shy away from boldly speaking truth.
My son knows my tendency to be and play nice. After reading Radical Candor—How to Get What You Want by Saying What You Mean by Kim Scott, Andrew handed me his copy to read. The book’s premise is straightforward:
Radical Candor is what happens when you really care about the people who work for (with) you AND are willing to challenge directly when necessary.
Believe me, these principles are much easier to talk about than to implement—especially in the church!
Two stories from Andrew’s book were especially helpful in understanding the concept of radical candor. The first is an example of radical candor from a total stranger. The author Kim had adopted a golden retriever puppy named Belvedere. She loved Belvedere and spoiled her to show her how much. As a result, Belvedere was out of control. One day on their outing, Kim and Belvedere stopped at a crosswalk. The dog, pulling vigorously on the leash despite speeding cars only a couple feet away, caught the attention of a stranger nearby who said to Kim, “I can tell how much you love your dog, but that dog will die if you don’t teach her to sit!” In a few short minutes, the stranger taught Belvedere to obey the “sit!” command. The man’s final words were, “It’s not mean. It’s clear!”
Kim Scott also told the story of a man who was forced for medical reasons to amputate his dog’s tail. Because he loved his canine companion so much, rather than cut his entire tail off at once, he cut one inch of the tail off each day. His desire to spare the dog pain and suffering only led to more pain and suffering. Radical candor would have been extremely helpful—for both dog and owner.
The church today is experiencing existential crisis. For years the church has struggled to face hard truths about declining attendance and waning influence; institutional “think” blocks Spirit’s voice and forward momentum. Perhaps one reason for the current church crisis is we are afraid to directly challenge each other about the true purpose and mission of God’s church. It’s much easier to maintain the status quo or homeostasis. Sadly, failure to care deeply and challenge directly, i.e., radical candor, creates contexts in which bullies thrive and God’s mission takes a back seat to personal desires and opinions.
A situation I heard about highlights my point. The pastor of a Baptist church resigned to accept a new calling. A man who felt excluded from leadership during that pastor’s tenure began “campaigning” member to member, urging, “We’ve got to turn this church back toward the SBC and away from CBF.” A long-time 80-plus-year-old member got wind of the man’s efforts. This feisty lady climbed into her little car, drove straight to the man’s house, and after brief pleasantries said, “I know what you are doing and you must cease and desist. Our church made decisions about our identity a long time ago, and we are not going back!” Those few moments of radical candor put an end to the man’s politicking and probably saved the church from another split.
RADICAL CANDOR FROM INSIDE THE CHURCH
Many congregations were in crisis mode before the pandemic. Now, a protracted season of COVID-19, the politicizing of everything (even mask-wearing), myriad conspiracy theories touted as truth, an extremely uncivil presidential campaign, and so much more, prompts essential radical candor.
· Clergy are stressed to the max. Many are willing to say out-loud how hard ministry is these days. We keep hearing, “I can’t say anything without someone accusing me of being political.” Many clergy have already left their congregations and moved to other professions. Some are retiring early. Will our churches hear this radical candor and recognize the tug-of-war our clergy feel these days before it’s too late? Dualistic “us vs. them” attitudes are a clear sign we have succumbed to political ideologies and missed our calling to be beloved community. We are on the same team and must resist efforts to demonize someone who sees things differently.
· When a pastor recently predicted, “I don’t think our young people will come back to church after the pandemic is over,” I asked, “Why do you think that?” He responded, “Young folks read mean-spirited church member posts on Facebook during the presidential campaign; they don’t want any part of a church that thinks and acts that way.” This pastor didn’t just make this stuff up. His radical candor is a wake-up call. As I shared in an earlier blog, efforts to build walls and destroy churches are “inside jobs!” It’s our responsibility to stop and fix it!
· Let’s talk about what radical candor isn’t. Being hyper-partisan and feeling called to “set your pastor straight” or constantly telling him/her “you’re being too political” is not radical candor. That’s being opinionated and unable to hear truth apart from your political leanings! Overlaying every sermon with your partisan ideology is neither Christ-like nor helpful. Assumptions your Spirit promptings supersede those of your
congregational shepherd who has spent long hours praying, studying, and preparing to share God’s word with the body, are misguided. Before you speak, check what you consider to be radical candor, ask yourself, “Am I expressing love to my pastor by insisting he/she do something my way? and “Does ‘my way’ reflect the teachings of Jesus?” Please, friends, keep our pulpits free! If preachers are not free to respond to Spirit’s promptings, our churches become country clubs driven by cultural expectations and the misguided notion we go to church to have our beliefs confirmed.
RADICAL CANDOR FROM OUTSIDE THE CHURCH
Many outside the Christian faith have been watching and saying, “If being Christian is primarily about being tethered to a political party, I’ll pass.” “If hate is allowed to trump love, no thanks!” “If you are working to limit people’s freedom, imposing your version of truth, or communicating in any way God loves some more than others, we want nothing to do with it.” This radical candor is a wake-up call for the church!
Experts like Dr. Anna Robbins who led Pastors’ School are preparing us for the realities of a post-pandemic church: How will it look, feel, and differ from the pre-pandemic church? How well we listen and the degree to which we choose to appropriate truth as a result of radical candor coming our way, determine the church’s viability. We must discern how to re-form our congregations to embody and reflect the life and ethical teachings of Jesus!