Keep It Real, But Not Too Real

I just read an article about a former worship leader and Hillsong songwriter becoming apostate. In it he asks all the tough questions (I’m being facetious) and claims that no one is talking about these issues. The lead singer of Skillet (John Cooper) responded to this article on Facebook (reproduced here) and said many insightful things in his response. But the one thing that stood out to me was this bit:

“My second thought is, why do people act like “being real” covers a multitude of sins? As if someone is courageous simply for sharing virally every thought or dark place. That’s not courageous. It’s cavalier. Have they considered the ramifications? As if they are the harbingers of truth, saying “I used to think one way and practice it and preach it, but now I’ve learned all the new truth and will start practicing and preaching it.” So the influencers become the voice for truth in whatever stage of life and whatever evolution takes place in their thinking.

How many times have we heard people justify being hurtful with the words, “I’m just being real” or “I’m just being honest.” Okay, maybe you are being real, but perhaps there’s a way to be real that’s seasoned with salt and takes into account the ramifications (as Cooper notes) of your words.

I’m the type of person who tries to the best of my ability to think before I speak. One reason for this is that I don’t like to repeat myself so I like to be clear the first time I say something. Another reason is that I try to be as diplomatic as possible. There’s almost always a way to make a point without being offensive. And yet another reason is that I don’t want to over-divulge and share more than should be shared. Everything isn’t for everyone.

As a minister there are conversations that I will have with other ministers that I wouldn’t have with someone outside the ministry. There are questions I’m wrestling with and need to find answers to first before I’d ever mention them to the congregation. Imagine if every minister shared every doubt that they had. How edifying would that be to the body at large? I’m not saying that it’s wrong to have doubts; I’m just saying that we don’t have to be vocal about every little thing we’re unsure about.

Or take a common question that we ask and get asked multiple times throughout the day, “How are you doing?” My answer to that question is going to be different depending on who’s asking it. If my wife asks then she’ll get the whole truth out of me because I can share that with her. If a close friend asks then they’ll get something close to that but there’s even limits I have to set with them as to how much of my interior life I share. If an acquaintance asks then they’ll get a stock “good, ok, or meh,” without much detail at all. And if it’s a complete stranger then they’ll get a “good,” as I keep it moving.

I could be “real” with everyone and just unburden myself and spew out all of my issues and problems without taking into account how that’s going to make anyone else feel. The casual acquaintance doesn’t really want to know what’s going on. They’re just being polite and making small talk. The stranger doesn’t want that information either. It’s just a standard greeting; no different from saying hello. But imagine how uncomfortable they’d be if I unloaded on them. I know how uncomfortable I’d be.

The point is that we have to take our audience into account when we say anything. As Cooper poignantly asks in his article, “Why be so eager to continue leading people when you clearly don’t know where you are headed?” In the words of Qohelet, “Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words” (Ecc 5:2–3).


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