Speaking the Truth, Kindly

Paul calls us to speak the “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and also says “Love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). What does it mean for a leader to speak truth kindly? To be kind is to think about the other person’s feelings and not cause any harm or damage. So, leaders who speak truth kindly consider carefully how their words will impact the other person. They are intentionally careful not to cause harm to that person.

Speaking the truth kindly requires balance. Truth and kindness are both important and need to be balanced. Some leaders may be so concerned about kindness that they are afraid to speak the truth. This “kindness” damages the relationship because the truth is not revealed. But truth spoken harshly will also damage the relationship!

For example, if a worship leader prepares well but did not choose good songs, the pastor may say, “Those songs were terrible!” Is this the truth? Yes, but it was not spoken kindly! But if the pastor only says “You really prepared well,” it may be kind, but the truth that the worship leader needs to hear is not spoken. Both are needed.

The leader could speak truth kindly, “Thank you for leading the worship. I can tell that you prepared very well. However, I don’t think the songs were the best for our people. Let’s talk more about how to select good songs.” Servant leaders learn to balance truth with kindness.

Speaking the truth kindly reveals maturity. Some leaders speak truth with little care about the impact their message will have on the person who listens. They just want the truth to be known! They don’t stop to think about how the other person will receive their message.

Mature servant leaders think before they speak! They ask themselves, “What impact will the truth have on this person? What would I feel if I were in their place? How can I speak this truth as kindly as possible?” This is not easy and does not come naturally to most leaders, but kindness is a fruit of the Spirit. As leaders mature, God helps them to speak truth with kindness.

Speaking the truth kindly reflects Jesus. Jesus was able to speak truth in a kind way.

13People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:13-16).

The disciples were rebuking children, sending them away from Jesus. They were not even attempting to be kind! Jesus was not happy when he saw them—he was “indignant” or angry with the disciples!

Many leaders speak harsh words very quickly when they feel angry. In this situation they might say to the disciples, “What do you think you are doing? I didn’t tell you to turn them away, you’re wrong. Stop rebuking those parents!” This is all true, but not kind! The disciples were wrong in rebuking the parents who brought their children to Jesus. And they needed to know the truth!

Jesus spoke the truth but did it kindly even when he was angry. He spoke so carefully that He had children in His arms as He spoke the truth. He corrected the disciples but didn’t embarrass them publicly for their mistake. He treated the disciples and the children with kindness. The disciples heard and saw the truth expressed so kindly that they never forgot the lesson.

Servant leaders make an impact by speaking the truth kindly. They carefully consider the impact their words will have on the other and use kindness to allow the truth to penetrate as deeply as possible.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

• What is my natural tendency: to speak “truth” or to be “kind”? What is the result in my leadership?
• When have I spoken truth, but not with kindness? What results did I see in my own life and in the life of the person to whom I spoke? How could I have spoken the truth in that situation with kindness? Do I need to apologize to that person?
• Can I think of another time when Jesus spoke kindly? What can I learn from His example?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2019.