Honesty is of great importance to me. It is one of the things I look for in friends, staff and leadership. It is one of the things I strive to be in my personal and public life. I’ve never been drawn to "yes men" and find that I prefer the "iron sharpens iron" qualities of a brutally honest person.
I have served on church staffs and under the leadership of pastors that only wanted to hear the positives. I found all of these churches to be without vision, clear leadership and growth. While I recognize the need for positive reinforcement (and doll it out on a daily basis to those that work with me), I also know that personal, spiritual and vocational growth can only come with people being brutally honest about your shortcomings.
I learned this lesson in a most peculiar way back in the early 90s when I was just starting out as a Christian comedian. I’d only been doing the comedy thing for a little over a year with some success. I had started traveling around the country on weekends, been picked up by a major Christian booking agency, had done some television shows and was getting noticed by some record companies. I knew the next step was to seek out a manager that was well-connected in Nashville and the CCM scene. Through a friend I was introduced to Ray Ware, who at that time was (and still is) the manager for Bryan Duncan, Randy Stonehill and Bob Carlisle. He took a call from me and requested a video sample of my work. Up until that time everyone around me was talking about how great I was doing – really pumping sunshine up my skirt. I was getting quite a big head and was thinking I was the "next big thing".
A few days later I called Mr. Ware back expecting to hear how honored he was to be chosen to manage such a dynamic artist that was going to redefine how the world looked at Christian comedy. Instead his first words were, "Chris, I gotta tell ya, I wasn’t impressed at all – the comedy material was pretty lame – I think you need to chose another career." I was crushed!!! In my shock, disbelief and anger I never heard another word of that conversation. The gist of it was that he didn’t feel like there was anything to manage and that the folks pumping me up – might be nice – but didn’t have my best interest at heart.
For days Mr. Ware’s words were all I thought about. I had a few gigs and – needless to say – they sucked because I couldn’t shake off what he said. The anger and shock began to die off and I truly began to look over everything I was doing. I knew that Nashville could be brutal and that I was competing for a record contract against much more seasoned Christian comedians. I knew that the "corn ball" humor that worked in Zwolle, Louisiana wouldn’t go over with the record guys in Nashville. After some personal contemplation and many sleepless nights, I called Ray Ware back.
He was kind enough to once again take my call. This time I asked specific questions and listened to his brutally honest answers. He should have charged me 10% of everything I made as a comedian for his advice, because it was incredible. I applied everything he said to my comedy act and business structure…and it worked. Suddenly I doubled in gigs, was appearing on national radio shows, got more television exposure and was getting calls all the time from record companies – both big and small.
In the end Mr. Ware never managed me and I only ended up staying in the CCM industry another few years. In those years I had to hear some pretty brutal comments and advice by great folks (Chonda Pierce, Steve Geyer, Scott Hall, Wes Campbell and Leslie Kent) that changed my life for the positive. It was those lessons that showed me that brutal, honest truth is always a growing experience!
Over the last several weeks I have received both extremely negative and extremely positive emails about my honesty on this blog. I was challenged a few months ago by a church planter to be as brutally honest on my blog as I am when I speak at conferences or mentor someone. I have taken that advice to heart and have begun to be more honest and authentic in my postings.
Compass Point is not one of the top 25 most innovative churches in America (according to the folks at Outreach), however we are reaching young 20-somethings. We are on the cutting-edge of future Christian leadership and – with that – brings an understanding of what the future of the church might look like. From what we (the Compass Point leadership and I) are observing that the coming paradigms will be a threat to the current definition of success and paradigms in church planting. I truly believe that the mega-church, high-tech church and Purpose-Driven church models are quickly becoming dinosaurs with the coming culture. I believe that only brutal truth and honesty will help to prepare the way for the next church planters. So this is why I write.
If you chose to continue to read this blog, please keep two things in mind:
1. I will be brutally honest from now on. Being inflammatory is not something that keeps me up at night.
2. While I am not always right, I am never unsure!