Tell the truth

Joseph Pew, founder of Sun Oil Company (and whose children later set up the Pew Charitable Trusts), is credited with coining the phrase, “Tell the truth and trust the people.”

I first heard the phrase from one of the best church communicators I’ve ever known: Floyd Craig. He was talking about how to communicate in tense situations, when there’s controversy or division in the church. Floyd is now president of Floyd Craig Communications in Franklin, TN, specializing in crisis communications. Among the several books Floyd has written are Christian Communicator’s Handbook, and a publication written for the United Methodist Church, Not IF, But When – a Crisis Communication Manual.

Over the last 30 years in church communication I’ve evolved a variation on the phrase: “Trust God and tell the truth… early and often.”

Before, during and after everything else: Trust God. And simply tell the truth.

The advice doesn’t apply only to crisis or controversial situations. If you’re starting a new ministry in the church, or contemplating a change in the way things are done, or challenging the congregation in a particular area of spiritual growth – trust God and tell the truth.

“Early and often” – It is certainly true in crisis situations: The first telling of the story is the standard by which all subsequent versions are measured. The first speaker is proactive. The next ones are reactive. If the first version of the story is corroborated by the following ones, the story is verified. If different versions begin to appear, the truth of the original is called into question.

Be the first to tell your story. And if you tell it the way it is, you won’t have to remember which version you told to which group. Your message will be consistent across all channels of communication.

And if you make a mistake, admit it. Be the first to claim the mistake. Trust God and tell the truth.

Floyd shared another anecdote in an email message the other day. He wrote, “Congressman Brooks Hays and I were walking in a hall of the capitol and a lady came up to him, poking at him and went about complaining about some issue on which he had taken a stand. He listened and listened and when she finally ran down, he said, ‘You know, you may be right!’ The lady immediately ceased her tirade, smiled and said, ‘Thank you so much, congressman.’ As we walked on, he said under his breath, ‘And she may not be right!’ I wish I had learned to say more ‘you know, you may be right’ statements. I probably would not have died on so many small crosses or wasted my time on some things.”

Some of the books influencing my thinking about the Prodigal Project


Unchristian:  What a new generation really thinks  about Christianity…  and why it matters
by David Kinnaman (Baker Books, 2009)

Applebee’s America:  How Successful Political, Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community
by Douglas B. Sosnik, Matthew J. Dowd and Ron Fournier  (Simon & Schuster, 2006)

They Like Jesus But Not the Church:  insights from emerging generations
by Dan Kimball (Zondervan, 2007)

What’s So Amazing About Grace?
by Philip Yancey (Zondervan, 1997)

Blue Like Jazz
by Donald Miller  (Thomas Nelson, 2003)

Tell It Slant:  a conversation on the  language of Jesus in his stories and prayers
by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 2008)

Practice Resurrection:  A conversation on growing up in Christ
by Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans, 2010)

The Return of the Prodigal Son
by Henri J. M. Nouwen  (Doubleday, 1992)

The Prodigal God
by Timothy Keller (Dutton, 2008)

The Prodigal Project

A generation of people in their 20s & 30s see Christians and the church as hypocritical and judgmental.

They are aware of Jesus… in fact, many of them grew up in the church. They are comfortable with Jesus’ teachings and moral standards (although their lifestyles may not show it). But they are not aware of, nor are they comfortable with who Jesus is.

They want a life of meaning and purpose, but Jesus and the church have no part in it. They have so stereotyped Christians and the church that they are unable to open their lives to God’s grace. In fact, you might say that Christians and the church have gotten in the way of their relationship with God.

How can they be moved to embrace Jesus – his teachings and his example, as well as his God-with-us identity? Can they be moved to acknowledge the problems in the church, yet embrace it as God’s way of helping us mature as his followers?

On the other hand:

Many Christians in the United States are too comfortable with our religion. Our faith has become institutionalized.

Although some of us are faithful in attending church services… and many are involved in other acts of service to and through the institution, the healing flames of grace and forgiveness have grown cold.

Many of us are focused on the externals of religion rather than our relationship with the Heavenly Father. A daily walk with God has become a well-worn path that can be navigated with our eyes shut… which is exactly the way some of us travel.

Can we be moved to admit our self-righteousness, hypocrisy and judgementalism? Will we drop our pretenses and accept the fact that we need God’s grace on a daily basis?

Can people in both groups be moved to see that they need each other, and that God put us together in the church for that very reason?

Since January 2010, I’ve been reading, thinking, praying and working to figure out a way to answer these questions.

Rembrandt, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 166...

I think Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, as told in Luke 15, speaks directly to the issue. Jesus, of course, was a master communicator. In a few minutes, with a few chosen words, Jesus spoke directly to heart of the Pharisees’ problems. And he did it in earshot of those “tax collectors  and sinners” who needed to know that God is welcoming and accepting of everyone, no matter what their history, race or religion.

Can this story be told in a way that speaks to our 21st Century culture with the same impact that it had when Jesus told it 2,000 years ago?

Working on it… more to come soon. Anybody have any thoughts?