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Give It To Me Straight By Sara Nagelvoort Marlin


Christian Leadership Alliance

By Sara Nagelvoort Marlin

There are merits to candor in the Christian workplace, especially when we have the courage to say, “Give it to me straight.’

Last year I transitioned from the corporate world to a Christian nonprofit, realizing a life-long dream to apply my love for marketing and communications to a wonderful ministry. I felt very honored to join Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest prison ministry, and to be called to God’s work of bringing hope and new purpose to men and women behind bars. How rewarding to join a workplace in which I can overtly express my Christian faith and where my hard work can help advance a crucial cause!

I am being refined daily as I humbly see the core elements of steward leadership at work, observing how my peers in leadership roles effectively and prayerfully manage the resources in their care and lovingly nurture staff members to full potential. But I do think that there’s an area where Christian leaders can learn from secular counterparts, and that is in conflict resolution.

One of my early observations as I entered a Christian ministry, where I interact throughout the day with both internal staff and external partners, is the lack of candor at times. On more than one occasion, I have been in a meeting to discuss a new opportunity or a shifting priority, and I expressed what I thought about the idea. What I liked, what I didn’t like, what confused me, where we might explore a tighter solution. To me that was the point of the meeting. I have been surprised that my Christian peers have often not done the same. Rather, I often hear vague enthusiasm and agreement, only to see no follow-through and later find out that they didn’t like the idea in the first place.

I have seen that Christians can be woefully incapable of healthy disagreement. Perhaps Christians feel it’s impolite to disagree with one another. Is it that we don’t want to squelch a fellow believer’s enthusiasm for something? The problem is that fear of conflict often spurs even worse behavior, including passive aggression, talking behind one’s back, and misleading people, which is really just a hair away from lying. Isn’t that worse? To the question, “What would Jesus do?” I would say, “Not that.”

As followers of Christ, we can observe how He responded to people. On His journeys, He was often “moved with compassion” to immediately heal people in his path. He winsomely used story-telling (parables) to present challenging, thought-provoking principles. He expressed straight-forward righteous indignation as He encountered profiteers in the temple. Jesus was a savvy communicator and, though mysterious at times, He didn’t mislead.

Jesus modeled a number of communications strategies, and I would posit that “straight talk” was one of them. It is an important quiver in the Christian leader’s arsenal. Straight talk has the obvious benefits of being time-efficient in aligning resources with clear direction. Moreover, it upholds the integrity required by all steward leaders, which includes managing with consistency and in a way that inspires unity. What better way to encourage team unity than to communicate with gentle transparency and clarity?

Of course straight talk can be taken too far, and be downright obnoxious. A gentle way to give feedback without seeming contrarian can be asking good questions that get at the heart of one’s concerns.

I exhort Christians in the workplace to have more candid conversations. Steward leaders have a responsibility to utilize and model straight talk. Speak the truth with love. It’s what Jesus did.

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Sara Nagelvoort Marlin is the vice president of marketing and communications for Prison Fellowship, the nation’s largest outreach to prisoners, former prisoners, and their families.

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