Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World

Misfit Disciples in an Orthodox World
"You had better be a round peg in a square hole than a round peg in a round hole. The latter is in for life, while the first is only an indeterminate sentence." – Elbert Hubbard

Transparency in the Church: How Real Can You Be?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Our subject is something that I first pondered twenty  years ago, while serving as the pastor of a small church in eastern NC. The parsonage was right next to the church, so close that I could reach out one of the side windows and actually touch the church. It was a very awkward experience, to say the least. We were young and very green in terms of pastoral ministry and I had no clue how intrusive some people could be. There really was no presumption of privacy there. People would come and go from the parsonage as if they had been doing it their entire lives. It didn't take us very long to realize that over half the congregation had their own key (the former pastor did not live there and the congregation had used it as a makeshift fellowship hall for several years)!

Looking back, it was hard to even have a good argument in that house. I suppose it was good for our marriage at the time. Being young with three small children, an occasion to argue arose frequently, for sure. But, we were always a bit reluctant to raise our voices (who can imagine a good argument without getting a little loud?), never really knowing who was listening. All of this made me begin to ponder the expectation of church people upon their clergy and the nature of my responsibility to live up to those expectations. I mean, every family in my church struggled with arguments and such; who doesn't? Yet, I didn't feel comfortable letting my family conflicts become common knowledge. 

After some time in prayer and contemplation, I found Isaiah 39; a very short chapter, but an extremely important one. Hezekiah has received Babylonian envoys and in his hospitality (I am sure there was a bragging component here as well), the King shows these Babylonians all the treasures of the kingdom of Judah. When they leave, Isaiah sends word to the King, asking about what the envoys saw in the Hezekiah's house. The King replies, ‘[t]hey have seen all that is in my house; there is nothing in my storehouses that I did not show them.’ The prophet essentially tells the King that what he's done was a bad thing and that because of it, one day, these Babylonians will return to Jerusalem and take everything for themselves (obviously, the reasons for Judah's inevitable judgment were more complex than this one event); a prophecy that would come true just 120 years later.

I remember reading this and feeling the Lord speak to me, saying that I, myself, did not need to show everyone everything that was in my house. And this is what I would like to address briefly in this post. How transparent can we be, or, should we be, in the church? I know that we sometimes have this egalitarian ideal, where everyone is on equal footing and no one has the right to expect more from one than from any one else. Unfortunately, while all that sounds good (may even have a strong biblical basis) and looks good on paper, it doesn't connect with reality in most cases. And especially, not in areas of professional leadership. It may not be right, but there is definitely a prevailing thought that says that I might have my problems and not want you to judge me, but if you are being paid to be my pastor, and if you are being paid to represent my church in the community, I don't want your dirty laundry aired out in the society column of the local newspaper!

Many times over the years, I have heard a pastor declare from the pulpit, "my wife and I had an argument on the way to church this morning." Every time, my heart leaps, and I say, 
"YES! Finally, something I can relate too!" Yet, there has also been a part of me that becomes troubled, thinking, if he or she can't get it right, what hope is there for me? I know that is a simple example, and we certainly can not expect our clergy to be perfect, not experiencing some of the same problems we all go through. But, how honest is too honest in these areas? How do we straddle the divide between honesty and open dialog and at the same, not discourage people or give those who have less than honest intentions fuel to fight and destroy us with? 

Fact is, as ministers and leaders in the church, one of our greatest assets is our credibility. Once we've lost that, it doesn't matter how real we are or how honest we might be, nothing we do or say from that moment on will matter. And, there's often a very fine line, one that's not clearly marked, between being real with others and being too real: losing credibility. I'm not addressing how things should be. We all know that things should be different. But, I am speaking to how things really are for many of us in places of leadership and ministry.

I know this isn't a comfortable subject for many of us. But, the question persist: how do we become more transparent, yet at the same time refuse to give our enemy place to ridicule or destroy us? No one wants to be a hypocrite, but I don't think everyone wants to know about everything that I struggle with every day. I'm not sure that I would want my pastor to confide in me about his short comings or failures. How do we navigate this mine field?


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