Here’s the scenario: Your church’s youth director has just resigned. He was well-liked and seemed to be effective. Most of the church has no idea what went on behind the scenes. Only a few leaders know that there were character issues, accountability issues, communication issues, philosophy-of-ministry issues and eventually, personal issues between the senior pastor and the “youth guy.”
Thankfully, the newly departed associate is not spreading rumors or complaints, but sadly, his best friends in the church – most of them being the volunteer youth ministry staff members – are doing just that.
Some of what they’re saying is true, some of it is “sort-of true,” and some of it is nonsense.
People are angry and demanding to know why Pastor Tom (or Bob or Dave or Bill) was “forced out” by the mean-old senior pastor.
BTW: If you think I’m betraying your confidence by sharing your congregation’s story, I’m not. Honest. This is a fictionalized version of an all-too common scenario.
Here’s the question: How much do we tell the congregation?
Two extreme responses would be: (1) We tell the congregation everything in gory detail – this is a bad idea from a Biblical/ethical standpoint and leaves you wide open to a lawsuit, or (2) We tell the congregation absolutely nothing, except that Pastor Tom has resigned and has already cleaned out his office.
Option (2) (above) is increasingly popular and common. It is urged upon churches by human resources professionals and is the norm in our largest churches. As with everything else, most churches today want to do what the mega churches do. In the smaller church, and most churches are smaller churches, I believe that this response is a mistake.
Here’s why I believe the “No disclosure” method is a mistake:
The “No disclosure” approach fuels imaginations.
If you don’t tell the people something discretely truthful, people – especially those who were not fans of Pastor Tom, or who are not fans of the senior pastor – will imagine the worst. This, sadly, is the natural response of the persistently negative human heart. I’ve written about our tendency to be “nattering nabobs of negativity” (Vice President Spiro Agnew’s term) here.
The “No disclosure” approach breeds mistrust.
Most of us have a need to know. I don’t mean a real, objective need to know, I mean a psychological need to know. If we have great trust in our leaders that need is minimal; if we have little trust in our leaders (which is very common today) the need to know is enormous.
Our minds fill in the missing vowels that aren’t on the license plate. Our minds fill in the missing details which aren’t being shared by the church board. People who are not crazy about – or simply do not know – the senior pastor and church board will assume that there’s some devious reason why they’re not revealing what happened. You always suspected that a so-called “pastor” who wouldn’t tuck his shirt in and had the kids play football with a dead, raw chicken was bound to have more serious issues.
The “No disclosure” approach creates elephants in the room – the very room where you want your people to worship God and express love for each other.
I’ve written about the importance of slaying your “elephants in the room” here.
There are churches that are so full of elephants that there’s no room for worship, no room for joy and no room for honest disclosure to one-another. The “No disclosure” dishonesty of leaders creates a culture of truth-hiding and emotion-stuffing. I have had many Christians tell me that their churches are fake, phony, dishonest. Is this what we want? Does this sound like a “New Testament” church culture?
God’s people can handle the truth, graciously and humbly shared by big-hearted, self-deprecating leaders.
People are neither stupid nor naïve. They’ve been around the block enough times to know that we all have trouble getting along with each other.
Read that sentence again, will you? We all have trouble getting along with each other. Pastors, elders, deacons, husbands, wives, employers, employees, brothers, sisters – we all do. Can’t we just admit this? The second time Jesus mentioned the church he was talking about what to do when your brother sins against you.
In contrast to the mistrust-creating “No disclosure” approach, when the senior pastor, or a well-respected lay leader stands up at a meeting and tells the congregation that their pastors had some philosophical differences that eventually grew into personal differences, people are neither shocked nor horrified.
They’ve seen it all before, in their own lives. They can handle this. They can explain this to their kids. They can show their teens passages like Galatians two and Acts fifteen where God’s choice Apostles had a hard time getting along with each other. If the senior pastor admits that the situation was – in part – his own fault (which it probably was), his congregation’s respect for him will grow by leaps and bounds.
You are leaders of a holy congregation, not a clever corporation. Be gracious, be careful, be discreet, be kind and tell your congregation the truth.