Sometimes clergy lie to their parishioners and sometimes we lie to ourselves. Of course this is true for people in every vocation, but pastors are in a particular position of authority – at least in some circles – and we are susceptible to others’ unrealistic perceptions. I’m especially struck by this news story about the number of clergy outed on Ashley Madison. And this story about the pastor who was both a successful seminary professor and Baptist minister and a human being with secrets.
If you are part of Church World – either vicariously or personally – you surely know a clergy person whose secret life has been revealed – painfully. I’m less interested in the Jimmy Swaggarts and Ted Haggards of the world than in the local pastor who lies to him/herself and or lies to his/her people only to have those lies disclosed.
We need to hold each other accountable. We need to try to be the people we profess to be by virtue of our ordination vows.
There are too many links in this post, but this article is a must-read. I especially like this: “Give a heady sermon and folks are moved, but give a vulnerable sermon and they are set free.” Preachers who disclose our own failures and struggles create community. Those of us who minimize our own vulnerabilities perpetuate the notion that we are morally and spiritually superior.
Sure, it’s our hope that we pastors will be Christ-like, but it’s our hope that everybody will be Christ-like, right?
It’s not enough to declare the obvious: pastors are not perfect. But my point is that we are doing a disservice when we lie to ourselves or fail to note that our secrets – if revealed – will hurt the people we love.
- Maybe we have calmed ourselves with food, alcohol, sleeping pills, etc. for so long that we don’t even realize we have a problem.
- Maybe we have presented a certain way of life (happy marriage, perfect kids, unwavering spiritual life, super-human emotional resilience) to the point that even we don’t even acknowledge the truth to ourselves.
- Maybe we have made personal life choices that we hide from our parishioners. Controversial example: Pastors in open marriages. Chances are that most parishioners would not understand/appreciate this. But when it gets out in the community, the resulting damage will be long-lasting. If we have a secret life that we would not want revealed on social media, perhaps we need to rethink our calling.
- Maybe we believe that nobody could possibly know the truth about ____. Don’t be so sure. It’s a really small world.
Being vulnerable is a crucial part of being a spiritual leader. Our truth is comprised of brokenness, imperfection, and shame just as much as anybody. If you are reading this and thinking, “This is not about me. I’ve got it together,” please take a couple days off and read some Brene Brown.
The healthy 21st Century Church is about authenticity. There are countless BS-ers out there who will preach cliches and prop themselves up as pillars of spiritual coolness. But the world is craving something real.
We can do a lot of damage when we’re fake or self-deceived. But we can go some good if we admit that we are kind of a mess and need something bigger than ourselves.