Friday, February 18, 2011

Should I tell them the truth?

There has been a fantastically interesting debate going on over at Rachel Held Evans' blog, under the post: Dear Pastors: Tell Us the Truth.

Rachel writes:

Tell us the truth.

Tell us the truth when you don’t know the answers to our questions, and your humility will set the example as we seek them out together.

Tell us the truth about your doubts, and we will feel safe sharing our own.

Tell us the truth when you get tired, when the yoke grows too heavy and the hill too steep to climb, and we will learn to carry one another’s burdens because we started with yours.

Tell us the truth when you are sad, and we too will stop pretending.

Tell us the truth when your studies lead you to new ideas that might stretch our faith and make us uncomfortable, and those of us who stick around will never forget that you trusted us with a challenge.

Tell us the truth when your position is controversial, and we will grow braver along with you.

Tell us the truth when you need to spend time on your marriage, and we will remember to prioritize ours.

Tell us the truth when you fail, and we will stop expecting perfection.

Tell us the truth when you think that our old ways of doing things need to change, and though we may push back, the conversation will force us to examine why we do what we do and perhaps inspire something even greater.

Tell us the truth when you fall short, and we will drop our measuring sticks.

Tell us the truth when all that’s left is hope, and we start digging for it.

Tell us the truth when the world requires radical grace, and we will generate it.

Tell us the truth even if it’s surprising, disappointing, painful, joyous, unexpected, unplanned, and unresolved, and we will learn that this is what it means to be people of faith.

Tell us the truth and you won’t be the only one set free.

I read this and thought: Yes! Preach it!

And then I read the comments.

Many, many, many pastors and former pastors and pastors' wives and other ministers said:

Dream on.

You might want this, but the congregations? No way. They don't want to hear the truth. They want platitudes, and promises, and godlike pastors to lead the way in sureness and capital-T Truth. They want quick answers, not open questions. And when they're signing my paycheck, well, I learn to preach what they want to hear.

There's extensive debate (feel free to check out the comments if you have a half-hour on your hands) about whether Rachel's desire for honest truth and an experienced desire for objective Truth is a generational gap, or a spiritual maturity gap, or a geographical or educational or socioeconomic gap.

I definitely wrestle with this. I want to be honest with my congregation. I want to be able to talk about my social anxiety and my depression and my pains past and present. I believe that leading in pain and hope is better.

But will my congregation?

If I build my own congregation from the ground up (which I'm beginning to think I would like to do), it would be easy. Welcome to the new church; I'm your pastor and I'm in pain; if this does not help you, then it's not your new church home and that's OK. But if (like most of my classmates) I'm called upon to lead an established congregation (and one that's likely "dying", i.e. decreasing in members), then I will have to find a balance between what that established congregation wants (which might be easy answers) and what it needs (which is hard questions).

And in all this, I'm expected (at least, in the present model for pastoral leadership) to earn a paycheck from them.

This is why I really hope that what Pastor Marc said is true.

But if it's not...

Should I tell the truth?

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