In a culture which beseeches its leaders to be more transparent, some of you, who enjoy that basic approach, just might need to shut up about certain things. No, really, close your mouth, put a sock in it!
Almost every week something arrives on my desk or computer from panicky ministry acquaintances or clients about their having made a questionable career move simply by verbalizing stuff that should have stayed in their head.
I had some very good advice from a colleague many years ago and it runs through almost all my conversations with church professionals—at least when we find ourselves in a straight talk about “what went wrong.”
It goes something like this...
“This is your profession, your career, your job, and it requires you to protect both you and your family in a way that is quite different from the warm and trusting relationship of a friend or counselor.”
I patiently tell them to use common sense and not treat the church like a therapist’s couch, and that there is such a thing as solid and effective, but circumspect, leadership.
Don't get me wrong, honesty IS the best policy, but here are some hard-learned lessons from friends.
First, don’t talk about your doubts. You can have them, just don’t talk about them.
Ruth Graham was once asked if Billy ever had doubts. “Oh yes,” she said, “he just doesn’t entertain them.” It is prudent not to work through your doubts in front of your congregation.
It is certainly okay to talk (conservatively) about your struggles, but not your fears that God’s not who He says He is—that’s a leadership style that will backfire and do damage. It may sound like an appropriate and honest way of doing business, but it can easily put you out of business.
If you struggle with your theology, keep that dialogue either internal, with a trusted friend, or both. One pastor I coached thought it would be clever to have a conversation about his doubts in a sermon series. He later regretted including himself in the “doubter” category. He never fully recovered.
Two, be very careful when you talk about your marriage.
Joking in this area often turns into self-fulfilling prophecy (as in divorce and/or un-fixable conflict) and, like tooth paste being slowly squeezed from the tube, cannot be put back in...ever!
Self-deprecation is about the only viable approach for bringing your marriage into a church conversation. For example, “My wife says that our marriage is both starnge and wonderful—I believe she means I'm strange and she's wonderful, which, of course, she is!” One pastor I talked with made the mistake of calling his wife a "horder" and backed it up with a photo (on the big screens!) of her sewing room. It was meant to be an object lesson. It was!
Third, never air the disagreements you may be having with lay leadership or staff in front of your congregation.
Not only is this dangerous, it will make it virtually impossible to achieve resolution of the problem. Some pastors make the mistake of joking about such situations, trying to disguise their personal hurt by making lite of it.
Fourth, don’t telegraph your next move.
The classic mistake many make is the dreaded “exit language” miscalculation. If you make the gaff of saying you’re thinking of going someplace else, you had better just go, because you won’t be where you are currently much longer. Exit language is deadly!
Executives in the “real” world know all about this brand of inappropriate telegraphing of frustration, disinterest, or boredom. Some of those executives sit on your leadership councils and, trust me, won’t let you get away with this passive aggressive behavior. BTW, saying, “I believe the Lord may be calling me...” is exit language. Make no bones about it. When you’re ready to go, and have a place to go, say you’re going, go, and not before. Not everyone is a Bob Russel. Some may be, but you probably aren't. There don't seem to be too many of them in the church world!
This wasn’t meant to be preachy in any way. It was a word to the wise, and here's hoping, that's you!