Church Leaders Who Shade the Truth
According to a Gallup survey in 2018, only 42% of Americans believe that clergy have “high” or “very high” standards of honesty and ethics.
But that’s all of America. What about those that identify as “Christians”? That number ticks up to a whopping 43%.
And about 10% of “Christians” say that they consider church leader ethical standards as “low” or “very low”.
Why is this?
Here are a few reasons:
- The biggest baddest stories of unethical clergy make the news. It’s like the firefighter that is a closer pyromaniac, or the cop that sells drugs on the side. The dichotomy between what the person is supposed to live up to and what they actually do makes for an interesting story. And in the church, when they are whoppers, they make national news (just think Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, or most recently Bill Hybels or James MacDonald).
- People who aren’t Christians internalize these big media stories and suppose all pastors, churches, and leaders are probably the same. One pastor falling has an effect on every pastor in some people’s eyes. To be honest, I’ve been in ministry at some pretty high levels over the past couple of decades. I’ve seen some mighty people fall. I’ve known some of them. And to say that it hasn’t made me a little suspicious or cynical would be untrue. Every fall from grace erodes at trust. And as church leaders, we all suffer that consequences (at least to some degree) of other people’s sins.
- Many people have just not had a good experience with the church. They’ve been hurt or burned by unloving Christians and pastors in the past, and they, quite honestly, want nothing to do with Christianity or the church. While in high school, my church took a legalistic turn. Out of the 50 kids in my youth group, I would doubt that even a handful are still living in the faith. Many more want nothing to do with the Church.
- The last reason (and this one might hurt a little) is because some church leaders are simply not purveyors of the truth. Of course, they share the gospel on Sunday morning, but when it comes to their leadership, they often fall short. As I put it, they shade the truth.
When you’re put under oath, you are asked to ‘tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’.
Many church leaders just don’t do this. The result, many times, is a group of people that lose their sense of trust in their leadership.
I think the biggest way this happens is not by downright lying, but rather by telling partial truth (and thus leaving some part of the truth out).
It’s easy to do. And it’s a major temptation for church leaders.
We can even go back as far as Abraham. Abraham had a beautiful wife. I mean, she must’ve been drop-dead gorgeous. But when Abraham when to a new city, he told Sarah to tell the king that she was his sister. That way they King would not harm Abraham (instead, he would just take Sarah as his wife). Awkward any way you go about it. But Abraham chose to conceal the truth (that Sarah was his wife).
He did this, not just once, but twice (that we know about). Both times the kings became irate. And so did God.
But here’s the clincher. Abraham didn’t REALLY lie.
Sarah WAS actually his sister. OK, well, actually, his half sister.
So, TECHNICALLY, Abraham told the truth.
But he left out a HUGE piece of the truth... that Sarah was also his wife.
This is how half truths happen with church leaders all the time. It’s very easy to do, and sometimes even easier to justify.
You tell the good side of things and leave out the bad.
You tilt the facts in your favor, giving incomplete information.
In order to get your way (in Abraham’s case: not get killed), you tell a half truth. Half truths = lies to the person they’re being told to.
Incomplete stories to make you look good are lies. And people know it.
As soon as you start trying to define what the meaning of ‘is’ is, you’ve lost the battle of trust in your ministry.
Of course, some church leaders BOLD FACE lie, but many more, I’ve found, live somewhere in the ‘shading of the truth’ area.
How honest are you with your team? I mean completely honest? Do you try to sway people by sharing only good things? (Or in other situations, manipulate the situation by presenting only the negative?)
Guard your heart, pastor. What you say matters. The truth matters.
Learn the lesson from Abraham. Be on the guard for the temptation to share half- truths. In fact... run like the wind.