2) The lack of transparency kills community. Every time I leave a ministry, I turn to my wife, shake my head, and utter the preceding sentence. As leaders, hiding things or keeping secrets in our ministries is the quickest way to break down trust and cut out the heart of the body. Ephesians 4 admonishes us to put away lying, and in the context of that passage, I would hasten to add that the lack of transparency should be included too. When leaders withhold things from the people, it is because they are operating from a posture of fear, not faith, which is the wrong foundation for a ministry. And so, when leadership keeps secrets, it breeds suspicion and creates a damaging sense of superiority and hierarchy. It breaks trust between members of the body so that the parts stop working well together. It creates an inside/outside dynamic, so that ministry becomes a collection of silos, instead of an integrated building. And it creates an environment that is rife with power struggles.
On the other hand, telling the truth communicates that what is good for you is good for me, because we are all joined together as a body. It emphasizes our connection and our mutual interests. Moreover, it fearlessly casts the entire ministry upon the sovereignty of God, in an atmosphere of self-denial and a courageous lack of self-protection.
And so, I regularly say, unless it is an issue of personal sin or shame, TELL EVERYTHING. Tell the people anything and everything that you think they might like or need to know. It shows that you respect and trust them. It treats them like adults, and not children. And it creates an incredible sense of goodwill. An elder board had signed a non-disclosure agreement with a departing employee, and it left a congregation that was a honeycomb of conspiracy theories and distrust. I told one of the elders: you should get up in front of the congregation and answer any questions that are posed. If you get sued for it, then so be it. You will lay the foundation for a better leadership platform in the future, and you will cast your destiny upon our God, who holds the future in His gentle and powerful hands.
Incidentally, this is the area where I struggled. I was involved in a home church where I was the teaching pastor. I was currently in seminary, and so as a group, I was beginning to share with them something of my journey, and how I was looking for where I would serve next. One of the elders took me aside and asked me not to talk about this change, because it was too destabilizing for the group. I acquiesced. When I eventually announced that I was taking a job at another church, that choice to hold back certain information irreparably damaged some of those relationships. I will regret it forever.
And so I say to leaders, tell everything…or at least, everything that doesn’t expose someone else’s personal shame or guilt. And trust that our God is in control.
3) Self-protection in a leader cannot co-exist with authentic vision-casting. When you are a self-protective leader, you can’t help but pose the wrong questions about your ministry. Underneath it all, you will keep asking, “what is good for me?” and not “what is good for this ministry” or “what might God have for me?” It is a very fearful and insecure approach to ministry, as if you owe what you have to what you have achieved, and not what God has graced you with. And as a result, you will be continually trying to defend your own record, and establish your own reputation in every decision that is made. Moreover, everything that happens in your ministry is spun so that it makes you look good. If you are a self-protective leader, then you can’t help but lack transparency in your ministry, because you can only show certain things to the people, not your authentic self. You dare not risk it.
I once served with a pastor who told me, “You can’t make a mistake in this place, because they will never let you forget it.” When I heard that, I headed for the door, because that is the OPPOSITE of the gospel. The gospel means that we’re justified by what Christ did on the cross, and that we’ve exchanged our sins for his perfect life and record of righteousness. The gospel makes it possible for leaders to avoid that kind of self-protection, because they don’t stand on their own record. What’s worse, that kind of attitude permeates the congregation from the top down. If you really want to have a congregation that lives and breathes the gospel, then you are the one who must live and breathe it first. Your true values will ooze out through everything you do, and if your ministry is based upon your record or reputation, then your people will never learn what the gospel looks like in real life.
What does this have to do with vision-casting? Well, if every question that you ask about ministry has “me” at the center, then you’re not asking what is best for the ministry, or your people. It means that you have no idea how to die well, and everything you do will be an effort to preserve your legacy at the institution YOU built. Vision-casting, or thinking for the future, doesn’t work that way. As leaders and pastors, we should be thinking how to change lives, and how to keep a flexible structure so that lives continue to be changed. What that basically means is that we are mentoring younger leaders and frankly, progressively working ourselves out of a job. That is a self-sacrificial move, and if the core of your ministry is motivated by self-interest, it is a move that you’ll never make. You cannot be me-centered and other-centered at the same time; it is a contradiction.
I’m not sure what kind of project that we think we’re on as ministry leaders, but looking at the ministries and leaders around me, I am pretty sure that DYING to ourselves isn’t part of our plan. And yet, I’m not sure why not. After all, isn’t that the example that Jesus gave us? I don’t understand our strategy, but it seems much more like a corporate board room. In our world, dying to ourselves is a completely alien notion, and as counter-cultural as it could be.
If we want to be able to cast really compelling vision—the kind that Jesus cast—then we can’t make ourselves irreplaceable in the process.
© 2013 Daniel Radmacher