Wednesday, February 16, 2011

To Tell the Truth

Rachel Held Evans is a writer, blogger and speaker. Essentially, she does what I'd love to do if I weren't loving what I was currently doing. (Or something like that.) She wrote the following on her own blog today: 

This post was inspired by a few things:  
First, the brilliantly titled Epic Fail Pastors Conference, born from the question “What if we offered a space that is gutsy, hopeful, courageously vulnerable for pastors to let go of the burden to be a Super Pastor?” Second, a candid talk from David Felton at Big Tent Christianity about how pastors are often afraid to share what they are learning about the Bible and Christianity with their congregations for fear or recourse. (David recalled one pastor who reached retirement and said, “Now I can finally say what I really think.”) And third,the increasing number of pastors who contact me to say that they have doubts too, but can’t tell anyone about them.
Dear Pastors, 
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
The Congregation 

The comments that follow her post are from many pastors (or pastor's family members or church leaders) who say this sounds great, until people threaten to fire you or actually do fire you. I'm from a family where a pastor was "forced to resign" because he tried to do what was right- both by members of the congregation and by his family. I suspect the people involved don't know the toll these events took on me and I don't fully know the toll it took on them. 
And, still, I became a pastor.
And, still, I struggle to tell the truth. I make an effort to say that things are difficult or lonely. I mention myself as an example of sin and not sainthood. I constantly hold out benchmarks of spiritual development for myself and find that it takes me longer than I expected to reach them. 
I say no sometimes. I do say I don't know. I lay out traditional approaches, contemporary understandings, and the basis from which I operate. 
I sin boldly and then, by God, more boldly still. 
And, yet, I think I do hold back. I wait. And I don't always thinks it's my decision. The Spirit is always at work and I may not be where God wants me to be on a particular issue yet. I may be shaped by the faith of those around me, even as I am part of shaping theirs. 
I think most people CAN handle the truth, but some, pastors and lay, still struggle. 
The life of faith is a mystery- simultaneously being unveiled and becoming deeper. About the time we wade in a little further, God does trouble the water. I, like everyone, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And I'm just trying not trip anybody else. And that's the truth. 


Rev. Elsa A. Peters said...

Yes, and sometimes the challenge is what truth do you tell...

Ole_Grizz said...

Two things came to mind as I read this post. (1) I remember years ago, in the first church I pastored, a family came to me and said they were "giving up" and leaving the church. When I asked why, they named my senior elder and his family as the reason. They said they had tried to live up to the standards this man and his family were portraying and they had failed over and over again and were too discouraged to continue to try. My elder never shared anything but positive things about his life or the life of his family. But I was aware there were problems there that no one else knew about. It was the first time I saw the discouragement and loss of hope his kind of dishonesty could produce. His "Christianity" was rooted in performance instead of grace and as a result was one which precluded the confession of sin to other believers. (2) The second thing that entered my mind as I read your post was a man who sat with tears running down his face after a sermon in which I had been honest about some things I was struggling with as part of a sermon illustration. I asked him if he was okay and he said... "Yes!" Then he thanked me for my honesty and said he felt so alone dealing with the same issue in his life and felt that he might possibly be the only one in the church struggling with it. My honestly about my faults/sins drew him closer to the Lord and gave him hope.