Posts Tagged ‘congregations’

Rumor Has It: Secrets, Confidentiality, and Transparency

March 13, 2014

All of these things whispered in my ear, tell a story that I cannot bear to hear;

Just cause I said it, it don’t mean that I meant it.                                                                       

People say crazy things…        

Just cause I said it, don’t mean that I meant it, just cause you heard it…                                                                                               

Rumor has it                              -Adele, Rumor Has It

They heard the  sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”                          -Genesis 3:8-10

Interpersonal communication is hard, isn’t it? Even though we humans have the capacity to communicate on a much higher level than animals do, we still have a hard time effectively conveying the information we want and need to share with another person. Sometimes we are embarrassed about something and don’t want to share, but may need to in order to get help; sometimes we’re angry or hurt by something someone else has said and we don’t know how to approach them about it, or even whether we should or not. It can be tempting to hold things inside, keeping things secret; or to share with someone, maybe drawing them into the secret with us or creating a triangle with a third party. We may get confused about when it’s ok to keep a secret, to hold something in confidence, or to be transparent. But for good, healthy communication between individuals or within a group such as a corporation or a congregation it’s important to know the difference in these things.

For example, sometimes keeping a secret is a good thing. you may be planning a surprise party for someone, and if the invitees didn’t keep the secret it wouldn’t be much of a surprise, would it? But secret keeping can be damaging when it means hiding something that the parties holding the secret deem to be shameful, or would hurt others if the information became public; or hiding something to keep up appearances. For example, a family that looks from the outside like the “perfect family” but is hiding the drug addiction of a member of the family can damage the family because the secret makes a lie out of the family image. In a church situation, when there is abuse by a minister toward a congregation member, that member will be damaged emotionally and spiritually if the situation isn’t addressed and the perpetrator isn’t called out and penalized for their behavior. In the end the entire congregation can be damaged by keeping such a secret, even if it is done with the best of intentions.

Sometimes we need to share information with others that we might not want anyone else to know. That is when confidentiality comes into play, when we share a secret that belongs to us but that we don’t want just anyone knowing. Trust is a big factor here– if someone tells us something in confidence we must keep the confidence until we are sure they are ok with it being told. However, telling someone something in confidence doesn’t mean sharing the information with the expectation that it will be passed along anonymously. Again, this is an unhealthy situation in a relationship and can put the “tell-ee” in the middle of a disagreement or a broken trust. In a congregational situation, when a few members share information or their “feelings” about an issue with another member, with the expectation that they will not be held accountable for those feelings, again it creates an unhealthy situation that can damage a congregation. For example, the board wants to change the worship service; some members agree and some don’t; but because the ones who don’t are speaking through a third party, the board doesn’t know who or how many are opposed. They can’t address the issue directly, and the changes to the worship service don’t happen. Then members who supported the changes are upset and a rift develops in the congregation. Or perhaps there is misconduct by a staff member; the board decides to terminate the staff member but keep the reasons “confidential.” The staff member has supporters among the congregation who aren’t aware of the misconduct and are hurt and confused by the termination. Again, a rift develops, and members may leave in support of the staff member, who they feel has been wrongly terminated.

So when is confidentiality healthy? Suppose I have cancer; I need support but don’t want the general public to know. I can share my diagnosis with my pastor or a trusted friend and ask them to keep it in confidence. This is a healthy practice because I am choosing who I want to share the information with, it is my information to share, and it doesn’t involve anyone but myself. Or perhaps my husband and I are getting a divorce; I can share that information with whom I choose in order to have emotional support, but it would be wise to ask that the information be kept confidential until the time comes that it is public knowledge. In a congregational setting, confidentiality rules often come into play when a new pastor is being sought by a congregation. The search committee needs the freedom search for an interview candidates without interference from the larger congregation; certainly there are times allotted for congregation members to express their ideas about what skills and personality type the pastor should have; but it is good for the search committee to work without too much input from the outside.

For me, transparency is almost always the best way to go. Secrets can lead to rumors running rampant– rumors that aren’t necessarily true and so may damage a relationship or congregation. Keeping confidences isn’t in and of itself a bad thing, but when you keep them to keep someone from being held accountable, even if it’s just accountable for their opinion or belief, this is unhealthy emotional behavior. Transparency means that all of the relevant information is shared, everyone is accountable for his or her own opinions or beliefs, and decisions can be made in openness and trust.

It strikes me that one thing that Adam and Eve lost when they ate from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden was trust. Once they saw that they were naked, they were embarrassed, and when God came into the garden they hid because they were afraid. They no longer trusted God to care for them because of what they had done. This loss of trust may be the nugget at the center of all of our human failings, for when we have no trust in a situation, when we feel that we must hide ourselves in order to escape punishment or censure, or when we feel that we can’t trust others to be truthful, relationships break down, organizations break down, and we lose that connection, that ability to communicate, that sets us apart from the rest of creation.

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5 Ways to Support Your Congregation (and the Body of Christ!)

January 30, 2014

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I have to admit, I’m not a big fan of “lists,” and right now there seem to be lists for everything from how to be a better parent to how to know what your cat is saying to you. But sometimes a list is a great way to get information across to people– which is, I guess, why so many people use them. Anyway, we often talk about supporting our congregations by being the Body of Christ in the world, and I get a lot of feedback in the form of “Huh? How can one person make a difference in the life of the congregation, or be the Body of Christ in the world?

So, here is my list, in descending order of importance:

5. Give. Give of yourself. Give your money (what you can, of course.) Pledge and meet your pledge, understanding that it is a commitment and a responsibility just like paying your mortgage or rent. Volunteer in your church’s ministries– offer to serve in the nursery or teach a Sunday school class. Clean one room of the church every week. Jesus invited people in, to hear his message and receive his healing. But then he expected his followers to go out and do and give. He sent people, “volunteers” out into the surrounding towns to share his teaching. And he had people supporting him financially, and people gave because they were moved by what he had to say. The church doesn’t run itself, and the pastor can’t make everything happen all by him or herself. If you get anything out of worship on Sunday, give back through tithing and volunteering.

4. Show up. It takes a lot of planning to put on a worship service, a Bible Study, or a fellowship event. It makes a huge difference when everyone shows up. It is understandable that there are days when you just can’t make it, when you’re sick or worried about risking yourself in the weather. However, if you wake up and just don’t feel like going, or if you’re tired at the end of the day, remember the work that has gone into preparing for whatever event is happening, and support that effort by showing up. The energy in the room is different when there’s a large group as opposed to a small group, and most church events need that energy to be successful. 

3. Take Initiative. Be the change. If there isn’t a class for your kids, start one. If the current Bible Study or Sunday School class doesn’t appeal to you, start a new one. If you have the gift of hospitality, offer to plan a fellowship event. When the same group of 10 people are always the ones putting all of the effort into planning and implementing church activities, they will burn out quickly and the activities will become stale. Change takes energy, but an energetic church is an attractive church, and fresh ideas and activities are attractive to newcomers and outsiders. One of the things that made Jesus’ ministry so attractive to people is that it was a fresh way of looking at and being in the world.

2. Be a good neighbor. In your own neighborhood, get to know the people around you– especially if your neighborhood is changing or has changed. Share yourself with the community by volunteering in the schools, by supporting the local police and fire departments, by offering to babysit for the single mom or dad (or couple) who live down the street. These ways are how we can be the Body of Christ in the world– by knowing who is in that world and what their joys and concerns are. Jesus sent his disciples out with nothing but the teaching he had given them and the ability to heal and drive out demons, because he wanted them to offer themselves to the communities. He wanted them to be vulnerable. In your church’s neighborhood, be aware of the issues it’s facing– whether its a new housing development that will change the character of the community, or a high crime rate that threatens the people who live in the neighborhood, or whatever is going on around you– be aware and be involved. Make your space available for community groups and meetings– and show up for community meetings whenever possible. “Love your neighbor” is one of the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus, and we need to do more of it.

1. Be flexible.  The number one thing I see that hinders a church in it’s ministry are people who aren’t flexible, who can’t or don’t want to deal with change. “We’ve never done it that way before” or “we tried that once and it didn’t work” or “things have been this way since I was a child and I don’t see why they need to change now.”  Never mind that society is changing all around us– not that the church needs to change because society is changing.  However, change happens whether we want it to or not. The world is different than it was 50 years ago, but the church is still trying to operate using that model. For churches to be healthy, congregation members need to be flexible and open to change– any and all change. Change is scary, and our world is a fearful place right now; however, trying to keep the church exactly as it has been since we were children isn’t realistic or healthy. Jesus was constantly on the move; he didn’t stay in one place, he travelled from place to place. The message didn’t change– that’s the important part– but he didn’t stay put, he was flexible, and required the disciples to be flexible as well.

Oh, there is one more thing you can do to support your church, that anyone can do, anywhere, any time: pray. Pray for your pastor, pray for the spiritual health of your congregation, pray for the community around your church and the people in your neighborhood. Prayer really does make a difference– if nothing else, it changes us and  the way we see the world.

So there you have it– my 5 (or 6) favorite ways to support your congregation and be the Body of Christ in the world. I can’t guarantee that if you do these things will change overnight– but what I can guarantee is that you will change and your congregation will feel supported and loved– and your community will too. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?