Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Pastoral Tension #2 - Transparency

My wife received a wine rack for Christmas. Actually, two. Both her father and I shared the idea. As an additional gift, he stocked it with bottles. When we hosted our extended family Christmas, there was enough wine to go around for holiday cheer on all sides. Call it a celebration. Call it Communion.

Of course, when our church celebrated Christmas, we hid the wine glasses and broke out the plastic tumblers. We filled them with Seven Up and grape juice. We called it a celebration. We called it Communion.

There is a certain wisdom, call it Pastoral Survival 101, in separating personal convictions from public practice. One of my mentors will not drink a beer with me in his home town, but will happily raise a glass in my neighborhood. And if I follow the same policy, we have to meet at a neutral location. (Chicago, Lance's Bar and Grille, 9:00?)

When it comes to teaching, preaching, and everyday conversation, there are certain personal convictions or sin struggles that are not helpful for full disclosure. This is a pastoral tension. I've known pastors who confessed sin and lost jobs. I've know pastors who hid sin and it found them out. Transparency is a risky business.

The sermon should not be treated as a confessional booth. Nor should it serve as an impersonal discourse on doctrine. Pastors make moral decisions. Pastors make ethical judgments. Pastors distinguish between family practice and public ministry. And pastors lead others to due the same.

I'm not unaware of the "stronger/weaker" brother arguments in Romans 14. Christian liberty is an important issue. Moreover, personal liberties further expose the pastoral tension of transparency. The two reasons below illustrate:
  • I cannot make decisions for any other person; each one is responsible for their choices
  • I influence other people's decisions; teachers/leaders face a fiercer judgment
In the end, pastoral transparency is lawful and most profitable when it serves as a paradigm for decision-making to others. I expose my choices--moral, ethical, sinful--to teach people discernment and how to strengthen their walk with Jesus. If pastoral transparency serves merely to justify my choices or shock some listeners, then I should leave it on the wine rack in my kitchen.

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