On Transparency

A Vice President here at the University at which I work once told me, “Nothing scares me more than someone who acts like they have their shit together.”

Wise words, to be sure. Implied in them is the fact that none of us has our shit together (or “poop in a group,” if you are disinclined toward swear words). The question, then, is what we do with our non-put-together selves.

This is nearly universally true, but especially in areas where culture has, at one point or another, demanded a subsection of the population become experts. Faculty in a university setting, for instance. Or, perhaps more challenging, teachers and pastors in the Church.

Once upon a time, pastors were viewed as, and expected to be, experts. To have all the answers. I’m not sure if that was ever a good idea to set that expectation of them, but what I am sure of is that today, that expectation is infinitely more harmful than helpful.

It’s harmful because it demands something impossible of church leaders. Nobody can be an expert on God. It’s inherently impossible, unless you shrink God down from his infinity into something manageable, which in itself is a heresy (and perhaps the largest and most popular heresy of the modern church).

It’s harmful because it makes pastors and teachers in the church deny their own questions and doubts and failings, which makes them less human and less honest.

It’s harmful because at some level (in a healthy or unhealthy way), church congregations view church leaders as a model to which to aspire, which then forces them to deny their own questions and doubts and failings.

It’s harmful because it turns away the billions of unchurched people who echo the words of that Vice President. They view the church with some degree of skepticism, ranging anywhere from dismissiveness to disgust to contempt, and at least a portion of it (I would argue a large portion) is derived from our untenable sense of certainty.

Study after study shows that people today don’t have any interest in learning from “experts”. In the university setting, those who are open, transparent, and honest with their students have been shown to be far more effective teachers than those who set themselves up and answer-dispensing experts. And if that is true in the college classroom, how much more true is it in the church pulpit?

May we followers of Christ lead the charge down the path toward authenticity, openness, and transparency. May we welcome and encourage the difficult questions and doubts and be honest about our own struggles. May we learn the power of asking the right questions rather than having all the right answers. May we remember that leading doesn’t always mean being out in front of someone; that often it means walking alongside of them. And may we be pleasantly surprised at how Christlike this makes us.