It used to be true that sharing certain realities of life was frowned upon even (especially?) in a spiritual community. It was usually kept quiet, for example, that:
- The pastor ever struggled with doubt.
- The most generous financial contributors were not always The Rich Ones.
- The church staff didn’t always get along.
- The perfect-looking family sitting next to you on the pew for 10 years had dealt with all manner of crises.
Our culture has changed and today healthy churches do not keep such things quiet. This article covers why transparency is good for business. Transparency is also very good for spiritual communities.
In fact, as people seek community today, we are increasingly attracted to:
- Leaders who are real. The healthiest pastors have strong emotional intelligence and excellent boundaries, but they also share their personal struggles in pastoral ways. “The Perfect Pastor” or the pastor who tries to convey that her family is perfect does the congregation no favors. It’s a community killer.
- Finances that are managed openly and effectively. There are thousands of charities that would love to have our money. Congregations with transparent accounting procedures instill trust and confidence. When salaries and benefits are published, we better understand our sense of fairness, justice, and commitment. (Is our secretary earning a livable wage? Does the Senior Pastor earn three times what the Associate Pastor earns, and if so, why?)
- Rules that make sense. Do we say we are a welcoming congregation but our rules tell a different story? Do we hold up a vision of tolerance but we have written or unwritten rules against certain people holding office?
- Open opportunities to serve. Nobody joins a church to serve on a committee with endless meetings, strange processes, and cliquish leadership. When there is a secret inner circle that makes all decisions, the congregation is negatively impacted.
- A clear and transformational purpose. People want to make a difference in the thick of our busy lives. We do not have time to waste on institutional administrivia.
Social media contributes to transparency, but it can also isolate us. Oversharing how very perfect everything is – and especially oversharing someone else’s issues – is not what I’m talking about here. Social media that reaches out trying to connect (sharing prayer concerns, for example) creates intimacy.
Neil Patel of Fast Company writes, “As people become more transparent with one another, their relationships deepen. And who is responsible for leading that move towards transparency? It’s the leadership of the business. Transparency has to start at the top.”
Attention Pastoral Leaders and Denominational Staffers: Transparency starts with us. It keeps us honest. It infuses trust. It creates community and makes us better.
Do we ourselves trust that God is leading us? Do we seek to be faithful followers of the way of Jesus? If so, we can afford to be transparent in our ministry.
Image of the Transparent Church located in Limburg, Belgium and designed by Arnout Van Vaerenbergh. Photograph by Frans Sellies.