Things I’ve learned on personality, power, friendship, and integrity.
Pastoring for over 30 years has taught me a lot about myself and a lot about other Christian leaders. I had a friend early on with whom I spent a lot of time discussing ministry. He was like a mentor to me. By human standards he was a successful pastor with enormous influence. I liked being around his engaging personality and enjoying his favor. As time went on, I suspected that he often played loosely with the truth. Some would even say that he was a pathological liar. Yet, he was my friend and I excused his ‘imperfection’ and overlooked it. As time moved on and my journey took me down a different theological and philosophical path, our friendship ended and I became the object of his innuendoes. Looking back, our friendship was not deep for if it had been, I would have confronted him along the way about his lack of integrity and he would have loved me even though I took a different path. Admittedly, as a young pastor I loved the presence of power and influence too much. Later in life, we pursued friendship again. I had experienced enough disappointment to no longer be enamored with personality and success, and he had suffered enough pain to be humbled.
One day I had a conversation with a fellow pastor who was describing the difference in the way that he and I approached ministry. He referenced my departure from the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist movement in 1988. At that point in my life, I began to realize that true Christian fellowship was undermined by the separatism and turf-protectionism of much of the IFB movement. Instead of quietly maintaining the status quo, I disclosed to my church what was going on in my life and I informed about 100 of my IFB ‘friends’ that I would no longer practice that form of separatism. For me it was a matter of integrity. My fellow pastor contrasted my approach with his. He said, “I have chosen to not water the weeds that were sown before me and to let them die slowly.” He has done that for a long time and the weeds continue to sap the life out of his soul and his ministry. I think that his method is not only a bad approach to gardening, but sets forth an example of pastoring without integrity and must eventually lead to a conflicted conscience. Looking back, I realize that the weeds I saw in my own ministry could have been yanked out more systematically and gently, but letting them die a slow death should never be the option. In most gardens, weeds grow more prolifically then flowers and plants. Pull the weeds but be gentle to the plants.
Recently, I had to go out of my way to get a Seminary President’s attention. After numerous emails and no response, I went to see him and asked why he did not answer my emails. His response was, “Don’t take it personally. I am an equal-opportunity non-responder.” Should I really believe that the president of a seminary characteristically does not respond to emails? We had breakfast together and what I thought was a movement toward reconciliation and fellowship. As it turns out, it wasn’t real. He still does not follow through or answer emails. I think he really wanted to say, “We empathize with where you are theologically and philosophically, but we have supporters that might be offended by your involvement with the seminary. We must maintain the flow of money at any cost even if that means not living out who we believe God wants us to be.” My desire for gospel centered fellowship with all believers’ causes me at times to be intentionally naïve, thinking that a common commitment to the gospel should make fellowship possible. However, I do realize that other agendas trump the gospel in Christian ministry and when that occurs, integrity can be sacrificed. Pursue peace with all men as much as it is possible. It is not always possible.
I have met a few kinds of prevaricators in ministry – those who are cowardly, always protecting their image, and those who are brazen and so intent on accomplishing their agenda that they can spin anything. I have worked with both in leadership. Sometimes there is such sophistication in lying that we must live with the suspicions until the circumstantial evidence is overwhelming. Or sometimes we choose to live with the suspicion because of friendship, personal advantage, need of a skill set, repercussions of exposing the lie, etc. Forgive me for my guilt in all the above. Most often prevaricators move on to another unsuspecting setting uncorrected and unexposed; others remain so adept at the skill of illusion that they continue to survive where they are.
Though I pursue a life of integrity, I am not without fault. My desire for approval and the idolatry of my agendas can cause me to be silent when I should speak up and can cause me to not say everything that should be said when I do speak up. At times, I may justify my approach as a matter of ‘wisdom’ when it may just be cowardice or an idolatrous commitment to an agenda.
So, here is what I ask of my friends. Please help to keep me honest. Question me, confront me, pray for me, and encourage me to be a man of integrity. If you are suspicious, ask; if you think the facts are wrong or misrepresented, tell me; if you think there is more that I should be saying, probe me. I will do the same for you.
Is not this the call of the gospel? — to live and speak the truth in love.