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For Christmas, my kids gave me the Gospel Birds tapes by radio storyteller Garrison Keillor of "Prairie Home Companion." In them, Keillor talks about pastoring, and he mentions that if a pastor stands before the church and says, "I'm a human being just like you," the first questions in the minds of the congregation are Who was she? and For how long?
Their immediate conclusion, Keillor suggests, is that he must have committed adultery. Why else would a pastor admit humanness?
That humorous insight got me thinking about the ways people see us as pastors and up-front Christian leaders. I wondered if most congregations don't assume their pastors are more like Old Testament prophets, who stood apart from the people and judged sin, rather than like biblical priests, who took part in community routines and whose daily behavior and family relationships could be observed. Many people seem to be uncomfortable with even a Christlike priest, as described in Hebrews 4, who can be "touched with the feeling of our infirmities."
I began to grapple with the question: What do we do with our infirmities-our misgivings and fears, our failures and sins? How transparent can a public figure afford to be?
There are dangers, of course, in readily baring all our defeats, doubts, and discouragement from the pulpit. It can be cathartic for the speaker, but a public pity party does listeners no real good. Raw emotion can baffle and embarrass an audience. They feel used, almost as if the speaker had become a flasher. What he's showing may be legitimate and God-given, but in public it should remain dressed.
Indiscriminate expression can also damage a leader's ability to lead.
At times a pastor, like any business executive who's just made a necessary but unpopular decision, cannot publicize his inner uncertainty about the decision. If he waffles publicly, he's perceived as weak. That prompts any natural uneasiness people have toward change to grow into murmuring dissent. Then the ...