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The 15-year-old son of one of our elders, seated before our youth minister, shifted nervously in his seat.
"Look, I need your help," he said. "Can I tell you a secret without you telling anyone else?"
Sensing something serious and wanting the teenager to open up, the youth pastor agreed to keep quiet.
"My dad is a tyrant, and I can't handle it anymore. I got a ticket to Florida, and I'm gone, man. I want you to give me a week and then give my mom this." He handed over three folded sheets of white notebook paper, stapled shut.
The minister tried to change the boy's mind or get him to at least talk to his father first. He offered to mediate and let the boy live in his home until things could be worked out. The boy stood firm and finally left.
The youth pastor felt the far-reaching implications of the decision he faced. He stood eyeball to eyeball with the "Mr. Hyde" side of pastoral confidentiality. Even though he'd agreed not to break the secret, he wondered Shouldn't I tell someone? The parents? At best the senior pastor. Ethical absolutes left him little room to maneuver.
In a previous ministry we started a branch church and called a young pastor, fresh from seminary. Most of the people in the branch church were mature believers, but I had experienced problems with a few of them and knew they could cause this young pastor problems as well. I advised him (as Paul did Timothy regarding Demas and Alexander the metalworker) so that he could be prepared.
I expected my comments to be kept in confidence among peers. Unfortunately, in the heat of one confrontation with them, the young man revealed that I had "warned him" about them. They demanded to know what I had said, and, since the secret was out, he told them I considered them divisive. It was difficult to reconcile with them because they felt I poisoned his mind and jeopardized their chances in the new church.
Breaking a confidence is not something to take lightly. From early childhood, the ...