James H. Gilmore might not be the first person you'd turn to for pastoral wisdom. The business consultant and co-author of Authenticity and The Experience Economy (Harvard Business School Press) is better known for overturning conventional ideas in business and marketing. But Gilmore also has a deep love for the church. In addition to lecturing at a business school and architecture program, he teaches at a seminary. Skye Jethani talked to Gilmore about cultural understandings of authenticity and about how transparent pastors should be with their congregations.
Does a pastor have to be transparent with congregants in order to be authentic?
If people are going to see you as being real, there must be some degree of transparency, sure. But be wary of revealing everything. Pastors who are too quick to divulge their innermost struggles can actually do harm. At times, Jesus was silent. Why? Because Jesus was not always transparent, but he was always honest. He said things only to benefit his hearer. That was his motivation and it should be a pastor's as well. Honesty trumps transparency. Honesty is not unloading everything that's on your heart; it's saying and sharing only that which benefits the other party. I'd rather have an honest pastor than a transparent one.
What do you do with a pastor who is teaching the truth but living a sinful, duplicitous life?
Well, that would be a terrible thing. And given the need to be "above reproach," if truly two-faced, such a pastor probably needs to step aside. The safeguard against such hypocrisy is not for pastors, in the name of transparency, to air every sin in every detail every week just to make sure they're not being hypocrites. Far better to change behavior. And I'd have to wonder why such a pastor might come to live such a life. Is it because he can't live up to some self-imposed works-based standard? Or because he fails to truly grasp the gospel?
In recent years preachers have begun including more stories from their personal lives. But is there a danger that people walk away remembering only those stories and nothing else from the sermon?
Whatever skills it takes to tell a good personal story can be better channeled to tell the story of God's grace. There are plenty of good tales to tell from Scripture.
The goal of telling stories shouldn't be for listeners to remember something about your personal life. The goal should be to make the text come alive. Years ago I visited Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia when Philip Ryken was pastor there. It was right after a particular Philadelphia Phillies baseball game was in the national news. During the game a foul ball had gone into the upper deck and a father caught it and handed the ball to his young daughter. Cameras caught the whole thing. The little girl looked at the ball, and then threw it back below. Other dads might have been upset, but this father's reaction was one of immediate love. He didn't yell or reprimand her. Instead, he instinctively hugged her. Ryken was preaching through 1 Corinthians 13 and the way of love. He used the story of that father's love to illustrate the passage he was expounding. Ryken didn't start with his own story, "Let me tell you about a time I went to this baseball game with my son." No, he used a timely news event to connect people with the text, because the tale so wonderfully illustrated how Paul tells us our heavenly father loves.