Monday, May 30, 2011

Church Confidential

It’s not unusual for someone to come to me and say, “Pastor, can I share something with you in confidence?”

My response usually surprises them: “Depends on what you tell me.”

Often, church leaders are unsure of how to handle sensitive information that is received within the church body. It’s important to make a distinction between that which should remain completely private and that which requires action and some further disclosure.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about what we would understand as someone coming to another person in confidence and disclosing a personal or moral issue. As Christians we are instructed that we are to confess to one another (Matthew 6:14; James 5:16). Questions immediately surface however, when it comes to confidentiality that may be expected. While we are often asked to “keep this confidential” there are many times we cannot promise that when we hear certain information, it won’t require a follow-up or other appropriate type of action.

For example:

1) Information disclosed about abuse, molestation, theft and vandalism typically obligates the receiver to further disclose the information to appropriate leaders who often have an obligation to disclose the same information to others including often the civil authority.

2) Moral failures, addictions and even mental disorders often require that the person receiving the information take some action. While the person may be requesting confidentiality, the sharing of the information indicates that help is needed and a resolution is desired.

The Bible also speaks about gossip and it is often gossip that is brought to us in confidence. Gossips and busybodies are to be avoided (1 Timothy 5:13). Gossip breaks up friendships (Proverbs 16:28). The word often translated as gossip is the Greek word for a whisperer, a secret slanderer, or a detractor.

However, while gossip is to be ignored, factual information that threatens the integrity of the Body of Christ is a different matter and should not be ignored. These matters involving the spiritual health of the church, the protection of the sheep from wolves and the restoration of the individual take precedence over a request for confidentiality and secrecy.

The leadership of the church has a responsibility to restore a person that is caughtin a sin (Gal 6:1). However, just like a request for confidentiality, restoration is secondary to protecting the rest of the church. Protection is often accomplished through appropriate church discipline.

Pastors, and by extension other church leaders, have the responsibility for discipline within the church. Anything that compromises the integrity of the church or ultimately harms other church members or causes dissension needs to be dealt with by the church leaders from the biblical aspect of church discipline.

In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus gives us a four-step approach to dealing with these confidential and sensitive matters in the church. The first step is to confront the individual alone. Steps two through four escalate the discipline, particularly for the non-repentant.

“If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him-work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love. (Matt 18:15-18)

As believers and members of the Body of Christ, we are all under authority. Local church authority is a great place to start when dealing with an issue as described above. The first response should always be to encourage the offender to submit to the appropriate authority. If the person is hesitant, the church leader should let the person know that any consideration of confidentiality was presumptuous and cannot be honored because of the nature of the issue

Reprint from Church Executive, April 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

And on the Seventh Day.......

My wife and I recently returned from a brief 5-day trip to Mackinac Island, situated on the Straits of Mackinac and between the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan.

While it's difficult to admit, it was one of the first vacations I have taken in a while. It seems like there is always something going on, something urgent at the office to attend to and it's all too easy to ignore the need to rest and relax.

I don't know whether you call it a "moment" or an "Epiphany" or something else but God definitely seemed to be taking me to task about this idea of rest and relaxation.

Just a week before, one of my board members also chided me for my lack of attention to this concept of an extended rest that we so often ignore in this busy fast-paced world.

It just so happens that the trip also was an opportunity to catch up with some good friends that we hadn't seen in a number of years. We used to spend lots of time with them. Good neighbors, friends from church, adopted families and parents of children our children's age. When we were together again, even if briefly, it seemed like the time spent apart was not as great as the bonds that were drawing us together.

My wife (the smart one in our relationship) reminded me that it was the time that was invested in each other that likely was the reason we became such good friends. Time that is still available to invest in people both family and friends if we want to continue to have special friends.

Mackinac Island may not be the place for everyone: Just a small island with a tiny town, there are no cars, only bikes and horses. Cell phone service is lousy and 90% of the land is state-owned and consists of mainly trees and trails and beautiful views of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. And other than the Grand Hotel of "Somewhere in Time" movie fame, most of the hotels are only fair.

At the same time, it was a great place to rest, relax and reacquaint ourselves with that inner need to take some time off. I need to do it more often. Maybe even every week, maybe every seventh day.

I think I read that somewhere.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Three lessons on what matters

There are a few lessons that I've learned along the way about things that matter. Since my training is in finance and economics, it's no surprise that my lessons are quantitative rather than qualitative.

I thought I'd pass them along however:

1) Things that matter are measured.

If it's important, we find a way to measure it. While some things are relatively easy to measure (i.e. number of people, revenue, how long something takes), other things are more difficult. If something is difficult to measure that doesn't mean we don't measure it. For example, an employee's performance is a difficult measurement, but most HR professionals encourage an annual evaluation that is based on some standard assessment.

2) What you measure tells people what matters.

The lesson here is that people are watching. If you are a race car driver and never bother to measure how long it takes you to do the quarter mile people will think you are not very serious about racing. In an organization, if getting things done matter, measure what gets done and how long it takes. People will take notice.

3) There are a very limited number of measurements that can truly matter.

This is what I call the 'scoreboard' approach. In a football game, there are all kinds of things that are measured including time of possession, number of yards penalized, passer ratings, offensive yards, etc. The only thing that really matters however is the score. One team walks away a winner, the other goes home the loser. The thing that truly matters is the score.

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