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The Danger When Your Church Keeps Secrets

Hillary Clinton’s use of private email accounts for official business while serving as the U.S. Secretary of State has dominated headlines in recent weeks.

Her response to the controversy did not satisfy many Republicans and even some Democrats, so this is likely to remain as issue for some time, especially if she does announce as a presidential candidate.

Secrecy is not limited to politicians. We find it in churches as well.

Before I became a pastor, I served on the board of the church I was attending. Prior to my coming on the board, church members would see the board and the pastor go into a back room almost every Sunday after services. A few weeks later, the pastor announced his resignation.

The following year, I was elected to the board and was selected as secretary. One day I thought I would check the secretary’s record book where all meetings were recorded and find out what was happening in those meetings.

All the pages from that time period had been torn out of the secretary’s book.

One of the problems with secrets is that they are often exposed, and when they are exposed bad things can happen. This is certainly true in churches that have secrets.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a church leader whose church is suffering for a variety of reasons, but one of those reasons is the decisions that have been made in the past and kept secret from the congregation.

As a result, this once thriving church has a serious trust issue within the congregation.

A church is no healthier than the secrets it keeps. When a congregation learns that its leadership has made decisions without informing the congregation or, even worse, taking steps to ensure the congregation does not learn about them, the church is in trouble.

People are not stupid. When such secrecy is exposed, the congregation then wonders what else leadership has done that they do not know about.

Distrust grows and a division occurs between the congregation and its leadership, leading to a very unhealthy situation.

In many cases, the leadership thinks they are doing the church a favor. Sometimes difficult issues arise that require painful decisions to be made.

In such cases, leadership will sometimes want to protect the church from the pain they have endured while addressing the situation.

However, those issues and the resulting decisions often are eventually revealed, and when that happens, the congregation may feel betrayed. Anger and a loss of trust often follow, which can impact the church for years to come.

If you are in a low-trust church that has struggled with secrecy, it’s time to become transparent. Congregations are capable of handling much more than they are sometimes given credit.

To regain a level of trust in a church, confess your role, if any, in the secrets that have been kept.

Personal issues that require confidentiality must be respected, but all other decisions must be communicated to the congregation.

At this point, you cannot overcommunicate. You are trying to rebuild trust, and that cannot happen if people still believe you may be hiding something. Transparency and communication are vital.

Trust will not be regained quickly. If people feel they have been betrayed in the past, it will take time to rebuild trust.

You will have to be consistent in your transparency and communication for that to happen.

Dennis Bickers served as the bivocational pastor of Hebron Baptist Church near Madison, Indiana, for 20 years before accepting his current position as a resource minister with the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky. He blogs at Bivocational Ministry, where a version of this article first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter @DennisBickers.