Recently, I attended a church where the pastor told a story that I suspect he got from a homiletics service. The problem was, he told the story in first person, i.e., “This is what happened to me.” He then proceeded to use the story to reinforce a theological point that I found questionable. I doubt that anyone else was as troubled by this as I was. First, because most people of that denomination are okay with the theology which I found questionable. Second, because the average church goer doesn’t expect their pastor to lie. Yes, I think saying that something happened to you when it didn’t, is a form of lying.
Last year, we watched Brian Williams fall from being one of TV’s most respected newscasters. Why? Because the news is worthless to us if we don’t trust its source. The same can be said of the gospel. In fact, the whole business of church is heavily trust dependent. When we counsel a parishioner in our office, it is not our opinions or the accuracy of our facts that matters, but rather our prayers and our capacity to offer personal assurances, based upon our own struggles with life’s ambiguities. People need to trust that we are giving them an authentic response to what they have been vulnerable enough to share with us.
Right preaching and teaching is not about theological orthodoxy, but about sharing our personal experience of faith. We witness to the good news that we know. Church leadership and administration is not about being smart or respected, its about the trust the system places in us to ensure that all voices are heard, that all decisions are made by the appropriate process, and when conflicts come, that we have already earned the trust that enables us to act as a mediator.
Most pastors work hard to be entertaining in the pulpit. We can’t hit a home run every week. We should accept this fact and choose instead to be honest every week.