“Be Careful Around that Man”

earth_1_apollo17.gifThat’s what he told me. My friend said, "Be careful around that man."


The guy had made life miserable for many a minister.  I’m glad my friend warned me.  That has been years ago.  His advice was warranted.  And, I was careful.


You may have read Jan’s comment the other day regarding a post on this blog:

I was thinking along these lines earlier today, wondering about the
boundaries of emotional and spiritual vulnerability of a pastor with
others. I’ve found the line can become blurred, that line between our
willingness, our need, to be open and honest and our selfish desire to
be the centre of someone’s attention. There is a confession of our
souls that can be very self-serving and darken the lives of others.
Being vulnerable before God isn’t the same as being so before others,
yet there are similarities. Perhaps you could elaborate.

A few observations in response to his comment:


It helps me to first think about this subject in terms of extremes.  One extreme is the person who is so carefully guarded that you feel like you never really know her or him.  This person carefully reveals only what he wants you to see.  You may never really feel as if this person is fully present with you in a relaxed, trusting manner.  So often this seems to be a control issue.  Meanwhile, others are never allowed to really see him because he is carefully controlling and manipulating the situation.


The other extreme is the person who just exposes most EVERYTHING with sort of a recklessness.  I have seen some preachers/teachers who seem to expose most everything about their lives in classes or Sunday messages.  I’m just not sure that the men, women, and children present are best served by hearing the graphic details of an illness, hints of sexual frustration with his wife, or others matters that maybe should have been dealt with in a less public setting.  Some filtering may be very loving especially if it spares family members or others embarrassment or humiliation.


As a preacher/teacher, I must examine my heart.  After all, it is very easy to turn self-disclosure into a kind of self-exposure that becomes self-serving.  I knew a man once (a teacher in a church) who would go on and on about his faults in most every class he taught.  He regularly spent lots of class time talking about this fault and that fault, on and on.  No matter the subject, the class seemed to return to himself, his issues, etc.  Then each week people would respond by telling him that he was not really as bad as he was saying.  This went on week after week. 


I want to live as a person who is not always being self protective with others.  However, that does not mean that I park my good judgment in the presence of unsafe people.  And, there are plenty of unsafe people around.  They are a few in many, if not most, churches.  At times, wisdom demands that I use some discernment or even caution about what I say and when and where I say it.   I want to love people but that does not mean that I forgo all wisdom and judgment, especially when I am dealing with a person who is unsafe.


At the same time, I do think that James (5:16) clearly envisions a church where some kind of confession is taking place in the life of the Christian community.  What form?  Where?  In the assembly or privately?  Lots of room for discussion here.  Yet, I do believe that believers need someone or a few "someone’s" with whom we can talk openly and freely.  It is tragic when a minister/pastor/church leader feels as if there is no one at all to talk with.  (And there are many who feel that way.)


I sure don’t have all the answers to this one.  Maybe I am trying to live avoiding the two extremes.  I don’t want to be completely reckless with my words, parking all judgment and discernment.  Neither do I want to be more focused on self-protection than loving others.  In the end, I want God’s love to come through.  I suspect that all of that requires much prayer and thought.


What do you think? 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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13 thoughts on ““Be Careful Around that Man”

  1. Very wise reflections, Jim. Having encountered individuals like the man you mention at the outset of this post on several occasions, I’ve often wondered why he is tolerated. If a church’s spiritual leaders are aware that these people exist, why do they not lovingly address them? There is certainly ample, biblical authority for forthrightly dealing with such matters.Blessings,-bill

  2. Bill–Thanks.  Of course you are exactly right.  It is maddening at times to think about these kinds of people who are never confronted, dealt with, etc.

  3. I think both confession and silence are appropriate at different times. If you are part of a smaller group within your church, this can be a place to exercise these.

    Our pastor is part of one of our small groups, and is one of the elders. In these ways, he is part of the community, not above it.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful follow-up, Jim. From reading your post I’ve felt you strike the right personal balance in self-disclosure, being consistent with the counsel you offer here. As you know, I’m one of those pastors with a "colourful" past. I agree fully with the view you offer, though I painfully remember getting it wrong, especially in those early days at university. I once recounted a drug experience to a follow student in the dormitory, who over the summer decided to experiment himself. He went from a promising pre-law student, to abusive prison guard, and later pulled several years in prison himself for assault on a neighbor. I know he had other family problems, but he told me that he was intrigued by my adventures and after that summer he had been quick to share his own "adventures" with me. It was a sad time. And some of my hard lessons were still ahead.I only speak in general terms now about my previous drug addiction or clinical depression, if at all. The nature of my past makes it difficult to answer even simple questions with new friends; I try to keep it simple. It does bond me to others with a similar past. Some come to me for counselling now, not because I go on about my experience, but because I’ve grown in some respects through my relationship with Christ and they hope I can offer some insight, if it is "only" to listen with empathy. I am still learning; I feel the constant need for Christ’ help in areas others may take for granted. I fell back into drugs in mid-life (89′-95′), in part because I allowed discouraging personal circumstances to cloud my view of Christ. Prayer and devotion where put on the back shelf and I lost my way. My children, family, and friends paid a heavy price."Take heed lest you fall" is never far from my thoughts now. I also offer this comment as an example of how I disclose, in the appropriate context, some of my life. While it is not all I am, it lends a certain tint to the picture. I am still learning not to act the hero (admire me), the victim (pity me), the cynic (I see it all), the clown (lets laugh it away), or the monster (fear me). Though I’ve found self to be a slippery creature, I hope to daily be a Christian who can humbly share his faith, even when it is a struggle. I hope my experience challenges those who assume they are above a fall, encourages those who have fallen, and warn those who are tempted that even in reconciliation a price will be paid.Thanks again, Jim.    

  5. Jim, Thanks. Yes, neither does very well. I used to be caught up a little in the self-deprecating mode. And I’ve learned over the years to share only so much with most people, as far as my own struggles or vulnerabilities go.
    It is interesting how hard it is to break through to know some people. Walls are up. And when I’ve felt unaccepted it’s been hard for me to be myself. I’m extra guarded then, and in a shell, it seems.
    No easy answers on your thoughts on confessing sins. I’ve been thinking a little on that lately myself.

  6. I think in terms of congregation members, small groups are definately were there should be room for openness and love. I guess I’m not really sure how that should be addressed for pastors… what about a smallgroup in your town specifically for pastors only? Something I noticed while I was in Chicago in the summer, was how many of the churches are moving away from that king of affinity-based model, towards a neighboorhood model. Although in saying that, several also still have a number of affinity groups, purely because certain groups have issues and struggles specific to them that it helps to be with the same type of people, e.g. adoptive parents. So maybe it is a good idea for pastors?

  7. Emma,I have been a part of a group like this (referring to a group for pastors) at different times in my life.  I found one or two of these groups particularly helpful.

  8. L.L.You make an important point.  The answer for any church leader, or any other Christian for that matter is not going to be being above the community.  Complete detachment from the church does not create a more authentic community (or person). 

  9. Jan,Thanks for this post.  It is personal, authentic, and genuine.  Thanks for reminding us all to not be over-confident in our faith-walk.  As you mention, I hope your words also serve to encourage those who have fallen.By the way–I really lake the very clear way you describe some of the masks we wear ("hero, victim, clown, etc.")  I want to remember these.

  10. Jim, Regarding the masks I mentioned, those are from Larry Crabb’s book, Soul Talk, in the last chapter or two if I remember right. I did add the mask "monster" (fear me) to the list, as it has been one
    of the common ways to self-protect in an irrational way…the powerful
    offence touting itself as a defense.  I have certain reservations about Crabb’s direction recently, so I can’t give an unqualified endorsement, however some of his work has really helped me over the past several years, especially the older, Inside Out. His book Soul Talk has, in certain places, a contrived quality for me in his attempt to introduce new terms and it really pushes the boat out on the very subject we’re discussing, what he calls telling your story. His other book, Connections, is along similar lines. I found his Finding God to be close to the bone, very real, very good.