Posts Tagged ‘lying at church’

My family enjoyed Christmas dinner with my brother-in-law’s family this past weekend, and we played a game around the table that proved to be oodles of fun.  Someone called it “telephone pictionary.”

We were each given small notepads and asked to write down a Christmas phrase like “figgy pudding” or “Santa Claus is coming to town.”  Then we passed our notepads to the next person who had to draw a picture of the phrase on the next page.  When that person was done drawing, they passed the notepad to the next person who examined the crude drawing, flipped the page, and tried to write down the original phrase.  Then we passed our notepads along, alternating between creating a drawing and coming up with a phrase.  When all fourteen of us finally received our original notepads back, it was quite amusing to hear how a phrase like “silent night” ended up becoming “dead potato” within just a few minutes.

The same phenomenon happens in churches all the time.  And unfortunately, the greatest victims of distorted communication are pastors and their families.

Years ago, I served as the pastor of a church that chose to write a new constitution and set of by-laws.  Four people served with me on the “constitution team” and we had some fascinating discussions about how our church should operate.  When we completed our draft, I preached on every major section of the document and invited questions and comments after each message.  (This was done at a Sunday evening service.  Remember those?)  The team recorded the best suggestions and included them in the final document before the congregation voted on it.  The whole process was transparent and participative.

I specifically asked that the following phrase be included: “This constitution will be null and void after five years.”  I took the phrase from a suggestion made by Ted Engstrom, one of the leading Christian management experts.  The purpose of the phrase was to ensure that the church’s governing documents would constantly be reviewed and revised.

However, a group in the church held a meeting around this time and invited a secular attorney to join them.  When the attorney was told about the “null and void” phrase in the proposed constitution, he concluded that I didn’t want the church to have any constitution after five years so that I could become the constitution and take over the church!  Sadly, this is what some people chose to believe even though they never asked me about it.

More recently, in the midst of a major conflict, a former attendee began telling people that “They finally caught him!”  (The “him” was me.)  Evidently she believed that I was guilty of some horrible sin in previous churches (even though she had never attended any of them) and that I was using the same modus operandi.  But I had no idea what she was talking about, although I’m sure there were souls who were willing to supply that information.  In some people’s eyes, my ecclesiastical crimes – although still unspecified – merited the worst possible punishment.  But, to be honest, being lied about is punishment enough.

Not long after this accusation surfaced, I ate separate meals with three different former board chairmen, none of whom evidently knew that they were breaking bread with someone who had committed unspeakable felonies when we had served the Lord together!

I have heard terrible things about many Christian leaders over the years.  While the charges are occasionally dead-on, more times than not they are completely twisted.

Charles Spurgeon, whose sermons were often harshly reviewed in the London papers of his time, encouraged the pastors of his college with regular talks on ministerial life.  In his classic book Lectures to My Students, Spurgeon’s chapter “The Blind Eye and the Deaf Ear” is the single greatest counsel on handling criticism I have ever read.  Spurgeon writes:

“In the case of false reports against yourself, for the most part use the deaf ear.  Unfortunately liars are not yet extinct, and … you may be accused of crimes which your soul abhors.  Be not staggered thereby, for this trial has befallen the very best of men, and even your Lord did not escape the envenomed tongue of falsehood.  In almost all cases it is the wisest course to let such things die a natural death.  A great lie, if unnoticed, is like a big fish out of water, it dashes and plunges and beats itself to death in a short time.  To answer it is to supply it with its element, and help it to a longer life.  Falsehoods usually carry their own refutation somewhere about them, and sting themselves to death.  Some lies especially have a peculiar smell, which betrays their rottenness to every honest nose.  If you are disturbed by them the object of their invention is partly answered, but your silent endurance disappoints malice and gives you a partial victory, which God in his care of you will soon turn into a complete deliverance.  Your blameless life will be your best defense, and those who have seen it will not allow you to be condemned so readily as your slanderers expect.  Only abstain from fighting your own battles, and in nine cases out of ten your accusers will gain nothing by their malevolence but chagrin for themselves and contempt for others.”

While Spurgeon notes exceptions to the above rule, his counsel is timeless.

They lied about David.  They lied about Job.  They lied about Jesus.  They lied about Paul.  And if you are doing anything worthwhile for the Lord, “they” (meaning Satan and his minions) will lie about you, too.  While I don’t like to be lied about (no one does), haven’t we all – knowingly or unknowingly – spread lies about others at times?

Years ago, I read Steven Covey’s classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  Some of the phrases in that book have become part of our culture (like “seek first to understand, then to be understood”).  But one of the best phrases in that book is just five words long: “Defend those who are absent.”  As conflict expert Speed Leas says, we tend to exaggerate when we talk about someone who isn’t around to defend themselves.  But when that person is in our presence, it’s surprising how carefully we phrase our words.

Resolve that you will never intentionally lie about anyone, especially Christian leaders.  If you hear what you suspect might be a lie going around about someone, contact them directly and ask if it’s true.  Isn’t that what you would want that person to do for you?

Proverbs 6:19 links “a false witness who pours out lies” with “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”  Deception and division go together.  Liars destroy reputations and separate friends.  Resolve to tell the truth in every situation, especially when it comes to Christian leaders.

Because when we spread lies about another person, we are doing the devil’s work for him.

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