The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'All pastors are liars'

Last weekend a friend of mine who has left the church said to me, "All pastors are liars."

While I don't agree with the generalization of the statement, it got my attention. There is also truth in it. It has caused me to look at myself and my ministry. My gut-check has revealed that, yes, pastors are liars.

We lie about how we're feeling, what we're thinking and what we're doing.

• How we're feeling

My dad took us to football games when I was a kid. He would stand on the sidelines near the end zone while I ran around with my friends. I remember one particularly cool evening, late in the game. My dad stood there shivering, hands shoved deep into his pants pockets, arms stuck to his sides like 2-by-4s.

"Dad, are you cold?" I asked.

"Nope. I'm not cold," he responded.

I realized later that he felt admitting he was suffering would diminish him as a dad and leader of our family. I've discovered that one of our unspoken family rules was to not show vulnerability, even if it meant lying to those around you.

When the church I serve was going through some conflict a few years ago, and when I was suffering some interpersonal conflict in my family, I determined to "grin and bear it." I hid behind my role as a leader and "put on a happy face" even when I was screaming inside. I bought into the lie that told me stoicism is a godly virtue and makes for a good leader.

Frustration, fear and hurt are natural. Everyone has these feelings, even pastors. I used to think that while pastors can have these feelings, they shouldn't share them with anyone in the church. While we don't need to wear our hearts on our sleeves, we are allowed to be human. We need to take the time to pour out our hearts to God and close confidants so we can respond honestly and appropriately in tense situations.

• What we're thinking

As pastors, there are times to be prudent and wise about what we say. However, I've found that -- more often than not -- we're nice but  not honest. Some of us keep our mouths shut and go with the flow because we're afraid of what other people will think. There are times to do as the apostle Paul says and "speak the truth in love."

• What we're doing

Having a pastor's schedule that is fairly fluid can also be a curse. Some of us misuse our time to engage in pursuits that compromise our integrity and faith. We certainly don't need to be accountable to everyone, every moment of the day. We can have private and public lives. However, wise thinkers have defined character as what we do when no one is looking. Is what we're doing when no one is looking what we would want everyone to do?

In a letter to his protege Timothy, Paul wrote: "I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth" (1 Timothy 2:7). In his role as pastor to the church, Paul understood quite well that his integrity fueled his effectiveness. It's time for pastors today to stop hiding behind fear, their role and their schedule and say with Paul, "I am telling the truth, I am not lying."

The church needs leaders who courageously live the faith we proclaim. In the future I hope my friend will be able to say, "Pastors are the only people who live the truth and tell me the truth." 


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February issue


Embracing diversity