The phrase “false witness” is a familiar one: we are not to bear it against our neighbor (Ex. 10:16), and such a witness “will not go unpunished” (Prov. 19:5, 9). We know God never lies, and we know that trust—in all areas of our lives—starts with truth-telling.
But even if we know these statements and ideas to be true, we would do well to ask ourselves a couple of key questions: how are we practicing truth-telling in our ministries and how are we applying these truths in the situations we encounter every day?
Here are five ways in which truth-telling may fall short in ministry.
- Consenting to improper actions
A leader’s integrity may falter, and an improper course of action may be decided on as a result. Ask yourself whether truth-telling is a value that’s consistently articulated at your ministry—starting with top leaders—and whether a space is being created for honest communication regarding decision-making.
- Bold claims that can’t be substantiated
Are items in your bulletins or Sunday announcements being overstated? Will a member’s $50 gift really make a huge difference? Is it really “critical” that someone give today? It may be tempting to use this kind of language, but overstatements may not have the desired effect, and they aren’t entirely true.
- Selective integrity
Are all of the constituent communications thoroughly truthful? Does the board convey the whole truth? I’ve sat in board rooms, and too often I’ve heard things shared that weren’t exactly the truth; they were close but not the whole and complete truth. When a staff member shades the truth, does senior leadership immediately raise the question of integrity and set the record straight?
- Repeating someone else’s statement without checking to see whether it’s true
It’s easy to simply quote a source and fail to conduct the proper fact-checking that will prove its credibility. Do your research—even when it might take a little extra time and effort.
- Saying something that is true about a person or a situation without saying the whole truth
Is all messaging complete in its reporting of the facts? Is there anything omitted that, if shared, would provide a different view of the matter?
Churches’ Unique Position
The truth is to trust as Einstein is to physics: you can’t have one without the other. In looking over policies, communications, and procedures, churches and ministries should consider how highly they value truth-telling, and how that valuing is playing out day-to-day.
Churches and ministries are often havens for inaccurate perceptions. One reason for this is the tension between confidentiality and transparency at the church; it’s difficult to navigate both. That said, some churches tend to “spin” a message. There’s nothing wrong with talking points, but when the talking points are designed to disguise or misrepresent the truth, that’s wrong.
Lastly, churches should note that in today’s world they face microscopic analysis by the public. When there’s a serious lack of integrity—or even the perception of a lack of integrity—the issue takes on a life of its own. There’s a new perception wildcard called the Internet, and, more often than not, it demands honesty and transparency from people and organizations. Churches need to have a healthy respect for perception. Truth-telling needs to be modeled by church communities, which means it needs to be modeled by church leaders. Not only is it the right thing to do, but in a world where information and communications move at lightning speeds, churches can’t afford to not prioritize this value.
You can learn more about the vital nature of trust in ministry from Dan Busby’s book, Trust: The Firm Foundation for Kingdom Fruitfulness, available on iTunes (with video) and Amazon. Busby discusses the ingredients needed to win back people desperate for more than skepticism in his article, “For Churches, Only Trust Will Win Over a Skeptical Public.”
Explore more skills and guidelines for open and honest communication in Church Law & Tax’s download, Secrets of Effective Communication.
Dan Busby is the president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
Emily Lund is the editorial resident for Church Law & Tax.
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