Guest Blogger: Frequently Unasked Questions

July 11, 2011

While I’m on vacation and then on a mission trip, I’m treating you to some exceptional guest bloggers and reposting some of my best content from the last year.  I’ll be tweeting and commenting off and on, but will be back full time on the blog July 25th.

Today’s guest is a blogger I recently discovered, Matt Drake.  His blog, Frequently Unasked Questions, or F.U. Questions for short (which he insists is pronounced “A Few Questions” when abbreviated).  You’ll want to check out his story because, true to his name, Matt is incredibly awesome.  Be sure to give him some love here and then go visit his blog.  Here’s Matt…

Not long ago I thought I was a big deal. I traveled, spoke, recruited for missions, and generally was a super cool Christian leader. But I was kind of fake too. Public Me was mostly a projection of what people wanted me to be.  And Private Me had some issues I avoided so I could keep being a superhero.

Eighteen months ago I stepped back from ministry to deal with myself.  It’s been a crazy journey, a faith crisis, and an opportunity to experience Divine Love in the middle of personal failure.  In the aftermath, as I try to discern what’s real and what’s fake, I’m left with lots of questions.

This tale is an attempt to raise a few questions about human frailty, spiritual leadership, transparency, and how the courage to face our faults is sometimes squelched by the pressure to keep preforming.  I hope it sparks thoughtfulness about church models, empathy for conflicted leaders, and introspection for the things we avoid.

Imagine You’re a Pastor

Every week you sit in the front pew, looking dapper in your freshly ironed Sunday best.

Stomach full of butterflies, hair full of gel.  You tap your feet nervously as the music winds to a soft, emotion-filled close. You’re on. You crack your neck, grab your notes, and ease slowly from the mahogany bench.

On this particular Sunday each step feels increasingly heavy, like marching to a guillotine.  You’ve avoided this message for years. “Don’t do this!  Turn back!” Your chest tightens with the internal warning but you ignore the voice and resolutely mount the carpeted steps.

“This is how change happens,” you remind yourself as you clutch each side of the pulpit like an I-beam in an earthquake.

Preaching to Yourself

After an uncomfortably long silence you lift your eyes to the audience.

Dozens of perfectly aligned pews stand at attention like uniformed guards, stretching back as far as the elongated room will allow. The morning sun glints off the freshly stained mahogany seats and reminds you that you’re alone.

The sanctuary is empty.  One pair of eyes stares back at you. Your own.  At the back of the church you’ve positioned a giant mirror that magnifies your reflection and sends it straight back. You won’t miss an expression.

It’s time. You gather your breath and begin.

“I haven’t been totally honest. I’ve lied to you.” It’s the first time you’ve leveled with yourself in years.  “I told you God called me, that if you followed me we’d get closer to Him. We’d change our community, our nation, the world…” Your voice trails off, distracted by images of last year’s Mexico mission.

“But I can’t be trusted. I’ve told you how to live your life, what God thinks and expects, like I’ve got things figured out.”

What sermon would a pastor preach if no one showed up to church?

“Look at me!” You shout. “Just look at my clothes. It’s all to impress. But I’m a fake.  I talk like an authority but inside I’m as crumbly as the next guy.  Last night, instead of preparing I watched porn.  My ‘prayer closet’ has become a synonym for masturbation. God never called me here, I called me here.  I wanted my name on the sign.  I wanted to be a leader.”

For the first time during your confession you address the imaginary crowd: “I shouldn’t be your pastor. You know how to talk to God. You know how to exhort and love each other. Why don’t you do that from now on?”

“I don’t know half of your names and I wouldn’t care if I did.  But I love my family, and need to stop living this lie. For their sake. For your sake. For my sake.  It tortures my wife to hear me preach about purity, then catch me online.  And my son pretends I’m not at the dinner table. That’s how little credibility I have.”

“This is the first thing I’ve done worth emulating.”

So what do you think?  Should church be a place of complete honesty, or are secrets allowed?  Should leaders deal with their crap behind closed doors, or are they not to be trusted unless they can be totally honest in front of everyone?

39 responses to Guest Blogger: Frequently Unasked Questions

  1. I think part of the problem is that sometimes we set it up as though the only choices are tell everyone or tell no-one. Sometimes it may be most healthy to only tell a few people what is going on. This isn’t necessarily being deceptive, sometimes it is a matter of not dragging people in who wouldn’t benefit from being involved.

  2. Wow! Tough questions, Matt. I kinda think I’m sorry I’m first. But then…..

    A church should be a place where people can be completely honest. But, knowing that the church is full of people, that can be difficult. Especially since people judge. I think there is a need for accountability between people/couples/leaders.

    I think leaders should deal with their crap. Maybe behind closed doors with trusted friends/mentors/accountability people. And also be honest in saying from the front that they also have problems, and they are getting help/dealing with them.

    I also know that accountability partners don’t work, unless you are honest.

    But, sometimes being honest up front can also cause problems. Esp if there are those of us (and I include myself) who refuse to believe that leaders are human, and therefore just the same as us, and so judge them and cause dissension and disunity within the church.

    So, as I said, tough questions.

    • I just wanted to agree.

      • I agree too….their needs to be accountability with a group of leaders and family….not the whole dang world…..But I also think we can “imply” for lack of a better word…in our teachings that we are not perfect…that sometimes we don’t have all the answers, and that pastors are humans to who get tempted the most….and i think if we into it with that, our congregations will get it….

  3. Wow. Well, first off, I don’t necessarily think that you need to go into specific detail about your masturbation habits to your congregation…or in your blog. I do, however, think it’s important for you to express to your congregation that we ALL are sinners, including yourself. Just because you sin doesn’t mean you’re not cut out for ministry, it means you’re human. I think one of the most important parts of ministry is to let others know that you are like them in the fact that you, they, we are all sinners and that we all are in need of the saving grace found in Jesus Christ.

    • Good point, Steven. Whenever I’m feeling like I’m not up for the job, I actually find myself feeling like I’m in really great company with the people in the Bible. Talk about some flawed people!

    • I would agree with not just telling your congregation out-front about issues of that magnitude. But I would say that there needs to be people, as in the board, other elders, or just leaders in the church, that know what you as a pastor struggle with and where you are most likely to fall. I think the problem with churches today is that no matter how much the pastor says he is a sinner just like us we, the congregation, still have a view of him as a “higher than I” attitude cause he is the pastor. My pastor’s accountability doesn’t all come from our church but from other Senior Pastors that he is very close to in the surrounding area. I think that pastor’s sometimes may get in the thought of that “I can’t tell anyone about this because I am the pastor we don’t deal with these things!”

    • I don’t believe that masturbation and porn are real issues that the blogger, himself, is struggling with, or at least that’s not the point of discussing them here. The blogger isn’t taking this as an opportunity for confession neither is he looking to an unknown community of online readers for penance. I think you guys are missing the point.

      I’d also wager that he’s very familiar with the run-of-the-mill advice being given here, i.e., limited private accountability tempered by general public discretion.

      I think the bigger problem is the rush to give an answer to this frequently unasked question. It’s better to leave it unanswered because any reply will be formulaic, artificial and not berthed in real knowledge of or concern for the author. We have our bag of principles and we believe ourselves to be skillful in our application to people and situations which we know very little about. That is one of the problems with religion and the religious. So quit it. Just shut up and listen. :)

      • Great analysis! Yes, this is a hypothetical story as far as I know. And yes, this is a frequently asked question that has many frequently given responses, many of which are one size fits all fixes that do not really work.

      • Right on Greg. Thanks for helping underscore what I was trying to communicate. Sometimes when I try to paint a word picture my actual point gets lost.

        Thank you!

    • Well said, Steven S. !

      If God didn’t use sinners to get His Word out there, then who would He use?

  4. Religion and “rules” are killers. Look, we can’t live up to them, and that is why we need Jesus! A lot of religion likes to be fake, but it is not about the rules, the prayers or going to church; it’s not. It is about knowing Jesus and nothing else. We spend so much time listening to teachers and preachers and yet for the most part no one really disciples us. They don’t take the time to know us, to really know what’s going on in our lives. That is what I hate about church.

    One day I discovered I was the church. I finally came to the conclusion that if I don’t do it, no one else will. I have challenged the leadership in my church to get to know me, and of course me to know them. It’s a lot of work; it’s messy but it’s worth it. Honestly, I could care less if I ever heard another sermon, but I sure do miss the ministry of “one another” which takes place during my day-to-day. I want to feed the 5,000, I want to walk on the water, I want to heal the sick and cast out demons. I want to do the “stuff.”

    It is interesting that when I was at my lowest point, I was the most popular in ministry. I had been divorced and lost everything. I was renting a room from a church buddy; I felt like I had nothing to give so I sat down for a year – and then an explosion of opportunity. The Lord spoke to me, “when we are weak, I am strong.” I guess the point is when I think I can do it, and I have something to say, that is when I am most at risk for missing God.

    Thanks for sharing Matt, it is refreshing. I love real life!

    http://www.fireandgrace.com
    http://www.kingdombloggers.com

    • That’s what so many people miss – that if you don’t do it, no one else will. Most of us go to the show, put in our time, and believe the pastor’s prayer on Sunday is enough to sustain us spiritually. Most Christians are on a starvation diet of spirituality.

  5. Like I said above. It should be reflected in a pastors sermon that they are not perfect, probably the worst sinner, that sometimes we don’t have answers, and that sometimes we don’t feel like giving a sermon…(without all the specifics)

    The apostle Paul consistantly would say that He was the worst sinner. That the things he wanted to to he couldn’t and the things he didn’t want to do, he did….

    he wasn’t detailed….but we got it….we get it….

  6. Of course, I love F.U. Questions, and I loved this. It was raw, honest, and sincere, and I think the Church needs more of this, especially from its “leaders.” If they can’t be honest, who can be?

  7. Beautiful imagery, Matt! Well written. I think what you’re addressing is the expectations, the false ones, that are actually lies in the minds of church people. Since when did ministers need to start wearing suits to preach in? Or to appear to have it all together? I would guess it’s the criticism they received that took them to that point; they wanted to avoid any more unnecessary pain. What makes a person a leader is the ability to hear and see God’s vision, and to communicate it and organize people to follow it with actions. I’m sure that’s what happened when you started in ministry.

    At our church the pastor is just as likely to preach in jeans as he is in a suit. Usually it’s somewhere inbetween. Something he frequently says is “I’m just one beggar telling another where to get bread.” That kind of honesty is refreshing and allows all of us to be real. Sin issues are dealt with when it involves someone who leads – the elders are called together to find agreement and seek to restore the person. None of us can ever hope to be perfect, but we can obey as much as we know of God today, and hopefully inspire others to do the same.

  8. I think that the leaders in our churches should be 100% Honest!! I don’t want someone preaching and teaching to me if they are secretly behind closed doors watching porn and habitually living in sin. Note that I said habitually. Yes everyone sins, we’re human, we are all going to sin every day every hour there is no getting around it. But those that are in leadership of the church have a much stricter lifestyle that they must live. The Bible says that those in leadership will be judged more harshly than those that are not.

    If we are not open about our failures and sins, in leadership or not, we will never be able to overcome them. 1 John talks about living in the light. When we bring all of our “crap” out into the light and out from behind closed doors then we are able to deal with it, to allow others that have gone through the same things an are going through the same things to help us!

    Nobody want’s to be that vulnerable in church today but when pastor get caught doing things that they shouldn’t it paints a bad picture for the world to look at as it looks at Christianity. If we are open and willing to deal with our issues I bet that not only would we as individuals grow but the church as a whole would grow as well.

  9. What an gut wrenching honesty! This is a struggle that so many Christians battle with on a daily basis and sadly the case for many ministers as well. Being a minister or a leader does not exempt you from the need of Grace- ministers are just as dependent on it as the next guy! Grace is more than our “Get Out of Jail Free” card when we sin, it is(in simple terms) God’s ability! The problem is we are too proud to acknowledge and accept that Grace (the finished work of Christ on our behalf) because if we did that than all our own religious and “Christian” efforts would have less meaning and importance. Instead of trying to impress people with our performance we must learn to humbly depend on Christ and His performance for us, in us and through us to impact the world around us.

    If the world has to wait for ministers to get “good” enough before they minister- then the world will never have any hope! Its not perfect people that Christ needs to use to reach the world, its perfected people. People who know that “I am weak – but He is my STRENGTH! I am nothing but He is everything and with HIM all things are possible! Its not about me and my goodness- its all about Him and His goodness”

  10. Leaders are held to a higher standard than others. I really respect leaders like Matt who know when to step back for a time and deal with their inner lives.

    Brian Houston once said that, “What’s in your heart determines the direction of your life.” If that’s true, then we all need to actively cultivate and prune our hearts (though I know it’s easier said than done). I agree with the majority of responses that vulnerability is best with a few people you’re really close to, and not in front of an entire congregation. I had that kind of experience once where I took a small time out from ministry to actively deal with some things from my past and it was probably the most fruitful growing experience I’ve ever had. So, I think it’s really helpful to share thoughts and sins with another leader, family member, or like-minded friend and confess your stuff. In front of the world, I think it’s better to just say that you need to step down to work on issues in your life.

    I think the most important thing from this blog is recognizing that we need to be honest with ourselves and with Jesus. If I’m looking at myself and I can see things like that, it would be wise for me to deal with them.

  11. Is the assumption that all/most pastors have a deep dark sin in their closet? I find the Gospel much more liberating than that! But, yes, pastors should communicate themselves in a real, raw, and honest way. People generally can see thru it when they don’t.

    • I think the assumption is there because many of us know it to be true. Satan is hard at work. But there are plenty of pastors who are liberated from their sins.

    • You are correct and make a very important point- the Gospel is very liberating! Not all pastors or Christians live defeated lives, however many do. This sad reality is not because the true Gospel lacks effectiveness, but we have been led (especially in American) to believe some other form of either a diluted or a polluted gospel message that emphasizes something (anything) other than the finished work or Christ. Personal effort and good works apart from total dependance and resting in the effort and work of Christ only breeds frustration and defeat. The sin of one may not be as “big” and “ugly” outwardly as another person, but it could be as big an ugly as self-righteousness and pride which is spiritual adultery.

      This struggle of the believer is illustrated by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7. He finally realized that victory did not come from “what” he did or didn’t do, rather; he got a revelation it was in “Who”!Victory is not found in principles but in a person- Christ Jesus. “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!” -Romans 7:25

  12. Great passage Joe, totally agree it is found in a person. And you are probably (and sadly) right, Matt, that is many people’s experience. Pastors definitely have sins, and should be real about them, but hopefully not choosing to live in an intentionally sinful lifestyle.

  13. What’s at the center of your church altar? In a Catholic church, you’ll find the Eucharist table in the middle and the lectern somewhere on the side. In a synogogue you’ll find the Torah in the center. In an old New England Congregational church you’ll find the pastor in the center, about 15 feet in the air. In fact, in any Protestant-derived denomination (or non-denomination) you’ll find the pastor in the center of the altar. That position is more than a design choice – it’s an assignment of importance.

    The commenters who are saying that there needs to be some limited transparency to relatives and elders, but not to the congregation are correct. In the current model of non-catholic evangelical churches, the pastor can’t fail – or at leat can’t fail THAT much. The pastor is the center of the church! One guy or lady defines that building and congregation, and if he or she falls, so falls that church. OK, so maybe the building won’t crumble to the ground, but I’m sure most people have at least heard of these devastating “church splits” that occur after some controversy over the pastor.

    We need leadership, I’m not a Christian anarchist or whatever but if we want true transparency, which is transformational, we need a major game change. Church can’t keep looking the way it does now if we really want to reach our culture. Why? Just listen to people in “the world”. The #1 complaint is that Christians are hypocrites. And they’re right, because chances are that my pastor has some real struggle in his life, and if he even does go to someone for help, it stays secret because he has an illusion of a “Great Christian Leader” to maintain for everyone to aspire to. And if the pastor is hiding sin, well certainly the congregation has no freedom to be open with their issues for fear of the judgement that is sure to follow.

    I don’t mean to s@$& on church. I go to church and am involved. But we could be way more effective. Not by tweaking the existing model, but by totally rethinking the format.

  14. One book I was reading recently devoted a fair amount of attention to the problem of pastors not telling the whole truth to their congregations, specifically concerning what they learned in seminary about the Bible itself. The scholarly consensus agrees that each of the Gospels tells a different story about the life of Jesus and what features of that life were most important, that Acts and the Pauline Epistles tell different stories about Paul’s life, that several of the Epistles supposed to be written by Paul were not … and everybody learns about this stuff. Sermons are more devotional, sure, but … not even in an adult education class?

    • Yes, the book may be flawed…but the Word within that book is not.

      “When discrepancies occur in the Holy Scripture, and we cannot har­monize them, let them pass. It does not endanger the articles of the Christian faith.”

      – Martin Luther

      • That’s a sweet quote! :)

      • An interesting perspective. I suppose its truth hinges on what you believe “the articles of the Christian faith” are. Does Jesus’ predicted timeline for Judgment Day count? Does whether Jesus was born of a virgin count? Does whether Jesus thought he was part of a trinitarian God count?

    • I can’t speak for other pastors but I know I am very honest about these things. It lends color and realism to know how the books were written in my opinion.

  15. JUST yesterday at the dinner table we (hubby, teenage son and myself) were having a discussion about prostitutes in the Bible.
    “Jesus sure talked about prostitutes a lot”
    “There weren’t that many, were there?”
    (then we counted)
    “Maybe there were so many prostitutes because Jesus was sympathetic to them so they sought him out”

    profound.

  16. I think that if you are going to be in authority over people, that they should have the privilege of knowing you intimately and your complete honesty. Especially when it comes to spiritual matters. personal/home issues, might not need to be blared from the rooftops. But if you are in a position of leadership, those you are leading should be given all of you. And if you don’t know their names, if you cant take the time to be part of their life, share yourself, and partake of their life…then maybe they should have someone else lead them.

    • “And if you don’t know their names, if you cant take the time to be part of their life, share yourself, and partake of their life…then maybe they should have someone else lead them.”

      Very well said. I had to comment because this sounds so much like what I hear many atheists say in response to Christians who say they have a “personal relationship” with God. (i.e., how can you say you love someone or have a relationship with someone if you’ve never seen them, you can speak to them but they don’t speak back to you, etc.) Just nice to see that we’re all on the same planet after all. :)

  17. Thanks for featuring my absolute favorite blogger! Matt’s honesty and willingness to be transparent has been an encouragement and a catalyst for me over the last year.
    One thing I’ve learned from watching as Matt made the choice to be real about his life is that it’s messy. He’s made people upset. Gotten nasty emails. But he’s also journeyed closer to health and to real impact in people’s lives than he could have from the place of “perfection” he held before.
    It’s got to be the same with pastors, right? I have a hard time seeing real life change and true encouragement flowing out of the life of a person living a facade. I mean, sure – God is amazing, and he uses us in spite of our flawed-ness. But our real impact must be squelched.
    The problem is, I see the other side of that too. We, as Christians, need someone to follow. “Follow me as I follow Christ”. We need to be able to look up to someone. To emulate a human example. And I’ve seen so many pastors negate their impact by trying too hard to be “relevant”. “I’m just like you guys, I have so many faults, I really don’t have it together, I don’t know much about all this…” And somewhere in there, I’m going – “so why should I follow you? You don’t have anything I need.”
    Is authentic, transparent leadership possible? It’s got to be, right?

  18. First off – I think the answer to the question is “Yes.” Yes, there are times when full-transparency is demanded. Other times, partial or preferential (to a specific person/persons) honesty. And other times it’s our own personal issue to work through, not for someone else.

    So often in Christian circles we get wound up in the answer being black and white. And a lot of the time, when it comes down to situations, it’s more gray they we’d like to admit. Do I believe it absolutes? Yes. Are there exceptions to the rules? I think so.

    Second of all – I’m really bothered by the wording of several comments. The illusion that leaders, pastors, etc are held to a higher standard than the rest of the Church.

    Excuse me could you please show me where in the Bible is the “Leadership 10 Commandments”? Because I missed them, apparently. We are all held to the same standards. There are passages in 2 Timothy that show how a leader should “run” his household, but that’s a maturity thing, in my opinion, not a different standard than the rest of the church. It’s not as if the rest of the church is not expected to maintain their household well — same people, same standard.

    What are you going to do to a pastor who’s too honest to you? Get rid of him. Don’t deny it. If the sin is too big for you to deal with, you’ll kick him out. Even if he repents. The shame of a “big” sin is too much – you’ll oust him from his position. But if he’s not honest along the way and suddenly something is outed – you’ll be saying, “He should have been more honest! He should have told us he struggled in that way!”

    I don’t think the answer here is absolute — that’s just my opinion.

  19. Thank you to both Matts!!! Thanks for such an honest and transparent post Matt D. and thanks for providing the forum Matt A.

  20. Good post. It has touched off a question in my mind: the Bible discourages gossip and for good reason. It invites judgement without facts and can discourage someone who is truly struggling to overcome that sin. However, when a church leader is consistently failing in struggling with a sin–it doesn’t have to be ‘glamorous’ like sex, it can be an unbridled tongue that tears down others–when should the other people in church leadership bring it to the light of the congregation? A previous pastor had trouble with his tongue and some would consider him to be verbally abusive. I know two people in particular who left the church because of the way he handled a disagreement between them. The church administrator needed counseling. All the while, the elders tried to keep everything quiet to avoid gossip as they tried to handle the situation. Eventually, of course, God brought everything in the open and the congregation, including me, was upset that this had not been brought to light sooner, before losing at least two valuable staff members as well as several parishoners.