By Eddie Lowen
What I’m learning about becoming transparent, and how I’m trying to communicate that with the staff at the church where I serve.
When Moses descended from the mountain in Exodus 34, his face glowed from having been in God’s presence. At first, he didn’t realize it. But soon, Moses sensed people were being weirded-out by his shiny face.
His solution? A veil. Why? Here’s my best interpretation: it required less explanation.
Paul recalls that event in 2 Corinthians 3. In verse 13, he surprisingly states, “We are not like Moses.” Paul explained his goal was to live among God’s people with an unveiled face.
That concept convicts me. By personality, I tend to wear a veil. I’ve also had some experiences that have taught me to reveal myself cautiously. No, I’m not a closed book. I illustrate with personal stories and confessions when I teach. But I have a fairly small circle of coleaders and friends who really know me.
Behind the Veil
Below I share some notes from a talk I presented to our church staff. Here’s some background for what you’re about to read.
As our church has grown, I’ve hired excellent senior staff leaders, who have hired great department leaders. However, with 55 people on our team, the reality is that I go weeks without a conversation with some staff. Only a handful of folks meet with me every week. I don’t try to be exclusive, it’s just a matter of limited hours in the day.
In one sense, this is good because it means I’m not a controlling bottleneck. In another sense, it is unfortunate because our team includes some enjoyable and impressive people with whom I am not very close.
Dynamics like this have made me increasingly aware of the need to be an unveiled leader. That doesn’t mean nothing in your life or leadership should be private. It doesn’t mean discretion is unnecessary. It means that relational transparency is a bonding element. People need to know their leader, even if they don’t spend a lot of time with him. Daily chats with every employee aren’t possible for me, but transparency is.
Below is a recent staff retreat talk in which I attempted to cast vision, uphold values, and reveal more of myself to our team. I’m not a gigachurch pastor or a nationally known speaker, so don’t think this concept is for leaders of only the largest churches. This principle is important to every church.
Addressing the Staff
Introduction: The apostle Paul said he didn’t want to be like Moses. Do you find that surprising? He wasn’t talking law versus grace. He was talking about concealment versus transparency. I want to use my time with you to, as Paul put it, pull back the veil and let you look into my thoughts. I’d like to have a more “unveiled face” where you are concerned.
I’ll first reveal more of myself by sharing what I like about you.
First, I love how you’ve embraced and embodied our mission. Some of you remember when I was a mission statement cynic. I’m so glad God’s Spirit and some of you helped me to think differently. Since we decided “we exist to connect everyone to Jesus and his mission,” we’ve done it more energetically and successfully.
I want you to know—you are the reason our strategy and mission statement is more than a piece of paper. Westsiders are on board because you’ve helped lead them aboard. You look, sound, and behave like a team on a mission. I’m proud of you.
Second, I appreciate how you allow me and the senior staff to receive applause for things you make happen. I admit I occasionally receive blame for things I don’t do, but the ledger is way out of balance. It is far more common for me to receive credit for things I haven’t done, but that you have. And while I try to credit you, sometimes it isn’t practical.
I preach to people that your ministries bring to our church. I baptize people whom you disciple. My name appears in some publications because you have made this church work well. The best thing I can say about this is that God misses nothing. Great is your reward, I’m sure. But I know our most visible leaders look better than we are because of you.
Third, I commend you for the many one-on-one pastoral investments you make. We all know the knock against large churches (one of them, at least) is that we are impersonal. Since we don’t need every single person to maintain a crowd, we are accused of acting like we don’t care for people the way a smaller church would.
Because of you (and some of our volunteers), that isn’t true around here. Because you love and guide people as you do, lives have been saved, families have been saved, and lost sheep have a shepherd. I am sure I don’t learn of every instance, but I hear of more than you might guess. I admire your love for people so much.
I also want to confess some things that will give you some insight into me.
1. There are people I don’t like. I don’t say that proudly. There are some people I don’t like that I suspect God likes a lot. I’m simply saying that, if you occasionally struggle to like someone who is being a knucklehead, I get it.
Let’s try to like people. Let’s love everyone. But when someone makes it hard for you to like them, I’ll understand.
2. I’m not as confident as I appear. Over time, a lot of people have told me I look like I have it together. You should see my office right now. Even more, you should spend a few minutes inside my head. It’s not “all together.”
I do hope to inspire confidence, as needed. But just like you, I’m figuring this thing out as we go. I sometimes wonder if the other elders will look at me and say, “Eddie, you don’t have a clue, do you?” If that happens, I hope I have the good sense to lie! Seriously, if there’s a lot you’re struggling to figure out, I’m right there with you. God, help us.
3. I confess I struggle to maintain my devotional time. I’m pretty good at praying as I go and trying to think biblically. But I’m not good at carving out a 45-minute segment of every day. I easily tire of routines. But it’s vital we walk with God, so I don’t give up. Join me in not giving up.
4. I need you more than you know. I won’t try to elicit pity from you, because we all know my role has some privileges. But if you think it isn’t lonely, at times, you’re naïve. The primary reason I’m glad the elder team has asked me to stay around is that it gives me more time to convey how important you are to West Side and to me. I love you. Remember that until I muster up the maturity to say it again.
Eddie Lowen, lead minister of West Side Christian Church, Springfield, Illinois, writes the “Ministry Today” column semimonthly in CHRISTIAN STANDARD.