A few years into my church-planting appointment, I faced a significant leadership crisis. In our first couple of years, the “parent church” managed our finances. Our new church had a small leadership team, along with some administrative oversight, but the day-to-day operations were handled by the financial staff at the larger church.
Early in the development, our church had received a large gift ($50,000) that had been given to help with an eventual land purchase. Somehow, these funds were inadvertently lumped in with our operating funds and in time, were spent. When I learned what had happened, I was devastated. Not only was the church in dire financial shape, the money we thought we had to help buy land was gone.
I called the leadership team together for a meeting. I was certain they would be angry and concerned that many of them might use this as an opportunity to pick up and move on. I had held this information to myself until it was no longer possible to do so. I confided to a colleague my concerns that this meeting might be the end of it all. She predicted that this meeting was going to be the start of a beautiful new era of collaboration. “They’re going to rally around you, John. They’re going to come through for you in a huge way.”
We gathered in the home of one of our leaders. We shared some food and fellowship and then I asked them to sit down. I walked them through the issue as specifically as I could, including a proposal for how we might restore the designated funds. Then I sat down and waited for their response. The first person to respond set the tone for the rest of the meeting. He stood up and looked me straight in the eye and said, “John, thanks for letting us know what’s going on.” Then he said, “I think I can speak for everyone here when I say this is not the greatest news, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome together. My bigger concern is this: you’ve been trying to deal with this all by yourself. You’ve been carrying a burden alone that should have been all of ours to carry. It’s ok if you’re losing sleep over this. But you shouldn’t be the only one.”
One by one, my leaders spoke words of encouragement and forgiveness for my mistake. They thanked me for trusting them with the truth and assured me that we could go much further when we were going together. My colleague had been right all along, and this moment did change the trajectory for that church plant in a powerful and significant way. I left that meeting feeling like I had lost 100 pounds and later had the best night’s sleep.
It is sometimes hard in leadership to trust people with the truth. We may be tempted to present a rosy outlook, or try to shield people from concerns or dangers, but this does not build trust or create community. As a young leader, the lesson I learned with my team reshaped by own ministry and leadership in that church as well as subsequent appointments. I still make mistakes, but I strive for transparency and trust.
In “Not Knowing,” D’Sousa and Renner quote Emerson at the beginning of a chapter on control and trust. “Trust people and they will be true to you; trust them greatly and they will show themselves great.” In a day and age when it might seem to some more expedient to withhold information and keep secrets, I will seek a better way, guided by the wisdom that truth sets us free.
 Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza, “Not Knowing: The Art Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity,” (New York: LID Publishing, 2016,) 172.