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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Truth Will Set You Free

Written by: on October 6, 2020

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.”[1] 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.

[1] Diana Renner and Steven D’Souza, “Not Knowing: The Art Turning Uncertainty into Opportunity,” (New York: LID Publishing, 2016,) 172.

About the Author

mm

John McLarty

Husband. Dad. Pastor. Play a little golf.

11 responses to “The Truth Will Set You Free”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    The humility it takes to admit our mistakes and to be vulnerable enough to trust others is huge. There really is power in being honest and open. It’s unfortunate that some people aren’t afraid to take advantage of that and exploit our vulnerability for their own gain (something I think most if not all of us has experienced at some point).

    I think back to the first time I led a team in Hong Kong for my old organization. That was one of the toughest leadership positions I’ve had because of the learning curve that I had to meet. Even though I had been part of the program as a teacher, moving into leadership was a whole other ball game. I made mistake after mistake, thinking I was being clear in my expectations, but the reality was the opposite. After a hard first week of teaching, my team and I were all frustrated. I knew that a big part of it was my poor communication, but I didn’t want to admit that. The team began to drift apart and I knew that if we were going to rally, something needed to be done. I asked them if we could meet and we had our “come to Jesus moment” when I owned up to my poor communication skills. The rest followed suit, airing their own frustrations and struggles and by the end of the meeting, we had plotted a new course that brought us closer together. Owning up to those mistakes were difficult for all of us, but the trust that was birthed from that conversation is something we still hold close to this day.

    • mm John McLarty says:

      It’s a hard thing to lead with humility and vulnerability, and certainly it leaves one open to attack, but I’ve found that it also attracts the right people who can form the best kinds of teams to move things forward.

  2. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    John,
    When I did my internship at a mega-church, I found much was held behind the scenes that was never shared with “the people in the pews.” Or if it was shared, it was done with a spin to achieve a specific desired response. As you’ve moved through the ministry ranks, and the stakes increased (bigger budgets, larger congregations, etc.) has your truth sharing approach always proven life-giving? How do you decide how much truth to share and not share? How have you handled dissent when that truth was waged against you in a hurtful way?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      Being open and honest has not always been met positively. Sometimes the sheer volume of truth and information was too much to take. Sometimes there were voices urging us to withhold information for the sake of morale. It’s always a balance. Whether in the church or on a national or global stage, a big part of leadership is recognizing what, how, and when appropriate information gets shared. As far as dissent goes, much of the time I have just had to find contentment in knowing that I acted with integrity and let the chips fall as they may. It’s impossible to manage everyone’s expectations about the “right” way to lead, so I do the best I can, I do it honestly, and I try to roll with the punches.

  3. mm Greg Reich says:

    John,
    Your post reminds me of a Walter Winchell quote, “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” Sometimes people can surprise you. Have you ever been surprised in your years of ministry at who has chosen to walk out or who has chosen to walk in when times were tough?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      I’m always surprised at who sticks around and who walks away. Sometimes I can predict it. Sometimes I’m dead wrong. This is a part of trust to let God put the right people in place and lay my personal feelings and preferences aside. Some of my most difficult antagonists have come to be great friends as we worked through our differences and came to recognize that we cared about the same things.

  4. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    We are dealing with this exact thing in our organization. I cannot share specifics (legally), but many are asking our leadership for a glimpse behind the curtain about some recent major decisions. We will see how they respond. Hopefully in stride with you…

  5. mm Jer Swigart says:

    What a beautiful story of great risk. Thank you for this. As you lead with this kind of transparency, can you reflect with us about the impact on your team? Are they learning to lead vulnerably because you are modeling it? How is this deepening relationships, informing trust, and inspiring creativity?

    • mm John McLarty says:

      In that moment, with that group, it was a game-changer as the work of planting shifted from the “founding pastor” to the “leadership team.” There was definitely a sense of being in it together that elevated peoples’ investment and participation. I’ve been out of that setting for over 7 years now, but much of that culture still exists there and is modeled by several of those who “in the room where it happened,” as it were. And some of those folks remain some of my closest friends to this day.

  6. mm Chris Pollock says:

    To trust and to trust greatly! I wonder of this is something that we learn from an early age? How we are trusted and how we trust.

    Not trusting, does this have to do with independence or codependence? Fear of losing something. Kinda works a bit into last weeks posts and ‘the fear of fear itself’.

    What are we holding onto that is so important anyways?

    Really appreciate your story, John! Trust has been a tough one for me. The story of distrust, trust and ‘letting go’ is a sweet story that reverberates with the Peace of Christ (shalom).

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