‘Doubt’ and Its Lessons

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Last year, with its release of Doubt, Hollywood wandered not-so-innocently right into the middle of my world and, naturally, got my attention…and my $8 for a ticket.  Based on the Pulitzer-prize winning play, it tells the story of a young pastor (i.e., priest) trying to bring a warmer, more relevant leadership style to a church and falling prey to the distrust and manipulative ways of an established church leader.  Sound familiar, anyone?  I’ve seen this play out in hundreds of situations and I’m sure you have seen it before as well.  Sometimes there is moral failure involved (as alleged in this case), and sometimes not so much.  But there is always plenty at risk, including the fragile spirituality of innocent bystanders, the continued credibility of established leadership and the future ministry of one “called out” to shepherd God’s people.  I must say, this movie tells the story well.  You can find some clips from the movie here.

I recommend the movie, because it is an accurate and startling depiction of a truth every church leader needs to know: when it comes to ministry, your testimony is the only currency you have.  Once it is tarnished (i.e., once the people you “lead” no longer wish to be led by you), your leadership is done.  You can lead no more.  And by the way, it doesn’t take truth to tarnish your testimony…all it takes is credible allegations and a little persistence on the part of those who stand to benefit from your departure.  In short, all it takes is sustainable doubt…doubt about you, about your past, or about your motives.

So how does a church leader protect his/her testimony from these kinds of attacks?  Well, first and foremost, by the grace of God.  The truth is, there is only so much you can do to control how others perceive you.  But there are a few things you can do.  Here are some suggestions for guarding your testimony, some lessons from Doubt:

1.  Live above the appearance of impropriety. Go out of your way to make sure you are not misunderstood in matters of moral uprightness.  In everything, pay attention to how your church might perceive circumstances.  Take practical precautions, like putting a window in your office door so that people can always see in, and making all matters of church finances open and out on the table, and avoiding gossip at all costs, etc.  If you are in ministry, you live in a fish bowl.  Get used to it.

2.  Form genuine friendships with all of your leadership. This is huge.  There simply can be no leader in the church, no person of influence, with whom you have little or no genuine friendship.  If you are not good at relationships, if you are feeling ill-equipped at forging new friendships with people with whom you have little in common, then one of two things is true: (1) you are not called to this ministry, or (2) you are about to undergo a profound change in order to be equipped for these friendships.  There are no exceptions to this.  I promise.

3.  Get help sooner rather than later. As a church mediator/interventionist, by the time I get called into a conflict, it is usually too late to bring reconciliation in a way that will save both the church and the ministry of the person at issue.  Of the few occasions I actually got to walk with a church early in the conflict, most of the time we actually moved through it in a redemptive, God-honoring, truthful way.  It almost always helps to have a person outside the circumstances to help both “sides” keep an objective perspective on the issue.

O.K. I know these are not exactly earth-shattering words of counsel.  But still, the young priest in the movie violated every one of these suggestions.  While it made for a much more emotional movie, it’s not the kind of drama I recommend for real life.

© Blake Coffee

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