"If, like truth, the lie had but one face, we would be on better terms. For we would accept as certain the opposite of what the liar would say. But the reverse of truth has a hundred thousand faces and an infinite field." Sissela Bok
Church leaders find often find themselves in situations in which omitting, bending or avoiding the truth can be rationalized for some sort of supposed greater good. Covering up sin for the sake of "grace," not admitting mistakes to save face, understating tough realities as to not frighten the masses.
Several years ago I was consulting with a church in which the elders were moving toward making the decision to remove a preacher whose preaching was sincere but altogether insufficient to feed the congregation. The congregation had taken all available means to help the preacher acquire more training and depth. It just didn't work. He was a great man of God, he simply needed to find another ministry (as a minister, that's brutal for me to type–but was true in this case). As they went around the table, the first five of six elders voted to offer the minister a generous transition package and give him time to find another ministry or stay in the church as a member. The final elder said, "I've actually heard a lot of people talking about how improved his preaching is." The elders wanted to be unanimous, and upon his trusted word, they decided to trudge along–leaving the minister in place. After the gathering, I asked that elder over the phone (a good man now passed), "What exactly are the people noticing has improved?" He said, "Oh, I just needed to say that or they would've fired him."
Hmmm… Examples like this abound.
Why? Because telling the truth can be expensive. Truth can cause pain for others. Truth can be unpleasant to deliver. Most often, I've found that it's either that leaders are afraid to hurt someone's feelings or they are afraid of how the congregation will respond. So much so, in fact, that niceness becomes a truth unto itself trumping all others. A little intentional fibbing, omitting, exaggerating or understating can even be seen as the righteous response. Unfortunately, if it isn't truthful, it isn't righteous.
To be sure, Jesus wants us to exhibit fruit of the Spirit in how we speak truth to one another. He's also big on truth. Christ followers seek what is true and As Frank Honeycutt observes, "We all like to please people. Trouble is, we often try to please people who don’t want what Jesus wants. That’s a toxic mix." Christians seek what Jesus wants. They speak it and live it the way Jesus wants, know that Jesus wants truth. May all of us tell the truth. It honors Jesus and sets us free.