When the Door Closes – When to Keep it Confidential

There are at least three components of a decision to share something major with the church – 1) Should we share it? 2) What should we share? 3) How can we best share it?

Here are some times when it might be prudent for leadership to keep an issue/conflict/problem private:

  • If doing so is premature…all the facts aren’t in. However, be honest about when you’re stalling versus fact gathering. If you’re actually trying, “fact gathering” seldom takes more than a month.
  • You have only a problem to announce with no solution. This is OK temporarily. Come up with a solution, and then get on with telling the truth.
  • If lay leaders need to be notified or consulted before it goes before the entire church. If there is something you need advice or buy-in on, patiently talking with some outside of leadership can be prudent. They can offer both sound counsel outside the bubble, and support if things get weird after the announcement is made.
  • If leadership would be breaking the law or endangering someone’s safety by doing so. These cases are rare, but do exist. For instance, don’t publish the new address of the woman who has fled her abusive husband–or the hospital room of the wounded Gang Unit officer in the church.
  • If one or more members of the leadership team cannot be trusted to keep the remaining sensitive details of the problem private. Even better, remove that person from the leadership team and tell the truth. Often, a little information does ignite a deep thirst for more detail. If leadership is weak in the confidentiality department, you can blow the church up by giving the intimate details of the affair someone had or betraying confidence. It will also choke off all confession in your church. Keeping confidence is a foundational trait of leadership. If someone doesn’t have it, they need to go.
  • If revealing hinders rather than leads to restoration of people. An example would be where a marriage is breaking up or a man has confessed to pornography addiction. These are best pastored in private.
  • If revealing involves people/churches outside the church who are unaware you will be laying it out before the church. At least let them know first and have some dialogue. Then, tell the truth.
  • If leadership plans to tell the church, but timing really matters. This is the place leadership cops out most frequently, so self-honesty is really important. However, sometimes the timing of the announcement is really important. Have a plan. Again, the window here is seldom over a month.
  • If taking some more time has a genuine chance of increasing unity in the leadership team. Sometimes there are sincere differences of opinion on an issue and it’s communication. If waiting discerning another week will add to the unity of the leadership team, it may be prudent. Again, no cop-outs. One month or less, if possible.
Anything you might add to the list?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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