Transparency is essential for effective leadership. It is also a necessary attribute of holiness. As a lead pastor over the years I have been very transparent with staff and ministry leaders, and many times probably too transparent from the pulpit (I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve). However, there have also been times where confidentiality was the best policy.
The unpleasant reality is that I’ve had to part ways with staff who didn’t share the same vision as myself. I’ve also had to dismiss pastors and ministry leaders who were working against the church’s mission. Every single time this happened I received criticism for those decisions. Yet, regardless of the criticism I didn’t give public notification pertaining to the details. It was always something myself and the Church Board handled. That’s what we were called to do… lead. In these cases confidentiality is the best policy.
Regarding the recent issues with Nazarene Publishing House (NPH), a situation where personal profit seemed to lead the demise of an important ministry, I think we need a lot of transparency and critique. But that’s different than issues pertaining to our university professors. Our universities, like our churches, share a vision of equipping people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Eph. 4:12). This vision can only be successful when there is unity.
I’ve read numerous comments relating to Dr. Thomas Oord’s dismissal from Northwest Nazarene University (NNU). Let me start by saying I love Oord’s work. I have been challenged to think more deeply about important theological issues because of him. I think he is a brilliant theologian and there is no doubt that Tom is going to land on his feet. However, I don’t feel like the masses of spectators are in a place to judge the relationship that exists between professors and the university leadership as a whole.
I also believe the Board of Trustees love NNU and want to see the university thrive. Legally, the board cannot make a press statement about all the details pertaining to directional disagreements between university leadership and faculty. Certainly we all know that. Obviously, different ideas about direction often lead to a place where it is not beneficial for them to continue together. That doesn’t make either wrong, it just makes them different in their approach to ministry.
My experience with our universities primarily relates to Dr. Dan Boone at Trevecca Nazarene University (TNU). Dan pastored for years before being called to the position of university president. I think it’s fair to say that TNU sees Dan not only as a visionary leader, but also as a shepherd. He has the heart of a pastor. And theoretically, if he parted ways with a professor, even one that I loved and admired, I wouldn’t question his vision or integrity for doing so. Dan is very transparent about his vision and leadership strategies, yet when it comes to legal issues confidentiality protects everyone involved.
I understand that the university and local church context are not exactly the same thing. However, the parallels, when it comes to vision, team-work, and kingdom advancement, are extremely similar… or at least they should be.
Hypothetical scenario: Let’s say I have a staff pastor who is loved by many in the church and community. We’ve worked well together for years. He begins leading in ways that I believe are contrary to the overall direction of the church. Not only are his ideas and actions opposing to mine, but they are actually working against the direction of the leadership team. I have numerous discussions with him to join me in the vision for the church. He refuses.
Now our relationship is tense. It’s hard to even be in the same room. I still have a deep love for this person, but a time has come where we have to part ways. I inform him that we have to part ways. I give him a fair severance package. I tell the congregation. Some are angry at the situation, I get criticized. They demand answers. I refuse to explain “why” my friend and I can’t continue to work together because I believe that would make things worse. I want to allow him to leave and go serve somewhere where his philosophy of ministry would be a fit. So I take the criticism and refuse to say anything bad about my brother in Christ (by the way, I’ve had scenarios that are very close to this and I’m still great friends with some of those people).
Dr. Thomas Oord is a theological visionary. No doubt he is a courageous thinker. I believe we need trailblazers that push the limits of the institution. However, I also believe we need unity, and when that becomes absent sometimes people have to go their separate ways. Similar issues have been dealt with by church leaders throughout scripture.
Transparency is the only policy for the misuse of power and financial incompetence, especially when there seems to be personal gain and monetary conflicts of interest (e.g. million dollar lease agreements and “gifts”). However, confidentiality is best when leaders disagree on direction and there are legal issues that call for discretion so that no one’s reputation is slandered in the process. Transparency and confidentiality, we need both.
NPH and NNU is an apples and oranges comparison. It’s unfair to compare the two. With NPH, we should demand complete transparency. With NNU, I believe the governing board has the responsibility to make decisions based on what they believe to be best for the future. And I don’t feel like I have the right to know why all those decisions are made.
Let’s stop speaking from emotion and painting the entire church with broad strokes. For the sake of balance and grace we need to think beyond the noise created by social media. Sometimes we get so busy pointing fingers that we fail to proceed with grace ourselves. As Thomas Oord would appropriately say, let us choose to… live a life of love.