Transparency and Confidentiality

ConfidentialityTransparency is essential for effective leadership.  It is also a necessary attribute of holiness. As a pastor, over the years I’ve chosen to be 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 the rest of the team. I’ve also had to dismiss pastors and ministry leaders who were working against the church’s mission. Every 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 the church board and myself handled confidentially. That’s what we were called to do… lead. In these cases, confidentiality was 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. However, in my opinion, that’s different than issues regarding some of 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 people to continue together. That doesn’t make either wrong, it just makes them different in their vision and 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.

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 about teamwork and joining us as it relates to the vision of the church. Still, he refuses to listen.

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 in a place where his philosophy of ministry would be a good 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 board of trustees bears 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 Dr. Thomas Oord would appropriately say, let us choose to… live a life of love.

2 Replies to “Transparency and Confidentiality”

  1. Brian, I’m going to respectfully disagree with your position on NNU. There is an issue of shared governance in academic institutions that is very different than the scenarios you list within a local church. Shared governance ensures that a president (and her/his administration), the board of trustees and faculty leadership all work in collaboration to achieve the institution’s mission. Thus, when a president (even with the approval of the board of trustee) acts in a way that doesn’t take into account the faculty’s leadership role, it creates an incredible sense of distrust, loss of covenantal unity, and a breach of shared governance.

    One also has to factor in the issue of tenure (something, again, that doesn’t exist in the local church). As an accredited educational institution, the university has to agree to follow the rules of the accreditation body, as well as the faculty handbook (which is written and agreed to jointly by both the faculty and the president and then approved by the BoT). A tenured professor, typically, can only be dismissed for a few select reasons which are stated in the faculty handbook.

    Even if the president personally doesn’t agree with a prof’s theology, that in itself is not sufficient reason to let a prof go, as there is a process which must be followed which has previously been agreed on by the faculty and typically involves a select group of faculty who then investigate to determine whether the theology in question is actually hereodox. In the case of this prof, the religion faculty have repeatedly declared his theology to be in line with orthodox theology, Wesleyan theology and specifically Nazarene theology. More so, a year ago, the local DS declared that he was going to hold a heresy trial against this prof in order to remove his credentials since the DS didn’t believe the prof’s theology was in sync with his understanding of Nazarene theology (even though, as I indicated, the rest of the religion faculty did). Long story short, the trial ended up going in the prof’s favor, and the DS had to eventually send a letter indicating they found no fault worthy of removing the credentials.

    Since, as I understand from talking to several faculty members at NNU, the president had tried previously to dismiss the prof on the theology issue and failed, the faculty at NNU believe that the president resorted to the only other reason by which he could terminate a tenured faculty member–namely by declaring a financial crisis. Even in that case, given shared governance and the covenantal nature of community that is agreed on, the president should have engaged the faculty leadership in this decision. This did not happen In fact, just yesterday, the NNU Faculty Officers and the NNU Faculty Representatives to the Faculty Policy Council jointly sent a letter to the president informing him of their belief that there was a breach of shared governance. Here is an important line in the letter (which is a public document) which is pertinent here: “We pledge that the faculty officers and the members of the Faculty Policy Council will work together with the administration in an atmosphere of transparency to create and craft policies that will foster academic freedom, make tenure secure, engender a culture of servant leadership, and repair the covenantal relationships of the administration with faculty, staff, and students.” As you can see, even in this case, transparency is a required element due to the nature of shared governance and tenure.

    Please understand that I agree wholeheartedly that there are times, especially in the local church, where confidentiality is a requirement. However, it simply doesn’t apply here due to the issues raised above. A president of a university simply cannot let a tenured faculty member go without following the procedures agreed on by the faculty and those determined by the accreditation agencies. If the president does not, then that is when problems emerge, and the institution itself may be see an not being compliant with its own policies by the accreditation agencies, which in turn can cause the university to potentially lose its accreditation (in essence, making it no longer an attractive or viable option for most students to attend). If a president should do this, thus putting the entire institution in danger of losing accreditation, it would put it on the par of what you described with the NPH debacle.

  2. Jim,
    Have you read the presidents letter to the faculty? I would be interested in your take on that document, especially in regard to the affect you think it would have on the accreditation issues. I would also like to hear more from the Board Of Trustees and their role in the decisions. I am not sure that is clear and is it the BOT who have the last word? If their final word is that a professor must be dismissed (for whatever the reason might be) is that really the final word? Clearly the accreditation issue must be fully considered or the BOT would be negligent without considering that.

    In the letter the financial shortfall is stated as the reason along with multiple apologies for the way things were handled. I know local church is not an apple to apple comparrison with an academic institution, but having been in the unpleasant position of dismissing a staff person, I fully get the lack of finances issues. It was very painful, but at the time the finances were not there to continue to pay what had been originally offered due to economic downturns and stagnate years in the life of the church prior to my tenure.

    If the financial circumstances really are the issue at NNU, then the previous attempts at dismissing Tom make even that appear rather questionable. I consider Tom my friend and collegue in ministry even though we have not always agreed, therefore I find it awfully hard to swallow when one of my friends suffers a great mistreatment that impacts his family, and his livlihood. At the same time, I am equally mystified by those in social media who make it their personal quest to assassinate the character of the bride of Christ for one institution or another, one individual or another who has made very bad decisions.

    It appears, these have a seriously poor ecclesiology that is based on knee jerk reactions instead of biblical wisdom and the sacrifice of the Groom who gave His life for His Bride. Where there has been poor leadership given, call the leader to accountability, where there is question about ones theology, let us sit down and reason together. I am not sure Bresee said this but he has been given credit for it in some measure…In essentials, Unity, in non-essentials, Charity! I believe that is reflective of a holiness ethic we Nazarenes say we are supposed to practice if we are going to have integrity.

    I think Brian is trying to return this ugliness to some modicum of wisdom and civility, and to that I would add my amen. There needs to be accountability and responsibility for all those involved, but this wholesale assassination of the character of the Body of Christ has got to stop or the part of the Kingdom of God we represent will be seriously damaged and “Nazarene’s” will go the way of others who are closing their doors faster than they can open new ones. Not acceptable!

    As a pastor I expect the members of my flock to use social media in keeping with wisdom as the better part of descretion, and I give firm, yet gracious accountability when they do not. Part of my job is to protect the flock and that often means compelling my congregation to give no one a reason to call us hypocrites. We are called to conduct ourselves in ways against which there is no law…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We are in fact to embody these things because The Spirit lives in us and through us. That does not mean we are weak knee’d and spineless, but neither does it mean we are loveless, character assassins.

    Local congregation, or academic institution, if the sign over the door says Christian (and especially Nazarene), this Spirit filled life of Christ in us and through us is the standard! If it has not been met, then lets do something about that by repenting for our failures, asking forgiveness of those we have offended, making restitution where appropriate, and get back to the mandate our Saviour gave us, making disciples. That is what holiness people do that is how they live!

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