The relatively new Bible study group was deep into a discussion of some point from the study–given the way my Bible study groups work, it probably wasn’t the point I had intended to be discussed but an off-shoot that grew out of someone wondering about an implication of something someone said about the point–our Bible studies tend to be rather free flowing and open. Anyway, as the discussion progressed, someone wanted to know some Biblical or theological fact that would help them in the discussion.
As the question was being asked, all eyes turned to the supposed resident expert on Biblical and theological issues. I thought a bit, couldn’t come up with anything, not even one of my “some suggest…” answers. So, I answered in what to me seemed the most logical way. I said, “I really have no idea”. The discussion stopped. Mouths flew open in surprise. People looked at me in shock.
Well, to be honest, the reaction wasn’t that strong–but a couple of people at the study were obviously struck by something. I looked their way and asked what was going on–in Bible study, I am as concerned with people’s reactions as I am with their questions and comments. One of them said she was surprised–she had never heard a pastor say they didn’t know something before.
Now, in fairness, their spiritual journey had taken them on some interesting paths and they had recently been part of a group whose pastor probably wouldn’t feel comfortable admitting they didn’t know but very quickly, the rest of the Bible study chimed in agreeing that they really couldn’t remember a pastor ever admitting they didn’t know something. The discussion kept going, with one story after another of pastors and church leaders who wouldn’t admit to being wrong or not knowing something, even when it was clear to everyone else that the individual in question was either wrong or didn’t know what they claimed to know. Eventually, we got back on track. When I reported back the next week that I had done some research and had an answer to the question, we had a bit of a replay of the week before.
But I discovered something else–or maybe somethings else. First, I rediscovered just how insecure many in leadership can be. I learned a long time ago that my leadership doesn’t depend on my being infallible–because if it did, I would be in serious trouble. Generally, people see through the defences we build around our insecurity and our attempts to look secure become pathetic signs of our real insecurity.
I also learned that our community became stronger as I offered my weakness. I love research and reading and learning and tend to have lots of facts about lots of stuff–but I don’t know everything. I am comfortable offering the community my lack of knowledge. I also offer my skills as a researcher and student to find out some of the things I don’t know and my skills as a teacher to help them find out what they and I don’t know. But the exciting thing is that far from being upset that I didn’t know the answer, our community became stronger.
Community grows as we talk and share and are honest with each other. As one person has the willingness to share both good and bad, it provides encouragement for all to share both good and bad. When I, as the community pastor, am honest about what I don’t know and can’t do, that provides the rest of the community with an incentive to be equally honest. Community grows through the examples of its members. If all the members are honest, the community grows more honest. If some members pretend, the rest of the community both sees through the pretense and begins to pretend themselves.
In Christian communities, pastors and other leaders play a significant role in the kind of community the church becomes. When we can be honest and open with the community about both our strengths and weaknesses, what we know and what we don’t know, that set a path for the rest of the community. We model what we expect the community to become–and in the end, the community will follow the path we model.
A leader in the Christian community needs to think carefully about what kind of Christian community they want to develop and then begin to live in community that way–or maybe, it is better to say, we as leaders need to think carefully about what kind of community God wants and then live that community.
May the peace of God be with you.