Eugene Cho

trust and transparency

In preparation for our church’s annual meeting tomorrow, I’m sharing another quote that has given me something to ponder.  This was a comment I read on another blog in response to their church leadership:

“Why do so many of you feel a church leader is entitled to privacy in church dealings. This is not a secret society. It’s a group of people with a leader, teacher, instructor, not a dictator. Every single church matter should be an open, public event. If you are honest and sincere, that shouldn’t make you uncomfortable. And if it does, so what? Deal with it. The reverse consequences are too enormous. It is not isolated occurrences for pastors to embezzle, lie, cheat or molest. Everyone I know, myself included, who was molested as a child was forced to keep it a secret to “protect” the sacred image of a church. Don’t think it can happen to you or yours, you are very naive. One secret breeds another. It has made me angry my whole life that image to outsiders is more important than content. Do you know how many times I’ve seen pastors, leaders, elders, etc. suddenly relocate with no explanation given. This needs to stop. The only reputation that matters is God’s.

My own parents refused to take a stand against my childhood church. Example showed them that those who dissent are ostracized and shunned. It was better to be quiet than have all your peers abandon you. How sad. Betray a child rather than take on a grown man who is fully capable of defending himself.

Again, I ask, why do so many of you become alarmed, sad, shocked, outraged that the leaders are being questioned? As opposed to examining the content. What are you afraid of? That you might have been mistaken about your worship of a man over God.

And don’t think I’m in favor of gossip or innuendo. Or that I’m implying anyone is a molester. I’m describing what can and does occur when things are shrouded in secrecy and unquestioned trust…”

There’s a great deal of mistrust in churches, leaders, and pastors – both fair and unfair.  But regardless, all leaders should be mindful about how they can build a culture of trust and transparency in their leadership. 

The other elders, staff, and I are constantly mindful of these things particularly as we’ve grown in the past couple years.  These are some of the things we do to build that culture:

  • Send out a weekly e-newsletter.
  • For those that don’t use email [some of our senior citizens], mail out weekly church programs and above documents when published.
  • A members’ link on the church website [password encrypted] with all the documents listed above. [We’re hoping to resurrect this link after the annual meeting.]
  • Bi-weekly Elder Board meetings where minutes are written, published, and made available to the church community.
  • A promise to listen to all concerns of the church.  [I’ve learned that while people do care about the content of their concerns, they’re more concerned that their voices are heard.]
  • I send out a quarterly ‘Church Matters’ letter to all the members and regular partners of the church as I speak from my heart about some of the behind the scenes issues of the church.
  • An attempt to have a quarterly financial report available to the church. 

Any other ideas or suggestions?  What are some things you do at your church or organization to build this culture of trust and transparency?

*  Please note that not ALL minutes are published or made public in any manner.  There are some conversations – particularly dealing with confidential matters of people that are not included in the minutes that are published and distributed.  One of the responsibilities that all healthy church leadership ought to subscribe to is ‘confidentiality.’

Filed under: religion

11 Responses

  1. don says:

    Dear Eugene;
    Great post! I really like your suggestions for communication widely and often with the congregation. A standing Personnel Relations Committee (or in some churches Pastoral) the meets on a regular schedule with minutes legitimizes concerns and criticisms and provides a venue and mechanism for quick response. While I as the sr. pastor meet with the PRC and staff are accountable to me. If I am the problem, they have direct access to the PRC, as does the congregation. We cannot go too far to cultivate a culture of transparency and accountability.

  2. Dan says:

    I do the weekly email newsletter, which is really appreciated. The agenda for every board meeting is made public a week before the meetings. Every few months I remind the congregation that they are always welcome to attend our board meetings as observants. I make sure our PPRC is running, and I take every opportunity to remind our people that it is there, should they have concerns. I use my personal blog to communicate many of the happenings in our Body as well.

    That being said, in the last year we’ve dealt with a number of situations that could not be made public – a young man in our church was arrested, and is now a registered sex offender. The parents wanted him to return with nothing much said about it. Our board had to wrestle with those ramifications, while at the same time not breaking confidentiality rules. Another mentally ill man has been emailing me threats against our church. The board has worked hard at dealing with the situation without causing alarm throughout the church. In both situations, eventually I said just enough to the congregation that they were aware there was an issue, and that we were dealing with it, but we could not, as your original poster suggested, make them “open, public event[s].” Some things need to be dealt with delicately; at some point boards and pastors have to prove themselves trustworthy, and then the Body needs to learn to trust them.

  3. fireonyourhead says:

    I actually appreciate that you posted this.

    I’m of the persuasion, as a missionary and someone visible in my part of the Body of Christ, that “in the light is alright”. If one keeps accountable, then one has nothing to keep secret really.

    However, I agree with th poster above me–that not everything needs to be made open. Like accusation for example. If something is unfounded and merely alleged it’s not necessary–or even a good idea–to bring it all out in the open, since rumors seem to often travel farther than the truth sometimes, and cause damage even if things get resolved.

  4. deanneliu says:

    I appreciate this post PE. I find it comforting to know your commitment to trransparency. I come from a long history of secretive pastoral leadership, integrity issues that abound within the character of the pastor. I really respect people who are willing to be more public with who they are for this very reason. I think this says a lot for why I attend Quest. Thanks PE.

  5. e cho says:

    i should note that we don’t publish ALL the minutes. as some of our duties as elders concern pastoral care, there are confidential matters that we do not publish and share.

    i think where we struggle is to be CONSISTENT in the things listed above.

  6. Jennifer says:

    PE

    Im with Deanneliu. 🙂 I’m at Quest for must of the same reason.

  7. chad says:

    although good communication of events and issues of the corporate church is very good and important, it seems to me that the quoted post-er was more concerned with personal accountability and transparency. not that i think Pastor Eugene need worry a great deal about this – he always seemed open and honest to me.
    i offer this as a solution to the post-er’s concern: make it very clear to the church congregation and the rest of the world that the church staff all have accountability partners, that there are no secrets in these relationships and the accountability relationships are taken very seriously. i don’t know of a way to reassure people that the staff and the accountability partners have the courage to bring necessary issues to authorities, but a good track record is a good place to start.

  8. Mike says:

    Good stuff on T&T through open, honest communication. Regarding your observation that “while people do care about the content of their concerns, they’re more concerned that their voices are heard.” I would point out that (for me) there should be evidence that a concern has been heard not merely the forum to voice it. No one is satisfied with the black hole variety “Suggestion Box”. They must feel as though the suggestion or concern actually matters, will be thoughtfully considered and a high probability exists that something will come of it. Only then can one _trust_ that a concern heard is a concern truly HEARD.

  9. chad says:

    before making big decisions (such as staffing, programs, budgeting, etc) we have “Town Hall Meetings”; they have been important events in terms of incorporating laity into the decision making process and empowering them so that they know these decisions are their decisions and not made or finalized by some committee behind closed doors…

    all that to say, i think we can do more!

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