To reveal or not to reveal? Should our lives be an open book?
Self-disclosure is definitely a risk, but sometimes a risk worth taking.
Pastor Mike “bragged” about his short-term memory loss, treating his condition as inconsequential and refused to ask for help. When significant problems arose due to this disability, the church suffered.
However, Pastor Dean had a history of drug abuse. Sober for many years, his board was well aware of his story. However, he was careful how much of his past he shared from the pulpit. When providing individual counseling, he prayed first before sharing, always making sure of his motivation … to help the congregant, not to glorify his own victory.
I was a welfare mom and a single parent for nearly seven years. When I began my social work career, I asked my supervisor, “Will my experience be beneficial to my clients?”
His advice was valuable. “That depends. Some of your clients will judge you. Some will be encouraged by your story. How much and to whom you reveal your past will depend upon your client and their need. You should not place yourself so high on a pedestal, your clients cannot relate to you. Nor should you think that you need to relate by letting them believe you are just like them.”
Advisors to ministry leaders suggest that disclosure be weighed carefully against the providers state of mind and the benefit of the mentee.
First of all pray.
You can expect a variety of responses to your full disclosure. Some may be inspired by your story, others put off. However, revealing our past experiences, in a limited way, can help the counseling process when we weigh the information shared against the client’s need and temperament. We should examine our motives. Are we revealing to raise our credibility standing? Credibility is better gained through listening and acceptance.
Sometimes our past can be overwhelming to the people we serve, especially if our hurt has not yet been fully healed. Often times, we are not aware of the depth and breadth of our personal pain. Disclosure could possibly trigger an unexpected emotional reaction that can be harmful, not only to the one we wish to help, but to ourselves as well.
Once we’re on top of a life-changing crisis, we want to tell the whole world about our recovery. “I came out of this a better person, and so can you.” Speakers are often successful with disclosure because they are not in an on-going relationship with their event audience. Because ministers are, they should be cautious and aware of the pitfalls of full disclosure.
Most often, we can achieve a helping word through generalities, rather than being specific about our past struggles. “I once went through financial hardship” … rather than … “I had to file bankruptcy several times.”
Ultimately, as ministry leaders, our goal is to share the Word of God and to lead the congregant into a relationship with the Lord—to assure him/her that God hears, God sees, and God understands.
Paul’s past was no secret. He reminded the churches that, though he had the highest credentials of his day, he was the worst of sinners. Not to brag, but to demonstrate the power of God’s forgiveness and that his followers might know the “depth and breadth” of God’s forgiveness.
In conclusion, before you reveal, remember 1 Corinthians 13: 4-6, our guide in all human relationships: Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth … (NKJV).
A veteran social worker, author Linda Wood Rondeau’s varied church experience and professional career affords a unique insight into church dynamics. Readers may visit her web site at www.lindarondeau.com. Link to Linda’s Bible/Devotional book, I Prayed for Patience God Gave Me Children.