Since there is no congregational conversation this month (but mark your calendars for the next one on January
12), I am sharing some thoughts this month that might provide useful framing for our future discussions. This
week I’d like to address one of the issues that sometimes causes hiccups in congregations: communication.
Information is power, and that power can be shared equitably or held onto tightly. The latter is often done so with good intentions; the person or group with the information takes seriously the responsibility to maintain confidentiality.
Here, though, I think it is important to separate confidentiality from secrecy. The purpose of confidentiality is to protect people and the integrity of processes. If protection is not the driver, then withholding information becomes secretive and more about keeping power centralized. Secret-keeping divides church members who are in and out of the loop and
breeds mistrust that is difficult to overcome.
Confidentiality vs. secrecy is an important distinction at every level of relationship, not just among designated leaders but also between any two people in the pews. To help make the distinction, ask yourself the following as you consider whether or not to share information:
- What are the wishes of the people most affected by the information?
- Who or what would I be protecting by withholding the information?
- What are the possible long-term outcomes of sharing the information (or not)?
- What is the most helpful, loving way to communicate sensitive information that must be shared?
As a general rule, transmit as much information as you are able without breaking confidences. This creates a culture of trust so that when you can’t reveal as much, those around you feel confident that information and decisions are in good hands.