What would life be like if we were all totally honest with each other?  How would human relationships develop if people told people exactly what they thought of them?

‘Liar Liar’ is a film in which Jim Carry plays a lawyer and divorced father living in Los Angeles.  His character, Fletcher, discovers through a series of embarrassing incidents that he is unable to lie, mislead or withhold the truth.

It’s not so much that we engage in lying all the time.  Instead, in our relationships with others, we try to show sensitivity and tact so that we don’t hurt people’s feelings, embarrass or belittle them.  The challenge can be to avoid being brutal and cruel to people, but also not shying away from offering some honest truths when necessary.

In Ministry, criticism is par for the course.  It happens at the church door, in Kirk Session meetings and on social media.  The occasion, just a couple of years into my first charge, when I abandoned the National Anthem, without consulting anyone, caused a reaction I have never forgotten!

In most professions, there are annual reviews and ways in which an employee’s performance is assessed.   While the church does have places of support and accountability, in general the performance of most ministers is not properly assessed and critiqued so that improvements can be made.   

In reflecting on the encounter between David and Nathan recorded in 2 Samuel, if we look upon it as a performance review, David didn’t come out of it too well.

‘Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’  (2 Samuel 12, 9-10).

God expresses through Nathan the hard truth that David had sinned and there is nothing nuanced or sensitive about the way that He does so. The situation undoubtedly called for that, but the need to confront people with honest truths doesn’t always have to be so brutal.

We’ve talked for years about reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of someone’s ministry and while we’ve gone some way to seek to address it, many would argue we’ve not gone far enough.  Should it not be compulsory for this to take place on an annual basis in which a proper assessment is made of how effectively anyone in ministry is undertaking his or her role?  This would not be aimed at seeking out faults and failings, but to look to how a person’s ministry can be developed and in what ways it can be better supported.

It is also the case that as well as the more formal forms of assessment, all of us in ministry need to be more honest with one another when we believe a colleague needs some guidance or constructive criticism.   That is never easy, but if we simply ignore the fact that a colleague is struggling because we don’t want to upset them, then we will only make matters worse. 

I say this primarily because of the pressures all in ministry are facing at this time.  These include the aftermath of Covid 19, the ongoing Presbytery Planning process, terrifying financial predictions, the huge number having to be Interim Moderators and undertaking a role which more and more in society see as irrelevant.

We need every tool in the box to offer support to those in ministry who are feeling these pressures and I believe that proper assessment, review and greater honesty from colleagues can go some way to help.

Rev Dr John Ferguson

Presbytery Clerk, Perth