My daughter’s seven and she seems to be beginning a phase where secrets are really important. You know, children maintain small bits of power in their lives. Almost everything is decided for them, but they can control the things around them by crying, or whining, or being cute. They can refuse to eat.

One of the most interesting things about being a parent is negotiating all of this. I’m far from a “children should be seen and not heard” parent. But I’m also acutely aware of the fact that my daughter has things–intangible things–that children with siblings do not have. Mainly, decision-making power.

I read in Born to Buy, that parents let their children pick out their minivans. Car companies figured that out, so they began advertising for vans on Nickelodeon. Now, she doesn’t have that much say in the grown-up decisions. But in the small stuff–like going out to eat–we take her choice into consideration. We listen to her opinion about where she’d like to go on family vacation.

Not all the time, of course, or else we’d be going to McDonald’s for every meal and Disney for every vacation. But she gets a voice. And so, it’s interesting to watch this next phase of power keeping and sharing: the secret.

I’ve been having a lot of discussion with her about secrets. It began when we saw a fascinating exhibit that highlighted the best entries of this blog at the American Visionary Art Museum. Now we’re having “it’s important to keep a secret unless ______” discussions. The unless seems to be filled in with things like someone’s harming you, someone’s hurting themselves, someone needs help. Things like that.

My daughter is powerfully good at keeping secrets. She tells me things a year later that I would have blurted out the second I got home. Her ability impresses me and worries me, a bit.

Well, I didn’t mean to go on and on about my daughter. Part of the secret side of her is that she’s not so utterly keen about me writing about her. Which I would do all the time, if I could, because she’s really an interesting little person….

So, I’ll get back to the topic of this blog. And that is how secrets translate in our churches. It’s a lot the same way. Sometimes secrets are good. I’ve seen a church destroyed by a pastor who gossiped about confidential pastoral care issues.

And then I’ve been in churches where everything’s a blasted secret. And it feels like you can’t move without banging your shin on something that’s been swept under the rug.

And then there are those really dysfunctional secrets that a church hides. The whole system becomes distorted around it.

And there are certain people in out congregations who have a whole lot of unhealthy power because they know all the secrets.

And so, I’m wondering, how do we fill in that blank as church leaders? What would you say?

It’s important to keep a secret unless______________________.


6 thoughts on “Secrets

  1. The same as you told your daughter, “Someone’s harming you, someone’s hurting themselves, someone needs help.”

    All that sounds pretty logical to me. By the way, it’s usually the WAY things are told and the motives behind the telling that counts, not always the information that’s told.

  2. Okay, I’ll have to come back to this in a more grown up state of mind, but my immediate answer is
    “it’s important to keep a secret unless it’s a secret from ME!”

    I hate secrets.

  3. Since I also don’t like secrets, I try to think through the issue using a different lens because my natural instinct is to favor transparency.
    So I use the question: “What do people need to know?” If the information is something people need to know in order to work their way through something, get it out there. If the information is something regarding illegal behavior, get it out there. But if getting it out there doesn’t really change much of anything or anyone, what is the point of getting it into the public forum? At that point it becomes gossip for the sake of gossip.
    So, if a politician is engaged in some secret behavior that really sheds like on her/his public behavior, I think we have a right to know. If it is behavior that doesn’t impact his/her public performance, may it rest in peace.
    If a congregation needs to know about a previous treasurer’s financial misdeeds in order to understand something important about the congregation as a family system, get it out there. If not, make the appropriate changes in financial oversight and bury the previous financial misconduct in the past.
    When I first went into ministry 35 years ago, we were too quick to keep secrets. Today we may we too quick to reveal them. Hopefully, your generation will do a better job with secrets.

  4. “…it isn’t.”

    I’m wondering how we approach this question theologically. I mean, sure, secrets can protect individuals in social organizations and communities, and “information” can be used as a weapon or disseminated as poisonous whispering.

    But for some reason, the baseline for me seems to be that secrets have no place in the Kingdom. We may as well be transparent, because ultimately, nothing is hidden.

  5. I was a part of a congregation that was destroyed by secrets. Secrets held by a pastor about his relationships. Secrets held by victims. Secrets held by those that knew but did nothing about it. The same congregation is dealing with repercussions about other secrets even today. It breaks my heart.

    Unfortunately there are people that keep secrets until the time is right to ruin someone’s reputation or image.

    I also think that there is some confusion between “secrets” and private information. The problem is that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the two. A secret keeps people out and excludes those that are not “in the know.” Information is something that people know because they need to.

    I like David’s words much more than my own.

  6. Depends. I’m big on not talking about other people. Even when it’s good intentioned it can be turned into gossip. I’m not %100 innocent, but I really try. I don’t keep my own secrets anymore, and I am very open about MY “stuff”. (AA, past drug use, Bipolar disorder) but for years it was secret. Now that it’s out, it does get used against me sometimes, but I feel so much more free. Once the judgement is over, you’re not dreading what might happen if the secret gets out, and you can move on. Now I think I tell people more than hey want to hear. (Esp. on blogs! 🙂

    But when it comes to others’ secrets, it’s best to let them lie. Unless obvious reasons of someone being hurt, etc. But I would ALWAYS go to person with the problem first before the secret gets let out. I think Pastors should keep secrets but encourage the secret keepers to let it out in the open. It is so much better than sitting on it.

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