categories: communication, leadership, preaching
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May 1st, 2008

by Craig Groeschel

18 comments (+ Add)

Try Not to Step Across the Line

When bringing “you,” authenticity is crucial.

Everything you say must be true. But everything that is true doesn’t need to be said.

  • If you or your spouse is uncomfortable about sharing something too personal—don’t.
  • If you might make someone look bad, don’t share it.
  • If your challenge is “too fresh,” you might allow some time to pass before sharing it.
  • If you’re going to tell a story about someone in the church, get their permission first.
  • If you’re telling a story about someone else that would be upset if they find out, don’t tell the story. (Even if you don’t use their names, it’s amazing how small the world is and what people hear.)

Have you ever said “too much?”

In today’s world, everything you say tends to live forever.

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  1. May 1, 2008 at 6:05 am


    This is absolutely great advice!! I don’t know that I have ever crossed the line but I sure have come close several times. With the advent of podcasting, etc it becomes ever more crucial. One thing that I think pastors also need to be very cautious about is sharing a story that is anywhere close to one that comes from a recent counseling session. The counselee is already on the defensive but I can still those words: “I told you in confidence and now you have published it to the whole church.” Not true but in their mind it is. Authenticity is not an excuse for stupidity.

    I do wish I had been told your advice when I first started as a pastor years ago.

  2. May 1, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Can you elaborate on “Too fresh”?
    I have said things many times and then that flush of embarrassment comes over you. I made a comment one time, totally true but totally not the right time or the right thing to said. Good for couch talk but not good for pulpit talk. I was embarrassed and I could tell that many in the congregation were embarrassed for me.

  3. May 1, 2008 at 6:50 am

    I don’t know one person who has NEVER put their foot in their mouth when they should have just remained silent.
    This is just great advice!

    Authenticity doesn’t mean complete transparency and a “play by play” of every detail of a pastor’s life or others lives. You could cross a fine line of gossip or be the catalyst for congregational gossip if that were the case.

    Authenticity of Church leadership to me means that he or she is willing to admit that they are simply a PERSON with struggles just like everyone else. They are indeed called by God to preach HIS message (based on the word)…but they don’t have all of the answers!!!! They simply have the gift of helping direct His flock down the right path. Pastors that act “super human” or “untouchable” pass on the lie that perfection CAN be attained in this world which is completely false.

  4. May 1, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Do you think there are arenas outside of the pulpit (so to speak) where people can learn from some of your experiences? I have thought about this alot as a woman in ministry and also as a staff member whos church went through the fire for a year and a half. I have wondered who could benefit from what God has taught me. I’m not sure it’s all for “Sunday morning consumption”, although I think some elements are.

  5. May 1, 2008 at 7:09 am

    The answer is YES! When I was younger I made all these mistakes REPEATEDLY! You would think I would have learned by now, but no…

    A few months back a long time member got upset with me about our mission statement, told me they didn’t agree with it and were leaving, I loving explained our mission and said I understood if they could no longer attend. A month later I recounted that exchange during a message and it just so happened that that individual decided to show up again on that Sunday and was not happy. I didn’t name names but they knew I was referring to them. It was “too fresh.”

    I find that I make these kinds of mistakes more often when I haven’t REALLY prepare my messages, when I haven’t rehearsed them out loud. It becomes easy to say things in the emotion of the moment on stage and it seems like a good idea at the time but then it come back to bite you.

  6. 6Dan Huynh
    May 1, 2008 at 7:22 am

    Even when we speak truth, there is still a proper time, place, and context for it. Otherwise, it can end up being hurtful or even counter-productive to what we’re trying to accomplish.

    I wish I didn’t have to learn that the hard way!

  7. May 1, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Good info, i would also add that when you use illustrations about your kids that you get their permission too. (i’ve had to be more careful to do that now that my son is no longer a toddler)!

  8. May 1, 2008 at 8:54 am


    I like the part about asking permission. When my children were younger…I used family stories all the time for illustrations. Today with 2 Teenagers….I don’t go there with out permission and if I do…I proceed with great caution.

    Hope you guys had fun in the city!

  9. May 1, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Have I ever said too much? *chuckling* Oh yeah. And because of those times I have a little mental list, very similar to this one, to remind me not to do it again. I’m sure I’ll screw up again at some point though, and then I’ll add to the list and try not to repeat that mistake.

  10. May 1, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    I don’t teach much from the stage, but I do share during worship alot. Recently though I did share some of my testimony of the past two years, which have been tough. The occasion was that I was leaving for a three month sabbatical. Because most of the events that had so stressed me out were precipitated by other people, it was hard to know what and how to say things. In the end I had to “speak gently” and focus mainly on how God was speaking to me. There are many, many things I DIDN’T say that frustrated me, but I think I erred in the right direction. Check out my blog and poke around the last few weeks to follow this story: I am hoping my authenticity will help bring closure and healing to our church as well. Great advice. Thanks for sharing!

  11. 11Mac
    May 1, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks, Craig, for so succinctly addressing my question from the previous “authenticity” discussion. Your outline is a good starting point for this discussion.

    I’m also reminded by Buddy Cremeans’ reference to using your kids in illustrations that it’s not just hard confessions that we need to use prudence when sharing, but also lighter, amusing examples from personal life. Not everything I think is cute in my kids’ behavior is cute in their eyes, expecially now that they are approaching the teen years.

    Asking permission is a powerful thing, by the way. I was talking with an elderly couple one Saturday night about how they met and married. The story was an amazingly powerful one and it just happened to also nicely illustrate a point in the sermon that I had already prepared for the next morning. With their permission, I used an abbreviated version of part of their story, without naming names, in my sermon on Sunday. Using a real live example was powerful from a preaching standpoint, but in retrospect I think maybe the act of asking permission to use their story was itself even more powerful, from a pastoring standpoint.

  12. May 2, 2008 at 5:32 am

    some advice I got before I started in the ministry was that I needed “transparency with wisdom.” That was great advice!

  13. May 2, 2008 at 11:46 am

    [...] You can read more from Craig on this subject here. [...]

  14. May 2, 2008 at 12:19 pm

    This is a great follow up to your “Take Some Risks” post. I’ve been chewing on that and asking the Lord how I can do that more. As far as this post, I’ve been amazed at how much it raises the tension in the congregation if I cross this line of sharing a personal story about a church member - even if it’s positive. I don’t think it is a good / helpful tension. I’m also amazed at how the tension is relieved if I begin with the statement “I asked Joe if I could tell you about a conversation we had.” I also agree with other commenters about using our children in illustrations. We have an agreement that I have to pay them a certain amount of money if I ever use their name in a sermon without permission. I have the same agreement with my wife, but it involves much more money. This agreement really serves to make me think about the implications of sharing without permission, but I have had to “pay up” several times.

  15. 15Dwight Weber
    May 2, 2008 at 1:35 pm

    Watch what you say about your kids. Sometimes being real for you is sharing too much about your kids. They provide way too much opportunity to demonstrate growth and development. You might think you telling a story about you but if all your people hear are stories of how your kids mess up then all they know is that they are a screw up and although your kids are young they will grow up and peoples perspective don’t change with them sometimes. I have heard from many PK’s how damaging the stories have turn for them as they grew. People can be crewel and say things that are damaging to kids as they grow up. Don’t give people material to say to your kids. A story that worked when they were young can still shape peoples thinking years later. That is not fair to your kids. I have a friend who told so many stories about his child that it affected the congregation’s perspective. So much so that everyone was convinced the child was a brat, granted the child was a handful but didn’t deserve the label. Labels can affected that child’s developmental behavior in the future.

  16. May 4, 2008 at 2:38 am

    Oh man! And I was having so much fun with the “t” word. Authenticity works better. I can’t make fun of that at all. (grin)

  17. 17Ben
    May 4, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    I recently asked a group of pastors in my denomination how open they are to sharing their weaknesses with their churches. Almost all of them were appalled at the idea of showing and chink in the armor. One stood up and said the most impactful messages he’d ever preached were when he spoke about his weaknesses.
    I’m thankful for the boundaries you lay out, don’t want to turn the message into a therapy session, but don’t know how we relate the gospel without sharing how it has shaped us.

  18. May 6, 2008 at 6:25 pm


    This is a great reminder. I’m learning on my blog to take twice as long to post something as I normally would. As you said, “Everything you say tends to live forever.”

    Brian Jones