Pastoral Naiveté

The phrase just occurred to me yesterday, and I knew immediately that I have been guilty of--and my ministry hampered by--pastoral naiveté. It's a phrase most commonly used, I think, in reference to poetry. But I use it to refer to my unbiblical tendency to believe the best about people and to expect the best from them.

I know that the human heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9, ESV), but despite my head knowledge of human fallenness, I tend to operate from a default position that expects people will be truthful, that friends--and brothers and sisters in Christ, especially--will be gracious and kind, faithful and loyal, not mean, petty, vindictive, fickle, back-biting, lying, and proud. I tend to think that, heck yeah, people will treat me fairly, and will not turn on me and my family (and faith family) after years of praying for them and with them, counseling them, sacrificing for them, supporting them, and seeking good things for them.

And, to be fair, some faithful souls distinguish themselves by actually rewarding my naive faith. But that's just it: they distinguish themselves, because they are the exceptions. I have been utterly and repeatedly shocked at people--and WHICH people--who have lashed out at me, who have lied about me and/or others, turned their backs not only on me but on my whole family, whom I thought they loved and valued! Literally the LAST people I would have suspected. But that's because I don't suspect ANYONE of being capable of such behavior, certainly not those I consider friends, colaborers, brothers and sisters.

And therein lies the source of my naiveté damaging naiveté. I don't want to become cynical or jaded, by any means. But if as a pastor I had done better in years past at remembering that hurting people hurt people--and we are all hurting--I think I might be a better pastor, a wiser leader. I would have spared myself a TON of hurt and heartache and, more importantly, might have spared the flock a lot of harm.

The good shepherd, like the Good Shepherd, is neither naive nor jaded...but is like him of whom it was said, "Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men....he knew what was in a man" (John 2:24-25, NIV).

God, forgive my naiveté, and the harm it has done your church. Amen.


  1. Wow, Bob. Thanks for being transparent. The longer I've been in ministry the more I understand two verses, "shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" and "owe no man anything but love."

    It sounds harsh, but I've learned that in ministry I should trust no one and love everyone. Not because they deserve to not be trusted or deserve to be loved, but because I know the deceit of my own heart and Christ loved me anyway.

    This post and the one on passive-aggressive behavior in church are your two "bravest" posts. Kudos!

    Oh, BTdubs, the picture of Francis was perfect for this topic.

  2. That was a homerun! You expressed thoughts that I have had but not able to put to words. Thanks.

  3. Thanks, Joe! I'm with you. I can honestly say I never understood John 2:24-25 until recently, either.

  4. Much appreciated, Dewey! I know you know whereof you speak!

  5. Oh, and Joe, watch the jocularity.