7 Innocent Lies Pastors Tell

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I’m a pastor and, I hate to say, I sometimes tell lies.

I’m a pastor and, I hate to say, I sometimes tell lies.

Don’t get me wrong, I hate lying. And I try hard to live a life of integrity.

I’m not even good at lying; my wife and kids tell me I’m a terrible liar. They can tell within seconds if I’m trying to pull one past them (practical jokes are really hard to pull off because of this).

But sometimes, as a byproduct of what I do in ministry, I say things that aren’t 100 percent true.

And I’m not sure I’m alone.

In the hopes of keeping me honest (and maybe helping nonpastors understand a pastor’s world), here are seven lies I’ve caught myself telling:

1. I’m doing great.

That’s what I say to almost anyone who asks me how I am. But it’s not always true.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you should burden strangers or Sunday morning guests with the ‘real’ answer, but sometimes I’ve said this to people close to me when I haven’t been great.

The point is not that you tell everyone when you’re struggling, but you do need to tell someone.

2. There were ‘X’ hundred (thousand) people at the event.

There’s even a name for this — pastor math.

I have a tendency to round attendance up if I don’t watch myself. Maybe it stems from insecurity. Or a sense of inadequacy. Or insanity. I don’t know. But I have to check myself to make sure I’m accurate.

Why do I feel I the truth is inadequate?

3. It was awesome!

Sometimes, I’m tempted to spin events as better than they really are. It’s a much better practice to pick out specific things that were genuinely wonderful, and leave things that bothered me to a private debrief later.

And if you make it a pattern to say things were awesome when they weren’t, people know. Fortunately for me, I’m part of a church where things are actually awesome a lot of the time.

But I need to make sure my vocabulary matches the experience.

Carey Nieuwhof Carey Nieuwhof is Lead Pastor of Connexus Church north of Toronto, Canada, blogs at www.careynieuwhof.com and is host of The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast available for free on iTunes.

More from Carey Nieuwhof or visit Carey at http://careynieuwhof.com

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  • PaulD

    When I was in seminary in Texas I served as a youth pastor at a small United Methodist Church outside of Ft. Worth. There were a lot of much larger congregations in our district… and a lot of pastors who really focused on attendance #’s and the “standing” it gave them. My senior pastor, Joe, and I were at a district event standing in a group of pastors just visiting when two others – for whom #’s meant esteem, validation, and importance – joined the group. Within a couple of minutes they asked the question… “So, how many did you have last Sunday?” Not intimidated at all, Joe spoke right up and said, “Well, we had… what Paul… between four and five hundred?” I caught the glimmer in his eye and followed right along. “Yeah, yeah, that sounds right.”

    The two late-comers were stunned… and actually turned and walked away. “Silver Creek had that many? Really? In Azle, TX?”

    After they were out of earshot, Joe looked around the rest of our group and said to me, “Let’s see… you and your wife were there. Me and my wife were there. So that’s four… and I know we had less than 500!” The rest of the group couldn’t believe how fully the other two fell right into Joe’s joke.

    Was that one of those “Innocent Lies”? It still cracks me up 27 years later.

    • http://twitter.com/cnieuwhof Carey Nieuwhof

      That’s funny Paul. Us pastors can be awesome at multiplication.

    • Siwella Edson

      Friends there are NO ‘innocent lies.’ Admittedly English is not my mother tongue. But since conviction about sin/righteousness/judgement is first an foremost by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:8-11) then there are really no ‘innocent lies.’

      The noun is “lies.” Period. Innocent? NO!!! Guilty as charged!! Who charges? The Holy Spirit. The sin is judged even before it is committed!! Guilty as charged.. . and the way out is repentance – change the way one speaks as well. Otherwise a guilt verdict, not responded to by repentance, leads to condemnation.

      So here no ground for innocence when one is lying . . . . Fellow is either lying deep in his heart or he is telling the truth. If it is a lie. . . oh then the genealogy of the speaker is clear – the person is speaking his father’s native language, his father who ” was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no
      truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and
      the father of lies.” (Jn 8:44b)

      • Gary

        Lighten up Francis!

        • Dalia


    • grant farah

      that was a good one, amazing how Pastors will always ask the numbers question…

    • Dalia

      I can’t stand the number game. Even in little ol bible study get-togethers some other bible study leader asks, “So how many in your group.”. Ugggg I hate it!!

    • ServantHeart2012

      That lie may have seemed innocent, but when those same pastors ‘pad’ the numbers and report inflated attendance numbers to their district offices the problem grows. Soon the apportionment (the amount paid to the conference based partially on attendance) for their church will be adjusted upward and more resources will be siphoned away from the local church. Usually by the time that happens the guilty party will have been reassigned to another church only to begin the destructive process anew, while the hapless incoming pastor is left to wonder why his new church is suddenly “in decline.” It seems to happen somewhere every June.

  • BigAl

    I’m not sure that the lies are innocent, after all what is an innocent lie? The two lies that really annoy me are when preachers pass on apocryphal stories as if they were real happenings, but even worse than that is the preacher – and there are plenty of them around, including big household names – who pretend (lie) that the incident, really happened to them. As far as I am concerned, they and the preacher you heard doingb the same thing a few weeks earlier, loose all credibility. If I cannot believe them in the recounting of an anecdote, how can I trust them in the other things they say. Didn’t Jesus say something about faithfulness (integrity) in the smaller things …..?

    • http://twitter.com/cnieuwhof Carey Nieuwhof

      Hi Al, I think that’s the point of the blog. They’re not innocent. And yes, that’s exactly what Jesus said. Thanks for the comment!

    • grant farah

      ya but he also said “you are evil know how to…. Mat 7:11. Don’t forget we haven’t yet attained Perfection in these mortal bodies. perfection will be for heaven…

  • Stephen

    I have gone through you so called ries, for me that is really innocent ries but many pastors comiting many ries knowingly to make people believe what they want and not what Jesus wants.

  • Kovilan Moodley

    Sorry, but you obviously just a bad example of a pastor – no wonder the church is in such a bad state. I wonder if your congregation knows how dishonest you are. Im ashamed that you are willfully dishonest – shame on you. Rev. 21:8 should help you change your behavior.

    • grant farah

      Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone…

    • someone who cares

      You want the truth, Kovilian? Okay – according to your response, you are an arrogant, self-righteous, legalistic twit, who doesn’t understand the first thing about what you are talking about. There. How’s that work for you?

    • jeff

      And you are a consummate and compassionate grammarian with an astute understanding of the authors intent. Oops-was that a lie?

  • grant farah

    Pastor Carey, this was candidly awesome!! well done for reminding us Pastors to tell the truth. i promise to make an effort from this moment forth to tell the truth. i guess the biggest enemy for truth is exaggeration and hey, we are all guilty.

  • Blessed58

    He who is without sin let such one cast the first stone! Thank you for this posting an encouragement that we need to be careful about what we say. We tend to want to help God when we think God is not measuring up to the standard we expect. Sometimes it is not necessary to tell people who want to know about your business when they are not in a position to do anything about it. Remember the shunammite woman 2Kings 4:26 she said ” it is well” to Gehazi but later told Elisha her who needed to know the whole story (2 Kgs 4:17-37). Any how I need to watch what I say as I seek to give testimonies of God’s goodness! Thank you once again for such a sincere posting.

  • Gerbrand van Schalkwyk

    The 1st one is not supposed to ever be a lie. when somebody ask me “How are you?”, my answer is “ALWAYS good.” How can i answer “ALWAYS good” when i also have tough times?
    It is a great conversation opener. I can now easily share the secret to life.
    I have the Holy Spirit as a Teacher and Guide living within me. my sins are forgiven. My Master always takes care of me. i have an Awesome heavenly Father. it is well with my soul.
    When my body is sick. I am still always good because it us well with my soul.
    When my body is broken. I am always good because it is well with my soul.
    When my finances are messed up and i cant pay the bill.
    I am good because it is well with my soul.
    When the world is all against me.
    I am good because it is well with my soul.
    When people do horrible things.
    I am good. i am ALWAYS good because with God Who carries me through, it is good with my soul.
    Now I can share with whoever how to share in the secret ad well. how to find Jesus. Be obedient. be safe, fear nothing except disapointing my Father.
    Nowadays people at work calls me mr Always good. All know the story. Even in town people are joking. but the message is there. Everybody can be always good!!!!

    • Christian Pastor

      I tell folks Better than I deserve.

    • Fred Miller

      On that same perspective, I reply immediately, “I’m Incredible!… Jesus makes me that way, new every morning! Which, by the way, He makes you incredible too. That doesn’t mean we can’t both use some consistent praying for…”

      • Dalia

        I say great, because the person asking more than likely is asking out of habit, or as a conversation opener. As far as the praying for someone… I m just as bad. What I do now is write their name and the prayer on a piece of paper, and pray in the evening…..shoot, I just lied…..well, sometime I do…if I remember

  • Christian Pastor

    Good points. As far as the numbers game and not wanting to lie, when asked that question in the past I use to say we’re running under a thousand. If my math is correct 80 is under 1000!

  • pw73gc

    What do you call what rahab the harlot did when she was asked where the spies are? Was she protected for protected them? Just wondering.

    • Nick

      The thing is that we have individualized sin, sin is a not about just you and God. When you lie, God is mad about you and it end there, it’s about you acting the opposite of God’s will for the community, it is about you doing stuff that is negative for the spirit of the community. Is lying a sin? Not always, what is the intention behind a lie plays a lot? Rahab is a great example, you could also ask someone, in the 2nd world war, if you were hiding jews, and the nazis would come an ask you if you had jew hidden in youe house, would you lie, as for me, of course I would, and it wouldn’t not be a sin. Because as believers, we know God encourage life, not death, Rahab lied for the best of the 2 spies cause she knew what would happen to them, and she knew it would not be okay with God, so did she sinned? No, she was protected because she did the good choice to take a stand and lie even if she knew if she would get caught, she would get kill. She lied for the best of the 2 spies.

      The truth is it can be hard to know when we do things for a great cause, as for lying, rarely we lied to save someone life lol, it is mainly (actually pretty much always) for our own gain, and this is a sin.

      Sry for my english grammar mistake, its not my first language.

  • pw73gc

    Joshua chapter 2 is where that story about Rahab is found. God says in Psalm 78:39 “For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.”

  • https://www.facebook.com/keith.rockefeller Keith Rockefeller

    It sounds more like lies everyone says every day. How many people really say how they are feeling when asked “how are you?” There is an expectation in low level conversation for someone to say things are great for everyone, and most of us hate to say “no” and how many Christians give each other the brush off by saying “I’ll pray for you” just to make them feel better?

  • barkwayfrogprincess

    I guess pastors, like everyone else, need to be reminded that “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).” We’re not here to look good in the eyes of others, whether they be fellow ministers or members of our congregation, but this is God’s project and we are here to carry out His instructions without adding agendas of our own. How do we know how we’re supposed to come across to others or what image we are to uphold? Then the Lord said to him, “You Pharisees are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and wickedness (Luke 11:39).” “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).” Pastors and everyone else who professes to love the Lord, focus on what you know God’s will is: to humbly submit ourselves to the Lord, keeping our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:2), and not daring to look at anyone else until we have our “God goggles” on.:o) No lies necessary.

  • barkwayfrogprincess

    Oh yeah, about the saying you’re “good,” when you’re really having a bad day or something:

    I really don’t think that’s a like, more like wisdom. Really, God tells us repeatedly in His word not to rely on our flesh or emotions for affirmation, but to realize the truth that we have been redeemed by the Lord, no matter what circumstance or emotions we may be experiencing. I pray that all Christians would realize how “great” things really are for us. Circumstances and feelings come and go, but praise God that we stand on rock that cannot be shaken. I know my status in eternity and I know my purpose in existing, therefore, in spite of the sinking sands that may be around me, I can say with confidence, “It is well with my soul.”

  • barkwayfrogprincess

    Sorry, I meant to say “lie,” not “like.”

  • Pastor Mike

    He that is without sin can throw the first rock.

  • veekee2013

    Forgetting to pray for people is one of those things I do often. God knows that I have every intention of doing it – then I forget. However, and this is not an excuse, I don’t think it is a lie. It would be a lie if you had no intention of doing it when you said it. God knows my heart and I think He knows your heart as well. I also do much better when I pray on the spot for people as well. I remember when the Pizza Delivery lady came to the door looking particularly distressed. (Okay, we know her by name. Okay, she knows us by name, too.) Anyway, she shared that she was feeling abandoned by God because He hadn’t responded to some things she’d been praying about for a long, long time. Before I knew it, I said, “Let’s pray now because I will forget when you leave.” She looked a tad bit surprised by my words, but we prayed on the doorstep with the kids bowed behind me. I feel like I should do that everytime, but it just isn’t always possible. Should I hold up the line at the grocery store when the cashier asks for prayer? I’m looking for a better way, too.

  • Chris Johnson

    I think any preacher or pastor that wouldn’t confess that, needs to add: 8)
    Denying that this article relates to you.

  • Female Southern Pastor

    Jesus had 12 & one was a fink…so tell me why we feel more important if we lots of people? The better Question is “how many lives have I released kindgom life into” not “how many have I gotten into MY pews”

  • Crispus

    Lets obey, follow and practise what the Bible teaches not what the catholics brought from pagan sun god religion into christianity .

  • Zanele

    Thank you, Gerbrand, truly, you are a man of God! You speak the words of life! Like our Master, Jesus, you have the words of life! May all those who call themselves Pastors, learn something today!!

    • Gerbrand van Schalkwyk

      We had a missionary in our town for a few years. I never heard him say “I/we will pray for you. He always said “So lets pray” and follow up with prayer. This means he never lied about praying for you and he helped you to learn to pray just there and then. There is always time for a small prayer.
      Another thing he taught me was to pray all the time, anywhere you are. It is best to have your quiet time with God either early in the morning, or at night. Best both. But for the rest of the day keep in touch with God all the time, it is amazing how little lies disappear and how your vision changes from today to eternal.

      Slowly you don’t care what people think about you now, but you care about where this person will end up. If pastors wants to play the numbers game, you have no interest, your treasure is in heaven, collected through obedience, not collected by impressing others.
      Of coarse it helps that we have a very small town and a small church, thus our pastor also works in town, and very often he is out of town, so a number of us stands in for him. Being in such a small caring community makes it easier to built one another, and much more difficult to lie about stuff. Everybody knows what happens everywhere.
      Pray to God to change your outlook to an eternal outlook and what others do or think doesn’t bother you for yourself anymore, it bothers you for them.
      This doesn’t mean that you don’t do wrong sometimes, but as you seek the Kingdom of God, little lies falls away, and many other character trades are sanctified, since you also become humble as you experience God in your life.
      Have a great day, seek God, experience God, and be blessed by God.

  • http://www.facebook.com/paul.colvin.16 Paul Colvin

    prices the lord

  • Bojangles

    Those infamous “Numbers” are not just numbers they are people with souls. We all should strive for more “numbers” in the Church.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tunmishe.oke Tunmishe Oke

    All the seven things stated here are statements of faith in the real sense of the word. None should be seen as a lie, but as a statement of your intent based on the promise of the word of God. Don’t see any lies here imho.

  • Peter

    The biggest lie and deception, he could of added is following the pagan traditions and days of pagan rome..even the protestant churches still follow pagan Rome of seventeen hundred years ago, and are too arrogant, and Biblically illiterate to change to the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and His Commandments..these preachers keep spouting the same old sunday/dec 25th/easter false teachings week after week.which is all one big lie perpetrated by satan, when he brought all this in through the roman church…
    The sad part is the easy solution is just follow the words of Jesus in the Gospels…and follow His commandments..not just nine but all ten, and especially the fourth commandment “remember the Sabbath day to keep it Holy”..which is the Holiest day of the year every week to true Christians, and represents the truth..Jesus said “know the truth and it will make you free”…

  • http://friv8.kizifriv1.com/ Friv8

    no one is perfect, but we should learn what is true and the thing not good for us to make the life become better