Fear of Blogging #1 – Transparency

“I’ll be watching you in the checkout line.”

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The voice made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was in the frozen foods section of a grocery store early Sunday evening, gazing unsuspectingly at the multitude of potatoes. Hashbrowns or fries? Russet or Sweet potato? Julienned or …

“I’ll be watching you in the checkout line.”

The male voice behind me was teasing, mocking. I turned slowly to see a strange man standing behind me. No one else was anywhere in view. For a second I gripped my purse and wondered how loudly I’d have to scream to get the attention of the people all the way up at the front of the store.

I’ll admit that the impulse of fear in me was lying close to the surface. I had graduated from seminary just weeks earlier and moved across the country back to Houston. I left a house full of four close roommates and moved to an empty, four-bedroom parsonage where I was living by myself for the first time in my life in a part of town that seemed to show up on the news every night of the week. And not for fuzzy, human-interest stories, let me tell you. Each night I checked and double checked the locks on my doors. I would lie in bed, unused to the quiet, counting the weeks until the security system I had asked the church trustees for would be installed.

Just this morning I had preached my first sermon as a bona-fide Associate Pastor. We were in a series on The Ten Commandments and the Senior Pastor had graciously switched the order so I, their 28-year-old, single, female pastor didn’t have to introduce myself with “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (Awkward!) Instead, I preached on “Thou shalt not steal.” It had gone pretty well. People seemed warm and welcoming. But they were still strangers to me. This place was not yet home.

Now, here I was in a public place, being approached by a man I had never spoken to before, and he was promising to watch me in the checkout line. Creepy.

Before I could scream or move or think of a response, he continued with a follow-up line that confused me: “You know, like in your sermon this morning?”

It took me a full minute with a dumbfounded look on my face to connect the dots of stranger-danger with a story I had told in my sermon just a few hours before.

I was a pretty good kid growing up. The only personal story I had to connect with the “Thou shalt not steal” commandment had to do with an incident in a grocery store. I was five years old. I wanted a toy from the checkout line. My mom said no. I forgot to put it back and only realized it was still in my hand when we were walking through the parking lot. I stuffed it into my pocket and lived with my crime buried deep inside, hiding the toy at home and living in fear that someone would find it and know I was a thief. I went on to talk about how even the smallest sin can bury us in shame.

Suddenly the twinkle in this man’s eye became apparent. “I’ll be watching you in the checkout line. You know, like in your sermon this morning? You have a history of crimes in grocery stores!” He laughed and approached with a friendly, outstretched hand. “I’m Bob. I was at the 11:00 service. Hope we’ll be getting to know each other soon.”

Relieved? Yes.

Safe? No.

That was my first taste of a danger that is inherent to ministry. Preachers know it’s important to be personal in our messages. We want to offer a bit of ourselves when we speak and write. It’s important that we let the Scripture speak through our own experiences – so we tell personal stories, hoping the listeners will feel that God’s Word is supposed to be personal, and let it soak into places that are personal for them.

But lots of people aren’t aware that while they’ve been listening and developing a feeling of closeness to us, we haven’t had the same chance to grow close to them. They start off in an introduction with more information about us than we will gather about them in months of casual conversation. And the inequity of that feels a little… odd. Like people who asked very, very personal questions about my pregnancy when I didn’t know their last name. Or others who shared way TMI about their own breastfeeding experiences (seriously? until the kid was 7 years old?), or their sex lives after their babies were born, or … well, you just don’t want to know.  The larger the church the tougher this problem becomes.  Smaller communities have a little more feeling of authenticity.  Now imagine the vast community of the internet.

So I’m confessing. I’m afraid of transparency. I really want the stories I tell here to do their job. I want to speak to you like a close friend, like I’m talking right to you. I want you to know me. And at the same time I’m afraid of you knowing me.

I’ve held back in my ministry-world, keeping some things to myself, maintaining a professional distance for my own sanity. I know this issue isn’t unique to pastors.  Some of you have been there too.  It’s OK not to expose everyone to all of your problems when your job is to take care of theirs.  But at times I’ve overdone it, holding back behind a professional facade to protect myself. I’ve even used professionalism as an excuse sometimes to put distance between me and the people who could have cared for me in times when I really needed support, but I didn’t want anyone to see just how vulnerable I really was.  Holding back my own struggles from my community has made me feel inauthentic. Opaque.

So I’m experimenting with transparency here. A toe in the water. We’ll see how it goes. I’ve already revealed more about a tough part of my life in one sentence on the “About” page of this blog than I told most of my church for three years. I feel a little panicky about that. Like being snuck up on in front of the frozen foods.

So, please, go easy when we bump into each other in the grocery store. Remind me who you are again. Tell me a little about you before you jump into my business, even though I’ve voluntarily let you all up in it here. Let me get my bearings in this new world where you know me. And please, help me know you too.

How transparent are your pastors or church leaders? What do you think that level of transparency does for the people in the community? What do you think it does to them?


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Richard H

In my current town most of the people know who I am. Not only is the population of the town less than 5000, but the whole county is about 12000. Also, I’ve lived here eight years now, so there’s been plenty of time for people to figure out who I am.

One result of that is that I am, in a sense, pastor not only to my congregation but also to the community.

Another result is that I am held accountable to act like a Christian all the time. There is no place I can go and assume that no one knows what I do. Of course, I even have out of town experiences like that. A few years ago while traveling west our family stayed at a hotel in Abilene. At the breakfast bar in the morning I ran into one of our old church friends from Houston.

So, transparency? I try to balance what I can handle with what my particular audience can handle or understand.


I really get the picture of being pastor to a whole community, not just a church. I think that happens even in the larger setting, and I’m grateful for the chance to bring ministry into the community. Sometimes, though, it seems like there are few or no boundaries. When are we “off-duty?”

I’m also glad that God holds me accountable in a higher and more visible standard – because I need it.

Look forward to seeing you this week!


local fame can be the worst fame, but the most outreaching. everyone wants a friend. best wishes with your new venture. it looks to be exciting.

jd walt

so glad to see you blogging. great work! i’ll be watching you. ;0)



I can relate Jessica on some level. I grew up a preacher’s kid and also in a small town. So there were high expectation and I usually delivered. It was drilled into us that people were always watching. I still struggle with “what will people think if…” I moved away over 20 years ago. Today very few people know I’m a p.k. because I just don’t share it. Not that I’m ashamed of my dad by any means, It just takes me back to those high expectation days and I feel like people would treat me differently.


I would love to hear more sometime. How can a PK grow up in a healthy environment with reasonable expectations? Interesting that two of you commented on this post. Let me know if you have any tips!


I guess I was fortunate in that my dad is not a big story teller and he really doesn’t use illustrations much in his sermons. But he’s still a very interesting preacher. He will occasionally tell something on himself, but he rarely uses our family as sermon illustrations. I’m really glad about that. My dad has pastored the same church for over 30 years and lived in the same 20 mile radius his entire life. He is also the “community” pastor as everyone knows him and they call him for every wedding and funeral no matter what. But I think a lot has to do with integrity. I think when people think of my dad they know what they are getting. He’s a genuine person and people can see that right off. People come and go in his congregation but you would be hard pressed to find one who would say much negative about him.


I think you have a really good balance. The fact that you’re on FB speaks to your desire and ability to be vulnerable. I think it is one of the reasons you are beloved in this congregation. People want “real.” and you are very real w/out crossing boundaries. It’s tricky. As a PK, I know that pastors have to protect their privacy. I give you an A+ for balance!


Thanks Annette!
I strive for “real” because I don’t know how to be anyone but me. Those boundaries are tricky sometimes though. Thanks for the A+ and for always being real with me too.


Worded wo well Ms A…dear friend…Jess you have a gift of reaching people. Nothing wrong in private things being kept private… you are so great at this. I know with you expanding your writing here and on FB – new territory – it must be scary.. I’m super careful on FaceBook – sort of scars me a little -and I’m not even out there. I so respect your courage and what you are doing for the good of the church. On a private note – you and Jim are such great parents!
I lvoe you!


Having known a few church leaders personally (somehow, I managed to attend college with a few) they have all mentioned this struggle.

I guess my first thought is that stories told during sermons don’t need to be yours. They can be real-life stories…but they don’t need to have happened to the story-teller. And even if it did happen to you, I don’t think you have to tell it as if it’s yours. I think the only stories that are important to tell as your own, are those about your relationship to God. Those are plenty personal.

Just as we must all balance home and work, I think it’s just as important for public figures (famous people and clergy) to balance what they share with what they keep private. I expect my church leaders to model a Christ-centered life…but I don’t expect to know them personally. I don’t assume that I ever REALLY know them….not unless we went to Florida for spring break together…or made prank calls to the guy who lived upstairs from us. 🙂 I expect to know my clergy about as much as I know my fellow coworkers or people you meet at a party…you get the basic outline of their life (married or no, kids or no, animal lover or no, etc)….but that’s about it. Honestly, knowing about a clergy person’s first boyfriend might actually distract me from seeing them as a spiritual leader…so balance is good.

Oh…and I too stole from the grocery store once…not a toy, a Brach’s candy…and when my mom heard the wrapper open in the backseat of the car on the way home…she turned around…and made me give it back to a manager and apologize. The memory is similarly etched in my brain…and I will never ever steal again. 🙂

Nicole Maggart

This was a wonderful post! I know from personal experience that when your share yourself through a blog it is like throwing your heart overboard! I question myself continually and often feel a bit silly. Long story short…What you are sharing is what God has placed in your heart! That is a BEAUTIFUL thing! If you ever feel anxious about being transparent and worry your heart is getting squashed~>click back into the “truth” and know that your heart is multiplying!!


I keep wanting to use the word folksy, but it feels too hillbilly and uneducated to be an accurate description. So with that caveat, I think your style of preaching is very folksy and warm and reachess people because of your stories.
Your sermons and blog are easy to follow, but not simple minded, and peppered with the right amount of humor to lead (at least me) right to the understanding and message you’re going for. That is due in large part to stories that we can relate to.
I do much the same in my classroom, the story that holds our interest holds us to the lesson; it’s what we remember long after it may have otherwise faded.
I’ve gotten a little off topic here…if you struggle to find balance, please keep up the good fight; those stories are what keep us coming back for more.
Are you concerned about people judging you? That thought keeps coming back to me as I’m writing this…is it possible that you’re deliberately reticent, not from a place of privacy, but from what conclusions others draw?
More than one pastor I know has be evasive about their profession when I’ve met them on the street, saying they’re in public speaking or something equally funny to me when I find out the details. Always its so I don’t make assumptions about what they’re really like.
Food for thought.
I like the blog. And the stories. A lot.
Hope you’re staying cool,
Love, Kate