Pastor Brian Williams… Conflating Pastors and How Not to Be One

I’m sure you’ve heard the story from the past week about NBC News anchor Brian Williams.

If not… here it is (the short version) as I’ve read it.

Brian Williams has said numerous times that he was in a helicopter in Iraq that hit and crippled by enemy ground fire back in 2003.

The only problem was… Williams wasn’t on that helicopter, but rather was riding in another helicopter following the one shot down.  He was called out on Facebook by someone who actually was on that helicopter that wrote,  “Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft… I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened.”

Oops. Strike one.

Williams reaction?  An apology of sorts.  According to the New York Times

“You are absolutely right and I was wrong,” he wrote, adding that he had in fact been on the helicopter behind the one that had been hit. Constant viewing of the video showing him inspecting the impact area, he said, “and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”

Strike two.

OK… this is just me… but if I was on a helicopter that was hit by fire and forced to land, I would remember it VIVIDLY.  And if I was on the helicopter behind it, and saw it happen; I would also remember that VIVIDLY.

It gets worse.  In 2011, Brian Williams tells the story of how he saved a puppy from a burning house.  In 2005 when he told the same story, he actually rescued TWO puppies from the house.

Strike three.

Brian Williams is stepping away (at least for now temporarily) from his post at NBC News. It will be hard for him to return.  He has lost his credibility.

OK… let’s make one thing perfectly clear.  As a pastor, you don’t get three strikes when it comes to your credibility.

Honesty and integrity is “Pastor 101” stuff, yet I see many pastors and church leaders shade the truth or downright lie.

Of course, there are the cases where there are double lifestyles being lived: affairs, financial misdealings, porn or alcohol addictions, etc.  Those are pretty well documented.

But I’m not talking about that.  Those are cut and dry.  Documented lying and deception.

It’s the ‘conflating’ of stories that some church leaders are prone to that I want to address.

Like when you inflate your story to make yourself look better.  (This happens ALL THE TIME when pastors talk with each other).

Or when you shade the truth to cover your butt with your board or elders.

Or when you tell one side of the story to one person; and another side of the story to another person.

Withholding information is another way on ‘conflating’.

One of my favorite theologians, Judge Judy, says that if you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory.

It’s true.

Tell the truth.  Even when it means you have to take blame.  Even when things didn’t turn out the way you like.  Even when it’s tough to be brutally honest.

If you don’t… you’re prone to conflating events and stories… AND, over the years, you actually starting to your stories yourself.

I’ve had personal experience with this over the years.  I’ve had pastors lie outright to me; and I’ve had pastors ‘conflate’ to the point that they believe their own story as truth.

The conflating church leader is the hardest to deal with, only because they often don’t see the big deal.  What difference does it make if it was one puppy or two? If I was in the shot down helicopter or one that landed safely behind them?

Don’t make that jump… it will eventually ruin you.

The next time you feel the urge to flavor your stories, to shade the truth, to mislead by leaving out specific information, stop yourself dead in your tracks.  Don’t do it.

People are looking at all of us as messengers of the truth… let’s not let them down by losing our integrity over mostly insignificant things.

So… how about you?  Do you have a tendency to ‘conflate’?  Have you ever run across a church leaders that is a master conflatificator?  (I made that word up).  How did you deal with it?  I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments section below…





  • Peter Hamm February 9, 2015 Reply

    Here’s another one.

    Check your “stories”.

    If you find a really touching or engaging story as a sermon illustration, and it’s too good to be true, or even if it isn’t… google it carefully. Make sure it really happened.

    Your congregation googles the stories you tell.

  • Dave Patchin February 9, 2015 Reply

    They google your stories, illustrations, and quotes AS you deliver them…so double checking is critical to credibility. At best you look gullible for falling for a fake story….at worse you look like Brian Williams. You both get “shot down.”

  • Harry Court February 9, 2015 Reply

    You are right! I lied about liking your blog. I comflated my appraciation. Sorry.

  • John A February 9, 2015 Reply

    In my view, subtle deception is far more insidious and dangerous because it’s far easier to justify than more blatant sins. The church I serve is still recovering from the damage done over eight years ago by a subtly dishonest staff member. Far too may of the people who knew he’d lied but accepted his justifications anyway.

    I came to realize I didn’t actually know when he was telling the truth…unless I could independently verify the statement. Embezzlement would have been so much easier to deal with than verbal deception.

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