The Manti T’eo Saga and the Truth Behind Preacher Stories

The Manti T’eo story is one of the most bizarre sports stories I’ve ever heard.  The news is still unfolding, but it looks like his “girlfriend” was not real. T’eo talked openly about his relationship with Lennay Kekua, who supposedly died from leukemia on September 12.  At this point, it’s not clear if he was a part of the deception or the victim of an elaborate hoax.  At worst, the entire thing was a lie.  At best, it was a half-truth.

So what does this have to do with preachers and the stories they tell?

A hundred years ago, people considered the profession of preaching one of the most respected professions in the world.  Today, it comes in around the middle of the pack.  Why the drop in trust?  Is there something deep happening with America’s view of the clergy?

The Manti T’eo story, regardless of the outcome, is the ultimate Preacher Story.  Manti’s online girlfriend wasn’t real and neither are some of the stories told in pulpits across America.

Even unchurched people use the term “Preacher Story” to describe a story that is fictions, exaggerated or completely made up.  It’s the check that came in the mail or the miraculous healing from a pseudo-disease.  It’s the close-to-the-truth, slightly-embelleshed for dramatic effect telling of a story to make a point in a sermon.    Here are some things we can learn.

1. Exaggerating in a sermon is still lying.

Church leaders are notorious for saying “We had close to 500 at church” when there were really 451 people in the room.  Exaggeration makes us feel good but it’s a feeling based on a falsehood.  If you’re going to share numbers, share accurate ones.  If you’re going to tell a personal story, tell it exactly as it happened.  Don’t justify exaggerations in order to make a more compelling point.   Tell the 100% truth.

Eugene Cho says, “Be honest. Be truthful. Not half truthful. Not half honest. Not part truthful but completely truthful. Completely honest – to the details.”

2.  Don’t share anything you don’t know for sure

One crazy thing about Manti T’eo’s relationship is that he had never met this person in person.  T’eo’s relationship with Lennay Kekua was picked up by the news media and was a supposed source of inspiration throughout the season.  But it was never real.  When you preach, be careful not to share second hand information or things you just read online.  Truth and the Internet don’t go hand in hand.  Just because it’s on a website doesn’t mean it’s true.  Dig for real facts before sharing an urban legend or a statistic.  

What else can you learn from this story?  Leave a comment and share.