what your pastor will (likely) never say publicly or to you privately
life rarely offers those moments where the world literally fades away, blurring at the peripheral edges, and you’re left with just you and one other person speaking words directly into your innermost places that no one sees. at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, that very scenario transpired last july in a performance hall in grand rapids, michigan. sitting in a crowd of a couple thousand people, words, thoughts, ideas floated in space and settled somewhere deep within me and unlocked something that would continue to resonate half a year later.
without rehashing all the details that i blogged about after my return, i attended a conference called poets, prophets and preachers that focused around the concept of the “reclaiming the art of the sermon.” it was part dramatic performance, part pragmatics and part soul-bearing and soul-searching. the last session, led by rob bell—pastor and founder of mars hill bible church and purveyor of NOOMAs and other bits of goodness—was titled, the one thing i wish someone would have told me long ago. in essence, rob laid out his soul about the beating that pastors often take under the assumption that it’s part of their job description. further, it was the idea of reclaiming a christ pattern of death/forgiveness that leads to resurrection. it was the idea that forgiveness allows us to move away from the pain and create new life instead of wallowing in hurt and unforgiveness and trampled feelings and battered egos.
again, for me, this was something that cut right to my core having experienced some times of intense hurt in the context of church leadership in the past. forgiveness is a painful thing and rob bell spelled it out in a poetic, yet realistic way. moreover than forgiveness, though, what has resonated with me over and over since that time is the most difficult part is not the forgiveness afterward, but the seeds of self doubt that are planted with each negative comment or passive aggressive remark or unsolicited piece of nonconstructive criticism.
i’ve found that it’s nearly impossible, often, to separate what you do from who you are.
now, please let me say this loud and clear: i love what i do. i love to pastor and lead people. i deeply love the people in our new faith community. i’ve chosen—very happily—to pursue a life of service to god and to others. but it’s also a choice, sadly, to open your (and your family’s) life to criticism and scrutiny in the name of “righteousness” or “orthodoxy” or just personal preferences. so what flows from that is an often indistinguishable meld of the “what” of your vocation and the “who” of your inner self.
much to my surprise, over the last half a year, i’ve fought a very tough battle with intense self doubt and bad case of trampled ego. i’ve always been the type to disallow the actions or words or critiques of others to shape my inner self, but taking the lead in a church planting project has revealed a new layer of emotions and personal battles. what you were certain of a day ago is now fodder for intense personal scrutiny and doubt.
don’t get me wrong: it’s not as if i walk around in some kind of cloud of despair. 🙂 95% of the time, i feel a deep sense that i’m doing the right things, making the right decisions and following the call inside me. but certainly, those 5% of the times can become very clouded and darkly introspective. fortunately, those 5% times are few and far between, but certainly very palpable when presented.
ultimately, my point isn’t to throw a pity party for myself and other pastors or church planters. it isn’t to get a bunch of comments saying ‘it’s ok’ or ‘i think you’re swell’, but rather, to bring to light the journey that many leaders like myself go through. it’s an amazing and fulfilling journey most of the time, but there are also times of intense self doubt, loneliness and fear. the pro’s far outweigh the cons, but the cons are a reality that can often be looming.
so, as i reflect back on the intensely personal words from rob bell in that little performance hall in grand rapids, i’m reminded to pursue the path of forgiveness and resurrection and redemption, rather than giving myself to a slow death by paper cuts. rather than drinking the poison and waiting for others to die, i choose to focus on the deeply embedded call i have to pastor and lead and create environments for people to engage in this beautiful story of god.