“No one is more influential in your life than you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.” When I heard this quote by Paul Tripp while I listened to his book Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry it caused me to pause and reflect. He’s right. No one talks to me more than I talk to myself. A corollary to his quote might be this. “We become more like who we listen to. If what we tell ourselves about our identity is false, then we develop a false identity.” In this post I suggest 10 question that might reveal when pastors misplace their identity.
How do you know if you’ve wrapped your identity around your church, ministry, or preaching rather than around Christ? Consider these 10 questions.
- Would I feel aimless if I faced a period of time when I wasn’t vocationally working in a church?
- Do I see the need for grace in the lives of others more than I see the need of that same grace in my life?
- Have I subtly allowed pride to infiltrate my soul because I know a lot about the Bible, have a theological degree, or pastor a growing church?
- Do I equate ministry success with God’s endorsement of my lifestyle (a thought from Paul Tripp)?
- When I meet someone, do I find my unspoken self-talk focused on what he or she thinks of me?
- Have I based my identity more on the horizontal (ministry success) than the vertical (my personal relationship with Jesus)?
- Is my heart stirred more by compliments from others about my preaching, increasing attendance, or recognition from others more than the greatness, grandeur, and glory of Christ?
- If attendance is low on Sunday, is it hard to shake a sense the following week that I’ve failed or that I’ve let God down?
- Do I struggle with jealous feelings when I hear about the success of another pastor or church?
- Do I find myself “burning the candle at both ends” to keep the ministry going?
What do you think about pastoral identity? Do you think misplaced identity is a problem among pastors? What questions would you add to this list that might be telling of misplaced identity?
If these questions have stirred you to think more deeply about your identity, consider reading Paul Tripp’s blog post about this subject here. And, I highly recommend reading his book as well.
“I just read 10 questions that a pastor might ask himself to discover if he’s misplaced his identity.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)
When I wrote my second book 5 Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them, I surveyed over 2,000 pastors through LifeWay Research and through an online survey through Christianity Today. In the CT survey, I asked pastors to share specific ways someone in their congregation ministered to them. I probed how people could (and did) encourage them. Here’s a sample of what they wrote. If you are not a pastor, consider doing one or two of these this week.
How to encourage your pastor …
- Defending me when someone attacks me verbally.
- Commenting on their understanding of my challenges.
- When hand-written notes come from godly people they mean so much.
- I think the greatest affirmation I receive is when my congregation trusts me.
- I would say it would be the time I received a homemade card from someone in the church telling me how much she appreciated me and that she was praying for me. Those words of encouragement were priceless.
- I don’t feel like I always have to be right, but I do like to have the opportunity to express my own views. Those who are most receptive to this are very affirming.
- Asking me how they can pray for me. I’m not talking about the hurried, polite questions that may come on a hectic Sunday morning, but when they genuinely ask.
- The ministry of presence like when they sat with me in the hospital when my wife had emergency surgery.
- When people go out of their way to really inquire how I’m doing.
- Anything not related to Sunday. I hear a lot of “great message, Pastor” but I don’t know if it’s sincere. A phone call a few days later that refers to something I did affirms me.
- The occasional person who tells me that “so and so” spoke kindly about me.
- When I know I have the support of my leadership.
- Those who know there is a spiritual and emotional cost to being a pastor even if they don’t really understand.
- They have come into my life and family and done something totally unexpected, unexplainable, and absolutely needed (came and cleaned our house when were sick, fixed a meal for us when times were tough, etc.).
- When a person takes the time to pay attention to my emotions I experience and conveys their desire to stand in prayer with me on issues that are troubling.
When a pastor faithfully serves and seldom receives encouragement from their church, their soul and passion can wither and die. This is the saddest response I received.
Rejection. The sound of the word itself even sounds ominous. If you’ve been a pastor or church leader for any length of time, chances are you’ve felt the dagger of rejection. It may have come intentionally through a serious conflict with a leader who didn’t like or support you. It may have come more subtly when someone quietly leaves your church and the scuttlebutt was that they left because they “weren’t getting fed.” The source doesn’t matter. It still hurts. When it inevitable does come, what can we do? In this post I suggest 7 ways to navigate the pain of rejection.
How Leaders Can Navigate the Pain of Rejection…
- Recognize that you’ve not sinned because you feel hurt. Our brain registers physical pain primarily in two areas of the brain, the insula, which lies deep in our brain, and the anterior cingulate cortex, which lies between our brain’s thinking center and our emotional center. And guess what? Social pain such as rejection registers in the same places. So, rejection actually physically hurts. It’s an automatic response to rejection that God wired into our bodies. So, the bad feelings you experience from rejection don’t mean you’re a weak leader or a sinful person.
- When rejected, admit the pain you feel. Don’t ignore or stuff your emotions. The phrase, “Grown men don’t cry,” implies that a guy should not allow himself to show his ‘soft’ emotions. The problem is, it’s self-defeating. When we stuff or suppress our emotions, it actually makes our painful emotions more intense internally. However, it’s scientifically proven that when we name our painful emotions, we actually lessen their intensity.
- Journal your feelings. Many counselors recommend something called ‘writing therapy,’ a fancy term for journaling. When we feel rejected, journaling our painful feelings can take the sting out of them. Akin to writing therapy is something called ‘talk therapy.’ Again, it’s a fancy term for sharing you pain with others. It’s helpful to find a safe friend to process your feelings when rejected. In this post I share several qualities to look for in a safe friend.
- Refuse to base your identity on your ability to make 100% of the people happy 100% of the time. A temptation every ministry leader faces is to keep people happy 100% of the time. Trying to do that will kill you. We certainly don’t want to intentionally make people mad. But some people will never be pleased, no matter what you do. Jesus, the perfect leader, didn’t please everyone. In fact, John records this uber rejection of Jesus. From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6.66, NIV)
- Don’t magnify the pain by rejecting the rejector in return. It’s tempting to cut your rejectors off by rejecting them. When we do, we only exacerbate our pain. I once had a guy who did his best to convince the board that I was not the right pastor for the church. The board fully backed me. He left. A few months later I saw him in a store and had a choice. Would I walk down another aisle to avoid him, or would I walk toward him and try to shake his hand? I made the latter choice. I walked over, reached out my hand, and said, “Hi.” He glared at me and walked by without shaking my hand. Poor guy. He was a bitter dude. In such cases, apply the words Peter gave us about Jesus’ response to rejection. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (I Pt 2.23, NIV)
- Step back to keep or regain perspective. When rejection stings, our perspective can quickly become cloudy. We can easily extrapolate the rejection in our minds and assume that many other people feel the same way or will do the same thing (i.e., I wonder who else is leaving the church?). Remember, a rejection by one person is…rejection by one person. Such rejection seldom reflects the viewpoints of others. So, guard against the proverbial, “blowing things out of proportion.”
- If it’s a serious rejection, get professional help. Sometimes rejection is such a deep blow that we can’t navigate it on our own with a good cry or coffee with a friend. You may need professional help. Losing a job, losing a vote of confidence from your board, or significant numbers of people leaving your ministry probably qualify as significant rejections. Don’t feel ashamed to seek professional help. If you break an arm, you’ll see a doctor. If your heart gets broken, find a wise counselor to help bring healing.
Sometimes we’d rather experience physical pain that social pain, for good reason. Our brains are wired to recall the emotional pain of past rejection, but not past physical pain. So, rejection potentially carries a long lasting impact on our souls. Don’t take it lightly. Deal with it sooner that later.
What has helped you deal with rejection in ministry?