How to be yourself in ministry
I remember the moment that I was sitting around with a group of other pastors. Everyone was telling sanitized jokes and chuckling in a way that I imagine guys do at country clubs. They talked about golf and other things that I wasn’t very interested in. When it came to my turn to interject, I remember thinking “I can fake it and pretend that I love corny jokes or I can be myself.” I chose to be myself and in that moment, I made a decision that would pay dividends until this day. I’m not knocking the guy (or girl) that likes to sit around and chuckle at sanitized church jokes or meet up with other people to play golf. I know a lot of people that play golf and absolutely love it. I also know many people that mark their calendars for Christian movies and Christian comedians. You do you, but I know that’s not me. Maybe you’re like me and you find yourself in a situation where you’re faced with fitting in or being yourself. You might be at work and social games are being played out like Survivor. Your career could depend on you sterilizing who you really are. Do your sells relationships need a certain version of you to make sure you hit your monthly totals? Maybe your congregation requires you act a certain way? Maybe someone’s bought you a Carman (Christian singer from the 80’s/90’s) poster and is offended that it’s not front and center in your office. I don’t know what your specific situation is, but I know that each of us is faced with decisions to either embrace ourselves or hide every day.
When I made the decision to be myself in the situation above, I made the decision to be a better leader.
Real leadership doesn’t come pre-manufactured, it’s produced one step at a time. I like to say it this way: We are all one decision away from being a better leader or #ODA (One Decision Away). If you want to make the jump, I believe that you need to start with finding out who you are and then making the decision to embrace the most authentic version of you.
I have two girls and just like any parent, I want them to be proud of me. But what if I chose to pretend to love walking around swinging the golf club and hoping I didn’t hit someone? What if I pretended to love every bad acting scene or poorly written plot line? My girls would see right through me. It might not be right away, but at some point in time, my girls would say “Dad’s fake.” Ouch. That’s the last thing any parent wants to hear. We want our children and others to look up to us, as Christian’s we want people to see JESUS in us. If they walk away with the impression we’re fake, that’s a kick in the gut.
Here’s the great news though: We don’t have to be fake. We don’t have to compromise who we really are for others. God made each of us unique and for a purpose.
If my girls are going to look up to me, then I need to be myself. You need to be yourself.
In the process of trying to better myself, I hit a wall. In one sense, the church says we welcome everyone exactly where they find themselves, but for clergy specifically, that isn’t the case. The church (and business world) says that it’s NOT ok to not be ok. In the pastorate, we’re supposed to be the model Christians. We’re supposed to have it all together. We might say that we’re sinners and aren’t perfect, but what this really means is that we pretend to just struggle with surface level sin issues. It’s like a bad answer to a job interview question. “Tell me something you need to work on?” Or “What’s your biggest weakness?” What’s the answer to that question? We say crap like “I just find myself working too hard.” Or “I just need to learn to rest because I give everything at work.” I call crap. That’s not reality. Let’s pause for a moment and consider the alternative. What if we had enough guts to be real in the moment? What if we said, “You know what? I’m struggling with some past hurt and I haven’t got help yet. So if I were honest, I’d really like to punch this person in the face. I’d like to make him cry. I’d like everyone to find out that’s he’s a jerk.”
When you see the eyes of the person that was just expecting a “GREAT! EVERYTHING IS GREAT,” you can respond with a quick laugh and a hearty “I was just joking.” Don’t you wish it was different though? I’m not suggesting different in the sense that we can go around exposing others sins or punch people in the face. What if it was just different enough to where we could respond with a real answer without fear they would use it against us, judge us, or try to get us fired?
But what about that wall I hit? When I started to be real, I was told, “Nick, it’s great that you’re being more transparent and open, but you need to not be SO real.” In other words, chuckle and pretend.
This happens especially in church ministry. We’re indirectly (or even directly) asked to pretend. Sometimes I want to answer “Hey Pastor! How you doing?” with a “Can you leave me alone because I’m trying to calm down from this person that just fussed at me for no apparent reason.” I think Jesus did this from time to time. I’m sure he heavy breathed on the disciples a few times thinking “COME ON GUYS!” I can certainly imagine him rolling his eyes at his mom when she said, “We’re out of wine? Don’t worry, my son is God…he’ll make something happen.” Everyone knows how it feels to have your mom volunteer you for something. Jesus told Mary, “Woman, it’s not my time yet.” She threw shade in the form of that “You better do this” look and bam the first miracle. It might not have happened that way at all, but in my head, Jesus is a real dude.
So where does this leave us? To quote the Doors, how do we “Break on through to the other side . . . ?”
I’m thankful to be in a church that actually realizes that I’m a human being. That hasn’t been the case for me in the past and I know it’s not the case for many of you right now. So how do we cross the divide? What IS the better way?
I see two paths forward. One involves turning off who God made you. You pretend to fit in. You play the part. You only share what are “acceptable” sins for pastors like reading your bible so much that your eyes blur. You pray so long you fall asleep, wake up, and pray more. While this fixes the problem temporarily, it calls us to sacrifice the beauty in who God made us.
The real way forward involves risk. I believe that right now you’re feeling that deep longing in your soul to be set free. Your heart is ready for the adventure to authenticity but your mind is running scenarios? Can you trust God? Can you stop with the scenarios and trust that nothing is a surprise to God? Can you believe him when he says he loves you more than anything and that he’ll look after you and take care of you?
My breakthrough came when I realized that in order for me to be a better leader, I had to be the best version of myself (not someone else’s best version of me, but God’s best version of me). Who is that person for you? It’s who God created YOU to be. We owe it to ourselves, our families, and to the creator that knit us together to embrace the real us and let him/her be free.
I’m a big fan of the Walking Dead. In it, you learn about a guy who was held captive in a homemade jail. Months later, he realized that the jail had never been locked. Here he was in captivity day after day, but in reality, he could have walked out at any time. The same is true for us. We create prisons for ourselves based off of expectations and job descriptions. Maybe you let the promotion, money, or other factors determine your identity. Day after day, you’ve been laying bricks that form a prison for God’s bold creation. We trick ourselves into believing the prison is in fact locked. Maybe we tell ourselves that our boss, friends, family, or spouse hold the key. In reality, we’ve either allowed the prison to be built by someone else or we’ve built it ourselves. We have the key. It’s unlocked. We just have to step out.
This might make you feel uncomfortable because we begin to run scenarios again. Pause for a moment. Take a deep breath. What personality did God put in you? Does he want that hidden? Is the job, the pay, the relationship really more powerful than He? No. It’s just like the zombie show’s prison. It’s an illusion.
My prison is unlocked. Your prison is unlocked too. Jesus did that when he set us free thousands of years ago. He continues to offer new mercies every day. Stand up and walk out.
The key to transformation is to trust our Savior. Jesus knows what he’s doing. He’s got this. Now he’s calling you, to be honest with yourself about all of the little prisons you’ve created in your life. He’s giving you permission to walk out of those.
In my life, I realized that I needed to be transparent. I believe you need to be transparent about your life too. When we take this step, ministry might look different, life might look different, and relationships might look different. But, this is a part of the process.
Instead of living in our “Know it all/everything is ok” prison, we need to be a human. We need to be real. We need to be honest.
So what are some practical steps to take? I don’t want anyone to walk in and get fired tomorrow for suddenly becoming a different person or for relationships to crumble overnight. Let’s take this a step at a time.
First, let’s get fear based questions out of the way:
- What if I’m rejected?
- What if I lose my credibility, my job, my call?
What if you’re rejected?
You might be. It’s a risk. I doubt YOU will be rejected, but your actions, bad habits, etc might be rejected. My gut tells me those are things you already know about yourself that need to change. Stepping out of your prison will bring these into the light. Be prepared to work on those rough areas.
What if you lose your credibility, your job, your call?
I believe your credibility will INCREASE with time because people will see the real you. This won’t happen overnight, but over time people will begin to see you as a regular person. For some, they’ll stop comparing you to Ned Flanders.
You might lose your job, but if it’s on the line, is that really the place you wanted to work at, to begin with? A place where you can’t be yourself? A place where you hide?
How about your call? No one can ever take your call from you. God calls each of us for a specific purpose. Don’t give the power to remove your call to man.
- Start being yourself SLOWLY. If the “private life” version of you is drastically different, slowly introduce that person to everyone else. No one likes to be told that you’ve just been fake with them for years. Take it slow.
- Scratch the surface. Let them smell the real you. Be open. Be honest. You don’t have to dig six feet into poop to know you’re in poop. You just need to scratch the surface and everyone gets the drift.
- Realize that unhealthy areas in your hidden life will be brought to light. You’ll need to work on changing these things as everyone else will now see them too. Don’t expect to stay the same. This is a PERFECT time to take those things that define you and compare them to what scripture says. Don’t let the world define you, let God’s Word define you!
- When people react, let them. It takes times to accept change. Everyone will respond differently. Give them permission to do that. God may decide to shuffle people around in your life. That’s ok.
As we journey together, realize that I’m right here with you. I’m learning to break through my own wall and out of my self-imposed prisons. One warning: Don’t go Kool-aid man on me though! Breaking through a wall doesn’t mean we smash everything all at once. Together, let’s do this a brick at a time.