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"Please, just be yourself...we know you're human..."

Time after time over the past 20 years of pastoring I have had church people say things like, "we know you're human," or "you can be honest about how you feel...really..." or, "we want you to be yourself around us." But I have learned the hard way that church people, at least 99% of them who say that, do not really mean it. Our staff has had to learn a lot of lessons about this. Larry and I had already learned this lesson years ago but now we find ourselves explaining it to our staff pastors. They have been in ministry for a few years compared to our 20, and some of them just aren't used to this type of behavior from others yet.

Take for instance, things that are funny. There are times we have absolute crazy things happen. Take for instance, we are praying for someone and their wig falls off. If everyone else in the church laughs about it, it's expected. We pastors manage to hold it in until after service but if we laugh about it later, or joke over it at a diner after service, some look at it like we shouldn't have done that...we should be above that, laughing at someone else's expense. Suddenly, laughing at the wig falling off becomes a real unspiritual thing to do.

Sometimes we have really crazy things happen to us as part of our work day. If we don't laugh about it, sometimes we'll go crazy. We pastors handle a lot of heavy things in the course of our week. If we don't lighten up occasionally we'll get ulcers! Not long ago, a woman stopped by the church office and wanted us to pray for her because "satan was in her van." I told her, "with all due respect 'mam, if we have satan cooped up in a 1998 Dodge Caravan, let's leave him there! He's not omnipresent, so therefore if we have him trapped in a van here in Tampa, the rest of the world will be really happy!" The staff got a great laugh at this but if we were to tell some parishoners what we laugh over in our office some would definitely be (and some have said they are) offended that we would do such a thing. We really have to keep secret many times the things we find humor in, or that which we discuss even in fun.

The other day I was talking to a pastor who was at a church member's home playing a board game. The board game contained questions about secular songs. The pastor and his wife could have easily won the board game as they knew all the answers. However, they lost on purpose because they knew if they answered all the questions about these secular songs, the family whose house they were at would be offended that they knew the answers and wonder why in the world they were listening to "secular radio." Is that crazy or what? They said, "we were over there supposedly to have fun but we knew we couldn't be ourselves or it would have cost us more than we wanted to pay later on..." How sad.

I learned my lesson many years ago on this and it pretty much set my course from there on out. At another church we pastored years ago, I was really upset about a couple leaving a church. They got caught up in some really immature actions/attitudes and rather than work things out, they left. I was angry that satan got a foothold and angry that they couldn't have the maturity to stay and talk through things. Not long after they left, a church member who I thought really cared about me asked me to go for coffee with them. When we got there she said, "Pastor Deanna, I know you must be upset over Sam & Susie leaving. How do you really feel about all this and how are you doing with it?" I hesitated to state my feelings, ever so careful - realizing that anything you say can and will be used against you. I wasn't going to open up at first, and then they said, " honest...share with me how you really feel. I know you probably don't have anybody to talk to and I want to be a real friend. I know you must be hurting right now after all you poured into their lives, to have them just up and leave." I thought this person genuinely cared and I let my guard down. We had only been senior pastoring for a short time and honestly I didn't completely know better...I didn't realize how much this would cost me. I said, "Well honestly, I really am hurting. I am saddened by their departure. I have been so mad about it, and the fact that they couldn't stay and talk this out that I could just wring their necks!" BIG MISTAKE. The person not only thought my complete honesty about my feelings was totally inappropriate, but they went home, picked up the phone, called that couple and the first thing out of their mouth was, "would you believe Pastor Deanna had the nerve to say she wants to wring your necks?" Ughhhhh!!!!!!!!

I can't even tell you how much of a problem those few comments in the coffee shop cost me!!! Mind you, I didn't say those comments to hurt Sam & Susie - I loved them and missed them, and was sad. But all that didn't matter. What did matter was, I shared my honest feelings and it completely offended someone. I looked at them as my "spiritual kids" and well, sometimes a Mom just says stuff like that. With my own kids, Dustin, Jordan and Savanna I sometimes get upset and want to "wring their necks" so to speak (not literally of course!) but sometimes I just feel exasperated and it's just a figure of speech. Suffice it to say, after this church member stabbed me in the back by turning these words on me, I realized that most church people don't really want to know what you think. They are asking you for an honest response or for you to be vulnerable with them and open up, but honestly, they have a vision in their minds of what their pastor should be and despite whatever is coming out of their mouth, that is what they expect you to uphold.

I was reading Craig Groeshel's "Confessions of a Pastor" and I related so much to it. It's an excellent book and our whole staff enjoyed it. I have to admire the guy, I mean, he stood up in front of his whole church and basically preached that book and was gut level honest with all of them. And...he's still pastoring there, after telling them things like the fact that he can't stand a whole lot of people and he hates prayer meetings. This just endeared his church to him more.

How come that just doesn't happen though, in most other cases? Maybe it's the fact that he is pastoring so many new Christians that don't have this idea conjured up in their heads that pastors don't have the same thoughts as they do.

Imagine this...somebody gets up to sing a "special" on Sunday morning. It's musically terrible. If Randy, Paula and Simon were there, you'd hear, "What the bloody *%@ was that?!" from Simon. Randy would say, "Dog, it's just not working for me...." Paula would say, "first of all, you look great. I love your coordinated outfit..." but not really go there about how off key it was. Most of the congregation watches American Idol and Simon is probably many of their favorite judge. They think his comments are hysterical. Now, some of the congregants can snicker after church over lunch about the special, but if they found out that pastors in a closed door pastoral staff meeting said it lacked anything, they would have a fit. Because pastors just...aren't supposed to do that, right? We're supposed to have smiles on our faces 24/7...when somebody is off key in church we are never supposed to find it funny...and above all, we aren't supposed to ever, ever get angry.

My husband played sports in high school and college. He was very competitive. But once he became a pastor he saw how different the expectations were on the field. After we started youth pastoring, he began playing on the church softball team. One time he was disappointed at himself and a play that he messed up. As he was walking off the field, he threw his glove on the ground and was clearly not pleased (with himself). Someone on the team mentioned that they had no more respect for him because he showed his anger at having made a mistake. Larry learned quickly that rules of church sports or really anything else you do as a pastor are completely different than they are for anyone else. Pastors are not supposed to be upset when they fumble balls. Don't you know when they fumble, they are supposed to raise their hands in the air and do a Holy Ghost dance?

I know as leaders we are judged more strictly and in many regards called to a higher standard. But you wonder how far that goes sometimes. And the other thing is, with that being the case, I really wish we would never hear from another church member again, "really...I'm your friend...I know you're human...tell me what you think..." In my experience those are some of the most dangerous words I've ever heard.

I can't help it. I feel like a cat who once walked on a hot stove. I just don't want to go there again. I now see it happening with some of our staff. They do things that any normal person or Christian would do. And yet they hear, "it's just not appropriate for our pastors to feel that way..." Right now there is someone in the church who I do believe cares about me very much and I genuinely think they love Larry and I to pieces. But they always say, "I wish you were more vulnerable. I sense you will never open up fully." As much as I love that person, there is a reason for my lack of complete openness with anyone besides staff or friends outside the church.

You just never know if the person asking you to be yourself is in that 1% of people who really mean it.


Anonymous said…
A big fat AMEN to that!! I told my husband just yesterday, "I just can't be close friends with someone who refers to me by a title." I'm sure there are people in my church who could handle it, and I really could be 100% "me" around, but it is really exhausting to try to find that needle in a haystack!

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