The Slippery Slope of Being Good
Pastoral ministry attracts people who want to do something meaningful and good with their lives. They genuinely want to help people and further the Kingdom of God. This is good.
But like many things in life, our greatest strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses.
One of the breakdowns in this pursuit is the shift of thinking that says our parishioners well-being depends primarily upon our performance as a pastor, that the health and success of our congregation sit squarely on our shoulders, and the whole of the Kingdom of God rises and falls on our performance as a pastor.
From an objective viewpoint, these assumptions seem absurd. And they are. However, what we believe rationally and what we believe emotionally are often two different animals. When push comes to shove, our emotional beliefs typically trump our rational thinking.
Such assumptions trap us into problematic beliefs and ministry patterns that become self-defeating, tormenting, and interfere with accomplishing meaningful service and work.
For starters, when that much responsibility rests on our shoulders, we’re left with only one option–perfectionism. There is simply no room for error, no room for weakness, no room for failure. In the end, there is no room for being human. We must be divine. Unfortunately, ministry seems to be a magnet for perfectionists. This deserves its own discussion, which I’ll tackle at a later time.
Another outgrowth of such belief is the over-functioning, people-pleasing pastor. When the welfare of others, the church and the kingdom rises and falls on our performance, we must “be all, for all.” We have to have all the answers, be at every event, provide support in every crisis, have the right direction for every decision, etc. We confuse serving with making sure everyone is happy. Others define our ministry philosophy, our values and our job description. We end up exhausted. Personal and professional boundaries can be crossed.
Finally, we usually end up angry. When we have to be perfect and “be all, for all,” there’s not much margin for disappointments and glitches. Our self-esteem rises and falls on what others say about us, what our numbers show, and how good our church performs. When our church people struggle, fail to show up for meetings or disagree with us, we’re ticked. Truth be told, we end up using people to prop up our sense of self.
The constant demand wears us out. Inevitably we feel unappreciated. We burn out. We resent that ministry is so demanding. Many of us don’t like our Boss so well.
Thankfully, there is another way to approach ministry. Shifting to the “Good Enough Pastor” model allows us to relax, to be gloriously human, to rest, to experience God’s grace.