Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Leadership”

What is this “Good Enough Pastor” schtick?

The concept, “Good Enough Pastor,” incorporates several ideas and applications. I adapted the phrase from Donald Winnicott’s concept of the “good enough mother.” Winnicott was an influential figure in the development of object relations theory.

In psychodynamic theory, focus is placed on the role of mothers in the developing psyche of a child. Object relations theory looks at this relationship between mother and child, and the developmental need for the child and mother to differentiate from each other.

One of the difficulties that occurs in this process is when a mother over-identifies with the child and assume too much responsibility for the child’s welfare. A couple of problems can result. One, the pressure of perfectionism. The mother believes that the child’s well-being and her own sense of self demands that she be a perfect mother. The belief that one must be perfect is fraught will all sorts of conflicting tensions and destructive assumptions. Two, the mother can take on too much responsibility and over-function on behalf of the child. The mother is not able to allow her child to go through normal struggles, pain and failure necessary for autonomy and growth. In her effort to protect and help, she actually ends up stunting growth and creating that which she fears most–anger, resentment and rejection from her child.

Winnicott’s concept captures the tension of good mothering. She strives to provide adequate nurture and care, at the same time refrains from over-functioning. She is dependable, responsive, protective, supportive and helpful. Yet she doesn’t do everything for the child and doesn’t shield the child from all challenges and pain.

Further, the mother is released from the unrealistic demands of perfectionism. She is free to embrace her own humanity. She no longer has to be perfect, but can relax with being “good enough.” Ironically, her effectiveness as a mother increases as she lets go of her striving for perfection.

The implications and applications for pastors are many. I believe they are also liberating. Too often pastors labor under the unforgiving pressure to be perfect. Ministry tends to attract perfectionists. Churches and denominations overtly and covertly demand perfection. For all our rhetoric about grace, our church system is often more performance-driven and shame-based than we like to admit.

Pastors often over-function with their congregations. They assume more responsibility for their flock than is reasonable and healthy. This can be self-driven, and congregations often demand it. It’s a lethal combination. Pastor and congregation both suffer in the end.

So my question: “What would happen if we could relax and shift our focus and goal to be the ‘good enough’ pastor? What does the good enough pastor look like? How would this change the way we do ministry? How would this change the pastor-congregation relationship?”

A New Look at Maturity

I came across the following observation by Richard Rohr. It conceptualizes and clarifies my concept of The Good Enough Pastor (or Good Enough Person/Christian/Husband/Wife/Father/Mother/Student/etc. . . . ).

Smallness and ordinariness

It’s a gift to joyfully recognize and accept our own smallness and ordinariness. Then you are free with nothing to live up to, nothing to prove, and nothing to protect. Such freedom is my best description of Christian maturity, because once you know that your ‘I’ is great and one with God, you can ironically be quite content with a small and ordinary ‘I.’ No grandstanding is necessary. Any question of your own importance or dignity has already been resolved once and for all and forever.

Richard Rohr

Confirmation Bias: How it Impacts What I Think I Know

Recently I was listening to a lecture on how we make decisions. The speaker identified several decision-making traps that take us down the road of poor decision making that can prove to be catastrophic.

One trap in particular piqued my curiosity. It’s a cognitive process known as “confirmation bias.” This refers to our “tendency to gather and rely on information that confirms our existing views and to avoid or downplay information that disconfirms our preexisting hypothesis” (Michael Roberto, Bryant University).

It causes us to gather or remember information selectively. Furthermore, we interpret the information in a way that confirms what we already believe to be true. Researchers note that this effect is particularly strong for emotionally charged and deeply entrenched beliefs.

Confirmation bias has been cited as a contributing factor to a variety of issues ranging from beliefs and laws concerning the death penalty and the events leading to the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003. People, including law makers and supposedly unbiased scientists, look at data through a skewed lense. They filter the evidence to confirm what they assume is correct and disregard information that would conflict with their opinions.

Research indicates that we take it even further. We interpret data, information and arguments to fit what we want to be true, regardless of objective observations to the contrary. It was found that NASA officials wanted to believe the Columbia was in safe operating order to the point they disregarded data that pointed to real danger.

It seems to me that confirmation bias is well entrenched in the church and theology worlds as well. Note how we continually buy books that we are certain will confirm what we already believe. We keep going to hear speakers who affirm what we assume to be true.

We can pretty well predict what these authors and speakers are going to say ahead of time. We like it this way. It creates emotional and psychological safety nets for us.

This isn’t all bad, I’m sure. I know I’m as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone. But it does raise questions for me in how we do church leadership, Bible interpretation and theology. If the experts are right in saying confirmation bias is particularly strong  for emotionally charged and deeply entrenched beliefs, it’s safe to assume it runs wild in the Christian community. 

Take how we manage church conflict. Left unchecked confirmation bias will distort the “facts” that are presented by both sides. We can quickly react and make decisions out of that distortion, all the while convinced we are “right.” Afterall, we have the “facts” right in front of us.

The more we can slow the process down and become aware of our own biases, emotionally held positions, and our need to self-protect, the more objective we can be.  The more open we are to genuinely consider the other side, the less we will be governed by confirmation bias. A good adage is to strive to be calm, nonreactive and self-aware in those moments.

We also need to hold the tendency of confirmation bias in one hand while we interpret our Bibles, evaluate our doctrine and define our theology with the other. Honesty about our own propensity to allow confirmaiton bias to define our beliefs will go a long way.

I notice a couple of tendencies in this area. One, when we discuss theology, doctrine and Bible interpretation, we tend to lean toward monologue rather than dialogue. In monologue (where I do the talking and I talk at rather than with) I control the direction of conversation. I dictate the ideas and content. It’s my way of ensuring that what I already believe will be reinforced and protectecd.

Dialogue is more difficult. In dialogue, I quiet down and let you share your perspective and define your position. I stay open and consider the validity of your views. I weigh them and give them respectful, careful consideration. Dialogue is risky because I choose to allow you to influence me. I may conclude that my emotionally held beliefs aren’t as accurate as I thought (and wished) they were.

How many Christian conversations are more two people (or two factions, two churches, two theological traditions) trying to “out-monologue” each other rather than true dialogue? How does that cost us in terms of valuing each other, valuing relationships, and actually learning and growing?

A second tendency is that we become rigid in our theology, doctrine and Biblical interpretation. We approach the Scripture with our theology and exegesis already established. We force our meaning upon the text and make it agree with us.

Bradley Jursak speakes to this: “Dare we let Scripture say what it says without reinterpreting what ‘it really means’ into the margins of our Study Bibles?” 

We all make our own canon in some manner. We hold to our predisposed interpretations over what the text may actually say. Again, the more honest and self-aware we are of our propensity to do this, the better we can manage it.

As I close, I can’t help but wonder: 1) How my confirmation bias has influenced what I just wrote? and, 2) How is your confirmation bias influencing how you’re reading this blog?

Reconsidering My Personal Mission Statement

The dawn of a new year has me thinking of the current emphasis on defining our life mission and purpose. Creating personal mission statements, articulating our vision for life, and developing purpose-driven living have been buzz-words for several decades.

Much of it has been useful, no doubt. Many have benefited by becoming more intentional in living out their days on this earth.

But there is the other side to this concept.

For starters, how do we manage the mundane of life? Much of the emphasis on vision, mission and purpose focus on pushing us to do the extraordinary. I’ve always sensed pressure (sometimes unspoken, often spoken) to have a vision/mission statement that makes me a cut-above, beyond the norm, and accomplishing make-others-take-notice kinds of things with my life.

That’s fine and good, I guess. But I’ve noticed that a good deal of my life is rather normal, often mundane. I spend a lot of time working a job that doesn’t turn heads. I often wonder if I’m accomplishing much of anything. When I preach, I speak to a group of pretty ordinary folks. I haven’t noticed the world being changed by anything I’ve said. Providing pastoral care and counseling rarely registers on the Richter Scale of life. Change comes slow and often undetected.

Beyond that, I do my part at home as a husband and father. This consists of spending time with my family, trying to be as loving and kind as I can. I do a lot of listening, do laundry, run the vacuum on occasion, scrape frost off the windshields, set the thermostat, and clean up after our dog so people won’t step in his contribution to fertilizing our yard.

To be honest, I often wonder if I’m accomplishing much for the Kingdom. I tend to struggle with boredom. When I assess my life in light of the compelling vision/mission statements that I hear being touted by some Christian voices, I wrestle with feelings of failure.

This leads me to wonder if we’re missing something in this conversation. Could our emphases be misplaced?

The discussion about personal mission and vision statements has inherent limitations that we often fail to acknowledge. One, it assumes a very individualistic world view. We view Christianity as a solo act in America. It fits well with the rest of our cultural bias that it’s all about me, the individual. I wonder how it would reshape our idea of vision and mission if we framed it in a context of relationship, family and community. Perhaps the frustration we experience in “personal” mission statements has something to do with the fact that we don’t live “personal” lives. We live in relationship with others and our world.

Second, the idea of defining our mission statement is a luxury for those of us with affluence. It’s for the privileged class. We have more resources than we need, which allows us to have plenty of spare time to sit and think about purpose and vision. Perhaps affluence drives the need to intentionally define our purpose because the affluence we pursue and assume is vital to “living the life” often lead us into meaninglessness.

I wonder how those in Jesus’ audience and who made up the New Testament church, most of whom were poor and underprivileged, handled this concept of a life mission? How do those in second- and third-world cultures today approach it?

It seems in these cases that mission and purpose are pretty clear–to get enough resources together to have at least enough food to be able to survive until tomorrow. Or finding protection from the elements of nature, wild beasts and human enemies. These tasks necessitated the cooperation of the family and the community.

When this is the case, there isn’t much time or energy left over to figure out how to upscale one’s career or spread our ministry to other cities. Personal fulfillment isn’t the main concern.

I’m not against developing a compelling mission and vision for our lives. Many of us need to be challenged to live beyond ourselves. We need to remove our blinders and stretch our vision. Following Jesus certainly impacts how we answer the question, “What am I living for?”

But maybe it’s more basic than what is often promoted. Maybe striving to be a loving husband/wife, a caring, responsible and present parent, and a good friend are the essentials to a compelling mission statement. Maybe that is what will change the world in the end. Maybe if we kept our focus primarily on these kind of things, we’d be a lot less frustrated. Maybe we wouldn’t beat ourselves up as much as we do for not doing enough.

All that said, I’m working on redefining my personal mission statement. I’m mulling over adopting our church’s mission statement: “Love God and do the next right thing.” I just might discover more peace and contentment.

Maybe that would be good enough.

Leadership Thoughts

I get weary of the plethora of writing on leadership that exists. Everyone and their dog has their own “17 Leadership Principles You Simply Can’t Ignore,” take on the essentials of leadership. Rather than feeling empowered, I usually come away from these lists feeling discouraged and hopeless.

So when I came across this blog entry on leadership, I thought, “Now that’s something I can get my brain around.” Matt Brown recently wrote on leadership in his blog, “thinke”. He titled his entry, “The Leader Worth Following.” I think it fits well with The Good Enough Pastor concept.

Here is his leadership list in concise form:

“From my reservoir of experience, I believe great leadership boils down to a few key traits that I will spend my life striving to be for others:

1. Be nice

2. Constantly improve

3. Over communicate

4. Under-promise and over-deliver”

For a complete read of his thoughts on leadership, check out his blog at

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