Earlier this week I retweeted Thom Rainer who was promoting a Christianity Today article by Carl Vaters entitled “5 Lies Pastors l-denial
are Tempted to Tell - And How to Resist Them.” When I retweeted it I said, “True - what’s worse is lying to self: denial. And that keeps you from engaging with those who can help.”

Admittedly there is a tension between the lies that are told, i.e. my church is bigger, healthier, and my family and I are spiritually and emotionally strong, etc and reality. Pastors are people of faith. They want to look at things through the lens of the promise of God. They want to think glass half full and trust that God’s got this. The trouble is when that faith perspective is not tempered by reality then one can drift into denial. Think see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

But it gets worse. If we drift from the good, faith filled, trusting in God perspective to one where we deny the problem exists then we are also denying that we have to deal with them. The situation will likely get worse because we are turning a blind eye (or a rose colored glasses eye) to even seeing the problem.

Admitting the problem and waking up from denial is painful. We may feel at fault. We may feel guilty. We may feel a sense of helplessness because we are at our wits end and may not know what to do or where to turn. Then if we do find a solution we know that it will probably mean painful changes in what we do and we will wonder if it will work. We wonder if it will be worth the grief we will inevitably get from our church members. Then we might wonder if all that work and effort and frustration will be worth all the time and energy that we invested. Besides, if we admit there is a problem we’ll have to talk to someone (district exec or other outside helper) and maybe admit how we messed up and were a part of getting ourselves and our church in this situation in the first place. Embarrassing! Nope. Easier to just keep on as we are. Hopefully it will get better. The “white” lies we tell ourselves continue and the denial grows.

What that looks like is waking up and going through another Sunday believing the same thing. “Everyone seems to be away on vacation.” “I know there was a big game today.” “I think a number of people are talking their kids off o college” and so on. We can excuse ourselves into thinking that any downturn is only temporary or a mere blip on the scale of how things are. We might mistakenly think someone is going to tell us an answer that we instinctively know is wrong or we can’t live with. So we beat people to the punch and criticize what we think people will tell us. “We’ll never do contemporary worship. That church down the road is just entertaining people!” Our mind is made up. Never mind that it has a lot more to do with a lot more than just style of worship.

Karl Vaters gave some great advice in his article (you can find it here: http://bit.ly/2cjWn8v ). He basically said, be honest. He mentioned pride and egos and vulnerability. Great stuff. What I would add though is to enlist someone with an outside perspective. Someone you know, like and trust who can help to broaden your perspective because sometimes it is difficult to see “the forest from the trees.”

Some next steps:

  1. Pray. “Lord, open my eyes to what is really going on. Help me to see my value and identity in Christ and not in my ministry. Help me to have a spirit of learning and making appropriate God pleasing changes.”
  2. Check the longitudal data. Compare 5, 10, 15 years of data. Worship, giving, baptisms, numbers of new members, numbers of leaders, new leaders each year, new programs etc. What do you find?
  3. Seek out an outside person: a trusted friend who will tell you the truth. A district executive or consultant or coach. Start the conversation. Admit your insider perspective that may not see reality in perfect clarity and be open to taking a second look at things.
  4. Enlist partners in your congregation who are mature enough to seek out the truth and not skewer you with the truth either but rather partner with you in real co-active ministry.

Give me a call. We are in this together. I’d be honored to listen and hold confidentially (except with the Lord!).

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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, scottgress@me.com or scottgress.com

"Helping leaders be more productive - less controlling"


Leadership and Denial

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