Admittedly, I was caught off guard reading this. The guy who wrote it is someone I'd consider a growing friend, but I wouldn't have expected such a write-up. Given the fact that I read it on my phone while multi-tasking, I had to stop and let it sink in.
It felt like someone sprayed some Living Water on a part of my inner world that I didn't realize was dry.
What's weird is that I do get encouraging feedback from people and even received a handful of it recently:
- "Keep doing what you do man - the love of God radiates off of you like no one I've ever seen before. 100% genuine. You have no idea how much people appreciate that genuine quality you have."
- "Tony, you kick my butt and somehow I find myself thanking you instead of kicking you back."
- "I just want to truly thank you for all the times you have taken the time to answer me. I know you have so many things that demand your time, like even teaching today. You are doing an awesome job and surely helping many to find Jesus. I hope you always know how much you are doing and giving. God bless."
And yet... some days it slides off. It's like I'm trying to hang onto the positive people and words of affirmation, but it slips away right as I try to grab it.
What if the reason the write up I referenced meant so much is that it came from someone who doesn't live near me, attend my church or demand any responsibility from me due to his needs or our history? Maybe that's why I unconsciously elevated it today over those other compliments from those in my more direct relational circles.
Or maybe it's because I'm constantly taking hits from within my direct relational circles, too... tough stuff that piles up as real/false accusations or fair/unfair burdens. I can become the poster boy for what people are dissatisfied with in their church. If someone offends them, they don't just avoid that person's phone calls... they avoid mine, too. I regularly live in that tension of "So-and-so might flip out over this."
Then there's the aspect of my job that makes things somewhat transactional or service-oriented. As a pastor I know that people are looking for something - perhaps insights, guidance, an example or more. Even when people have offered to be a friend to me, they naturally struggle with not seeing me through the lens of my role. I've had some offer to do that for me and tell me they can be "that friend" who "I can be real with" or who "won't see me as a pastor," but I know better... and they do, too. Let me explain.
So even if someone believes they can handle me being "simply Tony," I'll still be the plumber/pastor when questions or needs arise.
Again, I'm totally okay with that. It is my joy and privilege... I wouldn't trade it for a million dollar check.
But maybe it helps you to understand it.
One more example... what if I cursed right now? Total profanity, coming out of my mouth. I almost did for shock value - but it's not worth it because some would roll their eyes in disgust that I am setting a bad example. Others would raise their glass and say, "Heck, yeah! That's what I want in a pastor - someone who's not afraid to swear!"
But you see what those both have in common, right? They both factor in that I'm a pastor - even the carefree attitude that celebrates the profanity can't discount who it came out of.
There's one other challenge I face relationally, too. In fact, it's tempting on one end and frustrating on another. While I don't seek or try to manipulate this, if I please someone as a friend they may come to the church I serve and possibly even rally others to become a part of it. In contrast, if I tick someone off, they don't just leave my friendship - they leave the church. If I really tick them off or if they're immature in how they handle it, they may dump it out to others in person or online.
People may be coy about it... they may disguise it with spiritual-sounding words like "God has called me out of the church" or hint about who/what by saying "Some people..." but they'll vent. Or if they like me, they'll tell me how I'm so much better than "Some other pastor..." from their past. I appreciate/need positive feedback, but have to be careful to not even let compliments sway me (which is why I wrote about this a while back).
And if someone does leave the church, they take their household with them - their kids plucked out of friendships with my kids, their teens plucked out of youth ministries, and their friendships plucked out of others in the church (or, worse - they sway those friendships to feel/think as they do). That affects the Kingdom of God, too... all because of how I might or might not come across. It's just that crazy sometimes. So I do my best to minimize this, not by being fake but by being as proactive as I can in my friendships.
Again, no complaints in comparison to why I'm doing it... just sharing information. It does get to me at times, and I'll write more about that in a few days.
Then again - maybe I am doing more than sharing information. (That's not a hint - I find myself ending this post legitimately wondering that.)
"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith." (Hebrews 13:7)