What do we share with others? I have a habit of telling everyone all the bad things about me first before I share anything positive about me. Why? I find people very emotional, they make up their minds about other based on what they themselves experience and what people they trust say about others. So a person could be the next Mother Teresa but if as a neighbour s/he was once rude to me they are forever doomed to be “difficult”. Or if my best friend tells new barber in my community is a “jerk” I will be expected to absorb this point of view and stay away from this business for as long as the barbershop is open.
And it works the other way too, if I think someone has been honest, caring and insightful to me then I will believe s/he is that way with anyone. Someone might tell me that this same person belongs to a racist society or is abusive to her/his partner but if I have had a positive experience of the person the others must be mistaken. It is rare to meet someone who hears our experience of someone, listens, takes in what we learned about them and then keeps an open mind for their first encounter.
I’ve been a Minister for 26 years and I have made my share of mistakes and written, preached and said things I wish I hadn’t. I will share those things about me before sharing anything positive. I do that because I don’t want people to only have the positive, I want them to have the complete story and then sort out for themselves whether there will be a connection down the road. I don’t want someone’s view of me to be overly influence by a good sermon, or a good visited or a timely phone call or visit.
This also keeps me humble, never allows compliments to go to my head or give me the impression that my being liked is any more than one person’s experience on any given day. It also helps me to deal with criticism, for I know that this too is one person’s point of view. Of course I try to learn from what critical feedback I receive. I preach too long. I hear that when people tell me so and I don’t deflect it with “they’re just a complainer”. But I also know to weight the criticism, not everyone thinks I preach too long and it is not so overwhelming that people are staying away in huge numbers.
Despite all the mistakes and all the flaws I bring to Ministry I have done a lot of good and am reasonably well thought of by many people. I can get to that space because I acknowledge the critics. In a strange way being aware of the things my critics say about me allows me to weight it with the positives I know are there too. The balance of both gives me a more dispassionate notion of where I stand and allows me to take some pride in my work and know there is a much, much work to be done to improve.
There are many reasons I can think of that a church might not want me as their Minister. But I am often amused that the most cited reason parishioners give when being concerned about my “call” to a congregation is that I ran for public office in 2000. Only in the Maritimes is a Minister getting involved in the “dirty” trade of politics considered a stain on his/her record. I know this reputation follows me wherever I go. But given that I have taken account of the good and bad of my work I know this criticism is both unfair and ridiculous. Nevertheless it is real. And so for the first few months I benefit from the revelation of critics who discover that even though I once ran for office I am not an axe murderer. Many of these critics become my biggest supporters in short order!
BUT there is also the awareness that what truly are flaws in my work and character, that previous churches have helped me be aware of, will eventually come out after the honeymoon is over. And this will mitigate any emotional assessment that is overly positive. It keeps one humble, grounded and real.
I don’t like or welcome compliments any more. I do like critical feedback, when it is measured, sober and delivered with care. And what I like most is being able to know that good work is being done despite the many mistakes and flaws. As one faithful follower once said, “God is not finished with me yet.”