A Love Letter to Pastors Who Are Lying to Themselves

Dear Pastor Colleagues,

You know how we sometimes quote 1 John 1:8 before Prayers of Confession?

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Yeah, I like that verse too. And I am also a champion self-deceiver in areas of sin, perceptions, and so many other things. (I still think I look like a middle-aged mom. I often think I’m not racist. Truth: I look like a grandmother. Racism is and will always be in my bones.) As an Enneagram 3, I continue to learn how my 3-ness helps me deceive myself and others.

So how do we tell each other that we are deceiving ourselves?

For our particular context, how do we help each other understand that self-awareness is essential to being a successful pastor? Friends – I wrote earlier this week about the importance of being teachable. This means we need to be on a constant journey to learn the truth about ourselves.

One of the ongoing issues that come to me from church members is: how do we help our pastor be a better pastor? We pastors deceive ourselves in terms of:

  • Listening only to our biggest fans. (“I love it when you tell stories about your dog!”) Truth: Lots of people are done with hearing about your dog.
  • Avoiding conflict. (“They’ve never liked me anyway.”) Truth: You clearly have a hard time receiving constructive criticism.
  • Taking credit for things that – frankly – anybody could have achieved. (“500 new members have joined since I became pastor.“) Truth: We happened to in the right place at the right time – when new construction was booming around here and there were no other churches within a mile.
  • Believing we are still as fresh and energetic as our younger selves. (“I’m still an excellent preacher. People love my accents and anecdotes.”)
  • Believing we have nothing left to learn. (“Why would I need to attend a conference on stewardship when I’ve been leading stewardship campaigns for years?”)

Beloved Colleagues: please hear and believe me when I say – with deep compassion – that we might be deceiving ourselves.

I personally do not love it when people tell me that I need to change some things about the way I do my ministry. And yet, my calling is not about me. It’s about what makes Jesus happy. If I’m doing anything that 1) makes Jesus unhappy or 2) is damaging the very church I love, I need to know – even if it hurts.

For the last 15 years, I have had a group of four people in my life (4 in my last congregation, 4 in my last Presbytery, 4 in my current Presbytery) whose job it is to tell me hard things. I picked them myself because I trust them to tell me the truth. My current team’s job is specifically to tell me when it’s time to retire, in the event that I am not paying attention. They also have permission to tell me I’m spending too much time ____ and not enough time ____. They also have permission to tell me I talk too much or I am an idiot or I handled something really poorly. Whatever I need to know, they have promised to tell me.

I need this because it’s too easy for me to deceive myself. The spiritual journey is about knowing ourselves in light of being the person God has created us to be. I can be a thoughtless fool and so can you. This doesn’t mean we are failures to the universe. It means we can do better and it’s a good thing to know we can do better.

Colleagues, we don’t have to be stuck or make our congregations feel stuck. It makes Jesus – the most self aware human being ever – happy when we allow the truth to be revealed.

With love and empathy, Jan

Image is Hope by George Frederic Watts and associates (1886)

4 responses to “A Love Letter to Pastors Who Are Lying to Themselves

  1. foothillspresby

    thank you Jan

    Rev. Deborah G. Foster Presbytery Leader & Stated Clerk Foothills Presbytery 2242 Woodruff Road Simpsonville SC 29681 864-288-5774 (office) 864-617-9202 (cell) http://www.foothillspresbytery.orghttp://www.foothillspresbytery.org



  2. hopes2explore

    Thank you for this message of the truth spoken in love, Jan. I’m grateful for your gentle reminders and for the people I trust to tell me the truth.
    With hope for the church we love & serve,


  3. Vivian Robinson

    This is a wonderful article, not only for pastors but for us all. I know that I dislike hearing constructive criticism. My husband tells me often. Which I do not particularly like. But I know that he also doesn’t take criticism very well. As I age, I can’t believe I will soon be a GREAT Grandma, I find myself more receptive. Especially when coming from those I trust. We can all use a little awakening now and then. And to humble ourselves enough to know we are not always right.
    Thank you for these lessons.


  4. Pingback: “I Hope ___ Read That Blog Post” | A Church for Starving Artists

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