Over the next few days I'm going to write a series of posts discussing this subject. Ideally, I'd like to start a conversation about how and why this happens - not just to me, but to countless people in numerous leadership positions. The reality: Jesus was misunderstood. I don't say that to insinuate that being misunderstood automatically makes you or me like Jesus. Sometimes when I'm misunderstood it's because I didn't communicate properly. (Or to put it a bit more bluntly, I miscommunicated. Funny how one mis____ can so easily lead to another mis______.) And for sure it doesn't mean that because Jesus was misunderstood I can or should use that as a license to just say what I think or do what I want. (In that case, I'm the one who misunderstood Jesus' instructions!) That said, Jesus was at times misunderstood because of people's misled expectations and/or perceptions of WHO He was and WHAT He had come to do and accomplish. This happens to us as leaders. It definitely happens to pastors. So what can we do to minimize all this misunderstanding?
I remember several years ago meeting with the Personnel Team at my former church. I was used to my yearly review/evaluation being mainly a time of affirmation and encouragement. (And that's putting it lightly.) Which is why it was such a punch in the gut the first time I was informed that more than one person had mentioned that there was a slight possibility at times that I could maybe come across in a way that made it seem like I was....well...UNAPPROACHABLE!
[I pause here, yes for dramatic affect, but also to give you a moment to allow that word to absorb. I had never even heard that word - unless maybe someone was referring to the status of a grizzly bear in the wild. I had no processor for this. I wasn't prepared to receive it. My defenses went straight up! Unapproachable? Me?]
And there it was. Unapproachable. Like a scarlet letter U on my chest. How had an extroverted, Christ-follower, people-person-pastor who loves people become - BIG LUMP IN THROAT - unapproachable? After weeks of licking my wounds - humbly realizing that this was not the end of the world, but someone who loved me actually pointing out that there had been something that creeped into my character that they were certain I didn't desire to be there - I suddenly began to realize something. On Sunday mornings - especially those Sundays when I was the one preaching, and my mind was completely bent and wrapped around the message I was preparing to deliver - there was a distinct possibility that if someone "approached" me, it might seem like I wasn't fully engaged in what they were saying. Put plainly, it all of a sudden became incredibly clear to me that on days when I was about to deliver a sermon, my mind was fully, completely, and wholly focused on ONE thing: preaching. And if you tried to talk to me at 10:41 (and the service was starting at 10:45), good luck. I'm out. I may love you and genuinely care about what you want/need to say to me, but not right this moment. I'm like a squirrel running straight across the road after that nut sitting beside that tree - tunnel vision at it's premium. And it all started to make sense. And I began to wonder not just how many people had walked away feeling ignored or insulted, but how many had simply stopped even trying to engage me. This was starting to sting and hurt a bit.
Here I sit several years later, in another town, in another church, (both of which I love!), and not long ago I heard that word again. Unapproachable. But this time, without reacting or jumping to conclusions, I simply began to pray about it. I asked the Lord to show me what I needed to do to deal with this head-on. After some serious prayer and reflection, I reached a few conclusions - about myself and people's perceptions - and also felt the Lord lay some very specific and tangible things I could do about this in front of me. A few things I decided and realized were:
- People need to know WHO I am and WHAT I believe I'm called here to do.
- On Sunday mornings, in a church the size of ours, I firmly believe my priorities are to 1) preach the Word of God, and 2) be available to meet and greet guests, and 3) be available to counsel if needed.
- Most of the time people were attempting to engage me in conversation about things deeper and weightier than the color of my shirt, it would be a leader. This prompted me to ask our staff and leaders to please not bring any administrative/business/strategy question (or anything of the sort) to me on Sundays. I told them (and still tell them) that if what you need to tell me is important, I want to be fully present and engaged. On Sunday morning, I will NOT be fully engaged.
- I am much more aware of the way my actions can be perceived. And a huge lesson for ALL of us is simply put this way: MY INTENT does not always equal OTHER PEOPLE'S PERCEPTIONS. Fair or unfair, people's perceptions matter!
We're all going to be misunderstood at times. But there are certain things we can do to reduce the potential of this happening. And we can also make sure and not jump to conclusions about others.
Have you been misunderstood?
More to come....