Throughout all my years in ministry, I have received countless affirmations, compliments, encouragements, and blessings from the mouths of those I have served, loved, and led. To say these words are gratifying would be a huge understatement.
But what astounds me is that even to this day there are four negative statements that have been made to me (about me/my ministry) that not only stung, but stuck. Even today, I roll them over in my mind and for better or worse, I give them more weight than all the accolades and positive statements I have received. And I guess I’ve reached a point where I’m comfortable to not only share them, but how I really feel about them, and have felt about them for years.
Statement #1: “I don’t know how many people you’ve driven from the church today.”
Believe it or not, this statement was made to me within an hour of the close of my very first sermon as a fulltime pastor. It was a phone call at my home which was a driveway’s width away from the church building. One of the men in the church was calling to (in no uncertain terms) share with me his displeasure in the sermon I had just preached. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded, speechless, and had an immediate sense of standing on shaky ground when it comes to other people’s confidence in me as a pastor/minister/leader. And it wouldn’t be the last time, either.
Statement #2: “You’re not a good listener.”
This one killed me. I have always considered myself a VERY good listener. As a listener, I’ve got it all–rock solid eye contact, nods of the head to indicate I’m following you, and even a reassuring “Mmm” to make sure you’re aware that I’m with you in what you’re saying to me. Not only do I produce all the outward indicators that I am listening to the person speaking to me, but I do my best to internalize what I’m hearing, holding it up against my own intellect, emotions, and experiences so that I might (when you’re finished of course) have something meaningful and helpful to say. But only after I repeat to you what I’ve heard you say so that we’re both assured that I’ve understood everything correctly.
So, you can see how a point-blank “You’re not a good listener” would send shockwaves through my sense of certainty that I am indeed a good listener. To make my point: the next time you see me, stop me and talk to me about something–ANYTHING–and see if I don’t deliver the goods when it comes to laser-focused listening. As I’m typing this, there is a plastic life-sized ear that is clipped to the side of a file organizer on my desk. This is my visual daily reminder to be a good listener. When did I purchase a plastic life-sized ear? Moments after someone said to me, “You’re not a good listener.”
Statement #3: “You’re the worst self-promoter I’ve ever met.”
Now, to be fair, this person was not meaning to be malicious or discouraging. I think he was trying to tell me that there was so much good going on in the student ministry I was leading and no one seemed to be aware of all the good things happening. So, while the statement might seemed negative, I choose to believe that it had a good intention buried within it. So, why not write it off as a positive comment? Good question. Here’s why: All throughout my ministry, I have known those who seem to have a knack for making themselves attractive/productive/withit/etc. In short, I lack that ability. I do what I do and if no one sees it….brace yourself…..I really don’t care. But hold on, that’s not entirely true. I could have just deleted that last statement and put something that explains myself better or makes me look better, but therein lies the issue. Honestly: I’m someone who needs encouragement and affirmation. I’m not a high-maintenance diva by any means, but a pat on the back with me will go a really long way. I just need to know that someone–ANYONE notices something–ANYTHING that I’m doing in ministry. I’d like to be that guy who could give a rip what you think, but I’m not. That’s why that statement I heard so many years ago sticks with me still today.
Statement #4: “If I were you, I’d really question my calling to ministry.”
This one takes the cake. Spoken to me by a parent of a couple of the students in the youth group I was leading, it cut my heart like few other statements made to me have. And I’d be being dishonest if I didn’t say that its a statement that I revisit probably far too often. Even now as I’m typing, I can feel my heartbeat quickening as my memory goes back to the phone conversation I had that contained those words. And I suppose I could just blow it off and chalk it up to just some disgruntled parent who didn’t understand ministry, or how things operate in the church realm, or even spiritual things. But years after it was spoken, just as I was getting over it, I received a magazine in the mail and guess who was on the cover? Yep. The very man that uttered those words to me. The only (but true) solace I have is that I have indeed taken his advice (more times that he possibly intended) and have come out the other side with a resolve and certainty in my heart that says, “I have….and thanks.”