Monday, August 05, 2013

Self-Confidence as Empowerment- and Vice Versa

Talking to a former pastor the other day I was caught up short by something they were told after they left the parish pastorate. "You have had more self-confidence since you have been away from the parish."

That caused some time of thought on my part. But I understood where it came from.

When one is in the parish ministry they often find themselves constantly looking over their shoulder. Much time is spent second-guessing what was going on in people's thoughts, wondering who might be ready to find something they said as offensive but not say anything about it. What was that look about during the service on Sunday? John Doe wasn't here for two weeks. What's wrong? Even friends can be suspect, especially after one back years ago turned into an antagonist at one board meeting and left the church.

I remember one of the first times I had a performance evaluation after leaving the parish. I was a nervous wreck. My experience had often been quite difficult with performance evaluations in the ministry. In fact, I became quite adept at avoiding them whenever possible. Very seldom were they positive experiences. It was almost like people often felt that performance evaluations were meant to criticize and point out all ones shortcomings.

No wonder the pastor's comment rang a bell. It is hard to maintain a sense of one's being at least "OK" in the midst of that. Self-confidence could turn into a negative quite quickly in what others saw as arrogance. It could be seen easily as not being open to listening to what others had to say. Aloofness, stuck-up, self-centered, uncertain all became adjectives to describe the self-confident pastor.

The result of this is disillusionment, spiritual walls that separate the pastor from the congregation, a lack of self and self-confidence that only the family at home sees. The public persona remains smiling, engaged, even happy. Internally many pastors end up questioning their very faith and calling. They become burned out and barely make it from vacation to vacation, times of renewal.

I found some answers for myself in a couple of ways. One was the process of recovery for myself from chemical dependence. The work of the Twelve Steps opened up a whole new view of myself and the ability to let go of things that were beyond my control. What other people thought of me was one of those things beyond my control. Being part of a 12 Step group where I was just me was refreshing and allowed me to begin to discover who I was - and how God wanted to utilize that in me.

Doing the next right thing, also called doing God's Will, was another. If I was being honest and truthful, open and willing to do the next right thing, most times it would be good enough and often more that that. There was a freedom in that which can't be overstated.

Finally, the long pilgrimage into prayer and meditation became the foundation. It was there that I personally discovered that prayer is not an act of magic or wishful thinking. It was, instead, an act of faith and acceptance of whatever was in front of me. It was in that I also found the freedom to live out the vision empowered in my prayer and meditation.

It wasn't always easy; but it worked to lead me deeper into God's life with me and into a broader understanding of God's will for me and the whole idea of call, vocation, and ministry. I still wrestle with how the church fits into all this. I have a hunch that will never stop. But I know the way of self-confidence can be more than just feeling good about oneself. It is also the way of service and responding to the ways of God and God's ministry around us.

Oh, and by the way, that first performance evaluation and every one since I left the parish was nothing but empowering and hopeful. Much time was spent affirming what was going well and then a dialogue about what areas needed growth, instigated by people who cared. I walked out of my supervisor's office on a cloud and committed to working on new goals for the next year.

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