If you’ve been following these blogs the past five weeks, you’ll have noticed that a lot of the “selfies” I’ve taken aren’t just of my “self,” but of Laura and me together. It sounds rather odd to take a “selfie” of more than one’s self, but it still sounds better than calling the picture a “twosie.”
Laura and I have been a “twosie” as we traveled to Pensacola, on to Marco Island, back to Pensacola, and now home. In short order, I’ll just be a “selfie” once again (rather than a “onesie”), and herein lies the danger.
I just read a clear warning sign directed to pastors but applicable to all: “In ministry, the perfect storm for a personal disaster is also the convergence of three elements: ambition, isolation, and self-deception” (Lance Witt, Replenish, 46).
Ambition? Check. Self-deception? Been there, done that. Isolation? More than I care to admit.
I’ve seen it far too often, and you have as well. A church leader climbs the ladder of church “success” and discovers that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is as elusive in the church-world as in the business-world. With success comes more pressure, problems, stress and anxiety. You’ve got to keep pushing the vision wheel up the hill and bringing your “A-Game” every Sunday.
You begin to deceive yourself to think you’re more important than you are, and as the pressure mounts, you begin to take short-cuts and slight compromises that you never would have considered earlier in your ministry career.
Success is the breeding ground of isolation. You keep people at arms’ length because your image looks far better from a distance than up close. If people get too close, they’ll get to know the “real” you, and with that can come disapproval, rejection and shame.
Ambition, isolation and self-deception—the ultimate environment for the perfect storm leading to personal disaster—and it’s not just possible for me; it’s also possible for you.
In this time of sabbatical, I’m learning the deeper value and importance of community. We all need people in our lives who help us stay on track. The longer I’m away from our elders, staff, and men’s groups, the more I appreciate the friendship, camaraderie, and community we share together. “It is slower to lead with a group, but it’s also healthier and wiser” (ibid., 54).
Do you have ambition? Good. But don’t let your ambition lead you to define success only by external measurements. Don’t lose your soul while you achieve your dream. And don’t cut yourself off from the very ones who will speak truth into your life, because they love you too much to let you deceive yourself.
Solomon said, “Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31). It’s an incredible gift to have a handful of people in your life who love you enough to tell you what you need to hear and not just what you want to hear.