When I was a kid, one of my favorite games was hide-and-seek. My siblings and I would take turns: One of us went upstairs and counted to twenty, while the rest hid downstairs under boxes, in the furnace room, or in the closet.
I liked hiding more than seeking. The longer I stayed hidden, the more fun the game.
During the sixteen years I served as a pastor, I often continued playing hide-and-seek. Only this time I played the game subconsciously. I often hid behind a persona of perfection. Thoughts like this kept me hidden: “I’m a pastor. I can’t admit I have struggles. I can’t own up to the broken parts of my life still under repair. What will people think if I confess this?” Hide-and-seek wasn’t a fun game anymore… it had become a dangerous game.
Pastoring a church is a unique calling. According to a 2001 Barna Group Study, church-goers expect their lead pastor to juggle an average of sixteen major tasks. Good luck with that. Fifteen years in pastoral ministry, and twenty years in the business world… I’ve yet to find a person competent at 16 major tasks. The sometimes ridiculous expectations people have of pastors in terms of time, results, and character development, put pressure on leaders to appear perfect and the result often is a strong temptation to hide.
Here’s the truth: pastors are works-in-progress who lead and teach groups of people who are works-in-progress as well. Unfortunately, when faced with the reality of their own need for grace, and growth… many pastors hide. They isolate themselves. Sometimes pastors hide as a means of self-protection, due to bad experiences with gossiping Christians (the words “gossip” and “Christian” should never go together, right?). Some hide because they fear accountability. Some because their predecessors modeled isolationism. Whatever the reason, the tendency to hide usually leads to bad behavior.
When a pastor struggles, he or she is faced with a dilemma: “Do I share this or not? If I do, who do I share with? How do I know they’re safe? What will they do with the info? The other side of the dilemma sounds like this: “If I don’t open up and ask for help, how will I ever fix this? I’ve tried on my own and failed over and over again.” The temptation to hide is difficult to resist for a leader because so much is at stake.
So what can a pastor or any ministry leader do about it? Let me give you a few ideas:
Become appropriately transparent
The apostle Paul, one of the greatest Jesus-followers of all time, wrote to his friends in Rome: “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” Wow. Paul told the entire world about his wrestling match with sin. Paul was a godly man who understood he hadn’t arrived. God still had work to do in him. Paul didn’t go into graphic detail about his struggle. Nor did he make excuses. He simply acknowledged reality… “I’m still growing in grace. I haven’t figured it all out yet. But with the help of God I’m making progress.” Understanding and admitting you are an imperfect leader in need of God’s grace, leading a group of imperfect people in need of the same grace, helps you resist the temptation to hide.
Admit you need pastoring
No pastor ever arrives at a place where he/she doesn’t need a pastor. If you’re a pastor, do you have a mentor? A coach? A counselor? A true friend? Etc.? If not, why not? The excuses of no time or money for such pursuits ring hollow in most cases. Isn’t is funny how we tend to have time/money for what we find important? Admitting we need wise input from others on a lifelong basis helps us resist the tendency to hide.
Intentionally seek out trusted confidants
Jimmy Dodd writes: “Secrets carry devastating weight.” Intentionally seeking out accountable relationships will save your life. A confidant’s requirements include a willingness to tell you the truth, the ability to maintain confidentiality, the capacity to love you no matter what you share with them, and self-awareness that they themselves are in the middle of their own growth process
If you’re a leader and you’re struggling to find somebody trustworthy to confide in, we’re here to serve you.
The rate of pastoral attrition in the United States is alarming. I wonder how much of it is due to hiding. Perhaps pastors will hide less when we accept the following realities:
Pastors have limitations; like every Christian they’re in the middle of their own character-building program with God; and they face the same temptations lay people do. Perhaps less hide-and-seek will give us a starting point toward healthier, happier, and longer-lasting leadership.