Warning: self-critical blog alert.
It has been a few months since I left Northwest Baptist Church, and in the intervening months, NWBC has been going through a process of evaluation with a church consultant.
From what I have heard, the process has been challenging and helpful. The bottom line is that the consultant reported on some key spiritual problems in the church and asked the leadership of the church to seriously consider what the future would hold. Basically, the question boiled down to this, “Do you currently have the emotional, financial, and spiritual resources to address these problems as a church?”
The answer was, “No.”
So, the only other option for the church was to seek the help of the denominational district (The Midwest Baptist Conference) and to initiate what has been called a “restart.”
The process of a restart boils down to these things: The district identifies a church planter to be the new pastor; then the congregation affirms him; finally, the congregation hands over all assets (name, constitution, property, bank accounts, etc.) to an advisory team comprised of a district representative, the new pastor, the pastor’s coach, and a few members of the congregation. From that moment on, the previous church is officially dissolved, and the assets are used in the formation of a new church fellowship.
This model has had great success in the transformation of dead churches into living and active churches, but there are of course difficulties along the way.
Last week, the congregation voted to do a restart, and I’m glad they did.
Of course, there is a small part of me that wants to feel vindicated at their decision to do a restart. If I allow myself, I could feel a kind of satisfaction thinking that without me, they had no hope of surviving on their own. Or, I could think that whatever problems I faced at the church were so deeply rooted in the culture of the church that nothing could have fixed them aside from the drastic death and resurrection that comes with a restart.
However, in my weaker, more depressed moments, I think that since I was there for 5 years, I was part of the problem if not a key player in the problem. Certainly, I didn’t do anything to solve the problems, and that makes me feel like a failure.
Right now, I’m facing that failure issue head on because the same consultant who has declared the church spiritually hopeless has requested to have a face to face meeting with me.
- He doesn’t want to meet over the phone or tell me what he’s thinking by email—he wants a face to face meeting.
- The District Executive of the Midwest Baptist Conference knows what it’s all about and is encouraging everyone around me to have this meeting because as he says, “it’s only for Jeff’s benefit.”
- My coach who understands my situation in Lafayette a little bit is also working to get some kind of meeting, but has also hinted to me at what the topic of conversation might be.
I’m Pretty Predictable
Even without the comments of my coach, I could probably have guessed the substance of this meeting, but now that I have spoken with him, I’m pretty sure exactly what it will be about.
You see, I’m pretty predictable. If you know me, you will likely put me in one of two boxes.
- Some people put me in a box labeled: Incredibly Smart & a Good Friend.
- However, other people put me in a box labeled: Unteachable & Insensitive.
It seems clear to me that when some people see me as being smart and confident, others see me as being unteachable and unreasonable. I can understand that clearly, and I also understand that at times I really do come across as unteachable especially when I feel that I’m under a personal attack for what I believe. Honestly, unless someone treats me with respect, I don’t really want to give them the time to listen to them.
What about the sensitivity thing? Well, I’ve known since I was very young that I wasn’t really all that interested in caring deeply for people. It’s not that I didn’t want to, but more that I just didn’t have any real empathy gene in me. I was the kid who always made fun of others and didn’t really care if other people made fun of me. I didn’t really have much in the way of emotions at all. In fact, I’m still just discovering emotions for the first time over the past 15 years. So I know that I sometimes seem insensitive, but here is the irony. I can be a greatly empathetic person if people will at least tell me what’s going on with them.
With people who acknowledge their pain to me, I am a great friend. I enter into their world and yet remain myself. (I just learned this week that that’s called differentiation, and it’s a valuable if not essential characteristic for healthy relationships.) Ask people who have actually opened up to me, and you will find that each of them considers me to be a good listener and a caring advisor if not a close friend.
I do well with people who open up to me. My problem lies with people who will never acknowledge their pain to me but still expect me to somehow be sensitive to it. I just don’t have enough relational intuition to pick up on those subtle cues, and with those people, I come across as cold and insensitive.
Some see me as insensitive while others see me as deeply relational. Some see me as unteachable while others see me as bright and insightful. So, how do I see myself? I honestly don’t know anymore. I don’t know which of those boxes is the real me. Those who are close to me and those whom I trust keep me in the good box, but for the last 5 years at NWBC, there has been a seemingly interminable parade of people saying quite loudly, vehemently, and aggressively that I belonged in the bad box.
I’m sure you can sympathize with me when I say that it feels very good to be away from that environment.
My Past is Haunting Me
So as I ponder this upcoming meeting with the NWBC consultant who wasn’t there with me through the process, motivated by the MBC district executive who didn’t walk with me through this process, accompanied by a coach who didn’t even know my name as I went through this process, I feel haunted by my past.
When certain families left NWBC with all their vehemence against me and the ways they felt I failed them, I grieved. It was painful. I was scarred. I have emerged from that with limps and wounds, but at the very least I had the consolation that it was in the past.
Or so I thought.
Apparently, it’s not in the past. Apparently, the words of frustrated people are continuing to circle and they are continuing to find new ears, and with each new ear who hears these stories, there are new people making conclusions about what kind of person I am.
From a spiritual growth standpoint, I guess this is good because I have a tendency to pridefully put too much emphasis on my reputation. Perhaps this is another work of God to bring me humility.
What really bothers me aside from my wounded pride is that there might be some people who are spreading lies about me and other people who are believing them. I am angered not just that I am being wronged but also that the principle of honesty among Christians is being violated.
So, I’m pretty sure, based on the fact that the consultant has been meeting with numerous people with connections to NWBC that this meeting is going to be about me being unteachable and about some variation on the theme that I can’t get along with people. After all, that’s the kind of stuff I kept hearing from angry people at NWBC. I feel haunted by my past.
What do I say?
So what do you say when someone says you aren’t teachable? That’s like someone saying, “You’re always in denial.” You can’t say “No, I don’t think so,” because if you do, you simply confirm what they just said. If someone says I’m unteachable, and I disagree, I have confirmed what they said. If someone says I’m unteachable and I agree, then isn’t that the end of the conversation as well? If someone says you are unteachable, really the only thing you can do is show up and shut up.
What about the assertion that I’m insensitive or can’t connect with other people? Well I know that if it’s based on my intuition of what’s going on in another person’s life, that claim is completely true. I have some kind of psychological ailment where I have nearly no empathy in my nature. I’m left-brained, mathematical and logical, and I just don’t sense when other people might need something other than logic. That makes me a great teacher. And for people who are willing to openly discuss their problems, that makes me a great counselor. I can help them find objectivity in the midst of their struggles. Many people find great relief in the counsel I offer.
Additionally, I have been working hard for years at developing my listening skills, my question-asking techniques and my sensitivity to unspoken body cues so to be better able to demonstrate empathic sensitivity.
So here’s where I stand:
- I know pretty well what’s wrong with me (and I’m growing more self-critical daily).
- I’ve been working for years to fix myself (including professional counseling).
- I also have had a number of close friends as well as that counselor who don’t think there’s any real problem and who try to pull me out of my self-criticism.
- Now, someone I want to respect but who doesn’t know me very well wants to meet with me apparently to address my weaknesses.
When I was first invited to have a meeting, I responded immediately that it would be a good thing, and I sought for a while to make it happen, but as the calendars have been conflicted, as the meeting hasn’t happened, and as I’ve thought more about it, I just wonder what good purpose it could serve.