My Top 10 Flaws & Weaknesses as a Leader Generally and a Campus Pastor Specifically
The other day an email came in from pastor who’d just read my August 25th blog post entitled “Reflections on Leadership: Anyone I Follow Must Readily Look For and Admit Mistakes.” I think it fair to say he was indignant. He resented its content and expressed, in no uncertain terms, his belief I’m hypocritical for expecting others to publicly acknowledge their flaws and weaknesses yet fail to readily do the same. This was followed by some lively Millennial bashing. My response: “I don’t admit my flaws, and Bob Ross didn’t paint enough happy trees.”
It wasn’t long before he replied. He wrote, “Please spare me the condescension. You conceal your vices out of necessity just like the rest of us. I’ve followed your blog a long time. Not once have you admitted your struggle with anger, lust, greed, intellectual pride or a thirst for power. Hiding such things is a reality of pastoral ministry. Don’t act like you’re above it all.” The thing is, I don’t struggle with most of those things. Lust? Yes. But anger, greed, intellectual pride, and a thirst for power? No, and I’m tired of people projecting that crap on me.
Still, it got me to thinking. Though unnecessarily abrasive and assuming far too much, could there be a thread of truth in his criticism? Perhaps I’ve not been sufficiently open about my failures as a leader generally and a campus pastor specifically. Maybe I’ve held others to a higher degree of public self-criticism, transparency, and vulnerability than I’ve exhibited. It’s possible I’ve unknowingly been hypocritical. Challenged accepted, sir. Rather than lowering the bar, I’ll try to keep it high–hopefully as a model for others.
Though my perspective is obviously limited by human finitude and fallenness, below are my top 10 flaws and weaknesses as I see ‘em:11.Because of my learning disability, I process information well but very slowly. This can and often does frustrate those who are more quick on their feet. A Top 11 list just doesn’t work as well, so I’m turning this one into an honorable mention.
While I prefer to see it as principle or determination, more than a few people have called me stubborn or obstinate. I suspect the label should depend upon the context and the perspective. The same trait that allowed me to play college basketball despite having Cystic Fibrosis and to graduate near the top of my class is also largely responsible for why I’m estranged from my brother and am not ordained right now. For better or worse, and regardless of the consequences, I cannot help but relentlessly pursue the truth and my convictions. It’s a blessing and a curse. But, yeah, I’m stubbornly not a pragmatist.
Punctual. What does it mean and what is its etymology? Five minutes late I understand. There needs to be a word for that. Fiveminuteslateual. That’s what I am… But, seriously, I’m rarely 15 minutes–let alone 30 minutes–late to an appointment, but I am chronically late to things by 5-10 minutes. A lot of people interpret this as exhibiting a lack of respect for others and their time. I don’t see it that way, but it has caused friction over the years. The plain truth is that I don’t budget my time well enough. It’s not that I’m lazy. I’m always just trying to cram in one last thing. My bad.
Here I see the world different than most people. To my mind loyalty is a vice rather than a virtue. Take the political sphere, for example. Is it not self-evident truth that party loyalty tends to breed intellectual dishonesty and privileges competition over rhetorical charity? Show me a man who’s an ardent supporter of a party and I’ll show you a man who’s loathe to admit the validity of any insights or criticisms by his opponents. I’m faithful to a lot of people and things, but am not uncritically loyal to any person, movement, institution, or the like. The trouble is, this makes many people immediately distrustful.
A “people-pleaser” is someone who’s always trying to make everyone else happy and is constantly being taken advantage of as a result. Clearly I’m not that sort of person. Putting that extreme aside, there are also those who are highly socially adaptable yet in a healthy way. I’m not that sort of person, either. I am, as one friend put it, “delightfully curmudgeon” and don’t stray far from it. What you see is what you get. Suffice to say, this is not what most folks expect from a pastor or any sort of leader. A lot of people appreciate that I cut the crap and say what I’m thinking but, honestly, it probably deters more folks than it attracts.
I’ve never had a clinical diagnosis, but depression runs in my family and I’ve long struggled with it. Far and away the worst stretch was during mid-high school when I battled recurring suicidal thoughts. Things changed after I recommitted my life to Christ. Though I don’t have one of those triumphal stories of everything immediately changing, by God’s grace I did gain a kind of transcendent hope that has shined through the dark times. The lows have never been as low. Ever since, my depression has been intermittent and relatively mild by comparison. I wouldn’t say it’s debilitating, but fairly often it’s an uphill battle.
Over the years I’ve done a great deal of “ministry,” ranging from Bible studies and prayer meetings to food pantries and tutoring with just about everything in-between. So I’m not altogether without experience. And on an almost daily basis I call various mentors to pick their brains and seek counsel because I’d rather learn from their mistakes than make my own. Yet the reality is, University Abbey is all of a month old and this is the first time I’ve done full-time, vocational ministry. I don’t know what I don’t know, so I anticipate a steep learning curve. Plus it’s an unusual ministry, so we’re all kind of making it up as we go.
There’s an old saying about those who don’t “suffer fools gladly.” I’m one of those people. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t expect Einstein-level IQ scores from every college student nor every senior citizen to be a fountain of wisdom, but I do struggle to have patience for, and be gracious toward, self-inflicted idiocy and foolishness. That really grinds my gears. The same tendency holds true toward leaders who expect conformity despite their incompetence, fundamentalists who are self-righteous, academics who are intellectually proud, etc. Grace was learned. In my natural state I’m an uncompassionate, judgmental ass.
Once again, the label depends upon one’s context and the perspective. Yes, many have said I’m impatient and seem to have a compulsion to press to get things done quickly because of my medical condition. That’s one interpretation, and I wouldn’t deny it’s veracity at times. But I tend to see it more as savoring life. There’s that country song about living like you were dying. Well, I pretty much do. In terms of my leadership, this means I don’t avoid the important conversations but also get anxious about letting things unfold slowly. Despite my historical bent and long-term outlook, I’m terrible at waiting upon the Lord.
During high school I became addicted to internet pornography. It’s not only embarrassing but is degrading toward women, and that pisses me off. Yet my experience, and that of the many peers and mentors I’ve spoken to, is this addiction is like any other. It doesn’t go away short of supernatural healing by the Holy Spirit. You’re always in recovery, and the moment you think it’s over is the moment you’re in trouble. While I’ve taken many practical precautions such as accountability partners and filtering software to which I don’t know the password, the plain reality is that the larger struggle is a daily battle.
Over the years quite a few individuals have expressed admiration for my degree of discipline based upon my blogging output, academic achievements, or that sort of thing. While I appreciate the sentiment… Holy misinterpretation, Batman! For me it’s all about momentum. I tend to function like a train. Once things get going it’s hard to stop, but it’s hard to get going and I can (usually) only go in one direction at a time. So, yes, I get a lot accomplished. But I royally suck at juggling responsibilities and keeping many things going at one time. That is to say, discipline does not come naturally. It too is an uphill battle.
You may have gotten a sense while reading those that I’ve pretty well come to peace with most of these things. They’re part of who I am. They’ve made me who I am. And, as is so often the case, my greatest strengths are also my greatest weaknesses. It’s all about how they’re channeled. In my view that’s the real the difference between me and the pastor who sent the email. I don’t hide my faults and frailties because I don’t think they disillusion or scare others. Instead I wear them on my sleeve, which seems to create a sense of empathy and even hope. In a healthy way, it makes me truly dependent on the other members of Christ’s Body.