One of the reasons pastors burn out and/or quit ministry is because of failure or the fear thereof. Feelings of failure and the subsequent shame spiral may have been my #1 downfall. According to Barna group (and my pastor friends), I’m not alone in that. Notice that I say “feelings of failure” rather than failure itself. What we perceive as failure is often the occasion that God most clearly and profoundly reveals his grace and mercy to us. His grace is sufficient for us!
A lot of people prefer to focus on faithfulness, but we can’t deny that this is a performance-based career that often devolves into a success vs. failure mentality. Regardless of what language we use, many of us are trying to create a false reality. The illusion of success, competency, and perfection. Re: perfection…I talk to my coaching clients about the “tyranny of the should.” We get enough criticism from others; we don’t need to torture ourselves by hypothesizing about what could have been if we just did what we “should” have done. What we’re really thinking is, “If only I’d done everything perfectly.”
Ponder this quote from author Brene Brown: “Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels the primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize painful feelings or shame, judgment and blame.” We set ourselves up for failure by exalting the “should” and creating impossible expectations. Speaking of expectations…you need to set them for yourself and your congregation. If you don’t, the ambiguity will produce “pathological second-guessing.”
Perfectionism is a byproduct of shame. To avoid feeling “less than”, inadequate, embarrassed, rejected, disappointed, worthless…we try to do everything right to avoid criticism. Criticism isn’t the only problem. We’re fallen people who are riddled with holes and sidled with weaknesses. Sadly, as pastors, we are public figures who are on full display for people to love or loathe. We often feel exposed. And, maybe like frauds. It’s impossible to shield ourselves from shame.
That’s why our workshop focuses attention on shame resilience. How do we avoid letting our fear of failure and the opinions of others keep us from seeing ourselves as God does? We are his dearly beloved children. He calls us his own. We call ourselves by a lot of other, less pleasant names. In small groups, we take time to define shame. A simple working definition we like to employ comes from Brene Brown: Guilt says, “I did something wrong.” Shame says, “There is something wrong with me.” We identify ourselves according to our shame. We use “I am” language. I am stupid. I am a loser. I am ugly. I am fat. I am…a failure. I am not fit for ministry.
We can torment ourselves internally. In the workshop, we do an exercise created by Dr. Brown. She set out to discover why certain people are more resilient than others. She became the world’s foremost expert on shame in the process. It is how we deal with shame that helps us maintain mental and emotional resilience. So, here’s how we approach this during our time together.
One-on-one, often with your spouse, we think through Brene Brown’s rubric. Shame Resilience is made up of 4 steps: 1) Recognizing shame and understanding your triggers. 2) Awareness of external factors that led to shame. 3) Connecting with others to tell your story and receive empathy. 4) Conversations to deconstruct shame.
Resilience is possible. We don’t have to be ruled by fear of failure, perfectionism, and shame.