Truth be told, this is the conundrum I find myself in almost every single day with my vocational choice: I'm called to be a pastor, but I'm not exactly what you'd call a 'people person.'
I know. A strange thing, indeed.
That doesn't mean I don't like people. It doesn't mean I don't have people I'm close to or love. On some level, it's the simple fact that I'm introverted and I do better thinking through how pieces fit together, systems, structure, practice, implementation and multiplication more than almost anything else.
That's the positive spin, right?
The other side of it is it can be difficult for me to relationally connect to people quickly, small talk is not only challenging, but can sometimes feel like a form of verbal waterboarding. There's this cultural belief (and not wrongly so) that pastors should exude warmth and grace. Let's just say that I don't exactly have that in spades. I imagine there are some days when my parents look at this situation and just wonder, "Well, I'm not sure how we got to the 'pastor' place with this one, but here we are!"
In the last church I served at, there was a pastor named Orlando Cabrera. Man. You spend any time with Orlando, and you're thinking to yourself, "Self, now that is a pastor. If anyone in this world was created to be a pastor, it's that guy!" You spend 5 minutes with him and you feel like someone finally knows you. Like really, really knows you. He is kind, compassionate, caring and loved getting down in the trenches with people in the nitty gritty of life. He has this almost supernatural gifting to walk with people in the hardest and most difficult circumstances that life can throw at you.
Standing next to him I swear I'm like Genghis Kahn with people. I try to show empathy and compassion and sometimes it might feel like I accidentally stabbed you with a Mongol sword.
So what do you do when you feel called to this, but don't seem to have all of the innate, God-given skills that others have and are further deepened through the power Holy Spirit?
PUSHING INTO WEAKNESS
The first thing I've learned (and by 'learned'...I mean I'm still learning) is to dedicate myself to the craft of the relational side of pastoring. My experience is that it's been a bit like learning to write my signature with my left hand (I'm right-handed, which I hear, makes me far less intelligent). I wasn't born ambidextrous, so learning to write with my opposite hand would be difficult, weird and mentally taxing. But I could do it.
And that's what I've had to do with the relational art of pastoring. I've had to learn the basics of writing with a hand that is not my most natural hand. I can't give myself a pass on that stuff. It's hugely important for the people God has entrusted to my care that I take seriously the very real responsibility of pastoring them well. Are they going to get someone with super-strong traditional pastoring skills when I'm pressing into this? No. It's still not a strength. But there's still a presence of it, rather than an absence of it, and hopefully a growing one at that.
However, it's not only important for the people I'm pastoring, but it's important to my own spiritual growth. I may not have the natural gifts of a traditional pastor, but it's my firm conviction that every disciple of Jesus is called to love and care for people, in whatever time, place or space they find themselves in. Much of the things we need or want pastors to do relationally aren't things only pastors should be doing. They are all things all disciples are called to be doing. And I am one of those disciples.
But there's another piece of this at work in my spiritual growth, and it's addressing the lie that has started to emerge in the American Church through the infiltration of Western business practices. It's the simple statement of 'Only Play to your Strengths.' While the ideology behind this didn't begin with the book, Now, Discover your Strengths and the wildly popular StrengthsFinder survey, it certainly created a cultural tipping point for it. The premise goes something like this: "Most people spend the majority of their time working on their weaknesses. Why don't you figure out what your strengths are and spent almost all of your time doing those things?"
Now on the surface, that's not the worst thing in the world. In fact, there's a lot of truth to it (and we will talk a bit more about this in Part 2 of this series). But we aren't exactly a culture of moderation, are we? No, we go whole hog and leave nuance and tension by the wayside. What it's morphed into seems to be a culture that feels entitled only to play to their strengths and is almost affronted when they have to work in places of weakness.
You see, the temptation for me is to live into that. That's what I want to hear! I want someone to give me permission to not do these things traditional associated with pastoring. The temptation is to focus on the good things I bring to the table to the exclusion of the things that a warm, relationally-bent pastor pastor goes after. But if that's true, it's difficult to make sense of what Paul says is at work in weakness in 2nd Corinthians 12:9:
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. ”
What I have experienced now, more times than I can count, is entering into pastoral situations and feeling the great weight of my weakness, and the great need for Jesus to show up and "Please God do something!" I came with an ill-equipped tool belt and all I had was whatever the Holy Spirit was going to give me. Now I have seen some pretty crazy, physical miracles in my life. Stuff I can't scientifically explain or quantify or make sense of by the physical laws of this universe. But I'm not kidding...the Lord has showed up in some pretty miraculous ways in those moments of weakness. There have been times where I felt what Jesus did in those moments was easily of equal supernatural weight as the other stuff!
What leaning into this pastoral deficiency and weakness has done is allow Jesus to use me, but perhaps more importantly, remind me that all along, I can do nothing without him. It reminds that even when I think have a strength that I'm leading into, if it's of the Kingdom...I still can't do it. It's got to be Jesus.
Going into situations like that can create anxiety and an impending sense of foolishness. All I can think of is how the person they really deserve as someone made in the image of God is an Orlando Cabrera. This basically doubles-down on the dread, followed by a sense of shame that I'm not what these people really need.
But you know what? The good news is this: I'm not what they need. But Jesus is.
(Part 2 coming later this week.)