I’m working on a project related to Paul’s pastoral aims and strategies. In a few places, he has some things to say about the dynamics of image-maintenance (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:5-6). I’ve been reflecting a bit lately on the pressures of image-maintenance and how they affect pastors.
I’m thinking of dynamics like the following:
- An (over-)sensitivity to controlling how one is perceived, or how others think about oneself.
- Attempts and efforts to manage others’ perception.
- The pressure to display no uncertainty at all about the rightness of one’s cause, one’s course of action, or certain decisions.
- Pastors feeling that they can’t be vulnerable. They can’t show any weakness.
- Authenticity is not an option, or perhaps one’s “authenticity” is one that is conjured up when performing for an audience – an inauthentic authenticity.
- The fear of disappointing people who have expectations about the sort of experience they’re expecting at church.
The source of these pressures is the need to keep people happy. And, if we’re honest, the pressure to keep money rolling in, and to keep people attending – to keep the numbers up. And in a consumer culture, the consumer / customer demands can be overwhelming and yet their desires for experiences are paramount. All of these work together to put pressure on pastors to be certain kinds of people.
Now, it’s easy to see these dynamics in celebrity pastors – pastors of mega-churches, or those who lead large para-church ministries or organizations. But I’m more interested in how these pressures and dynamics affect average pastors.
In what ways do pressures distort and corrupt your motivations in ministry? Do they distort your home life? Is there a radical disconnect between the person others perceive at church and the person your spouse and children encounter at home? Do you feel that vulnerability and openness is a threat?
Pastors, what other pressures do you face? I’m thinking especially of pressures that relate to maintaining an image. And what sort of image do you feel pressure to project?