It’s not all about me

Carol Howard Merritt writing in Christian Century discusses when clergy do not always need to take the blame for church decline:

One afternoon when I was completely stressed out about some criticism I received from my congregation, another minister took me to lunch. She asked me about the history of the congregation and helped me sort out some of their past traumas. Then she drew a clear line between their painful stories, the distrust that formed in the community, and the complaints about me.

After her analysis, she gave me an assignment. She told me to look in the mirror every morning before work and say, “This is not about me.”

It was true that the criticisms seemed have a direct tie to things that happened in the past. But I couldn’t quite practice the exercise–partly because I’m too quick to accept blame, and partly because I want to have the humility to acknowledge when I’m wrong. But, there was another reason I didn’t want to relinquish the responsibility. I also knew that if the criticisms weren’t “about me,” then I wouldn’t have as much power to change the situation and make it better.

Right now, there are a lot of pastors who ought to be looking in the mirror and chanting “it’s not all about me.” For many mainline congregations, our church cultures flourished in the early 1960s. They were often formed by and geared toward the “greatest generation” or the “builders.” We were often white and upper-middle class.

Category : The Lead

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2 Comments
  1. Lane Hensley

    Wow. Tagged. Hang on a minute while I put a cold compress on this bloody nose!

  2. Eric Bonetti

    Excellent comments.

    I’m in the process of leaving my job at a small affordable housing nonprofit–a job that I took on while the organization was in crisis, and that I very much enjoyed, despite the challenges.

    While I have been far from perfect, most external stakeholders have said that I have done an excellent job. Internally, however, it’s become clear that it is time to move on. Needless to say, I am sad about that, and I’d be foolish not to be concerned about a job search in the current economic climate.

    At the same time, in the middle of all this change, I see that a recurrent theme in my life is again involved: Any successes I’ve had have been thanks to the friendships I have made and my personal commitment to the organization and the people we serve. As a result, when an issue arises, I too often assume I’m the one to blame, and that if I just work harder, do more, try to fix it, you name it, things will be fine.

    In doing this, I often lose sight of another reality, which is that issues and organizations have lives of their own. For instance, if there are trust issues, I can try to model transparency, accountability, and vulnerability, but if there is still a lack of trust, then it is not about me. Sometimes, past trauma lives on, and it only is the passage of time that allows the trauma to heal. In those cases, it seems best to not add to the pain, but just to move on to other, better, things.

    So, here’s to other exciting adventures with what I hope will be another nonprofit!

    Eric Bonetti

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