Jan 282020 1 Response

How to Not Take Things Personally

When a plane crashes, it is rarely because of a single error. In most cases, something goes wrong and then a mistake happens. Then another and another. A crash is most often the result of a series of mistakes rather than a single issue. In order to prevent crashes, pilots have a plethora of checklists. When something goes wrong there are specific actions which they are to take in order to correct the problems. The checklist is intended to save the pilot from mistakes he/she would possibly make in the heat of the moment. Millions of dollars and multiple agencies have spent countless hours considering everything which could go wrong on a plane and what exact steps a pilot should take when that happens.

As a pastor, I may be more prone to pilot-error. Multiple agencies and millions of dollars are not being spent every year to consider all the things which can go wrong in a pastor’s life and what specific steps one should take to combat those situations. In most cases, I’m on my own. Yet the crash of a pastor can be just as devastating and headline-grabbing as that of a plane. To combat this danger, I’ve had to create my own checklist. While some problems are unique, most situations are similar. What are the step-by-step actions to take when a problem arises?

Taking Things Personally

One of the greatest temptations for me, and I assume all pastors, is the threat of taking everything personally. The pastorate is a very personal profession. We intentionally open ourselves up to the pain and sorrow of others. While others tend to run away from suffering, we intentionally lean into the struggles of those we pastor (and many that we don’t). I wonder how many night’s sleep I’ve lost not over my own pains, but over the pains of others?

While it is noble to become personally involved in difficult situations where others stay detached, the danger for a pastor is to become personally involved in situations where we shouldn’t. Accustomed to involving ourselves with others, we sometimes make ourselves part of the story when we shouldn’t. When someone leaves the church, it feels like a personal failure. When someone critiques a sermon, it feels like a personal attack. When someone is mad at God, it can feel like a personal affront to us.

A pastor can go wrong by failing to become personally involved where he should OR by engaging himself into a story that has nothing to do with him. My temptation is far more the latter than the former.

Don’t Take Things Personally Check-list

I often remind pastors (and those in other helping professions) that anger is a referred pain. When someone has a bad day at work, they might be tempted to come home and kick the dog. The dog hasn’t done anything, but he receives his master’s anger because the dog owner can’t kick anyone at work. In the pastorate, we are often the dogs. People express anger toward us simply because they can’t express it in other places. If we aren’t careful, we can take those actions personally.

When I feel as though I’m taking something too personally, I do the following:

1. Sleep/Exercise. Sometimes it’s either/or and sometimes it’s both/and. The more tired I am, the easier it is for me to lose perspective. Sleep reeenergizes me and gives me a better vantage point from which to view my situation. Exercise engages my body, takes out some frustration, and gives me a break from fixating on the issue.

2. Remind myself of the words of the Gospels. Jesus spoke much about dying to self. It’s such a foreign concept to our society that it is easy for me to forget. So I focus on some verses from the Gospels like Luke 9.24-25 or John 3.30.

3. I pray the Lord’s Prayer. The focus on “your name” rather than my name, “your kingdom” rather than my kingdom, and “yours is the glory” rather than my glory gets my focus back into the right spot.

4. Remember the words of the Epistles. There is no way to read the words of the New Testament writers without remembering that difficult times will come and unfair things will happen. Philippians 1.12 and Hebrews 12.1-2 are good examples.

5. Listen to music or sermons which call me out of myself and into Jesus. It’s old school, but I love a song by Rich Mullins that reminds me I need to trust more in what God has done for me than myself. Tim Keller has great teachings on making sure our identity is found in Christ rather than in what we have accomplished.

Your Checklist

Taking things too personal is a constant struggle for me. While I don’t want to ignore things that I should pay attention to, I do need to learn to be less influenced by the opinions of others. The power of this checklist is not the actual items on it (except Scripture, that’s pretty powerful). The importance is recognizing my weakness and having a general go-to process that I engage whenever I’m tempted to go wrong.

Consider: What checklist do you need? What are some common temptations for which you can fall? What would be some encouraging words which would strengthen you in your time of weakness?

By putting thought to these things, we are more likely to make wise decisions rather than being ruled by our bad thoughts.

One Response to How to Not Take Things Personally
  1. Miesha Atkins Reply

    Thanks Pastor for putting a lot things in clear focus. I truly enjoy reading your articles/blog. I sometimes read them to the children I mentor. Keep up the great work

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