Recently I received the ultimate backhanded compliment, from a former colleague I came to know in my first church ministry job. Back then I was a 25-year-old seminary graduate plotting revival everywhere I went. Now I am a 34-year-old pastor asking her for a recommendation for a hospice chaplaincy. She expressed surprise at my interest in the job. I explained that the chaplaincy would allow me to grow as a listener and to be with people in painful but potentially sacred moments. She said, "You certainly are different from what I remember."
It was meant as a kindness. Yet it felt like receiving the "Most Improved Player" trophy, which I may or may not have won on my first-grade basketball team. The subtext of that trophy is: "You're still awful, and you will always ride the bench, but we don't feel as embarrassed to have you on the team as we once did." My colleague had just handed me the ecclesial version, the "Most Improved Pastor" trophy, on which the words are engraved: "You're not the hard-hearted, un-teachable egomaniac you used to be. You should never be a senior pastor, but we can probably trust you not to bring about the demise of Christianity in this country."
If there were an awards banquet for the Most Improved Pastor trophy, I would tell the crowd what I told my former colleague that day: "Thank you. I've been in a lot of therapy." And I would mean it.
To read the rest of my new article on Patheos, entitled "Why Pastors Should Get Their Heads Examined," click here.