Shame My Family? Not On My Watch.
Recently, our staff, elders, and all our spouses gathered in an upper room of a brewery production facility for our annual vision and pulse-taking gathering.
One of the exercises we did required us to write down an extensive list we are zealous about and narrow that list down to one thing in each of these categories: one thing we will never do, one thing God is calling us to do right now, one thing that is keeping us from doing that thing, and one thing God is calling us to be.
The interactive exercise was recorded graphically as we all drew multi-colored pictures, cartoons, sketches, diagrams, and metaphors. My list was an extensive mish-mosh of trivial convictions (I will never watch any television show with Snooki) and noble desires (God is calling me to be a voice in my city).
As we were making our lists I kept remembering that scene in the movie City Slickers where Curly holds up his finger and tells Mitch the secret of life is about “One thing.” Curly Theology is too simple for me but I do like the idea and discipline of narrowing down what we are willing to bleed for.
We only have so much blood.
I boiled down my lists to one thing in each category as we instructed everyone to do.
Since Saturday, I have not been able to stop thinking about my one thing that made its way to the surface of my one thing I will never do list:
I WILL NEVER ALLOW ANYONE TO GUILT OR SHAME MY FAMILY.
I was surprised this was the first thing I wrote down. Surprised because I didn’t realize how heavy it weighs on me. It’s not something I think about every day. I can’t remember the last time I thought about it. But, there it was, lurking below the surface and all it took was some casual digging to surface it.
As a leader in the community and a pastor of my church, there have been too many situations and conversations over the years where my family (individual members or my family as a whole) was scolded, unfairly challenged, made guilty by association, or called to an individual’s idea of a higher standard because of MY role.
Then the stories began to come back.
- There was the Sunday School teacher who told my son, “Be serious! I would expect more from you as the pastor’s son.”
- There was the tattle-tale who called me because they thought they saw my daughter kissing a boy in a car in the church parking lot (which may not be a bad idea if A) I knew the person and we were looking out for one another and B) Their tone wasn’t one of disgust and condemnation)
- There have been multiple conversations that begin with questions such as, “So, what service does your wife attend?” or, “You don’t talk much about where your wife serves at the church. What does she do again?” or “Why isn’t YOUR daughter going on this mission trip?” All with a hint of accusation that my family may not be towing the line.
- There was the conversation with a public school teacher (who went to my church) at a conference where I was told my child was expected to be a leader in their class.
- There was the anonymous blog started about me, my role, my church, (and by implication, my family) and how we were not a good fit for the community.
I could share more but my blood pressure is starting to rise so I need to get to the question I am trying to raise: “When you are in leadership how do you keep your family from shame, guilt, unfair expectations and collateral damage?”
- Tell well-placed stories about how your family has been harshly treated and use the stories as teachable moments. I defend my family’s individuality and honor by telling stories in humorous ways on my blog, from the pulpit, and in conversation. People need to know it’s not okay to attack your shame or guilt your family. It’s way easier to talk about “the other imaginary guy who did something horrible to your family” as a preemptive strike to ward off any future attacks. Let people know in advance if they treat your family poorly, they may end up an illustration one day. I do not apologize for this.
- Talk with your family regularly about how you have their back. Remind them you don’t expect them to act or react a certain way because of YOUR role. Rather, as we are all responsible to act and react based on our relationship with Jesus. Remind them you are not concerned about how they reflect YOU. Affirm you are on their team and they come first.
- Stand up to bullies. Gauge the severity of the blow you deal back by how well you know the offender, the potential fallout of your reaction, his or her own situation and stress, the grace you’d want to be given, the occasion and place where you are attacked, who else overhears the accuser’s jab, and if your family is around to hear them say mean things. But, don’t let it go! Leaders cannot ignore disrespect. When it is left unchallenged, we suggest the behavior is acceptable. Stand up for what is right. Correct them for your family’s sake. And the church’s.
- Stand up for other leaders when you hear people talk smack. One of my favorite sarcastic comebacks when I hear people talking bad about another leader or his or her family is to say, “I can’t believe them sometimes. It’s ridiculous. You know what I really hate? When [leader’s name] talks behind someone’s back!” They usually get the point. Stand up for others. You may need them to stand up for you.
- Tell stories that celebrate your family. On your blog. From the pulpit. In the conference room. At the retreat. The more you love them for who they are (with their permission), the more others will love them.
- Invite people to your home. I call this “giving them the back-lot tour.” Let them see your family in your environment. As real people. With conflict. With regular family problems. Don’t let people set you up to be a rock star or your family.
- Never use the words, “Do you know how this is going to affect my job?” or anything close to that. Instead, listen to your family. Hear them out. Feel their pain.
- Don’t tell stories at home about people who are mean to you. Ministry leadership is unique. Sometimes (a lot of times) people say mean things. At times, people feel it is their moral right and obligation to set you and your family straight. Deal with the person individually if possible. Once you take it home, you fan the flames of potential hatred in your family toward the perpetrator. Chances are, you will one day clear the air with that culprit and forget to tell your family. They will continue to hate them. And eventually, your job. And possibly, you.
- Tell stories of your own failures. Self-disclosure allows people to see you are real. It helps them identify with you. And, it makes them less likely to take shots at your kids knowing you do the same dumb things. Take the attention off of them.
- Don’t set your family up for failure. Don’t put them in charge of anything grandiose to feed your ego. Let them serve in the way they are shaped, in the way they are lead, as they follow and listen to the Spirit. As you would direct anyone else to do.
- Never scold or tell tales about your family in front of anyone. Self-disclosure for you is one thing. You don’t have the right to disclose their failures and shortcomings. Unless it is with their permission for a mutually agreed upon outcome.
- Be careful you don’t set yourself up as a family expert without acknowledging your flaws. How many of us know the marriage guru who had an affair, the family counselor who has a hellish existence at home, or the family conference speaker whose wife just left him for someone who loves kids? I know them all.