“She should dye her hair blue.”
“She didn’t make me feel welcome or accepted.”
Those are the two statements I remember from my annual resident review when I worked for Res Life at UCLA my senior year. Those are the only two statements I remember. I had 99 residents and most of them filled out the survey and most of them said positive things about me, but these two are the only two that stuck in my mind.
I don’t know about for you, but for me it’s always been easy to focus on the things I did wrong and was critiqued for instead of the things I did well and am affirmed for. I could tell myself that there were some 80+ positive comments made. No complaints from those folks. But the good isn’t what stuck. Even 10 years later.
So, it’s not really a surprise that 7 months of positive feedback from a congregation and 8 years of solid ministry are overshadowed by the skewed complaints of a handful of folks. Hundreds, if not thousands, of affirmations about my preaching, my care, my compassion, my wisdom, my maturity, my leadership compared to a couple dozen complaints and I can be thrown completely off my game. It’s ridiculous.
Not that I shouldn’t hear those complaints or do some self examination. But when I hear them, I tend to quickly accept them as absolute truth and then beat myself up for not getting it perfect, despite all the other wonderful things that have been said about me. That seems unreasonable, at least when I step back to look at it.
In talking about it with my uncle, he said, “Someone can call you a tree or a cow, but that doesn’t make you a tree or a cow.” But my inclination is to take it as truth if they said it. My rule in ministry has been “perception is 9/10 of the rule.” Perception becomes the truth you have to deal with. Which by default means that when I’m perceived as “hard to read” “not a team player” or “too negative” that I have accepted those as truth for myself. They are the truth of the perception, but they may not be the truth of my character, my style, or my leadership.
Going back to the quotes at the top, I can ask, “Did I really need to dye my hair blue or was that one person’s opinion or maybe just their attempt at comedy?” and for the other “Did I offer welcome to everyone or did I treat this student differently?” If I offered the same welcome I did other students, then it might be this student’s issue and not my failure. Or maybe it’s my failure, but 1 out of 99 isn’t all that bad. Not to be dismissive, but just to put it in perspective.
Regardless of who you are or how well you lead, complaints will surface. Maybe it’s something you did. Maybe it’s something you didn’t do. Or maybe it’s just that you’re not the last pastor. Or that someone has an axe to grind. It is important to be open to feedback and accessible for conversation. It’s also important to remember that just because someone said it, doesn’t mean it’s Gospel truth. You may have to clean up a misperception, but you don’t have to wear the words that are thrown your way.