By Clarence Bradbury
An employment office in Tucson, Arizona, reportedly has a sign posted over a full-length mirror for job applicants to read. It states, “Would you hire this person?” It’s a shocking summons to self-evaluation.
For Christian leaders, any kind of evaluation can be like a root canal. Waiting for it is unnerving and grimacing through it is sheer torture. Yet, we reluctantly realize that it is essential for promoting health and effectiveness in life and leadership. We also know it may spare us from greater pain and anguish later on.
For this reason, we apply to ourselves the same expectations we place on others. We hold ourselves accountable by seeking honest 360-degree feedback from those who know us best – our peers, followers/employees and superiors.
The Pastoral Epistles ( eg. I Peter 5: 1-4) remind Christian leaders that we are under-shepherds and, as such, we have a Shepherd too. Under-shepherds are encouraged to practice mutual accountability. Yet – and here’s the rub – it is so difficult to find, even in Christian circles, an environment in which any kind of evaluation is safe and life-affirming. An illustration of this comes from Patrick Morley’s book, The Man in the Mirror. Morley shares an open letter for the benefit of pastors and men in the church:
You know me well. I sit toward the front of the church every Sunday — I’m always there. On the way out, I always greet you with a handshake and a smile. You seem to be glad to see me too. But you don’t know the “real me” very well. Behind my happy smile is a life that is somehow unbalanced. Occasionally, you have asked me how I’m doing, and I’ve told you, “I’m fine. How are you?” (I’ve learned the easiest way to keep to myself is to refocus the attention back on the other person.)
The truth is, I’m not sure you really want an answer. I know you deal with a real lot of pain and a real lot of suffering: people losing jobs, their homes, their families, loved ones. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to talk to you about where I am spiritually. I’m supposed to be on top of things — after all, I’m a successful businessman.
I’ve tried to take a look at my life to examine my ways, but the plain truth is I don’t know how. I really enjoy your sermons. They move my emotions and my spirit, but on Monday morning at 9:00, when the phones start ringing and the customers start complaining, I can’t seem to make the transition. I really need help.
Somehow I sense that my problems are really spiritual problems, but I can’t find spiritual answers. I know that my marriage looks like the picture of success, but behind the closed doors of my private castle, life is very different — I would be ashamed for you to know.
My children don’t seem to like to spend time with me anymore. Frankly, I’ve shut them out of my life for so long, I can’t really blame them. I’ve wasted more nights in empty motel rooms than I care to remember. At first, I thought I was doing it for my family — to provide them a better standard of living. But now I realize that I was really doing it for me — for my own personal self-gratification. Maybe I thought it would make me feel more significant. Anyway, I got the ends and means mixed up, and now I really don’t think that they like me very much anymore.
I know lots of people, but I’m really a very lonely man. I wouldn’t know who to talk to if I could put my frustrations into words. There is no accountability in my life whatsoever. Nobody knows or even seems to care how I’m doing financially, with my business, with my wife, with my children or spiritually. I know you are interested at the group level, but I’m just talking about me — personally, individually. I don’t expect you personally to spend time with me, but I wish we had some way of linking men together to talk about these things. I think it would happen if you really got behind the idea.
Frankly, I’ve done some things in business which I regret. I’ve cut corners and compromised my integrity. I feel guilty about it, but since nobody knows the difference, I just go on pretending everything is okay. I’m really not much different from anyone else. I often wonder if behind those plastic Sunday-morning smiles, other men might feel the same way I do.
Oh well. I never planned on mailing this letter anyway. But I just had to get some of these things off my chest. I really wish I could tell you about these things. There’s so much I want to know, and I need someone to talk to. I guess I’ll see you on Sunday.
Frank admitted an inability to examine his ways. He had been reluctant to seek out men who could provide for him the very things he needed. But now, he seems ready to acknowledge that his mounting needs require this investment of trust.
Finding a safe circle of support and accountability can be a long search. Quality relationships are not easy to locate or cultivate. But it is entirely possible. Just recently, our school brought together a new cohort of fifteen leaders, including officers, employees and some of our church leaders. Meeting in table clusters of three or four people, they engaged in a life and leadership refocusing experience. They practiced giving and receiving mentoring and coaching. They blessed and commissioned one another to God’s calling in their individual lives. Through ongoing coaching, they will build relational networks, then return next year for another enrichment experience. This involves intentionality, concerted effort, and willingness to be authentic, honest and vulnerable. The anticipated result? A renewed sense of calling, along with new growth spurts in character, compassion, courage and competencies.
This month, we have provided links to excellent resources to support your desire to build networks of support, accountability and ongoing evaluation. Visit our link page for more information.