Note: We received the following story at Church Answers recently. The only changes I made were to protect the identity of the pastor. His self-awareness and prescriptions are very helpful.
I spent the last week with my family at the beach on vacation. We really enjoyed ourselves. I wished we had another week! While there, I hoped to detox from the constant pressures of the ministry, unplug from screens and social media, and just be present with my wife and kids.
After a few days of this detox, I had a troubling realization. I am jaded and self-protective toward people—strangers, church members, whatever — just people in general.
I often find myself not wanting to be around people—even people I like. For example, at the beach, I didn’t want to meet new people or become friends with any of the other families at our condo that we kept running into down on the beach or by the pool. I smile and try to be polite, of course. But deep down, I sense this growing and alarming sense of fear at letting people get close to me.
On an almost subconscious level, I have come to distrust others, thinking that they’re going to end up scrutinizing me or adhering to some strange theological or political belief very passionately and holding suspicion toward me if I don’t hold the same view with the same level of fervor.
When Cynicism Hits
I have become cynical. Cynicism is the belief that people are motivated by self-interest. To be cynical is to be distrustful of human sincerity. I feel like most people are hard to please and easy to offend. Accordingly, I have learned to tread lightly. It has negatively impacted my ability to fulfill God’s call on my life to be a pastor to his people.
I shared my realization with my wife. She is always so supportive and mature. She said it was good that God was showing me these developments. Then, she asked, “What are you going to do about it?”
A Prescription for Pastoral Cynicism
So this morning, after my Bible reading, I made a list of responses to the question, How I can fight back against cynicism in my life and ministry? Here are my six responses. I would appreciate your feedback, especially if you’ve dealt with this sort of thing and have advice or resources you can share. Thanks in advance.
How can I fight back against cynicism in my life and ministry?
Pray for God’s help. Pray that God would heal my heart, forgive me of a lack of love, renew my love for my people, and give me a thick hide and a tender heart. It is a gift to see a struggle and be able to name it, admit it, confess it, and be forgiven.
Create, maintain, and regularly engage a pictorial directory of prayer of church members. And pray for my church members!
Seek help from books, articles, sermons, podcasts related to the subject.
Cultivate relationships with other pastors in which cynicism can be discussed, confessed, commiserated, and prayed about.
“Smell like the sheep”—that is, spend time with my flock. Reactive opportunities will happen, sure, but they alone are insufficient. Be proactive and create opportunities. Call them, text them, send them Facebook messages, visit them.
Regulate social media intake. Creativity should be the price of consumption. Interact. Share “likes” supportively. Don’t just be nosey, but be kind and magnanimous with the way you scroll your feeds. Be on guard against negative material. Being “in the know” on Twitter isn’t really that important, especially if it contributes to cynicism that adversely affects your love for people.
Note: Thank you, pastor, for these words of wisdom. I know many pastors who feel similarly to you. I also know you have likely helped thousands of them with these words.