Puffer fish are pretty, cool and dangerous.
When a predator approaches, a puffer fish can expand to several times their normal size. It’s a defense mechanism to keep him safe.
In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul warns a group of Christians that knowledge puffs up. Today, it’s not just knowledge that cause pastors to puff up. We puff out our chests about the size of our church, the number of baptisms, the health of our team, the model of ministry we’ve chosen, and the list goes on. Too many of us are like puffer fish, blowing up to keep ourselves safe, when other pastors come near.
We are puffer fish pastors.
Social Media is the ultimate weapon for a puffer fish pastor. We brag on Twitter and Facebook (all in the name of excitement, vision or Jesus, of course). We fish for the retweet or the compliment. And every time someone engages – we puff up a little more.
But our puffery isn’t limited to Twitter and Facebook. We’ve got gatherings that allow us to puff in person. It’s nearly impossible to meet a pastor without asking how many attend the church. We talk about the people we know, the books we’ve read and the places we’ve been, not to mutually edify each other but to show how successful we are.
And let this metaphor marinate for a little bit: Pufferfish are extremely poisonous.
Almost all Pufferfish contain a chemical called tetrodotoxin. It makes them taste bad to other fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin in 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide.
So, how do you de-puff? Here are a few honest suggestions.
1. Talk about your struggles, not just your successes.
It’s easy to talk about your successes, but people need to hear about your struggles. If I can be blunt: Pastors, we need you to tell us when you suck.
Just once, I’d love to see a pastor honestly tweet “Man…today’s service just wasn’t that good” or “Just finished a deacons meeting and I’m not sure they are all Christians” or “I’m supposed to preach this Sunday and I have nothing to say.”
These statements sound ridiculous because we’re not used to hearing that kind of honesty. We’re used to hearing about how incredible the service was or how great the meetings were or how excited you are to preach. But deep down, we all know you’re human.
John Maxwell says talking about your successes impresses people but talking about your failures impacts people.
When you preach on parenting, talk about the times you lost it and yelled at you kid, not just the time when you took your daughter on a mission trip. When you talk about forgiveness, talk about the time you needed to ask for forgiveness (and not just in those sinful areas like pride that have a weird way of making you sound good).
Pastor, we need to know you aren’t a super-Christian, with secret access to God, a gold-plated will power, and a Martha Stewart home. Share your struggles, not just your successes.
2. Have at least one real friend you don’t need to impress.
Every pastor needs at least one real friend who doesn’t care about the size of his church.
The kind of guy who won’t puff back when you start talking shop. The kind of relationship where conversations aren’t tweeted or Instagrammed. A person who likes you for who you are and not what you do.
It’s possible this friendship might be with another pastor, but it’s more likely it will be with a regular person (as if all pastors are not regular people). There’s something refreshing about hanging out with a person who doesn’t know all the famous pastors you admire and who hasn’t heard of all the conferences you. They key here is not only not trying to impress this person…it’s they won’t let you.
Deep down, I think all pastors want a real friend. Not just a coach. Not just a conference. I’m talking about a real friend who isn’t impressed by who you are or what you do.
3. Control the flow of information.
I don’t know if it really helps, but every now and then, I reboot my computer. I feel like it speeds things up and closes out programs I’m not really using.
So when it comes to your spirit, maybe a reboot could help. Maybe you could clean the slate in some small ways and start over.
It could be unfollowing people on Twitter who bring out the worst in you. And if you’re like me, it will have little to do with what they are saying and how they are saying, but everything to do with what’s happening in your heart. The same thing goes for blogs, websites and email newsletters. If you’re a conference junkie, maybe you could pass on the next one, and spend the time thinking, dreaming, praying or planning. A half-dozen people will post notes online, anyway.
Just step back for a little while. Maybe a season of not knowing what everyone else is doing would be good for your soul.
Shutting off some of the streams of information helps me reboot my system. I think it allows me to “be still and know He is God.”
4. Talk about other people.
This post originally had three suggestions, but I sent it to my friend and co-worker Jake Dudley, and his feedback convinced me to add another point. Jake said, “More pastors need to talk about other people.”
I know that was certainly true of me when I was serving as a senior pastor. And it’s still true today. Pointing people to my content is fine, but using my platform to share other people’s stuff is just as helpful.
What if I intentionally worked harder to get the spotlight off me and shine it on others? What if instead of tweeting my own successes, I shared things like…
- “Could you check out my friend’s blog? He wrote exactly what I’ve been thinking.”
- “Hey Church – thank you for leading, serving and giving. You are an example to me.”
- “I want to pray for you. What do you need?”
Have you ever been guilty of being a puffer fish pastor? What are some ways we could overcome this together?