Could it be a slip of the tongue or a window into the way they view themselves? Could it be a bad read on the audience or an inflated sense of a person’s importance? Could it be a preoccupation with the things that overwhelm them at the time or simply a preoccupation with one’s self? You never can be sure but after numerous interactions you can get a pretty good idea of the importance someone places on themselves by how often they talk about themselves, their accomplishments, who they know, what they know and how wrong others are in comparison to them.
How often do you use me, myself and I statements?
The words may differ slightly as they are worked into a sentence but the direction of conversation does not deviate. The focus is limited to what I do, why I am right, what I have done and why others are not as good as I am. “It was me, by myself, I did it.” Of course this happens only when I have great success.
When there is a failure use we and they statements to soften the blow.
If you find you can no longer make yourself look good, by all means throw a few people under the bus, after all it can be lonely under the bus all by yourself! “It was a group effort, we tried and we failed,” or even better, “it was their fault, they tried but they failed.” You can either share the blame so that it doesn’t rest solely on you or better still, assign the blame to others as if you knew the right way to do it but they didn’t listen.
Why did I bring this up?
I was talking to a friend about our experiences at a certain church and about the pastor’s choices when he communicated. My friend pointed out that the pastor used me, myself and I all the time until something went wrong and then it became we or them. “My elders, my church, my idea, my leadership, my position and many more my statements dominated what he said from the platform and in private. In addition to this, it was not uncommon for him to say I met this person, I studied under that person, I am friends with this person, I taught that person so that a line between him and those who had success, position and power could be drawn.
Recently I have been reflecting on the things pastors and leaders say in defence of themselves, the things I have said, the things I now try to correct as I work with churches in transition. (see: The Shepherd Focuses on the Sheep – Consumer Christianity and the Church Hopper – Church Worship Fails – On Whose Authority? Duty or Desire Going Nowhere)
The need to be right, the need to receive praise, the need to be connected to worldly and religious success and the need to distance yourself from failure has dominated the ministries of many. This pastor we were talking about is one of many I have encountered who build on their own accomplishments, brag about their many friends and acquaintances all while looking for ways to distance themselves from anyone or any group that has seen limited success.
Please don’t misunderstand.
There are times when we talk about ourselves a little too much. It isn’t a reflection of how we see ourselves but rather just a misstep in the way we communicate. Other times we share about ourselves as a way to come alongside those we are talking to. Our words are sympathetic. We share stories of similar life experiences and open up about the fact that we struggle too. There are also times when we just need to vent. In a safe setting, a small group or close friend interaction, we can let it all out.
We need to use our internal filter grounded in being humble followers of Christ not our self-importance, to choose the proper time to use “me-centred” communication. There is a right time and place.
Note: Pastors we have a platform and a position so we need to be careful.
Using our captive audience to defend our actions, to brag about our successes, to list the people we know, to lay blame on others, to get the week’s events off our chest or to share things that we would not allow others to share does not point to anyone but us. We were not called for our own glory or to give us a place to unload our pain. Just like those in the congregation it was for me that Jesus died because by myself, I cannot be saved.
Note: Christ followers we have a responsibility so we need to be careful.
We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves, to be salt and light to the world, to value others more than ourselves*. With this in mind how can we be more interested in talking about ourselves than pointing others to the cross? Just like those outside the church it was for me that Jesus died because by myself, I cannot be saved.
*Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)