“Perception is Everything”

When chatting with a friend about this post, she pushed back, saying, “What about the idea that perception is everything in ministry?” I didn’t really have an answer at the time, but wanted to address her challenge because it is a valid one (and I know she subscribes to my blog!).

Many pastors do things to avoid the appearance of evil. That is, they avoid things that have the potential for making it look like they are engaging in sin. For instance:

  • Not driving alone with people of the opposite gender
  • Counseling the opposite gender with the door open, in a room with a window, and/or in a public place
  •  Avoiding places that could be seen as inappropriate, such as a bar.

Is it image management to make such choices?

In my previous post, I defined image management as “the strong temptation to manage the way others perceive me.” It’s distorting reality so that I look better than I really am.

In many ways, making any of the above choices does not necessarily mean I want to look better than I am. In fact, it could be an acknowledgement of how bad I really am. When I make choices to protect myself (and openly admit that I am trying to protect myself), I’m acknowledging I have weaknesses and am likely to do the wrong thing given the opportunity. That is the opposite of image management.

When I do those things because that’s what a pastor does, then I am maintaining a certain image.

I think there is wisdom in making intentional choices to avoid giving others the wrong idea about you. In some roles, it is absolutely necessary to have strong, wide boundaries to protect yourself and your flock (such as counseling codependent people).

I also think that leaders have the responsibility to make choices that help the congregation to make wise choices. We have freedom in Christ, but we can’t use that freedom in a way that makes us or those around us stumble into sin. [See Matthew 18:6-7Romans 14:19-20]

I also have to push back on the idea that image is everything. Who we are is everything. Reality is everything. No matter how polished we present ourselves to be, who we are finds its way to the surface. I can name many pastors who lost everything because they actually did fall into a secret lifestyle of sin [many while maintaining all outward appearances], but not a single one that lost his/her ministry because of a false accusation.

Perception is everything only in as much as it lines up with the reality of who we are. If it doesn’t, it’s a smokescreen designed to keep people from seeing our hearts.

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