Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"The Power of Perception and Denial Part II"

In response to the question, “What does it mean to be true to one’s self?” An anonymous writer shared this comment,

“People tend to live life like theater, acting with masks that read other than what they truly are.”

Regarding denial, Shakespeare’s words expressed in Hamlet may have said it best, "This above all: to thine own self be true,: and it must follow, as the night the day,: Thou canst not then be false to any man. ...”

One would think that we, bearers of the “TRUTH,” – the Word of the Holy God –above all others would walk, live and breathe truth as a way of being. However, we (clergywomen), because of human frailty also fall prey to the power of perception and denial. When we wear masks to hide the truth of our inward and outward struggles, we not only deceive others, but ultimately, we deceive ourselves.

The fear of what others may think, the concern over how we will appear, the dread of being pushed out or locked out of certain places, the “superwoman” syndrome all play a part in our tendency to deny our struggle.

In today’s blog, I’d like us to consider how over 100 female clergy surveyed responded to a couple of questions/statements regarding the pressures of ministry in the local church.

The questions(statements) were posed to senior female pastors. The answer selections ranged from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree” (in between were “Moderately Agree/Disagree,” “Agree/Disagree”)

Here are the statements:

“I find myself wearing many hats to handle the day to day operation of the church”

An overwhelming 83% fell within the “Agree” range (ranging from Strongly Agree to Agree).

“Wearing many hats” may mean different things to different people. However, I believe we can all agree that the word picture describes a juggling act of sorts! Women by nature tend to be multi-taskers. In previous blogs, we have already established that women tend to pastor smaller, struggling, financially unstable congregations.

Resultantly, many female clergy find themselves with minimal resources available to do the work. Many use their own money to fund activities, to pay church bills and to support mission efforts. Many are without associate staff or laypersons that are willing to help conduct necessary matters of church operation. Therefore, the pastor may find herself, in addition to the necessary roles of preacher and pastoral caregiver, conducting most meetings, answering phones, developing and printing bulletins, visiting the sick, “raising the dead…” You get the picture!

Many of the clergywomen surveyed, in addition to being pastors are daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, friends, involved in community activities, associations, etc. We are parceled out into many and varied areas of service.

Having said the aforementioned, what I found to be both interesting and simultaneously disconcerting was the majority response to the next statement…

“I frequently feel frustrated because of the lack of resources and finances to carry on the ministry of the church.”

Over half of the clergywomen surveyed (56%) disagreed with the statement. Now, one may argue that the statement was misunderstood or interpreted differently. However, this is what I observe about us (female clergy/pastors)…

We would rather “wear the mask” that all is well, that we are well, that nothing is falling through the cracks (including our physical, mental and spiritual health) and that we can keep the ball rolling at any expense.

To continue to wear the mask, to continue to pretend that we are unaffected by the intense pressures of minimal resources, to continue to behave as if “it’s all good” is not only denial, but deadly!

Why do we do wear the mask? We are afraid of other’s perceptions. Why do we wear the mask? We don’t want to appear weak and inadequate. Why do we wear the mask? We don’t want someone to say, “This is a man’s job and a woman can’t handle it.” Why do we wear the mask? We want to prove that we are good enough, strong enough, and smart enough to get the job done.

Ultimately, we wear the mask because we don’t trust God. We are afraid to be vulnerable. We have bought into the lie that the false perceptions and negative opinions of others somehow control our destiny. We have given up hope that God has folks who will help us.

The God who called us said, it is not good that we should be alone (Genesis 2:18a). While this scripture is in the context of the creation of a helpmate for Adam, it also speaks to the need for human beings to live in community. The lyrics to a popular song, “Long as I got King Jesus I don’t need nobody else,” is enjoyable music, but bad theology! When we continue to wear masks and live in denial concerning our struggles, our frustrations, our pain, our need for help, we miss opportunities for God to bring support, assistance and healing into our lives.

Truth be told, when we try to do everything by ourselves we set a bad example before the people of God. We model unhealthy behavior. We rob them of the opportunity to render their reasonable service in the church. God has a support system for you in human form. Won’t you remove the mask of denial, be honest with yourself first and then others? In faith, ask the Lord to reveal the system of support He has available to you today.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Whether you agree or disagree, write a comment, share a word of wisdom, or give a testimony concerning your experience with the power of perception and denial. Send me an email at

In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris


  1. Loved today's piece...while we do alot of work at the church because we do not want to appear weak or unable to do it,thus giving the oflk a reqson to "go find a male clergy," I find myself, after 38 years in ministry, still doing it because I am called!! HOWEVER, I have gotten better as I matured...some things lay folk should do that I did, I no longer do, with an explanation why. Lay people still do not do it, so it does not get done and no one seems to be upset! We learned ANOTHER way to live without and still be the body of Christ. Do what feels right as a CALLED woman of God to make your ministry go well, and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit. Can't wait til next week's writings!

  2. Dear Chris,
    I am not a techy...don't blog...tried yesterday to use Twitter to connect with you, tried all kinds of things, but go no where. Finally decided to use your email.

    I understand very well about masks....I call it my "pastor's face" put it on when you NEED to do HIS work and you can't.....but with His help you can. Maybe it is a funeral of a member who had grown close and you need to be there for the family, so you set aside your own grief to do the service. You may weep with them in private, but the public only sees the strong pastor..

    And I understand doing it all. I serve 2 very small congregations. The help i get from the regulars is minimal...I can't even get the moderator to schedule meetings in a timely manner. I have some support, but I do the bulletins, church Sunday prep, we do have a janitor, but she often is busy and things get missed, and she does no decorating. I choose the hymns to go with my service and call the pianist and one elderly lady who uses large print she has copied through the years. I sweep the walk, put up the hymn numbers, you name it I do it.
    And I am out in the community in the nursing homes, hospital, and food pantry, serving wherever God places me. I tell people I am blessed to have congregations who support me so I can do the work God has for me.
    My husband was ill and died in 2009. I carried on doing hospital calls, funerals, and the like through it all. I only missed 2 important events, a dedication of a baby and a funeral. Both I made arrangements to be handled, from the hospital at my husband's bedside.
    Everyone thought I was doing great, but when I came home and the mask came off all I could do was collapse and weep.....most never knew and most never asked. A few did....a few understood, but those who understood best were not from the congregation, but women to who I minister in other places.

    I am called to do this work. I am not complaining. I thank you for the blog which helped me think about the mask I am wearing and how I can become more real with myself, more open to God who already knows all, and how open I should or should not be.....Is wearing a mask, keeping things private a good thing sometimes? How open should we be with our congregations? What is the line between letting them know our needs as pastors and keeping things personal? For me the 2 blend so closely sometimes it is hard to separate them. I can't just take my "pastor's hat" off and become someone else....right now I am not even sure who that someone else is......a part of the losses of the last several years.....

    Faith in God...that is what keeps me moving forward. Trusting that as I surrender to His will, the Spirit will guide me. As I spend time with Him, He will show me the way. As I am willing, He will use me. Isn't that what it is all about?

    Thanks. I hope you have time to write back. God Bless. Pastor Mary

  3. Some female clergy issues are the same issues faced by any professional woman. Our mask isn't always one of hiding, but one of our own delusion. Biological necessity pits our maternal calling and our professional calling in opposition and we would not even pursue both (let alone successfully) if we hadn't convinced ourselves that, through Christ, we can, indeed, "feed 5000" with "five loaves and two fish."