Monday, November 30, 2015

The worst deception is self-deception

This past Thanksgiving week has been pretty exciting, especially around the dinner table. We enjoyed two different Thanksgiving meals as our son came in the week before Thanksgiving and we had another big meal the Sunday after Thanksgiving when our daughter and her family came. It's a good thing I had set the bathroom scales back ten pounds before the holiday or I would have really felt bad about the weight I gained!

OK, I didn't really set the scales back ten pounds, but it was tempting. Just like we're often tempted to try to deceive ourselves in other ways. Like when we excuse our sins by pointing to persons who commit worse sins (in our opinion) than we do thereby justifying our behavior as "not so bad." Or the times we convince ourselves that the problems in our church, or our family, or our business is the fault of everyone else.

I still remember the day I attended a John Maxwell conference when he was promoting his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition). At the time I was frustrated with the way things were in our church and in our family-owned business. Neither was growing the way I wanted, and I was blaming our congregation and our business employees for that lack of growth. Then Maxwell starting talked about the Law of the Lid and how no organization could grow beyond the lid of its leadership. Suddenly, his words hit me. I was the leader of both organizations. Our problems were my responsibility and were a reflection of my poor leadership. It wasn't the fault of other people; I was the lid keeping our organizations down.

As long as I was content to blame others for our problems we were stuck. That's what makes self-deception so harmful. When we deceive ourselves we are unable to see new ways of doing things. How often do you hear someone (perhaps yourself) say, "I've tried everything there is. Nothing going to change this." The reality is that you haven't tried everything there is to try, but as long as you keep thinking that you'll never identify a new approach that might succeed. Actually, there are probably dozens of things you haven't tried. Winston Churchill once said, "Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." How does one do that? By knowing there are many other things yet left to try that will result in eventual success.

Self-deception will also prevent a person from growing. I've met people, including some in ministry, who believed they already knew everything they needed to know. Now, most of them would not say that, but you can tell by their attitudes that this is their belief. You can also tell it by their lack of attendance at training events. If they do attend some conference or workshop they seldom stay for the entire event. They have too much to do that's more important. People who already know everything will not be committed to life-long learning.

That's a shame because much of the knowledge and skills we've learned in the past is no longer useful today. Medicine has changed so much that doctors must work very hard to stay current on new treatments, available medicines, and the latest technology if they want to serve the patients well. This is no less true for those of us in ministry. If we are not growing as ministers we will be unable to lead our churches through the challenges of the 21st century.

What this means is that if we deceive ourselves in thinking that the problems in our church are always the fault of others and that our seminary diploma means that we've learned everything there is to know about ministry we will quickly forfeit our right to serve in ministry. We will be unable to lead our churches forward, and our self-deception will make us unable to understand why.

As we approach 2016 it may be a good time to take a hard look at ourselves. In what areas did we grow in 2015? What knowledge or new skills do we need to focus on developing in 2016? How will we develop them? Are there ways our leadership is actually hindering our church's ministry and, if so, what can we do about that?

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