Modern American culture is defined largely by individuals’ tastes and preferences. When our tastes and preferences are not met, in all areas of life, we expect to be able to make a complaint to customer service. It is our right “to speak to your manager.”
Those who lead in the church and parachurch are no strangers to the suggestions, complaints and critiques of those in their care. This is because the people that are to be cared for in ministry are cultural consumers.
Consumers certainly need to be cared for, but an identity of consumption is hollow and destined for emptiness apart from the saving and redeeming work of Jesus Christ. Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep. Today your sheep include modern American sheep. Unfortunately, these sheep have a lot to say about your latest sermon, fellowship event, child care initiative, counseling session, theologian you quoted, movie you referenced, etc. You, ministry leader, are the manager, and the customer would like to speak with you.
We introduced the idea of Emotionally Transmitted Disease recently in a blog post that you can find here.
EMOTIONALLY TRANSMITTED DISEASE IS BASED ON THE IDEA THAT PEOPLE - WHILE BEING EMPATHETIC CREATURES - ARE OPEN TO “INFECTION” BY THE VERY FEELINGS AND STATES OF THOSE WHO WE CARE FOR.
There are actual structures in the human brain called “mirror neurons” that act as antennae to sense how others are feeling. These antenna even register the intent behind others’ actions and emotions. As image-bearers of God, human beings are fearfully and wonderfully wired to feel what others are feeling.
Dr. Marco Iacobani, a neuroscientist at UCLA who studies mirror neurons, states that:
“Without [mirror neurons], we would likely be blind to the actions, intentions and emotions of other people. The way mirror neurons likely let us understand others is by providing some kind of inner imitation of the actions of other people, which in turn leads us to ‘simulate’ the intentions and emotions associated with those actions.”
One of the Emotionally Transmitted Diseases church and parachurch leaders encounter is Chronic Self-Criticism. Chronic Self-Criticism is defined as:
“CONSISTENT ANXIOUS THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS SURROUNDING PERFORMANCE. OUTWARD EXPRESSIONS INCLUDE: DEFENSIVENESS, ANGER, ISOLATION, DECREASED ASSERTIVENESS, LOSS OF MOTIVATION TO WORK, ENMITY TOWARDS THOSE WHO YOU ARE CALLED TO CARE FOR, EXPERIENCE OF IMAGINED ARGUMENTS, AND LOSS OF PLEASURE IN WORK THAT USED TO BE PLEASURABLE.”
The reason why Chronic Self-Criticism is considered an Emotionally Transmitted Disease is because the “pathogen” of criticism is potently delivered by the consistent critique of those around us. Like sitting with someone who has the flu and who keeps coughing on you, a constant stream of criticism will infect and sour the soul. Like an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune response attacks systems it is meant to protect, Chronic Self-Criticism automatically goes on the offensive against the actions of the performer.
Complainers and “loving” critics are likely to be in the makeup of any congregation. Ministry workers, then, must develop a coping plan. In our next volume of The Monday After Sunday, we will break down in depth a series of tried and true strategies that will help you heal from Chronic Self-Criticism and bolster your emotional immune system.
Self-criticism is an extremely painful affliction to have to suffer through. Second-guessing the very actions that are meant to care for the sheep that Jesus has called you to feed can lead a person to the edge. Take heart. You are not without hope, and you are not destined to continue like this forever. If you would like to talk to someone about this battle, reach out to us at Aspen Christian Counseling. We would find it an honor to battle with you.