One of my least favorite aspects of being in ministry is the fact that people always seem to assume that I am judging them. As a result, they tend to go out of their way to try to explain their actions to me. The irony is that most of the time, I really don’t care enough to judge people. It’s isolating and it takes too much energy. Besides, the Bible says “Judge not lest ye be judged,” and I would rather not be judged unfairly.
While I expect people who only know me as a minister to become uncomfortable around me because of their own fear of judgment, I am often annoyed when my friends do it. Truth be told, that is one of the main reasons that I have so many acquaintances and so few close friends. I don’t like being around people who become defensive toward me for no reason. Nonetheless, it happens pretty often. A few nights ago, my frat brother and I were talking about the fact that my inner circle of friends seems to be shrinking. This is a big part of it.
It is still pretty difficult to accept that in some cases, my very presence is enough to make people rethink their actions. After all, I work very hard to remind people that being a minister does not override my humanity. I still have flaws. I still have struggles. I still have hopes and dreams that haven’t come true yet. Unfortunately, people still have a way of placing me on an unwanted pedestal.
At this point in my ministry, I am learning to understand that this issue of perceived judgment may in actuality be a form of respect. For many people of faith, ministers are God’s representatives on Earth. We are the ones who communicate God’s words to his people. Therefore, when people see ministers, they tend to feel convicted about the things going on in their lives that may not be pleasing in God’s sight because we are likely the ones who helped them to develop these notions of right and wrong.
Still, I have found two disadvantages of this particular form of respect. First, it makes it difficult for ministers to really get to know people. While this post has been primarily about the defensive reaction, some people go out of their way to pretend to become their version of the “ideal Christian” whenever they are in the presence of a minister. This inauthenticity is another reason that I have so few close friends and so many acquaintances. If I’m a real person, I need to make sure my friends are real as well.
Second, most theological views are divergent. As a result, people may be going out of their way to hide behavior from a minister even though that minister may not see such a behavior as a sin. I have gotten into many uncomfortable discussions and disagreements with people who felt the need to defend themselves against views that I didn’t have. These disagreements often later devolved into opportunities for said defensive people to try to belittle me for being a minister and not studying Scripture enough to subscribe to the particular interpretation that led to their fear of judgment. (The average Christian is not aware of the many nuances that exist within Biblical interpretation. Of course trying to educate some people about the moral ambiguities within the Bible would only get me labeled as a heretic or as one of those “uppity Christians who got so much education that they lost sight of God.” Either way, you can’t really win.)
For instance, I still have some friends (or maybe acquaintances) who feel awkward drinking around me. From my perspective, the sin is in drunkenness, but I guess they believe that my own personal aversion toward liquor is based on some deep theological argument. In actuality, I just don’t like the taste of liquor and most of the time I’m driving. However, as I learned in a random conversation in which some of my uncles tried to suggest that my buying my little cousin a drink for her 21st birthday was tantamount to introducing her to a gateway drug, drinking is a pretty divisive issue within the church.
In closing, I am still incredibly thankful for the family and friends who are able to deal with me without that fear of judgment. They help to keep me grounded because they do not allow my ministry to overshadow my humanity (though some of them still try to place me on a pedestal based on my academic accomplishments). They are essential to my ability to maintain a realistic image of myself and my role in this world. (In other words, they prevent my ego from getting too large while protecting me from people who are just sour for no reason.) Because God has placed them in my life, I am better able to survive the isolation that comes with being a young minister.