As our young church approached 1,000 people, people told me things would change. To break barriers, I’d have to grow as a leader.
So I put systems into place to help me fly at 30,000 feet, go to the next level, and break the next growth barrier.
First, all of my emails went to someone else, and an auto responder informed people that they weren’t important enough to have my full attention.
Thanks for emailing Pastor Michael. As you might imagine, he’s pretty busy and gets lots of email, so someone on our team will get back to you right away.
I never considered how the recipient of that email would feel.
Second, I stopped sitting on the front row during the worship service and hung out in a green room. I made sure I had people with me everywhere I went in case someone needed to get to me. I pretended like I was too worn out from talking on a stage to have real conversations with people who needed 10 minutes of my attention.
These two public acts were a sign of a private decision – to seclude myself from people in an attempt to protect myself and protect the office of the pastor.
As I look at leaders I really respect, I know they have systems to protect them and gatekeepers to insulate them, but these systems aren’t front and center. I almost get the idea that they are apologetic that it has to be this way. I’ve never heard Andy Stanley take ten minutes in a sermon to explain why he travels with an entourage or make a big deal of how he’s got to change to go to the next level.
Limiting access might be necessary. But isolation from people – the extreme form of limiting access – is deadly.
I’m not saying a leader doesn’t need to do some of these things. I’ve actually come to admire the leaders who have some of these systems in place, but don’t bring them front and center.
And my attitude was wrong.
I forgot that leadership wasn’t about a platform or a title – it was about people. And in my quest to lead higher, I insulated myself from people on purpose. The green room was a symbolic separation – a sign that I was on a different level than the people I was trying to lead.
I didn’t think about how other people would feel – it was all about me. Of course, it’s not necessary for me to personally respond to every email, but did I really need an auto-responder to tell people I considered my job and my time more important than theirs?
Shutting myself off from people was hindering my walk with God, not helping my leadership go to the next level.
Insulating myself from people in the name of leading was actually harmful to my soul and short circuiting the relationships I was hard wired to have. Friends who wanted to be there for me were met with a semi-hostility, a shadowy veil of disconnectedness.
My introverted personality became an excuse. To not talk to people. To not engage. To not be present. ”That’s just the way he is,” people would say to others, and those statements would come with sadness or regret in their voice. Not only did I made these excuses, other people were forced to make them for me.
I’d even say these things from the stage in order to justify or explain my shortcomings. ”I’m a pastor and I don’t like people,” I said in one sermons. Over and over again, I’d talk about my personality and how I’m an introvert and how people drain me. And while it’s true that I’m an introvert, my personality became my excuse.
Deep down, it was easier to say I was an introvert and insulate myself from real relationships than wrestle with the fact that I didn’t have any real friendships. It was easer for me to focus on leadership rather than friendship, because the former was easy and the later was hard.