Myrna Jean met me at the door when I walked in to my first day at the new church. “The good thing about living in a small town,” she said impishly, “is that someone always knows what you are up to. And if by chance you can’t remember, they’ll tell you!” Her laughing words were prophetic.
I didn’t always know what I was doing when it came to brokering delicate relationships and thorny conflicts. Sometimes I was direct when diplomacy would have been better. Other times I avoided conflict when dealing with it head on would have saved a lot of heartache.
I wasn’t always that good at reading the signs people telegraphed about how they wanted to be treated. In fact, I was a classic example of someone who lived by the Golden Rule instead of the Platinum Rule. You remember The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The Platinum Rule turns that sage advice on its head: Treat others the way they want to be treated. Get the difference? If so, you’re a quick study! It took me awhile to get it.
For instance, I crave both positive affirmation and adventure. So as the minister, I was lavish with praise and quick to strike out on theological and liturgical adventures. In other words, I was always encouraging others and changing the order of worship. It worked for me; I figured it worked for the rest of my congregation. That’s the Golden Rule approach.
Truthfully, it did work for Dave and Gary and Sam and Teresa. Joe, on the other hand, as well as Maylene and Kit, and a host of others, craved stability as much as I craved adventure. They liked the order of worship fine, thank you very much! They were also uncomfortable with lavish praise; quiet appreciation was more their style. I hit home runs with Dave, Gary, Sam and Teresa. More often than not, I struck out with Joe, Maylene and Kit. And Myrna Jean.
Who knew? Myrna Jean, as it turns out. And she told me so on more than one occasion. I took what she said to heart.
Over time, I learned how adapt my style so that I was still true to myself, (and Dave, Gary, Sam and Teresa) without alienating the rest of the congregation. That meant learning how to manage my communication and decision-making so that it engaged a broader range of people. In other words, I learned how to balance the Golden Rule AND the Platinum Rule.
Turns out that understanding others is as much a science as it as art. It requires compassion yes, but also emotional intelligence. With the right information, and practice, I’ve gotten much better at it. I’m pretty good now with the steady crowd, even though I still prefer bold change and the occasional shock to my system. Nor do I mind dishing it out!
Now that I’m no longer a congregational minister, I’m getting to discover what it feels to be on the receiving end of unadapted communication. It’s a lesson in humility and frustration. It’s like being terribly thirsty, turning on the tap for a glass of water, but being able able to fill my glass just a bit. I get enough to swish some water around in my mouth, but not enough to slake my thirst. It leaves me wanting more.
Here’s what I mean. One of the churches I worship in has a beautifully kind minister. She is calm, gentle, careful and steady; very pastoral. She’s giving what she’d like to receive. Personally, I love her. If I were in the hospital, I’d want her to come see me and pray with me. Her style works for lots of people, folks just like Myrna Jean, Joe, Maylene and Kit.
Worship-wise, though, I’m frustrated. A steady diet of calm gentleness, carefulness and steadiness in sermons, prayer, singing, and the order of worship leaves me feeling restless, bored. It’s not what I respond to best. I long for adventure in prayer, a demanding call to action in the sermon and songs that shake me up a bit. And a God who sees things the same way.
That’s something Myrna Jean, bless her heart, figured out about me a long time ago.
Once I got a handle on the differences between me and others, I developed a program to help other church leaders speed up their learning curve and become more effective in leading people who are very different. I invite you to check it out. The sanity you save may be your own! In the meantime, I just may find some new churches to visit on Sunday morning.