I was having a peer-to-peer mentoring call last night with a couple of guys I have known for many years. One of the topics discussed was how we are all good at playing various “roles” that come our way in life. One guy was sharing that when he plays a “host” or “leader” role, he’s very extroverted, outgoing, friendly, connecting, etc. He remarked that if he attended the same function in as just a regular “attender” role, his introversion would have taken over and he would have been a lot more subdued.
As I mulled over that comment a little, I came to the realization that I struggle with the same issue when it comes to “role” but I have not been able to articulate it until now.
It’s a little ironic, because after being in the big corporate world for the first decade of my career, I learned that you have to play the professional role FIRST, before you actually get the official title. I did a decent job of this in my professional context and did my best to take on leadership roles and responsibilities without the title – because I figured out that the title generally comes soon after.
I remember once at the height of the tech boom, hiring a manager who would be working for me, but he would be making a good deal more money than me. I remember my director asking me if I was OK with that. Of course, I said, “No problem. We need him and he won’t come over for anything less.” While that was indeed true, I also knew that I had a much bigger payday coming my way later on to “make things right.” In a sense, I gave myself a future raise by hiring a guy at a salary greater than my own.
So, in my professional contexts, I have been very aggressive at playing particular leadership roles, before I had the title – primarily as a means to get the title later. In ministry / outreach / life-on-life contexts, that motivation always seemed disingenuous – so I dialed down that internal drive in those contexts.
Over time, I believe that has led me to a place where I subconsciously feel like I need a particular “role’” in order to have “influence” in someone’s life. Or, more clearly stated, that the lack of a particular role – or platform – in ministry / outreach / life-on-life contexts somehow limits my ability to have influence in those contexts.
I have spent too much time in my life bemoaning the fact that I do not have a title that lends itself well to making a difference in people’s lives. I have always been envious of people who have the title “pastor”, “counselor”, “social worker”, etc. because when you introduce yourself to someone, it’s can be a huge advantage to dropping barriers and opening doors to have significant conversations.
I feel much more capable of influencing people when I am playing the role of small group leader, youth group leader, or coach. People EXPECT to be influenced by those roles. They are open and receptive to it.
When you are sitting next to someone on a plane and they ask you what you do, and you say you are a pastor – and go on to share how you have published multiple books, lead a large congregation, etc., people naturally open up more and are more willing to have significant life-on-life conversations. When you introduce yourself as a computer programmer, people are much more likely to tune out – or ask you to fix their smart phone.
My “pastor-envy” and “psychotherapist-counselor-Brene Brown-envy” I think have some legitimate basis in fact. People are more willing to open up more quickly about issues that are really important in life when you carry those titles. People are expecting to be influenced. Not so much for operations experts with an engineering background.
I would much rather have life-on-life influence with people than be a professional, vocational success – but, I don’t want to quit my job and become a pastor just to make influencing people a little easier. That’s just not the right motivation.
The truth is, I do NOT need a particular title or “role” to have deep influence in someone’s life. It may be more difficult to have deeper, more meaningful conversations with people in casual contexts – like on the proverbial plane flight – but I need to be intentional and cognizant of playing the “pastoral” and “counseling” ROLE even though I do not have the TITLE.
That’s hard for me to do. It’s easy and safe for me to hide behind the lack of a platform that is seemingly easier to lend itself to influencing people. It’s a great excuse. I need to see every opportunity as a genuine opportunity to influence – love people well – and allow the Spirit to make the deeper connections.
I still might make up some business card some day that say, “Senior Pastor of Operations” or “Technical Project Counselor” or “Real-time Software Therapist” – but until then, I need to double-down on leveraging every opportunity I have to influence, and lose all of the excuses.