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Puffed Up, Toxic and Defensive: This Might Work for Fish But Will Kill Your Ministry Effectiveness

Puffer fish are cool.

When a predator approaches, a puffer fish can expand to several times their normal size. It’s a defense mechanism to keep him safe.

In 1 Corinthians 8:1, Paul warns a group of Christians that knowledge puffs up. Today, it’s not just knowledge that causes pastors to puff up.  

We puff out our chests about the size of our church, the number of baptisms, the health of our team, the model of ministry we’ve chosen, and the list goes on. Too many of us are like puffer fish, blowing up to keep ourselves safe, when other pastors come near.

We are puffer-fish pastors.

Social Media is the ultimate weapon for a puffer-fish pastor.  

We brag on Twitter and Facebook (all in the name of excitement, vision or Jesus, of course). We fish for the retweet or the compliment. And every time someone engages—we puff up a little more.

But our puffery isn’t limited to Twitter and Facebook. We’ve got gatherings that allow us to puff in person.  

It’s nearly impossible to meet a pastor without asking how many attend the church. We talk about the people we know, the books we’ve read and the places we’ve been, not to mutually edify each other, but to show how successful we are.

And let this metaphor marinate for a little bit: Puffer fish are extremely poisonous.  

Almost all puffer fish contain a chemical called tetrodotoxin. It makes them taste bad to other fish. To humans, tetrodotoxin is 1,200 times more poisonous than cyanide.

So, how do you depuff? Here are a few honest suggestions.

1.  Talk about your struggles, not just your successes.

It’s easy to talk about your successes, but people need to hear about your struggles. If I can be blunt: Pastors, we need you to tell us when you suck.

Just once, I’d love to see a pastor honestly tweet “Man … today’s service just wasn’t that good,” or “Just finished a deacon meeting and I’m not sure they are all Christians,” or “I’m supposed to preach this Sunday and I have nothing to say.”

These statements sound ridiculous because we’re not used to hearing that kind of honesty. We’re used to hearing about how incredible the service was or how great the meetings were or how excited you are to preach. But deep down, we all know you’re human.

John Maxwell says talking about your successes impresses people, but talking about your failures impacts people.

When you preach on parenting, talk about the times you lost it and yelled at your kid, not just the time when you took your daughter on a mission trip. When you talk about forgiveness, talk about the time you needed to ask for forgiveness (and not just in those sinful areas like pride that have a weird way of making you sound good).

Pastor, we need to know you aren’t a super-Christian, with secret access to God, a gold-plated will-power and a Martha Stewart home. Share your struggles, not just your successes.