Usually I have the self-awareness after a funeral to disappear for a few hours. I am vulnerable and tired and rarely my best self. I know that many people want the pastor to hang-out and visit after the liturgy - sometimes go back to the house and talk more deeply, too - but I can't do that. I am totally played after a funeral. Spent. Toast. And no good for anyone - myself included. I know this about my soul. I've learned to practice self-care over the years and usually slip into the darkness after such an event.
But for some reason I didn't do what I know to be best yesterday. After greeting folk on their way to coffee and refreshments, I lingered for a time in the Sanctuary. That's where I got ambushed - and while I could feel it starting to happen as I stood there listening, I was just too tired to put up a fight. So I got knocked around a bit verbally all with a smile and a sweet voice. Complaints, criticisms, triangulated snippets of gossip and other trash talk all shared in the dulcet tones of "I just want to be helpful." All offered like a knife between the eyes.
That's how soul vampires work, you know? They have a unique and well honed ability to sniff out your most vulnerable moment and then pounce when you are most defenseless. Those who aren't pastors - or church professionals - will think I am being paranoid here and I don't deny it; but for those who haven't worked in the institutional church, just ask around a bit - take a walk in your pastor's shoes, too - and you'll discover I am being overly gentle in my soul vampire description. Because, you see, there is almost nothing compassionate about a soul vampire's content or timing. Doing my own inner work, I can learn about my shadow from these vultures, but it requires an enormous amount of simultaneous translation. Left alone, their words and actions are poisonous.
Think about it: would you dare pick the first five minutes after a profound funeral to dump your accumulated criticisms on anyone? Of course not. Such an act is not only totally insensitive and inappropriate, it is cruel. Even mean-spirited. And that is the point: the style, content and timing of a soul vampire is designed to both personally hurt and then bleed a leader's insecurities. M. Craig Barnes notes that this is why leaders become lonely - you can't really lead people into new ways of living through consensus and focus groups - you often have to charge forward on your own. This leaves former power brokers in the dust, so leaders have to plan to manage their reactions. And leaders must also make certain they minimize the places where they might be ambushed.
In other words, there are very few people who know the challenges of the office and are prepared and able to stand with you in solidarity. That goes with the territory. Barnes is insightful when he writes:
Pastors often talk about their loneliness, even though in their work they’re surrounded by many people. What pastors mean by loneliness is not what most people think of it as. And it’s not unique to their calling. According to more than one editorialist, President Obama has given up on building a grand American consensus and is now focused on what he always wanted to do as a leader. His old slogan “Yes we can” has become “I’ll figure out a way.”