The Exaggerating Pastor

Some time ago, after meeting with some friends, Ellen and I were driving home and about thirty seconds into the drive she said, 

“You’re so funny.” “What?” “The older you get the more your stories change.” “No way.” “Yes way.” “How?” “Well first of all, you’ll take two different stories and turn them into one.” “No way. What else?” “Well, the older you get…” “Would you stop saying that?” “The older you get the more you embellish your stories.” “Embellish? What do you mean?” “You exaggerate.” “No way.” “Way.”

I know that when she proofreads this chapter she’s going to tell me that this story was exaggerated. 

I have a saying, “Pastors don’t lie, they just exaggerate.”

-If a pastor says they have a church of about one hundred it might mean eighty-five. -If the turn out for the all-church prayer meeting was “pretty good” that could mean the pastor, his wife, and the church prayer-warrior, sister Agnes. -A “Men’s Ministry” can mean two guys who meet for coffee at Denny’s every Thursday morning.  -The “church staff” can fit in the front seat of a car.

Usually we exaggerate up rather than down.

But pastors aren’t the only ones that exaggerate. We all have a tendency to exaggerate. 

***

So what’s the big deal? What’s so wrong about exaggerating?

First of all, exaggeration is a form of lying. It might be a ‘little lie’ but it’s still a lie. Exaggeration has just enough truth to it for us to feel comfortable doing it. But still…it’s a lie. 

Exaggerating affects your credibility. Have you ever known someone who is always exaggerating? Doesn’t knowing this make it hard for you to take them seriously? It’s easy to dismiss someone who has a reputation for exaggeration. If you don’t want to be dismissed then be careful about exaggerating. 

Hyperbole is a figure of speech used by writers but exaggeration (the Greek word ‘hyperbole’ means ‘exaggeration’) is purposefully used to drive home a point. The writer doesn’t intend to be taken literally. 

If I say, “She’s as skinny as a toothpick.”, you know I’m using hyperbole, unless I’m describing Twiggy. If you remember Twiggy you’re as old as the hills. There, I did it twice. 

Disgruntled church-goers often use hyperbole’s close cousin ‘Exaggeration’ to drive home their point. They may or may not realize they are exaggerating but you can bet your left arm (I did it again) they want whoever is listening to them to take them seriously. When I was pastoring it used to drive me crazy when people exaggerated.

-“Pastor, a lot of people in the church feel this way.”, which usually means the person talking to you, their spouse, and maybe one other person. -“Pastor, our church is filled with cliques.” “Really? Filled? Wall to wall cliques? Packed like sardines filled? I agree, something smells and it’s not sardines.” I never said that, but I wanted to.  -“Why is everybody leaving?” “Everybody? I’m not leaving. I suspect you’re gonna leave, but everybody else? I don’t think so.”  I never said that, but I wanted to. 

If it drives me crazy when people exaggerate then it probably drives people crazy when I exaggerate, unless they never find out. 

***

I asked Ellen why she thinks people exaggerate. We concluded it can be traced back to pride, insecurity, and the need for acceptance. It’s hard to separate these three. 

My pride makes me want to appear better than I really am therefore I’ll exaggerate. If I feel insecure around someone I will exaggerate in order to bring myself up to their level. If exaggeration will win me the acceptance of others then so be it. 

Well I’ve said what I wanted to say. This is a good place to end. Besides, I’ve got about a hundred calls to make today. 

Questions for reflection: 1. Why do I exaggerate? 2. Under what circumstances do I tend to exaggerate? 3. What might I look out for that would warn me in advance that I’m about to exaggerate? 4. Who do I know that has a tendency to exaggerate and why is it helpful to know this?

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