I recently received the ultimate backhanded compliment. It came from a former colleague from my first church ministry job. Back then I was a 25-year-old seminary graduate plotting revival everywhere I went. Now I am a 34-year-old pastor asking her for a recommendation for a hospice chaplaincy. She expressed surprise at my interest in the job. I explained that the chaplaincy would allow me to grow as a listener and to be with people in painful but potentially sacred moments.

"You certainly are different from what I remember" she said.

It was meant kindly. I felt like she had just handed me a trophy for "Most Improved Pastor" engraved with these words: You're not the hard-hearted, un-teachable egomaniac you used to be. You should never be a senior pastor, but we can probably trust you not to bring about the demise of Christianity in this country.

If there were an awards banquet for the Most Improved Pastor trophy, I would tell the crowd what I told my former ...

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