In fact, I think pastors experience a unique set of fears that people outside of church leadership may not completely understand. For example...
A fear of showing weakness to our congregation.
A fear of failure.
A fear of change.
A fear of being a disappointment to our church.
A fear of financial instability.
A fear of major donors in the church who have personal agendas.
And the list goes on...
If we let them, these fears will greatly limit our influence, our focus, and our progress on the mission God has given us. Not only that, but these fears can cause us to lead in some unhealthy ways.
This may sound obvious, but in order to address fear, you have to recognize that you’re afraid. It’s easy to push it away, to pretend everything is okay. But the longer we let these fears build up, the more deep-rooted the feelings become and the more unhealthy our response becomes.
So, here are four signs you’re leading your church from a place of fear:
On one end of the spectrum, fear causes us to overstep our responsibilities and take too much control. We put everything on our own shoulders so “nothing can go wrong.” We never give leadership away and, as a result, we quickly burnout.
On the other end of the spectrum, fear may cause us to under-step our responsibilities and do nothing. We avoid putting in the hard work or saying the hard things. We wait for the “right timing” and, as a result, we make little to no progress on the mission God has given us.
If we begin feeling insecure about every decision we make, that's another sign of fear. Fear causes us to begin to question our abilities and even our calling. But here’s the truth: if we can’t empower ourselves, we’ll never empower those we lead.
Here’s the big one: Fear causes us to be more concerned with how people will react than fulfilling the mission and vision of our church. We become inwardly-focused and outwardly ineffective. And our vision is forgotten as the loudest voice in the room becomes the guide for where we’re headed.
Fear is something every pastor faces at some point. It's a part of leading. Even more so, it's a part of being human. But we can't let ourselves stay in that place. 2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that "God gave usa spirit not of fear butof power and love and self-control."
Fear is not from God and it does not reflect the peace, confidence, and power we have in Christ. If we refuse to address it, fear will eat away at our effectiveness as a leader and drain the health of our church.
So, once we recognize the fear, we should take steps to effectively address it. That process looks different for everyone, but here's a few ideas on how to get started:
1) Name the fear.
This may take some time, but prayerfully and honestly ask yourself, "what is it that I'm afraid of?" Don't power through it. Don't ignore it. Dig deep and get real with where you're at.
2) Talk to your God.
Isaiah 41:10 says:
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."
God doesn't leave you on your own. He is with you. He is by your side. He strengthens and upholds you. Take some time to talk to Him about where you're at.
3) Fulfill your responsibilities.
As I mentioned above, fear often causes us to overstep or under-step our responsibilities. We can get stuck in a cycle of either controlling or avoiding. Acknowledge these unhealthy cycles by reminding yourself of your responsibilities as the leader of your church.
Where are you straying away from that list?
4) Talk to another pastor.
Finally, fight the urge to pastor alone. Talk to another pastor you trust. Be honest with where you're at, and ask them to help keep you accountable as you strive to lead your church in a healthy way.
Don't let fear control the way you pastor your church. Recognize it. Intentionally address it. And fight to continue growing as a leader and, in turn, as a church.
From Normal, IL, Austin gets that ministry can sometimes feel anything but “normal.” He grew up leading in the small church his dad pastored, and has since served on the launch teams for two church plants. He holds a Communications degree from Moody Bible Institute and is passionate about seeing churches grow healthier and make a difference in their communities.