Okay, before we begin, I know you know all the Bible verses about things like anxiety and worry and fear. I know them too and I have most of them memorized and remind myself of them daily. But knowing them and feeling them are two very different things. So here I sit as a Christian pastor who is seminary trained, holiness sanctified, and a Bible loving preacher and I am telling you that memorizing Bible verse about anxiety doesn’t get rid of anxiety. It turns out quoting those verses to anxious people doesn’t help that much either but I’ll save that blog post for another day!
The whole anxiety thing is really bad when you are a pastor. I don’t know if you know this but the statistics are in and most churches are in a very precarious spot. They are one bad conflict or one untimely rich person’s death away from closing. Anxiety and fear seem to just come with that.
But acknowledging your fears for what they are does help. And as I have prayed through my fears and tried to cope with them I have realized there are three great fears I have, at least when it comes to my relationship with my congregation. I have listed them below in descending order of how much anxiety they cause me.
3. Everybody in my church will one day come to hate me. I live every day in fear that I am going to do something incredibly dumb that will cause everybody to turn on me. I have family members and friends who have lived through this scenario and I still cry for them. It is such a nightmare, especially for their families. It is so hard for a spouse to have to terminate close friendships because their loved one was fired. I worry greatly about what such a day would do to my wife and my children. With that said, I don’t lose much sleep over this possibility because if my whole church comes to hate me, the solution will be brilliantly simple. . .painful. . .but simple. I will just resign. Then the church will be able to go on and I will have given a great gift to another pastor who gets to be the white knight on a handsome stead who gallops into that situation to clean up the mess.
2. Everybody in my church will love me. I like being liked. I freely admit that. I probably like being liked more than most people. I have the personality of a suitor, desperate to woo people to my good graces. But I know all too well the liabilities of that personality. They are not that you will fail to woo everybody. The liabilities come when you succeed in wooing everybody. I live everyday in constant fear of having too much political power. I worry about what might happen on the day I blindly lead my blind fan club into a death trap. I have never been universally liked (thank God!) but I have come close and it was close enough to know what massive harm I really could do with a group of, well, groupies. It was scary enough that I actually did resign. The fallout of that resignation was really rough. I had abandoned my fan club and caused separation anxiety both in them and me. I never want to have to do that again. But I look at myself in the mirror quite often and remind myself that I will if I must.
But now for the true nightmare scenario, the one that makes me tremble and keeps me up at night. . .
1. Half of my church will hate me and the other half will adore me. I know of pastors who have been in these situations and their churches barely survived. The worst thing a pastor can become is a divisive figure, one who unwittingly pits one group against another just by being themselves. These situations are so tragic and so hard to fix that I hope I never find myself in one. I hope my leadership is never so horrible that a church splits because of me. As Jesus once said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3:25) And I could not stand to walk away from the shredded remains of a divided church. And yet it happens all the time. At those moments only a very, very wise and prayerful District Superintendant, or denominational leader, can bring about any good.
Well, what do you know, a blog post about fear had a sentiment about hope up there. And maybe that is how we conquer our fears, by recognizing the hope therein.
So during my anxious days and sleepless nights, I do hope that my leadership is just adequate enough to not shut down a church. To hope for any more than that would be pride. To hope for anything less would be disaster.