Ten Fears of Church Leaders

I have not hidden my love for pastors and other church leaders. And I have said and written on many occasions that these church leaders often have a very difficult work. In fact, I recently told a large gathering of seminary students to consider very seriously their calling. No one should enter the ministry unless the calling is clear and secure.

As I converse and hear from church leaders across the country and beyond, I often hear of their challenges and fears. We all know that God has commanded us not to fear but, in our humanity and sinfulness, we do lapse into fear. I certainly did as a pastor, and I still succumb to that sin today.

So what are the most common fears of church leaders today? Here are ten I hear often, listed in my perceived order of frequency.

  1. Fear of critics. Leading a church means the leader will have critics. Sometimes the criticisms become so frequent that it seems easier not to lead. For pastors and other church leaders, the steady inflow of negative comments becomes emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining.
  2. Fear of failure. This fear is almost universal, and church leaders are not exempt from it. Leadership requires faith-based steps, what the world calls risk. Some church leaders do not lead forward because they fear they will not succeed.
  3. Fear of power brokers. These church members often are the informal but true decision makers of the church. Some of them have great influence. Some of them are big financial givers to the church. Some of them are both.
  4. Fear of failing to please. All of us want to be loved, and church leaders are no different. Sometimes this desire develops into a people-pleasing attitude. When it does, the leader is constantly confronted with the reality that any decision or action is likely to displease someone.
  5. Fear of change. Most of us have our own comfort zones. Some pastors and church staff are willing to move and lead out of their comfort zones. But some are not.
  6. Fear of nitpickers. There is obvious overlap in this fear and the fear of critics. The nitpickers often don’t view themselves as critics; they offer suggestions about points of minutia. For example, this group includes those who remind the pastor to make announcements of minor matters five minutes before a worship service begins.
  7. Fear of finances. This fear takes at least two different forms. The first is a general fear of anything financial because the church leader was not trained in this area. The second is a fear to take prudent steps of financial faith lest the finances of the church are harmed.
  8. Fear of others seeing weaknesses. Pastors, in particular, are often expected to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. But the reality is that no leader or no pastor is good at everything. Some leaders are fearful that those areas will be exposed to church members.
  9. Fear of offending others. Those who are in vocational ministry often must take stands and speak truth that goes against the grain of culture, and even can offend church members. While all church leaders should speak truth with an irenic spirit, many do not do so because they don’t desire to hurt the feelings of others.
  10. Fear of success. A number of pastors have shared with me their fear of doing well in some area of ministry, but then not having the ability to build on their successes. One pastor told me in a moment of vulnerability that he tries to keep his church small, because he fears he doesn’t have the skillset to lead a larger church.

So what is the purpose of this article? Am I trying to shame pastors and other church leaders for their lack of faith and their succumbing to fear? Not really. More than anything else, I am offering it as a reminder and a challenge. We all are prone to different fears and insecurities at times. And, yes, our fear of these types of matters does reflect a lack of faith in God.

Perhaps more than anything else, I am encouraging church leaders to lean more upon the God who called us, the One who promised He would always be with us.

Let me know what you would add to my thoughts.

In the meantime, here are a few verses from Psalms as good reminders, all verses are from the HCSB:

“The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom should I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)

“I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all fears.” (Psalm 34:4).

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.” (Psalm 56:3)

“In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust, I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:4)

“He will not fear bad news; his heart is confident, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7)


  1. Mark says

    I want to add “fear of losing power”. Too many leaders have resorted to dirty politics when it appeared that they were going to lose power or have it diluted.

  2. Mark Dance says

    I can identify most with #8 “Fear of others seeing weaknesses.” Fear seems to grow in secret. Exposure threatens my superhero status to my church members and pastor peers. Yet, in reality, our people want a leader who is real and approachable. They want a pastor who sees Jesus as the church’s hero, not him.

    “The fear of man is a snare/trap, but he one who trusts in the Lord is protected” (Prov 29:25).

  3. says

    Although it is related to some other fears, I would add two fears. First of all, there is the fear of losing your job especially in churches in which the pastor can be removed by the congregation. I have heard it said that in Baptist churches that they are one of the few places where the employer can be fired by the employees!

    A second fear is the fear of losing people in the event of a crisis within the church or in the community where threats of a factory shutdown loom or key people may be relocated due to downsizing or restructuring.

  4. says

    I recall some years ago … when I was in an RPCES church … that I became pretty good friends with the pastor. Eventually, we started having lunch every month or two and he got comfortable enough to tell he his fear, worries, problems, etc. I’d then remind him of all the things he’d been preaching, and he’d always thank me for that. He introduced me to a new member once as the guy that “had lunch with him now and then, and beat him up with (his own) teaching. And that he really appreciated it.

    I’ve had that relationship a couple of times in 50+ years activity in churches, and don’t know why it’s not more common. I think that’s just one of those things God has to arrange.

    I’m glad that pastors have a proxy voice like you. Keep speaking.

  5. Wes Brockway says

    All good points. It is a shame that we who preach having faith in a sovereign God have so much fear but I say that not in condemnation but in experience.

    I hear a lot about the benefit of being transparent but I have had my transparency used against me. It seems there are certain weaknesses allowed while others are not.

    I’m not sure how to classify this fear or realization but too often have I gone out on a limb in a direction I believed the church needed to go only to find that those who seemed supportive are the ones sawing the limb behind me.

    Fear of being quoted/misquoted. Too often I’ve had members use what I’ve said out of context, or it was obvious they misunderstood what I was saying and didn’t get the point that I’ve become much more closed lipped about my thoughts. I’d rather be able to speak freely and have open debate leading perhaps to correction, hopefully to better understanding, but usually what I’ve offered just comes back to bite me later.

    Unfortunately my ministering experience has caused me to be a less open person. Sadly this is even more true with other ministers. I’ve found fellow ministers to be quite unsupportive. It seems the fear so many of us carry causes us to be less emphatic with our fellow ministers.

    Praise God we can know He has our back and if we are honest regarding what we see in scripture we will realize that most if not all of the people God laid a special hand on for ministry were ridiculed, derided, scorned, beaten, and sometimes killed. Ministry isn’t for wimps!

  6. says

    #6 used to happen all the time, and although it seems small, it was quite exhausting. One Sunday I changed the order of service and removed all the fluff. The first fluff piece to go was announcements. We really didn’t need someone reading the information that is already on our facebook page, our bulletin and other areas prior to our worship time anyway. A few of the old guard were upset, but several others thanked me. Although the #6 things still happen, they know my answer beforehand. Thanks again for the good read.

  7. Anthony Allen says

    Each one of those fears I feared at one time or another once I rebuked those fears now I face with another fear, as a pastor fear of losing my relationship with my wife or family. I don’t know if y’all noticed it or not the Satan is focusing on the marriage and the family.

  8. says

    It seems these are not really Pastors at all. Fear, unless it is fear of the Lord will keep us from success. Even Job had fear when he said the thing that I feared the most has come upon me. Fear insults the God who promised that He would never leave us or forsake us. Trials will come. Fear not.

  9. says

    Seems to me like most of the “fears” on the list are “fear of man” issues. For my part, most can be combated by asking myself, “… am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” (Gal 1:10, NASU). The Lord is my Great Friend and I would rather offend people upset than offend my Friend.

    Therefore I strive to do that which pleases Him first and foremost and trust Him to work things out. This doesn’t mean I don’t love our folks and strive to be diplomatic. But I don’t make a lot of excuses. The Lord is my excuse and my vindicator.

    An example: Yesterday morning before church I was thinking about a couple who always sit in a corner of a back pew and never participate in any church activities. We had a big day planned what with Communion followed by our monthly Fellowship Feast. I was determined to once more invite them to stay and share the meal with us, something they had never done before. Let’s call the man “Ted” and the woman “Freda.”

    Ted was absent from church so I approached Freda and asked about Ted. The answer I got was, “He feels the services go too long, and if his mind isn’t in it, he might as well not come. He’s used to a one hour Sunday service.” I answered, “His choice. On Sundays we just ‘do church’ and don’t pay much attention to the clock.” We are a family, and what with worship, greeting, prayer, and preaching our services normally go on more than two hours. Add a meal or birthday party after and you’re talking three hours or more.

    It’s been said that people vote with their feet. Call me a curmudgeon if you will, but some people’s feet aren’t worth having in you church.

  10. says

    #7 is my giant! As a 3 year old church plant, we are considering moving from a motel to new office space type building with a much larger financial investment. We know this is the year and that the Lord is orchestrating it, but moving from a nominal expense to a few $K per month with a lease is certainly stepping out into the Jordan! Francis Chan said in his book “Crazy Love” ..”But God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” I want to be unafraid and trust God…just not stupid! :-)

  11. says

    These are certainly fears that can grip a pastor or church leader, but should we give in to any of them? John teaches 18 I 1 John. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. For us to be effective for our King then we must undergo a paradigm shift. We must put aside these concerns and truly focus on what it is that God called us into ministry for Him to accomplish through us. These fears grip us and make us impudent and ineffective for service.

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