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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)