Pastors don’t like to admit it, but many harbor fears. This is particularly true of those who serve alone — solo pastors.
There are seven fears that serve to undermine good leadership. Which of the following do you identify in your own life?
Fear of Failure
Not wanting to fail is the most common type of fear among pastors. At least it’s the most talked about. Pastors are lightning rods for criticism. Everything — including failure — is placed at their feet. Such fear keeps pastors from attempting to lead a church forward. If they start something new — and it doesn’t work — they’ll be seen as failures. If the church doesn’t show some growth, they’ll be seen as failures among their peers.
Fear of Success
This fear is a difficult one to see and assess. Don’t all pastors desire success? Well, yes and no. Pastors are prone to dismiss the idea of success, instead inserting the word faithful, like in, “I’m called to be faithful not successful.” Yet, faithfulness implies success, i.e., success at being faithful. If God calls pastors to be faithful, and they are faithful, then aren’t they successful?
Fear of Discovery
Pastors fear people will find out they’re not as strong in prayer, evangelism or as deeply spiritual as they may appear. It’s the fear of being found out. This fear stops them from disciple-making because they fear getting close to others who will see them for what they really are. Likewise, it keeps them from sharing ministry with others.
Fear of not Measuring Up
Pastors are by nature susceptible to overcommitment. The churches they serve take advantage of them, sort of run them into the ground, due to this trait. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that pastors put unreasonable expectations upon themselves.
Fear of Comparison
Pastors admit to a great fear of being compared to the pastors of larger churches. Any mention of another pastor’s preaching ability, available programs in other churches or dynamic worship found in other churches brings feelings of disgust or envy.
Fear of Not Doing Enough
Ministry flows to the pastor like water out of a fire hydrant—fast and forceful. Pastors question whether they’ve ever done enough? Or if the constant stream of ministry demands will ever be done. When will enough be enough? Ministry can be a narcotic, an escape from a bad marriage or a painful past.
Fear of Loss
The losses are easy to enumerate, loss of friends, loss of financial supporters, loss of gifted workers, loss of hope, and what may be the most difficult, loss of a dream.
Have you felt some of these fears in your own life, work or ministry? Most pastors have. Here are a few ideas on how to redeem such fears.
It’s axiomatic. If you can’t lead yourself, you can’t lead others. Start with asking God to transform you. Read books, interview effective pastors, take classes on leadership, and lead your own church right now. Start where you are and notch up your skills a little every year. In five years, you’ll be five years older no matter what you do. By investing in yourself today, you’ll be better in five years.
Focus on Your Strengths
You may improve your weaknesses, but you’ll never be as good in your weakness as you are in your strengths. A pastor quipped, “You may teach a dog to ride a horse, but he’ll never win a rodeo.” Pastors must work from weakness, but it’s best to recognize your strengths, and stick with them as closely as reasonable.
Practice Biblical Humility
Humility is not self-doubt or false modesty. It’s being clear about your own strengths and weaknesses, while understanding that you need others to help you succeed. Do what you can to bless others. Don’t fear gifted people in your church, draw them into ministry with you. Don’t criticize pastors of larger churches, bless them remembering that you’ll both stand before God to account for your own labors.
Pay the Rent
If you’ve ever played organized sports, you know that there are basics that form the foundation of all good play. The same is true in pastoral ministry, the basics form a foundation for fruitful work. The basics of pastoral ministry remain the same: preach, teach, lead, care, oversee, love, etc. Doing the basics provides courage to innovate and move toward a new future.
Maximize Your Leadership
Churches need strong leadership. In fact, the decline of churches indicates they aren’t being led well. The problem is two-fold. On one side you have people who try to bridle the pastor to keep them under control. Driven by fear, some churches set up internal structures that stop the pastor from leading. On the other side, pastors fail to step forward to provide directive leadership. Driven by fear, they recoil from leading as they might. Sadly, both add to the creation of anemic leadership. The Apostle Paul combats leadership fears by challenging leaders to lead with “diligence” (Romans 12:8).
Get in the Back of the Boat.
Right before Jesus calmed the storm (Mark 4:35-41), he was in the back of the boat—sleeping. It’s a part of the story often missed, but Jesus wasn’t preaching, teaching, or healing. He was sleeping! He needed the break from ministering to and with people. Like him, pastors need a break from ministry activities. It’s necessary to take a break to remember why you’re in ministry, whom you serve, and that you are valuable for who we are, not just what we do.
Facing fears is a challenge for any pastor. It helps to have partners to walk with you in the process. Fruitful pastors have found assistance through continuing education, obtaining a coach, or learning from others who’ve traveled the road before them. For help, consider . . .
• Applying for one of the doctor of ministry cohorts at Talbot School of Theology. Click here for information.
• Ordering a copy of Dr. McIntosh’s newest book, The Solo Pastor. Click here to order a copy.
• Contacting Dr. McIntosh for consulting or coaching assistance. Click here for further information.
Adapted from Gary L. McIntosh’s new book, The Solo Pastor. Dr. McIntosh is distinguished affiliated professor of Christian Ministry & Leadership, Talbot School of Theology. An award winning author, he is currently the longest serving professor in the D.Min. program.
Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash