He got used to the bad habits of unfaith. “They’re just my way of unwinding,” he’d tell himself. He reasoned that they didn’t get in the way of what he had been called to do. He kept telling himself that he was working hard and doing well; but he wasn’t doing well. He had more sleepless nights than he was ready to admit. He had gained thirty pounds over the last several years. He numbed his brain every night with hours upon hours of vacuous TV or internet pop culture. He had incurred more debt than ever before in his life. His wife would have said that he had become increasingly irritable and distant. At home he often appeared to be a joyless, over-burdened man. His kids would say that even when he was present he was often distant. He dreaded meetings and found himself easily distracted when he needed to focus on preparing his next sermon. The door to his office was shut more than it had been before and he increasingly delegated more of his duties to his Executive Pastor.
Yet no one in the congregation had a clue. He did all his public duties and from the perspective of the person in the pew, he seemed to do them well. He lead the meetings that he was appointed to lead and did his best to do the follow up work that landed on his desk. The problem was that he was not doing well. There was a growing disparity between the public persona and the private man. There was a growing disconnect between the faith statements he made from up front and the thinking that ruled his heart. He carried with him the dirty secret that many pastors carry; the one that is so hard for a “man of faith” to admit. The dirty secret was that much of what he did was not done out of faith, but out of fear.
Perhaps this is an infrequently shared secret of pastoral ministry; that is, how much of it is driven not by faith in the truths of the Gospel and in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but driven by fear. It is very tempting for the pastor to load the welfare of the church on his shoulders and when he does, he ends up being burdened and motivated by an endless and every-changing catalog of “what ifs.” This never leads to a restful and joyful life of ministry, but rather to a ministry debilitated by unrealistic and unmet goals, a personal sense of failure and dread.
Pastor, perhaps you’re thinking, “I don’t think fear is a significant issue for me.” Well, I would ask you to take time to look at yourself in light of the following questions. How many pastors are living in a constant state of spiritual unrest? How many of us are haunted by personal insecurity? How many of us secretly wonder where God is and what in the world is he doing? How many of us are living self-protectively, saying, “I was taken once, it won’t happen to me again?” How many of us are afraid to admit failure? How many of us share with no one the struggles of faith that haunt us? How many of us fail to be candid and decisive because we are afraid of what will happen if we do? How many of us have found ways of escape, ways of coping that do not include preaching the gospel to ourselves?
How many of us wish for easier places of ministry? How many of us carry our burdens home, rendering our parenting less than gracious and productive? How many of us have become quite skilled at hiding, so that not even the people closest to us have any sense of what is going on at the level of our hearts? How many of us have moments of compromise fueled by fear of man? How many of have given particular people too much power of influence over us? How many of us have let fear cause us to be too opinionated, too domineering, and too controlling? How many of us let fear keep us silent when we ought to speak, or drive us to speak when we ought to be silent? How many of us regularly work to recast as acts of faith things that we have actually done out of fear? How many of us would have to confess that there are moments when we are more ruled by a worldly fear than by fear of God? How many of us have moments when we care more about being accepted or our leadership being validated than we do about being biblical? How many of us are weakened or paralyzed by fear of rejection? How many of us are too fearful to entrust vital pieces of the ministry of our churches to others? How many of us are afraid to examine how much fear engages and motivates us? How many of us?
How many of us daily seek the grace that alone has the power to deliver us from fear and empower us to be pastors of faith?