Staying Too Long-How fear paralyzes a Pastor

12 Apr

One of the major problems in the church today is short tenures of pastors. Most of us have read the stats. Pastors often cut and run. We don’t stay long enough at a church to make a real difference. We know it’s a problem. It hurts the church and our families. I get that. But that’s not what this blog is about. The fact is, sometimes it’s just time to go. Sometimes we stay too long. Not long ago I made the following entry on The Unappreciated Pastor Twitter page:

“OK, I admit it. I did kill the church. But I’m telling you, it was self-defense.”

Maybe you have been there. Perhaps you can look back at a ministry and conclude that you did stay a little too long. It may be that the church suffered because God was done with you there, but for some reason you weren’t done with the church. You were driven by self. So let’s think today about wrong reasons to stay.

Fear. I think a lot of us struggle with fear.

*Fear of failure. We think that leaving a ministry means we have failed. We don’t want that on our resume. We don’t want that on our conscience. We don’t want our family to see us as failures. Much of that stems from pride. Success/Failure isn’t measured in numbers. If that were true Jonah would be far more successful than Jeremiah. It’s measured in faithfulness to the call of God.

*Financial fear . We wonder “What will I do?” We would never consider ourselves “hirelings” but often times the only reason a pastor stays at a church is finances. That’s a dangerous place to be. I have experienced that temptation in my own life. God has worked on me in a major way. The most freedom I have ever experienced in ministry was being bi-vocational. I realized that there were other things I could do. I could make a living for my family the same way the folks at my church do. If God is calling you away from a ministry He will take care of you financially. Don’t fear for finances.

*Fear of the future. Our culture, even ministry culture in America, has taught us that we should know exactly where we are going and what we will be doing before we do anything at all. That is very pragmatic, I admit. But I struggle to find that in Scripture. I can find a lot about planning in the Proverbs and other places, I get that. But when I look at men like Abraham, Moses, the disciples, etc. I see a day by day & step by step walk of faith. God does open doors. But sometimes those doors aren’t opened until we step out into the hall, leaving the room we’re in. Don’t fear the future. If God is moving you from one place He will show you step by step where to go.

*Fear of finality. In other words, you think if you leave this ministry you are done. Let me try and illustrate that. I have known many young ladies that were in bad relationships. They are dating a guy that just isn’t good for them. He doesn’t serve the Lord, doesn’t keep a job, doesn’t treat her well, etc.  Nevertheless, she marries the guy. And she marries him for one reason. She thinks he’s the only guy that will have her. If she breaks off the relationship she believes she will die lonely.

I know that analogy breaks down pretty quickly in this context. However, there are pastors that just believe no other church will have them. They think if they leave their current church they are done forever. That’s not a rational thought process. And it is certainly not a reason to stay at a church. If God is done with you in one place that doesn’t mean He is done with you forever.

Fear can paralyze a pastor. It can keep us from following the will of God. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do believe that if we are going to make a difference in the lives of people and communities longevity is a must. I think most pastors leave way too early. I am on my third pastorate in about fifteen years of pastoral ministry. My first pastorate began when I was in college. It lasted ten months. (Don’t want to talk about it!) My second pastorate was eleven years and I still go back and preach at that church. I plan on being where I am for a while. But I want to make sure I am where I am because God has me here. Not because I am afraid of not having a job or a ministry. Don’t let fear guide your ministry, let the Father guide it!

This blog will be continued! Had no idea I would spend so much time on one wrong reason to stay!

3 Responses to “Staying Too Long-How fear paralyzes a Pastor”

  1. highplainsparson at 9:35 am #

    There are many problems that can be fixed, by God’s grace, through perseverance.

  2. Concerned for hurting pastors at 9:43 am #

    I’m pretty sure this is one of the many things we just saw at our church. Our pastor became ill with a still unknown illness about a year ago, but even before that, he knew he was burned out on ministry in general and should have probably considered stepping down. Our elder board was generous and he remained fully paid, but did not work for 10 months.

    He was holding on to the church, even though I believe God was telling him to let go and move on. Talking with him and his wife, fear was their main driver. If they left, where would the money come from? Would he be able to get another job (he was 63)? All of this stress of the questions, the perceived failures, a taxing strange disease (both physical and mental it turns out) led to his suicide in January of this year. I see fear in many ways being the driver of his decisions, and of course, his final one as well. Fear of not being able to provide for his wife, and fear of letting down the church. Of course, he made the wrong decision, no longer able to serve the church (and in fact, hurting us deeply), and no longer able to support his family (aside from the minimal life insurance).

    Sorry for the extreme example, I just couldn’t help but think about the last year’s trials when I read this post.

    Thanks for posting.
    I agree with you whole heartedly, but I’m not sure pastors (or anyone, for that matter) always have clear thinking when fear enters the equation. So, even though God may be shouting loud and clear (as I believe He did in numerous ways to our pastor), we start listening to the wrong voice, and end up rejecting God’s.

    • unappreciatedpastor at 11:34 am #

      Thanks for that. I’m so sorry for the family and the church. Fear is a powerful thing. Perhaps the culture we have created in the church surrounding ministry, especially pastoral, is partly to blame. We’re not just preachers and we shouldn’t paint ourselves in a corner. So much to do out there for the Lord other than simply pastor a church.

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