FaithNaija: 4 fears every pastor faces

By Paul Tripp
paul-tripp

Four fears tempt every pastor. They are:

1. My fear of me.

Few things better reveal the full range of sin, immaturity, weakness, and  failure than ministry. Few things will expose your weaknesses so consistently.  Few endeavors will put you under such public expectancy and scrutiny. Few things  are so personally humbling. Few endeavors have the power to produce in you such  deep feelings of inadequacy. Few things can be such a vat of self-doubt. There  is a great temptation for your ministry to be sidetracked and harmed by your  fear of you.

God finds Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress, because he was afraid of the  Midianites, and greets this fearful man with one of the most ironic greetings in  the Bible: “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Gideon essentially  says, “Well, if you’re with us, why is all this bad stuff happening?” God  responds, “I have chosen you to say Israel from the Midianites.” Gideon says,  “You have to have the wrong address. I am from the weakest clan in Israel, and I  am the weakest person in my father’s house. You can’t really mean me.” And God  said, “I will be with you.”

God’s response to Gideon’s fear of Gideon is very helpful. He didn’t work to  pump up his self-confidence. He didn’t work to help Gideon see that he brought  more to the table than he thought. Gideon’s problem was not first that he feared  his inadequacies. His problem was awe. Gideon failed to fear God in the sense of  “God is with me, and he is able.” So Gideon was terrified at the thought of  leading Israel anywhere.

My pastorate in Scranton, Pennsylvania, exposed the full range of my  immaturity and weakness, and in ways that had been very painful, these were  often on public display. I thought I was so ready. I had done very well in  seminary, and I was ready to take on the world. But God called me to a very  broken, very difficult place, and used this place to yank me out of my pride and  self-righteousness to a place where I would find my hope in him. I was hurt,  disappointed, tired, overwhelmed, angry, and a bit bitter. I felt God had set me  up, and people had treated me unkindly. All I wanted to do was run. I had an  education degree and thought I would move somewhere far away and run a Christian  school. I had announced to my board my plan to resign. They pleaded with me not  to go, but I was determined. So the next Sunday I made my announcement and had a  momentary sense of relief. My little congregation was not relieved, so I had  many conversations after the service. Much later than I normally left the  church, I made my way out the door only to be greeted by the oldest man in our  church.

He approached me and asked if we could talk. “Paul,” he said, “we know that  you’re a bit immature and need to grow up. We know you are a man with  weaknesses, but where is the church going to get mature pastors if immature  pastors leave?” I felt as if God had just nailed my shoes to the porch. I knew  he was right, and I knew I couldn’t leave. In next several months I began to  learn what it means to minister in weakness but with a security-giving,  courage-producing awe of God. I am still learning what it means to be in such  awe of him that I am no longer afraid of me.

2. My fear of others.

Most of the people you serve will love and appreciate you and will encourage  you as they are able. But not all of them. Some will love you and have a  wonderful plan for your life. Some will assign themselves to be the critics of  your preaching and leadership. Some will be loyal and supportive, and some will  do things that undermine your pastoral leadership. Some will give themselves to  the ministry in sacrificial acts of service, and some will complain about the  way they are being served. Some will approach you with loving candor, and some  will give way to the temptation to talk behind your back. Some will jump in and  get involved, while others will always relate to the church with a consumer  mentality. You will connect with some easily, and with others you will find  relationships much more difficult.

Because your ministry will always be done with people and for people, it is  vital that you put people in the right place in your heart. You cannot allow  yourself to be so afraid of them that you are closed to their perspectives or  unwilling to delegate ministry to them. At the same time you cannot be so afraid  of them that you let them set the agenda and wrongly control the direction of  the ministry to which God has called you. You cannot allow yourself to minister  with a closed door, and you cannot be so sensitive to the opinions of others  that you are unable to lead.

Because all the people you minister with and to are still dealing with  indwelling sin, relationships to them and ministry with them will be messy.  People will hurt you and damage your ministry. People will demand of you what  they should not demand and respond to you in ways they should not respond. In  the middle of all this, particular people – the influential and vocal – will  loom larger than they should in your thoughts and motives. They will be afforded  too much power to influence you and the way you do ministry. Rather than working  for the glory of God, you will be tempted to work for their approval. Or, rather  than working for the glory of God, you will work to disarm or expose them. In  both cases your ministry is being corrupted by an ancient human fear: the fear  of man.

The power of the fear of man to divert or delude ministry is vividly  portrayed in Galatians 2:11-14. Peter not only compromises, but he actually  forsakes the ministry to the Gentiles to which God has called him (Acts 10)  because he was afraid of “the circumcision party.” Paul observed Peter’s conduct  “was not in step with the truth of the gospel,” so he confronted Peter. How much  ministry is diverted by actions, reactions, and responses not rooted in fear of  God but fear of man? How often does this compromise the work of the gospel? How  often does this cause people to stumble? How often are we tempted to act in a  way that does not accord with what we say we believe? How much is fear of man  setting the agenda in our churches? With openness and humility we need to keep  asking these questions.

I wish I could say I am free of this fear, but I’m not. There are times when  I have found myself thinking, as I was preparing a sermon, that a particular  point would finally win over one of my detractors. In that moment my preaching  was about to be shaped, not by my zeal for God’s glory, but by my hope that what  I said would cause someone to finally see my glory. I understand that this is an  ongoing war for the rule of my heart for which I have been given powerful,  ever-present grace.

 3. My fear of circumstances.

Since you don’t author your own story, and since you haven’t penned the  script of your own ministry, life and ministry is constantly unpredictable. In  this world of the unexpected, you are always living in the tension between who  God is and what he’s promised and the unexpected things on your plate. In the  intersection between promise and reality, you must guard your mediation. You  have to be very disciplined when it comes to what you do with your mind. Permit  me to explain.

Abraham had been told by God that his descendants would be like the sand on  the sea shore, and he had staked his life on this promise. Normally his wife,  Sarah, would give birth early and often. But that did not happen. All throughout  Sarah’s child-bearing years she could not conceive. Now both she and Abraham  were old – way too old to seriously think they would be blessed with the  promised son. Old Abraham was now living in the tension between God’s promise  and his circumstances. When you’re in the intersection between the promises of  God and the details of your situation, what you do with your mind is very  important. In this intersection, God will never ask you to deny reality. Abraham  did not deny reality. Romans 4 says that he “considered the deadness of Sarah’s  womb.” Faith doesn’t deny reality. It is a God-focused way of considering  reality.

But the passage tells you more. It tells you what Abraham did with his  meditation. He didn’t invest himself in turning his circumstances inside out and  over and over. He considered his circumstances, but he meditated on God. And as  he meditated on God, he actually grew stronger in faith, even though nothing in  his circumstances had yet changed. For many people in ministry, waiting becomes  a chronicle of ever-weakening faith. Meditating on the circumstances will leave  you in awe of the circumstances. They will appear to grow larger, you will feel  smaller, and your vision of God will be clouded. But if you meditate on the  Lord, you will be in greater awe of his presence, power, faithfulness, and  grace. The situation will seem smaller, and you will live with greater  confidence even though nothing has changed.

Have the circumstances captured your meditation? Are there ways in which you  have grown weaker in faith? Or do the eyes of your heart focus on a God who is  infinitely greater than anything you will ever face?’

4. My fear of the future.

You always live and minister in the hardship of not knowing. In both life and  ministry you are called to trust, obey, and believe that God will guide and  provide. You and I do not know what the next moment will bring, let alone the  next month or year. Security can never be found in our attempt to figure it all  out or in trying to divine the secret will of God. His secret will is called his  secret will because it is secret! Yet we still desire to know, to figure things  out ahead of time. The more you concentrate on the future, the more you’ll give  way to fear of the future, and the more you’ll be confused and de-motivated in  the here and now.

Not knowing is hard. It would be nice to know if that elder is going to  succumb to the temptation of being divisive. It would be nice to know if the  finances of the church are going to rebound. It would be nice to know how that  new preaching series will be received, if those young missionaries will make all  the adjustments they need to make, or if you’ll get the permits to build that  needed worship space. We find questions of the future hard to deal with because  we find it difficult to trust God. The One we promise to trust knows everything  about the future, because he controls every aspect of it. Our fear of the future  exposes our struggle to trust him, and in trusting him, to rest in his guidance  and care, even though we don’t really know what comes next. Awe of God is the  only way to be free of fearing what is coming next. When my trust of God is  greater than my fear of the unknown, I will be able to rest, even though I don’t  have a clue what will greet me around the corner.

Do you load the future on your shoulders, with all of its questions and  concerns? Or do you give yourself to the work of the present, leaving the future  in God’s capable hands? How much are you haunted by the “what ifs”? Do you greet  the unknown with expectancy or dread? Do God’s presence and promises quiet your  unanswerable questions about the future?

Meditate on the questions posed on this article, honestly answer each one,  then humbly cry out for the grace that can free you from the fears you have not  yet escaped. Then celebrate the patient King you serve, who lifts your burden of  fear rather than condemning you for it.

———-

Paul David Tripp is a pastor, author, and  international conference speaker. He is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries and works to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life. For more resources, visit www.paultripp.com.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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