Pastors can be really insecure. I speak from experience, both as one who has felt that insecurity and as one who has seen it play out in the lives of churches. Insecurity is, of course, a natural and normal emotion. Yet, those pastors who are ruled by their insecurities will never lead well. They will never lead well because they will be threatened by their congregation.
Insecurity is entirely self-focused. It fears what others might think or do because of how it might make oneself look or feel. So, some pastor’s might fear the education of their people because it will expose weaknesses in their own intelligence. They might be apprehensive to delegate out of fear that someone could run a ministry better. They might be afraid to invite other leaders into the decision-making process for fear that their visions will go unrealized. It is entirely selfish motivations that drive insecurity. There is, to be sure, some shame that can be involved, but even shame can be driven by pride. Love, on the other hand, seeks to respond to others based on what is best for their growth and development. Love, the Scriptures tell us, drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Pastors who remain enslaved to their insecurities can never truly love their congregations. In fact they’ll do more than just fail to love well.
Pastors who are threatened by their congregations will inevitably harm and hamper their churches. It is a pastor’s job to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-16), not to do the ministry. Simply put, then, we are not doing our jobs if we refuse to teach, delegate, and train others for ministry. If we fear that our weaknesses will be exposed then we are certain to keep a congregation down, to keep them under us and subject to our own weaknesses so that we don’t feel threatened. Such an approach to ministry will eventually lead a congregation to distrust their pastor. A pastor who fears criticism, who refuses to listen to other’s ideas and value their input will earn their suspicion. Pastors who are threatened by their congregations are sure to drive people away from the church.
When I was working as a church consultant I saw several such scenarios play out. One pastor was so fearful of others opinions that he was constantly awkwardly inserting himself into conversations to make sure that people were not talking about him. Another refused to open the pulpit to other pastors in fear that they might preach better than him. Still another intentionally tried to drive away people who disagreed with him, intentionally pushing them out of the church. And one other I know regularly talked down to his congregation, reminding them that they weren’t as smart as him and needed his help to understand any theological or Biblical concept. Their own insecurities continued to hamper their congregations, and in some cases caused them to dwindle in size.
Good pastors must get over themselves. The ministry is not about us and our strengths. The minute you make pastoral ministry about yourself, instead of about the glory of God, you being to lose your joy and harm your people. Pastors must embrace their weaknesses and so allow the glory of God to shine through their ministry. The truth is the effectiveness of a church’s ministry hinges upon how equipped a congregation is for the work of the ministry. Exposing your own weaknesses allows others to step in and strengthen the work of your church. This only happens when pastors recognize the value of every member in their church (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Pastor’s who think more highly of themselves than they ought to will see their churches suffer. But pastors who know their place under the Great Shepherd, and who understand their role as one of servanthood don’t feel threatened by their congregations.
Ultimately pastors don’t need to feel threatened by their congregations because their justification does not rest on the opinions of others, nor on the so-called “success” of their ministries. Jared Wilson has done a great service to pastors in writing The Pastor’s Justification. It’s more than just a reminder of theological truths, it is an encouragement to live in light of them. He writes:
Pastor, will we seek justification in our reputations? In our church’s numbers and figures? In our retweets and links? In our podcast downloads? In a book deal or speaking engagement? In our own sense of a job well done? This is sand. Or will we look up and out, away from ourselves, away from the fickle fellowship, away from Satan’s accusations and insinuations, up to the right hand of the Father, where our righteousness sits, firmly fixed eternal? There is your justification, pastor, perfect and big, bigger than you and better than you but bled and bought for you and birthed in you, yours irrevocably, sealed and guaranteed through both your successes and your failures, through the pats on your back or the knives in your back. There is your justification, there in Christ, and because in him there is no shadow of turning, you are utterly, totally, undeniably justified. Brother, you are free. (39)
Good pastors don’t feel threatened by their congregations because they are free in Christ.
Is this the kind of ministry you lead, the kind of model you pursue? Is this the kind of freedom you embrace? Good pastors aren’t threatened by their congregations. Embrace your weaknesses, love your people, remember your role, and hold fast to the gospel. This is what good pastors look like. It’s what I want to strive towards, and I hope my brothers will too.
Thank you for writing this article! I am a congregant who is trying to cope with a church culture that has been shaped over the period of many years by a pastor who is intimidated by the congregation. The result is painful to see. People who have made simple suggestions meant to aid in ministry to those in need have been reprimanded. People who have asked simple questions to clarify a point of teaching or doctrine but did not readily, eagerly agree with the Pastor’s interpretation have been treated with disdain and criticized “anonymously” from the pulpit where whole sermons were produced as a means of carrying on the argument. In fact criticism and shame are a constant dripping in the Pastor’s sermons along with weekly protestations of his success in ministry in different places and the people all over the world who still write to him to thank him for all he has done in service to the Lord. People whom he trusts (i.e. always agree with him) are lauded from the pulpit; others he overlooks or merely tolerates until they inevitably leave. People who have had an education in the interpretation of Scripture or have shown themselves to be knowledgeable in sound theology are not given the opportunity to teach or preach (unless, of course, they are among those who always agree with him) and as for ministry opportunities like outreach, Bible study and discipleship, there really is none unless he is at the head, because he simply will not trust the work of the ministry to the body of Christ. The people of the church are weary, but they are loving, loyal, giving and sincere. I wish there were resources for people within a church culture such as this.