“We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.” – C.S. Lewis
It’s been a long week since my last posting. (I think I have to give up on putting myself in a “time” box.) Before we take a look at the next reason why pastors are reluctant to ask for help, it might be good to ask “When IS a pastor in need of help?”
A pastor, or any ministry leader, is likely to need help when
- They are leading on empty. (compassion fatigue has set in)
- The fit isn’t right between who they are, their strengths, and the role they are in.
- They are struggling with unresolved issues – patterns of behavior that could put them “at risk”.
- A conflict among staff or in the congregation is beyond them to resolve.
- They are isolated, and without significant friendships.
- Their own expectations exceed their grasp.
- Their family is in turmoil – over ministry boundaries and schedule, or just life.
- Self-care is lacking – there is no time for their own souls.
- Their strengths do not cover all the bases.
- They feel they are not doing anything significant.
- Depression has overwhelmed them.
One of the big reasons that keeps pastors from asking for help when these situations arise is fear!
I have been doing a lot of thinking about this; since this reason and I are good friends. If you are a Bloom County fan, then you will recall the “Snorkelwacker.” This is the monster in Binkley’s “closet of anxiety”, and is the representative of all his fears. I am convinced that each of us have a closet of anxiety where all our fears live and breed. It would be nice if they just remained there. But as Binkley learns, they will often reach out of the closet and “grab you” – unbidden and unwanted.
This is a partial list of the fears that may be familiar to some of us. (Names withheld to protect the author) When the closet door opens, these can keep us from asking for help.
What if they don’t need me?
What if someone does it better than me?
I might lose my job.
I will be a disappointment to others and myself and the shame will be too much.
It will all fall apart.
What will people think?
I might be found out that I struggle with the same issues that others do…and I should be above it.
I will look inadequate and weak.
Others will question my faith…even while I question my own.
Fear causes us to do things that keep the help we need distant from us – to cover and spin and control. From the time of our first parents we have been hiding from God and each other. There are pastors I have spent time with whose fear of the loss of prestige and significance they envision will happen cannot be overcome. They are paralyzed, and so unable to humbly ask for help.
Now, not all fears are unreasonable. Some are very good and very healthy. Even in the Garden, I doubt that Adam and Eve were doing un-netted trapeze work or experimenting with sharp objects. What is most troubling is that today, in the Church, it may not be unreasonable to fear that there will be those who will pounce on any sign of weakness, default to maintaining appearances rather than extending grace, and generally make it difficult to ask for help. At this point we may have to work through the risk/reward equation. Is the risk of suffering at the hands of my fears, whether reasonable or not, greater than the reward of authenticity?
I think there is a simple way to start cleaning out the closet of our anxieties that may allow us the joy of asking (and receiving!) the help we need.
Own them! Denying our fears uses up a lot of energy that could be saved for the real challenges of ministry life. Self-awareness is our friend. Naming our fears, and acknowledging that they are a part of us, is another step toward integrity.
Speak them to another! In the light of day, many of our fears tend to assume their proper proportions – or disappear completely. I think James 5:13-19 covers the struggles we have with fears as well. One of the biggest lies we are led to believe is the if people really knew us, they wouldn’t like us; and would probably run away. It just isn’t true! God knows; and He doesn’t. Others can know; and they won’t. Friends will extend grace and understanding. Not all church members are out to get us. They can be amazingly kind if we help them understand what it can mean to be a human being who is also a ministry leader.
Trust God with the outcomes! When Joshua took over the leadership of God’s people, I am certain there was a whole lot of fear happening in his heart. I know this because of how many times God tells him to have courage. But God wasn’t asking Joshua to face his fears on his own and simply “man up.” God’s final word to Joshua is a true word for those of us who battle great fears that can keep us from asking for the help we need.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)