When I worked in youth ministry, whether within a church or in a parachurch setting, I discovered a little secret pastors don’t tell anyone. They are human just like everyone else and stress and anxiety are just as bad for them, if not worse. If pastors cannot be successful, how can we have any hope?
I’m obviously joking, but at the same time, I believe this is a conversation that still needs to be said. Pastors are seen in many churches as people who have dedicated their whole life to live out the calling God has given them to share Jesus with the world and Shepard their church. This can create a holier than thou mentality for many church members, even if not explicitly stated.
Some pastors even buy into this, seeing themselves above their congregation members. They are expected to pray at every event, saying just the right words. They not only read the Bible but can read straight from the Hebrew text with their own collection of hermetical books. And they are to be the light of the world.
Unrealistic Expectations And Fear
Of course, I do not subscribe to the idea that pastors are a higher breed of people who are somehow immune to the temptations and consequences of sin. But this ideology can create a feedback loop that can feel very isolating.
When a congregation member or community member is scared, sad, or unnerved, they can go to their local pastor for confession, support, and guidance. What is a pastor to do? They are supposed to be the rock?
At this point, fear begins.
From it, anxiety.
If the hope to pursue a desire of unrealistic holiness without the presence of sin continues to be the goal of the pastor, this will lead to burnout, narcissistic missteps, or moral failures. Pastors are not immune, but from my experience, many times they don’t practice as they preach.
I once heard a pastor state the best way to overcome stress is to stop it. They quote Matthew 6:25-34 with the lilies of the field as proof of us to just quit it. I can’t help but laugh when they use Scripture to justify it’s that easy because it reminds me of the hilarious Bob Newhart counseling sketch which the pastor ends up emulating very well. Kind of like that Ronco Rotisserie infomercial to “set it and forget it.”
Of course, it’s not just a matter of quitting, isn’t it. We’ve put our own meaning into the words of Jesus and even as pastors we have adopted them.
How To Overcome Anxiety
The best way to overcome anxiety is to recognize that anxiety is what makes us human. It’s what leads us to rely on our Creator. When we move past fear, it doesn’t allow anxiety to take hold. But we do not move past fear with the advice of Bob Newhart or Ronco. Instead, we welcome the thing we fear in the first place and take away the power you have given it.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd US President, is family for his quote on fear. I’m sure most of you know it. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But his wife who very publicly changed the role of the first lady by taking on social justices in America. She also had something to say on the topic of fear but put into the context of not only empowering all future first ladies but going through the Great Depression, give her words so much power. “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
In quoting Matthew 6, outside of the context of everything Jesus knows to be true, we mislead others and ourselves. We have to remember when Jesus was saying this, there is more happening. These words are in the context of the Old Testament with Psalm 46:1-3, Proverbs 18:10, and Isaiah 41:10.
But it may be Proverbs 3:1-8 which gives me the most joy within the midst of anxiety and fear. We again see the general statement to not fear, but then are commanded to remember we know a God who knows all and has no fear. Further, we are commanded then to actually fear God with a holy reverence.
Our goal is not to remove stress, because then we remove fear. Instead, we must understand where our fear should be placed and for what purpose.
I want to end this devotional for my viewers with a quote from Tim Kiszziar which I think is a good call to action for us all. I encourage you to not only understand your anxiety with fear, but to move beyond it and put your fear in God.
Our greatest fear as individuals and as a church should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter. – Tim Kizziar