B07: A Pastor's Journey from Anxiety to Security in God
Updated: Jan 17
Richard pastors a medium-sized local Protestant church of some 400 members. He started the church 25 years ago after a group of young working adults turned charismatic and left their mainline Brethren roots to be on their own, nominating him as their Senior Pastor.
Through the years, the church grew steadily and when they were sizable enough, they even purchased a piece of land to build its own church premises. Besides a vibrant pulpit ministry, the church also has well-structured departments for youths, children, and Christian education.
The weekly collections had always been more than sufficient to meet the monthly overhead and the Church Board was generous to offer Richard a decent salary. His wife was also made a pastor to serve alongside him. Despite some domestic church problems that the couple occasionally faced while pastoring, they both led a fairly comfortable life and the family recently saw their two children graduate from university.
However, the 2020 Covid-pandemic brought about changes that significantly impacted his church. Two years into the aftermath, Richard was left feeling anxious and losing sleep over the current uncertainties and what is ahead.
Repercussions two years on
During those months when strict movement controls were imposed, most churches went online to live-stream their weekend services. When the movement controls relaxed and churches were allowed to reopen to a limited extent, the Board of Richard’s church adopted a wait-and-see decision as the risk of infections was still high.
This decision turned out to be unfavorable for the church. Some of the members visited churches that reopened earlier and stayed on there. A sizable portion of the youths who were watching the online services of the mega-churches also left. In fact, since starting back their on-site services until now, Richard has lost some 30% of his congregation.
The reduced church attendance coupled with inflation and economic hardships of the people is now straining the coffers. To make ends meet, the church is forced to scale back on its outreach activities and donations to several mission agencies.
Of late, Richard has to confront several of his members over various personal issues, including moral ones. The latest case involved one of his leaders who accidentally dropped some magazines that he was carrying. Some of the ladies noticed that they were pornographic materials and they reported this to the Senior Pastor.
When Richard talked to this leader pastorally, he learned that he picked up his pornography addiction during the movement control period. Now, his family was on the verge of breaking up because his wife found out that he had started to visit prostitutes as well. Although the man was remorseful, he was unrepentant as he wanted to continue with his present lifestyle. Soon, his entire family backslid from the faith.
Several other families have also been skipping church, citing reasons such as wanting to spend more time with their children overseas, being busy with work, or catching up on traveling. At times, Richard senses that since coming out of the pandemic, there is a disquieting atmosphere betraying that many of his members are not as passionate about the things of God as before.
For example, a mission agency recently offered the church four free places for training on evangelism. Being a mission-minded church, such training has been well sought-after in the past. This time around, there were no takers. Indicators such as this are causing Richard much uneasiness.
Personal impact on Richard
Indeed, the current state of affairs of the church weighs heavily on Richard. One of his top concerns is when another leader that he has nurtured for so many years will fall from grace or stop coming to church. He suddenly realizes that the many discipleship programs his church has been running for its members have turned out to be somewhat shallow.
Perhaps, his church ought to have emphasized less on leadership, and teach more about servanthood. They could have cared less about KPIs, and connected more with the lives of their members to focus on nurturing their values, character, and lifestyle so that they are more deeply rooted in their faith. Indeed, they cannot live off a second-hand faith that is borrowed from the pulpit but a faith that comes out of their individual encounters with God.
Staying awake late at night, Richard feels a sense of insecurity and anxiety. Insecure in that the yearly systems the church has put in place do not seem to work as effectively as before in motivating the congregation toward God. Anxious in that as best as he tries to carry out his responsibilities, his members do not seem to be as enthusiastic as before.
It dawned upon Richard that the Covid-pandemic and the rapid changes sweeping across the whole world are slowly but surely sifting out who are the genuine Christians and who are the pretenders. This is a daunting prospect for the future survival of his church as more of his members will be falling away.
Overall, Richard felt a sense of personal responsibility for having emphasized on church growth more than pastoral care and discipleship in the 25 years that he led the church. In his humility, he started to fast and struggle with God, seeking His forgiveness for all his blunders, asking Him to show where else he has gone wrong, and what is the way forward.
Richard’s journey of transformation
After seeking God for some time, it becomes clearer to Richard that God is using the Covid-crisis to undo what is not right with His churches everywhere and He is doing something new for the body of Christ. He also learns that a lot of his churchmanship and corporate structures will now have to go. He believes now that serving God as a pastor or in any other ministry is not about performance or the numbers but investing in the lives of those God has put under his care.
It is not about how good or capable we are, not even how loud we can shout. We no longer can depend on our programs, stage presentations, or other human strategies to grow or even sustain our churches. To let God has His way, everything we do must birth forth from our prayers, waiting upon Him for His direction and timing.
Through this desperate journey of reflection and self-examination before God, Richard realizes that as the Senior Pastor of his church, nothing is about him except for creating the environment and space for God to move in their midst.
This inner posture in fact sets him free from his anxiety by taking the focus off him to rest in the God to whom he belongs. As he sees his identity in God and not in the eyes of his members or the general Christian community, he feels a sense of security and self-worth anchored in the Father’s love and nothing else.
In short, when Richard started to own his anxiety, his emotion taught him to humble himself and recognize his own humanity to be totally dependent on God. In the process of struggling with God, he did the inner work to change the way he relates to God, himself, and others. In the end, it is his unconditional acceptance of self, others, and God that resulted in his personal healing and growth as a faithful and worthy servant.
11 Jan 2023
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