Pastor, It's Ok To Be Afraid!
Well, here we are.
Living in a world we never imagined or desired. As much as we may try to ignore it, it’s reality, and it’s global.
A lot of adjustments have been made over the past couple of weeks. Changes we never dreamed of having to make and challenges we never anticipated facing.
I don’t know about you, but challenges and changes can invoke a number of emotions for me. Primarily fear. For you type A conquer or be conquered folks out there (enneagram type 8 anyone?), this is probably what you’ve been waiting for. But regardless of how we are wired or trained to approach challenges, everyone of us is prone to fear on some level. We all hold within us the nature of humanity that values something and fears losing it.
These “somethings” can be physical, relational, or internal. Things like jobs, homes, family, money, our image, knowledge, stability, security, peace, rest, comfort or even life itself.
These times are uncertain, unprecedented, and uncharted. With that comes a number of questions. Questions like,
What happens next?
How do we respond?
When will it end?
Will we ever get back to normal?
People from a multitude of cultures, classes, and ages are all facing these questions right now.
This is the state of the world. This is the state of the people we are pastoring. People throughout the church are scared. They’re uncertain. They don’t know what to do. In one sense, this is an ideal time to see the glorious splendor of Jesus and proclamation of the gospel of Christ spread wildly. In one sense, this is what pastors and gospel ministers were born for and called too. And I champion that call. People need pastors, minsters, and spiritual guides as much as ever. People need the good news of Jesus.
What I’m concerned about is losing sight of the old adage, “pastors are people too.” Gospel ministers are not immune to the emotions of fear and uncertainty in pandemics and trying times like these.
As much as we may try to suppress it or deny it, leaders experience fear, and that’s OK!
I was encouraged this past week by the story of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chronicles 20. It’s the story of a king who was afraid. It’s the story of a leader of people who felt overwhelmed and uncertain by the circumstance at hand and was unsure what the best way forward was.
In the story a great multitude was coming against him. Multiple armies too great for him and his people. And it says he was afraid. (2 Chronicles 20:3)
Those words are comforting to me when I feel like I shouldn’t be afraid. I can convince myself as a spiritual guide for others that fear should be non existent in me as they look to me for direction. “Be strong and courageous.” “Fear not.” “Don’t be afraid.” “Don’t worry.” I can read verses like these, forgetting that they were spoken to people who were afraid, and twist them into some critical internal law that says I don’t have permission to be afraid. Which often ends up invoking shame. Embarrassed that I was even anxious at all.
The beauty in the story of Jehoshaphat is NOT that he was a leader exempt from fear, but rather how he responded as a leader who was afraid. As leaders it’s not about being unafraid but responding in a healthy way in our fear.
It says that when he felt afraid he turned to seek God. Not only that, he led his people to seek God as well. He led the people while in fear not from an absence of fear. It was fear that pushed him and the leading of others towards God.
This leads to one of my favorite verses in all the Bible at the end of his prayer in 2 Chronicles 20:12:
“O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
What a response in the midst of fear! A cry for help, a confession of dependence, and a direction to look.
It’s OK to be afraid. It’s OK to be a leader of people and be afraid.
It’s not OK, in the spiritually and emotionally healthy sense, to deny or suppress our fear. Suppressing and denying our fear (or any negative emotion for that matter) is just as spiritually and emotionally devastating to our souls as COVID-19 is to our bodies. It’s destructive.
Acknowledging our fears, confessing them, and leading others toward God in the midst of them is the healthy way for us.
Lamenting and grieving the changes we’ve experienced and continue to experience is healthy. Setting our face to seek after God, pleading with him and confessing we don’t want to face this battle, is our way forward. It is the Way of Jesus. It was His response to the cross in the garden of Gethsemane. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” (Matt. 26:39)
It’s healthy. It’s OK.
I write this hopefully as an encouragement and a reminder to us pastors and church leaders, it’s ok to be afraid.
The people we serve and lead need us to be healthy in this time. They don’t need us to be perfect and fearless, they need us to be humble and trusting. They need us to lead them in our fear and uncertainty with faces set to seek God, crying for help, confessing our dependence, and telling them where to look.
My prayer for all of God’s leaders in this hour is that we would say with Jehoshaphat, “We are powerless against this great horde that is coming agains us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
From that place, even in our fear, may we be strong and courageous and watch God work!