Understanding and identifying trends, however, is NOT the most important thing for pastors to be doing right now as we launch into 2021. Here’s why trying to track church trends should not be your[...]
In times of uncertainty, effective leaders have an internal security in who God has called them to be. Without that anchoring, you can feel tossed by the shifting winds of infinite choices, distracted by the decisions of others, or paralyzed in the grip of fear. When leading in such a condition, decision-making will always be ineffective and inefficient. You can even be susceptible to destructive decision making wreaking havoc for both yourself and for the people you serve.
In the first post in this series, I talked about how these 4 essential leadership qualities provide a solid foundation no matter what the fast-coming future may bring. Security is the first of those traits.
Insecurity in church leaders is one of the most significant challenges facing churches today. Yet those who are secure will win the day; because to lead with security is to be free to risk. Secure leadership doesn’t have to play it safe. These are days where we must refuse—with every fiber of our being—to play it safe.
These are days where we must refuse—with every fiber of our being—to play it safe.
Insecurity leads to everything from knee-jerk decision-making that wears out teams and volunteers, to moral failures that derail an entire community. Insecurity in a pastor’s heart robs the joy of ministry and steals the meaning of living as God’s called one. It’s an act of turning your back on the rich inheritance of Christ, who gives us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).
One picture of this problem came from last week’s consulting. I finished a God Dreams retreat with a leading disciple-making church. One of the low-points in the church’s history—clarified by a tool we call a life map—was a season marked with what the team called “pivot fatigue.” The phrase, echoed by every one of the twenty leaders I met with, reflects the classic silver bullet syndrome. It arose from a new senior pastor who felt insecure trying to fill the shoes of a beloved, long-tenured leader who had passed away. With little personal security, he kept steering the team with hundreds of course corrections, fruitlessly trying to capture a sense of approval. The season came to a satisfying close when he preached a sermon and confessed his self-inflicted schizophrenia to the congregation. Since then, they have set a sure trajectory.
One potential source of insecurity is when one’s identity is too closely bound up with the stage. Every Sunday you self-score based on the performance of that weekend’s service and the tangible affirmation—or not—that you verbally receive. The following week you get to stare facts of the attendance and giving in the face. Now add a global pandemic and the crazy fluctuations of attendance we’ve had for nine months! That’s a cocktail for potential disaster.
In recent months, we’ve grieved again as we’ve discovered that well-known, outwardly successful church leaders were falling apart behind the scenes, significantly damaging themselves and those around them. Their families, teams, ministries, and countless others are left to deal with the collateral damage of their deep insecurity. Since COVID started, two well-respected, highly visible pastors with whom I’ve personally consulted committed suicide. There was zero warning.
What’s the bottom line? When we see ourselves, our families, our teams, and our churches through the lens of an embedded insecurity, everything is distorted. But, when we do the ongoing work of cultivating personal security, we see clearly. We love unfettered and lead untangled. We move with freedom and momentum, throwing off the 50-pound backpack of wondering who we are and who God has called us to be. Not only that, but we experience a life of greater freedom and deeper fulfillment—the fullness of life Jesus promised.
When we see ourselves, our families, our teams, and our churches through the lens of our insecurity, everything is distorted.
Warning Signs of Insecurity
How can you tell if insecurity is hindering you? Here are 3 warning signs.
Are there things you keep hidden because you’re afraid of what would happen if people found out? That’s an easy or at least obvious question. But let’s look at secrets with a twist. Are there different things that different team members know because you’ve found ways to strategically win approval? Maybe you provide some vulnerable info to one person and not to another. Of course I’m not saying everyone should know everything about everything in your life. But insecurity multiplies when we let different team members into certain compartments in our life.
Do you become defensive and emotionally agitated when anyone questions or challenges you? Insecurity reacts with anger in an attempt to exert power and maintain control. The writer of Proverbs teaches, “Rebuke the wise and they will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8.) Within 45 minutes of any team facilitation I can see unmistakably the insecurity of a lead pastor; not by looking directly at the lead pastor, but by watching how guarded his team may be.
Insecure people habitually criticize others and focus on their faults (either large or small) because it makes them feel better about themselves. Are you regularly vocalizing the faults of others in your head? Do you always have an invisible microscope on the situation that wants to point out what’s wrong with people? Have you become skilled at whipping subordinates or peers with little verbal lashes to let them know you are “responsibly” inspecting the quality of their work?
These aren’t the only signs of insecurity, but these might trigger some self awareness.
Insecurity is evidenced by selective secrets, quick defensiveness, and effortless criticism.
How can you cultivate a deep sense of internal security?
Understand and own your story.
Most of the time, insecurity has built up over time. Through countless interactions and experiences, you’ve come to view yourself as “not enough” and you're striving to prove your worth. Take the time to look back and evaluate your story, looking for the hurtful and damaging things you’ve experienced. I tell my story of insecurity in a free ebook called the Clarity Spiral. At one point in my life as a pastor, I always had something to prove and something to lose.
A counselor can be very helpful in this process as it was for me. They provide an outside perspective to guide you in recognizing the seeds and needs of insecurity. The most important thing in this process is to not pass judgment on yourself and your past decisions or hurts. Simply own them.
Identify and accept your limitations.
God has not called you to be perfect … which is good news, because you’re not. The people who are close to you—your family, those you work with on a daily basis—already know your weaknesses, so stop trying to hide them or act like they don’t exist. I’m not saying you need to air all your dirty laundry to everyone in your church, but your inner circle (your family, your leadership team) should know your limitations and be able to talk about them with you. It may seem counterintuitive if you’ve struggled with insecurity for a long time, but people will respect you MORE if you’re open and honest about your shortcomings.
The people who are close to you—your family, those you work with on a daily basis—already know your weaknesses, so stop trying to hide them or act like they don’t exist.
Lean into your personal formation rhythms.
I talked about this in a post from August of last year. Your sense of identity—who you are and who God has called you to be—must flow from your deep, ongoing connection with Jesus. We all know this, but we all need to be reminded. As a part of your personal rhythms, revisit your sense of calling on a regular basis. God chose you. He chose you to be a part of His family first … AND He chose you to serve in the role you’re in right now. One of the best ways to fight the voices and feelings inside that tell you you’re not good enough is to flood yourself with gospel-drenched, grace-infused, soul-filling counter messaging from God’s Word.
Practice vulnerability regularly.
As I mentioned above, this seems counter-intuitive when you struggle with insecurity. You believe that if those closest to you knew your flaws and your struggles, they would abandon you or think you are weak. The opposite is true. Vulnerability (in appropriate places with appropriate people) is the key to overcoming insecurity, deepening your relational connections with those around you, and living the life of freedom God desires for you. Create situations that force you to be vulnerable with your spouse, with your closest friends, and with your closest team members.
Every month I force myself to tell, in highly public and high-stake settings, the story of my divorce. It’s a cultivation of humility and vulnerability. Sometimes I wonder if I will lose credibility. And once in a while I might. But a vast majority of times people open up and I refresh my own identity as a “beloved son in whom God my Father is well pleased.”
Vulnerability is the key to overcoming insecurity, deepening your relational connections with those around you, and living the life of freedom God desires for you.
BONUS CHALLENGE: Find a personal coach.
Not everyone is up for this one and only those who are truly committed to becoming the best version of themselves have the courage for it. Find a personal coach and give them access to every part of your life. Tell them about everything—personal struggles, church-related issues, health challenges, whatever. Obviously, you need to find the right person for this role. Your coach must be someone you respect enough to let them challenge you in every area of your life. Then, meet with them on a regular basis.
Maybe the simplest way to cultivate security is to consistently ask yourself this question, “What would a secure leader do?”
For far too long, we’ve overvalued communication skills and charisma and undervalued wisdom and personal character in church leaders. Many church leaders end up trapped in a system where everything and everyone around them implicitly or explicitly communicates to them that they are loved and valued based on their performance. The system itself is designed to reward leaders for performing well on the outside with zero concern for the state of their internal lives. And it’s incredibly damaging to our leaders and our churches.
If you want to lead well in 2021 and beyond, if you want to see clearly to take mission-focused risks to multiply disciples of Jesus, and if you want to experience the life of freedom and the settled knowing that you are loved for who you are and not just for what you do … do whatever it takes to cultivate security in your soul. It’s the foundation for your life in Christ and the fuel for your ministry in the world.