The Insecure Pastor
"You want to do that because . . ."
A hammered dulcimer is a beautiful folk instrument of wood and string, and last year I made three of them.In a few days I’ll take them to the Central Florida Dulcimer Festival where I’ll offer them for sale. That is, I’ll take my dulcimers, of which I’m proud, into a crowd of dulcimer experts where the judgments that will be made of them scare me. What if they’re judged amateurish? What if people form little groups to snicker at my poor excuse for a dulcimer? What if they laugh at me?
Judge those as childish fears if you will, but they’re real. Insecurity is my familiar friend as I suspect it is yours as well.
A friend told me of a pastor who had created an unbearable and abusive work environment at his church. When he left to take a position at a new church, his former staff burned his office furniture to celebrate. My suspicion is that his “lording” it over others arose not so much from the misapplication of corporate leadership methodology as it did from a fertile bed of insecurity. The need to be on top is often fueled by an unconscious but powerful drive to satisfy some unacknowledged judge or jury. Some prefer to be hated than to be laughed at. That’s the power of insecurity.
That may not be your story, of course. But some pastors, to avoid having “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead” sung at their departures, become pathologically nice. They adopt niceness not because it’s more Jesus-like but because, nursing their insecurities, they find that niceness garners the greatest positive affirmation, affirmation that in their past came too rarely. They want everyone to be happy. More pointedly, they want everyone to happy with them.
Others repudiate niceness and become warriors for truth. They say what needs saying letting the chips fall where they may. They are Jeremiahs speaking prophetically to a church running off the rails. It’s biblical boldness, they say. Perhaps it is. But perhaps it’s their way of finding acceptance. There is security in being toasted by and welcomed into the company of prophets, a welcome they dare not risk by softening their rhetoric.
The fear of exclusion, that is, our insecurity, subtly affects our judgment. Perhaps your heart truly resonates with that new worship innovation. Or perhaps you embrace it because you long to be included among (or not excluded from) the tribe of cool church planters who are pushing it. Or maybe you hesitate saying out loud that you find Augustine impenetrable and the Puritans tedious because you covet a place among the circles of legit pastor-scholars who drool over both. We really never outgrow being that rebellious teen who, in order to show his budding “non-conformity,” dresses and talks just like every other teen. Insecurity is a faithful companion.
In this I condemn myself. I hung out with a couple of other pastors recently and felt great warmth in my inclusion. At the same time my insecurities screamed at me, persuading me that I didn’t belong and would soon be found out.
It’s natural for us to long for acceptance, to hunger for a community that gives us meaning. Humans are communal creatures after all. It’s no surprise we’re insecure. That’s why we need those who will preach the gospel to us.In God alone we have the acceptance we long for and try to find from others. We’ll never be enough to fully please our earthly parents, our congregations, or that important Facebook group. But God is pleased with us. Last week’s sermon, we are certain, left people talking around their lunches about how boring we are, but our heavenly Father cheers for us as if we were Peter fresh from Pentecost. There are many whose tests we believe we need to pass to be considered “in,” but God is not one of them.
The central Florida dulcimer community may wink and nod and turn their backs on me. But I found joy in dulcimer making, and God, I think is pleased with that. That’s the sweet spot we seek as pastors: to find joy in what we do and to sense the pleasure of God.
It’s helpful to pause to tease out the degree to which our insecurities drive us in improper ways. My therapist often challenges my behavior with an irritating question. “And you believe you need to do that because . . . ?” Her voice trails off leaving the question of motives out there for me to struggle with. It’s irritating because it forces reflection in areas I don’t like to visit, the dark room of my insecurities. I like to think I do all things for the glory of God. But, let’s face it, sometimes we act simply to avoid being once again left unchosen for the playground game of kickball.
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WHY I did such a thing is a curious story which I’d be happy to tell were anyone to ask.
Thank you, Randy. I felt like you were speaking directly to me. I really needed this in my life and ministry at this moment.
Love you, brother! David Netzorg
Such a good question to invite CURIOSITY about onself, others and maybe even God in any given moment, any potentiated action...and such a beautiful instrument!