What does the Bible say about insecurity?
Failure, Insecurity as a Striving Pastor & Finding My Soul in Jesus
Much of my 10 years as a church planter have been riddled with anxiety, performance and self-striving. When I started out in 2005, I envisioned leading thousands of people to Jesus…for Jesus’ glory of course.
The church planting textbooks and the pressures of a church planting network told me that after our 9 month prepatory stage, we should have around 150 people on our first public Sunday, with week 2 taking a dip down to around 80, then it should build up from there, hitting a steady 150-200 within the first two years or so.
We had 50 people our first Sunday. I unconsciously lied and told my support team we had 90. I told them I didn’t count (only people with ego problems count, I told myself). But I estimated 90.
We had 18 people our second Sunday.
So we had 18 people our second Sunday.
You get the idea. Oh and I am counting myself of course.
It’s hard not to count when there are 18 (17) people in a room.
What is 18 (17) people to a church planter?
It is failure. But not just failure vocationally or failure as a church planter or even the very painful and difficult failure before a denominational board who is funding you or before a large group of individual donors you want nothing more than to please and to make feel like they aren’t wasting their money on you.
But I’m talking about failure before God. Failure as a Christian.
What does a failing church planter who dreams of seeing thousands come to know Jesus (for Jesus’ glory of course) do in a situation like this?
And then beat himself even further when numbers remain low and his least favorite question to answer (and the one everyone asks, like you ask the guy who broke his arm how he broke his arm) is, “How big is the church now?”
Or in other words, are you valuable? Do you have worth?
I never dealt with depression until I planted a church.
Throughout ten years of pastoring this church plant, there have been ups and downs in my growth and maturity as one who struggles with insecurity and performance-validation. There have been a lot of near-burnout moments, as well as some truly nourishing nuggets of God’s truth about who I am in Christ that helped calm the anxiety and insecurity flare-ups within.
But with all the helps and all the counseling and all the books I read relating to this, nothing ever hit the nail squarely on the head. Nothing until I read Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton in January of this year (Which I’ve read 3 times now). I’d like to share some things that helped me and things I was able to figure out as a result of the book:
- We each have a “true self” and a “false self.” Our true self is our soul. It is what the false self protects. It is who we are apart from any role we play, achievements we earn, or any relationship that defines us. It’s who God made us to be before we felt we had to prove anything. The false self is like a set of armor we put around ourselves to protect our true self from being revealed to people. My false self is “church planter,” “pastor,” “talented,” my church’s size, success, performance, achievement, and what people think of me, specifically the people in my church, my donors, and now as I enter a new season of ministry: prospective literary agents and publishers.
- The dependence on my false self tells God there’s no room for him. Why do I need him to protect me when my false self is doing such a good job already?
- God is infinite, we are finite. This means we have limits to what we can do as humans. If we go beyond these limits, we are acting as if we are infinite, as if we are God. And when we are acting as if we are God, we leave no room for God to actually be God, and we quickly burnout trying.
- I feel unworthy of God’s unconditional love. I also doubt his goodness toward me. As a result of feeling unworthy of his love, I begin a contradictory downward spiral: I feel I must earn his love since I feel unworthy of it in my true self. As a result, I strap on my false self and begin trying to earn it. In trying so hard to earn it, I reject what can’t be earned. God is trying to give me his unconditional love and I won’t let him. “No God, I must earn it. I love you too much to just receive it from you!”
- I love ministry so much that I do so much of it until I end up hating it and wanting to quit altogether.
- StSoYL tells a true story of a monk talking to another monk at a Colorado monastery. One monk asks the other, who is gardening, what is troubling him. He responds by saying he wants to be a monk. The first monk is confused because this man has been a monk at this monastery for 25 years. “But I still carry a gun,” the troubled monk replies and shows the holstered revolver hidden beneath his robe. When asked why he carries the weapon, the troubled monk explains how he’s been hurt a lot in his life and he would be uncomfortable without it. “You look pretty uncomfortable with it,” the first monk tells him, and asks him to give him the gun. The troubled man takes off the gun and hands it to his brother in Christ. The men embrace and weep together.
- What a relief to be rid of the false self we use to protect ourselves! As I discover my true self as God’s beloved child, it has filled me with lightness and freedom I haven’t experienced since childhood. At the same time, it has also been terrifying at times. To be naked, exposed and so vulnerable in God’s hands, leaning on him to protect me rather than the well-worn armor I’ve adorned for most of my life, has been frightening and disorienting at times. To learn to trust in God’s goodness toward me.
- This sort of discovery of our true self, our soul, can only be found in solitude with the Lord. Like observing wild animals by sitting at the base of a tree and waiting for them to come out to you, rather than romping through the forest looking for them. Learning this as a pastor of 11 years has revolutionized my leadership and my walk with Jesus. I used to lead with my “great ideas” and my drive and my perceived skills and my boldness, then I’d tell God to make sure what I planned worked out well. The arrogance. The pride. The self-striving. The insecurity.
- God has turned this on its head. Lead with your face buried in your hands, prostrate on the ground before a holy God. Waiting on him, listening for him, soaking in his incredible mercy. Knowing the incredible mercy of an incredibly holy God. Crying out to him. Being in complete rest in him. Receiving his unconditional love and goodness without any pretenses. Without any armor on. Knowing he gives it without any begrudging, disappointment or hesitation. Knowing the only thing that stops its flow is when I tell God he’s not needed because I’ve got it covered. That I can do his job. That I’m him. That it’s my glory. Solitude; prayer; fasting. God show us what you want, and we will obey it. Where being in God’s presence is the promised land, not some delusion of grandeur to stroke my own ego and satisfy my insecurity.
- This sort of leadership and walk with Jesus is impossible without regular solitude and days of prayer and fasting. Days of powerlessness. Days of listening. Days of being reminded of how much God loves me, completely removed from all the ways my world tells me I need to earn love. How can God’s power make itself known when mine is always in the way?
This is so upside-down from what I’ve always known and from what I’ve always been taught. It is so counter-intuitive.
It is so supernatural.
It is so like Jesus.
Host of the The Flip Side Podcast
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