4 THOUGHTS THAT GIVE ME PASTOR PARALYSIS

4 THOUGHTS THAT GIVE ME PASTOR PARALYSIS

by Trevor DeVage

Craig Groeschel’s Winning the War in Your Mind has led me to see thoughts I sometimes have that definitely are not good. See below, and I think you’ll find application not only for pastors like me, but every Christian. Lies like these poison leadership and every kind of spiritual progress. Let me tell you what I mean.

I’M NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO GROW A CHURCH

IF I WERE BETTER, WE’D BE BIGGER.

I’ve heard this lie from the lips of pastors leading churches of every size. The senior pastor of a 20,000-plus megachurch and a Wyoming preacher of a church with 60 on Sundays have said it to me. It’s a plague that can paralyze leaders everywhere.

“My church is succeeding, but my family is failing.”

“I preached a good sermon this week. So I have to deliver a better sermon next week.”

The best evidence this is a lie is that such thinking isn’t biblical. God never commanded anyone to make the church bigger. As men and women leaned into God, focused on his will, and opened themselves to the work of the Spirit in their lives, they grew. And often (but not always) the church grew too.

Focus on self is always destructive. You don’t have the power to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. If you think you can, you’re farther from God than you think. God is not interested in our performance or our success. Like good fathers everywhere, he loves us without reservation, in spite of our failures and weaknesses. If we focus on knowing him instead of improving ourselves, we will become better. And in the meantime, he’ll decide if bigger is best for us and for our church (or our business or our income or the impact of our individual Christian service). When I leave “bigger” to him, the result is always better.

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I’M A FRAUD

IF PEOPLE REALLY KNEW ME, THEY WOULDN’T WANT ME.

Concentration on my own performance can cause me to concentrate on my painful failures and then to desperately try to keep them all a secret. When a pastor has no one who knows all the truth about him, this is death. I think this is why many pastors fall hard.

“If they only knew the truth about me—my temptations, my anger, my moments of irresponsibility, the failures my wife never tells—no church would hire me.” Such thoughts can fester and grow until a person seeks remedy by slipping into dangerous pursuits they think will remove their pain. But the shame resulting from those actions only makes the person feel worse, so they seek to cover up those feelings by acting out again. Soon they’re in a downward spiral that eventually leads to ruin.

In my sermon a few weeks ago, I told about harsh words I’d spoken to my daughter just the night before, my regret about that, and the way I’d asked for her forgiveness. Afterwards in the lobby, one guy thanked me for being so honest. “It’s the best sermon you’ve ever preached,” another guy told me. (I certainly could think of others I thought were better!) All week long, guys called or texted to thank me for telling the truth about myself. I had reflected truth about themselves they hadn’t shared with anyone.

We usually remember God hates sin but sometimes we fail to remember he’s never surprised by it. God anticipated our sin, and he sent his Son to give us an escape from it. Now, with the Spirit to help us fend off Satan’s attacks, we find health by first acknowledging the battle.

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I’M IN TROUBLE.

GOD IS PUNISHING ME FOR NOT BEING MORE FAITHFUL.

This is another variety of self-centered performance anxiety. Any Christian may feel they haven’t checked enough boxes to be good with God. “I haven’t prayed enough. I haven’t read the Bible faithfully enough. I’ve given money, but I’ve misspent what I’ve kept. I haven’t checked my temper, been there for my kids, supported my spouse. My troubles are God’s punishment for my failure to measure up.”

It’s possible that all the lies in this post begin with this one, the neurotic run for gold stars from God. Too often we forget or dismiss what the apostle Paul freely admitted about himself, “The thing I want to do, I don’t do. The thing I want to avoid, I do” (see Romans 7:19). Falling short is a part of every person’s experience.

We’ll be healthier when we see sickness or tragedy as Satan’s product, not God’s. God will work in the midst of our difficulties; he does not cause them.

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I’M TOO FAR GONE EVER TO COME BACK.

IF I HADN’T MADE THAT LEADERSHIP MISTAKE, WE’D BE FARTHER ALONG.

But every great enterprise moves forward by realizing what doesn’t work and trying something else instead. Risk is the fuel that feeds progress. Everyone knows, especially in our changing world, that the times demand fresh thoughts and untried approaches. If you don’t try and fail, you’ll never experience success. There’s no way to move forward without choosing at least a couple avenues you later realize you need to abandon. One day you’ll travel an untried path that will lead you farther than you ever imagined.

We may anticipate our destiny when we enter uncharted waters, but we’re never sure. I wonder how many times Columbus feared he would finally slip off the edge of the earth instead of finding an unknown continent. How many sailing with him were constantly telling him, “We’re gonna die out here!”

After too many mistakes or one colossal blunder, we may tell ourselves, “I’ve made too many wrong decisions to get back on course.” This is wrong; you can always get back on course. But here’s what will not work: A stubborn insistence that you’re not lost can get you killed. Stopping and sitting instead of moving back to a new beginning will lead to a slower death, but one just as certain. And sometimes God uses our poor decision to show us a better way we might never have discovered without first making a mistake.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” That’s the key to disproving this lie, all four of them in fact.

Give your heart to God. Trust him, not yourself. Move away from self-centered analysis that always leads to paralysis. Find the truth in God so you can rise above the lies.

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