The insecure pastor

“I am only an unworthy servant; just doing my duty” (Luke 17:10). 

I’ve noticed that actors seem to be an insecure bunch.

On the reruns of the old Match Game show (Game Show Network; these shows were run in the 1970s), celebrities are asked to supply answers that match those given by the contestant.  Invariably, the guest celebs are so frightened their contributions will be laughed at (in the wrong way) by the audience.  Their nervous laughter betrays them.

It’s understandable.  And even endearing.

The longtime “mayor of Hollywood” was Johnny Grant, who died in 2008.  It was an honorary position since Hollywood is a district of Los Angeles.  But Mr. Grant was known for his participation in the Hollywood Walk of Fame when a star would be placed on a sidewalk to honor a celebrity.  I heard him say once that in all the years of his involvement, he had never met one celebrity–not one–who was not insecure and afraid no one would show up for the little ceremony.

My wife and I were watching the PBS series on Queen Victoria last Sunday evening.  This segment dealt with the publicity the queen received which threw everyone for a loop.  An artist had sketched her giving one of her seven children a bath.  A print shop made hundreds of copies and sold them on the streets. The public was crazy about the drawings.  But Buckingham Palace was not so sure.  The queen’s advisors were alarmed and they upset the queen by assuring her the mystery and dignity of her office, of “the crown,” were being undermined.  She was torn, unable to decide what to do, until she learned that the public adored this image of her.  It personalized their queen and they loved it.

Insecurity in anyone is a frightening thing and can actually cause a ton of problems.

Pastors can be among the world’s worst at handling their insecurities.

Here are a number of ways we have seen insecure pastors behave…

One. They collect titles and honors with which to adorn themselves, thinking that makes them more, bigger, greater, better.

Doctor. Reverend. Right Reverend.  Bishop.  Senior Pastor.  Even apostle, which I find so unbiblical as to be offensive (but that’s another article). Executive pastor.

I’ve known of preachers who started colleges and then awarded honorary doctorates to their friends who had likewise started their own colleges.  Then, the other college returned the favor.  Shameless, but so transparent you have to wonder if people don’t see through this sham.  (I suspect they dismiss it as “just those games you preachers play.”)

Okay.  I have a doctorate.  But for what it’s worth, you will not hear me telling stories about “when I got my doctorate.”  I cringe every time I hear a pastor doing that.  No matter how you dress it up, it’s bragging and nothing less.

Two.  They buy degrees with certificates for heir wall and titles for their mailbox.

A few hundred dollars will get you any kind of degree you wish.  When a nationally respected Christian magazine ran an ad from a degree mill in my part of the state, one that was always under investigation by state authorities, I called up the editor and shamed him for taking their money and perpetuating the scam.  He said he had no way of knowing and canceled the contract.  My hope is that in the future he checked out potential advertisers before accepting their publicity.

You wonder about us pastors.  Have we no shame?  (Not all, by any means.  But enough for this to be a problem.)

Three.  An insecure pastor will insist that he be called by his title.

Friends tell me they have been in churches where the pastor had a doctorate of some kind–almost always cheaply acquired–and who insisted on being addressed as “Doctor.”  One wonders if he did not know how ridiculous this made him appear, or if he simply did not care.

Call any pastor “Brother” or “Pastor,” and let it go at that.  If he is the real deal, he will be honored to be either or both.

Four.  He makes sure everyone knows of his attainments, his degrees, his awards.

Look on the back of the book he publishes. The description of the author-preacher will either have been written by him or approved by him. In some cases, the hubris is stark and startling.  One pastor had written on the back of his book on prayer, “Pastor (blank) is an expert on prayer.”  For some reason I confess to finding that offensive.  I thought of my family, mom and dad and their six children.  Now, imagine one of my siblings claiming to be an expert on talking with our parents.  The other five would not take that lightly.  “What’s to be an expert on?  All you have to do is talk!!”

Five.  He is paranoid about a staff member being too successful, too popular, or too appreciated. 

Some pastors will not let a co-worker preach from his pulpit lest he do too good a job.  One pastor instructed his young assistant not to visit in a member’s home two times in a row without the pastor having been there in between.  He was so fearful the family would like the young man more than him.

Six.  Listen for the overuse of the first person personal pronoun. 

I did this.  I am doing that.  I received this.  I am going there.  On and on.  I heard a sermon by an insecure narcissist as he went on and on telling about himself, one story after another.  In the middle of one story about himself, he stopped and said, “Oh God! I’m making myself look so bad.”  I wanted to stand up and say, “How about making Jesus look good! Enough about you.”  In fact, the first mention of Jesus Christ came at the end of his sermon.

Seven. The insecure pastor can be mean and hostile even. 

They’re mad at the denomination for not recognizing them, disappointed in their own congregation for not responding to their inspired leadership, and upset at fellow pastors for ignoring them.  (I wish I could say this is theoretical, but it’s not.  I’ve known these pastors.)

I’ve known of pastors who were chronically angry that they were not on programs to speak at large events, upset that some churches were growing while theirs was not, and mad because the big churches would not send their search committees his way.

An inflated, bleeding ego is an ugly thing.

The cure for insecurity and narcissism?  Is there one 

Come to the cross of Jesus Christ and die.  Now do it daily. (I Corinthians 15:31)

“I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live.  Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me…”  (Galatians 2:20).

“Present your bodies a living sacrifice….” (Romans 12:1).

Are you disappointed?  Were you expecting something fresh and creative?  The remedy of Scripture is the only one there is, friend.  “Come and die.”

“Take up your cross and follow me.”  “Lose your life to find it.”  “He must increase; I must decrease.”

It has been well noted that before the Lord can ever use a servant, he must be broken.  That breaking process–which brings to mind the taming of a horse by a rancher–is not automatic, but frequently comes after a crisis.  The insecure, blustering preacher loses his job and learns what a self-destructive course he was on, and surrenders to the Savior.  The narcissistic pastor receives a comeuppance from his church leadership and finding himself in trouble, goes to the One Person in the universe who has been pulling for this to happen and is ready and able to use it for good.

I suggest two things for the insecure but well-intentioned servant of God:

  1. Live in the parable of Luke 17:7-10 for two weeks, reading it again and again, and praying for the grace to find its meaning.
  2. Keep saying to yourself, “It’s not about me.  it’s not about me.”

“It is good that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statues” (Psalm 1129:71).  Sometimes we are not teachable until life caves in on us.

Pray you and I will find an easier schoolmaster.




2 thoughts on “The insecure pastor

  1. My dear brother and Pastor Joe
    I praise God for your life, and for leading me to know you through this Blog.
    Thank you my brother for using your experience and maturity to teach us.
    I needed to learn more about it.

    God bless my brother !!

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