“Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6).
“Why did you fear? Where is your faith?” (Mark 4:40)
Worry, they say, is spending energy and resources on needless situations. Crossing bridges we may never come to. Paying bills that never come due.
Worry is a waste of the imagination, someone said. And almost everyone agrees that, for a believer, worry is sin.
But that doesn’t help, does it? Telling someone not to worry is the equivalent of instructing passengers not to be afraid when the plane is in a nosedive. A lot of good that would do.
Now, what one person calls “worry” another may call “being concerned” or “caring deeply.” When a husband tells his wife he does not worry about some upcoming crisis, almost always she interprets that as his not caring. When the church treasurer said he lies awake at night worrying about our finances, I replied, “Not me. The Lord is going to be up all night anyway; I let him worry about it. I sleep like a baby.” He was thereafter convinced I didn’t love the church as much as he did.
That said, my experience is that some issues do indeed occupy space front and center in the minds and hearts of God’s ministers.
Here are several that come to mind….
One. Pastors worry about finding the balance between their responsibility to God and their accountability to the congregation.
It’s true that pastors are accountable to the people to whom they minister. The episcopal type of church government tries to ease the pressure on the minister by creating a layer of administration between him (her, sometimes) and the membership. But even in the Catholic church, the epitome of hierarchical rule, an unhappy congregation will generally persuade the bishop to make a change in their ministers.
Even so, a faithful pastor knows that while his governing board may sit in judgment on his work each month, there is One who oversees it moment by moment. And ultimately, His is the only judgment that counts.
Two. Pastors worry that they may promote financial causes for all the wrong reasons. Two times during my forty-plus years of pastoring the church experienced dramatic increases in the offerings even through the dreaded summertime. In both cases, the church was able to give the staff salary increases. The second time it happened, my critics accused me of putting that giving program in place so the congregation would increase my salary. Had those people loved their pastor, it surely would have mattered to them that I had come to their church for just over half what the previous church was paying and had not had a raise in three years. But when people want to carp, they can always find a reason.
Three. Pastors worry that their staffs may need more from them–direction, counsel, more information–than they are receiving. At the same time, they feel they’re doing all they can with limited energy and a hundred demands preying upon them.
Four. Pastors worry that their children are not getting enough of their time. They hear the jokes about “the preacher’s kids being the church’s troublemakers” and grimace.
Five. Pastors worry about their wives. Is my wife satisfied? Fulfilled? Finding her place of ministry? Does she have enough close friends in the church–but not too many? Am I giving her sufficient time and energy? And if I’m not, how in the world can I ever find the time or energy to redress that?
Six. Pastors worry about their health, the same way everyone else on the planet does. Am I eating right? Am I drinking too much coffee, taking in too much caffeine? Getting enough exercise? Gaining weight?
Seven. Pastors worry about retirement. Will I be able to afford to retire? Even if the retirement fund is adequate, what if the stock market falls? Where will we live? Will I still have the opportunity to preach when I’m older?
Eight. Pastors worry about the parts of the Bible they’re not preaching. Should I do a series of sermons on Ecclesiastes or Proverbs? How in the world can I tackle a book like Isaiah or Jeremiah and do it justice? Does the Lord even want that of me?
Once on a staff retreat, I asked my colleagues, “What am I neglecting in my preaching?” The answer came quickly: “You need to preach on the home more.” I knew immediately why I’d neglected this subject. My wife and I had a difficult relationship that had resulted in a solid year of marriage counseling. I simply felt unqualified to preach on the home. And yet, God does not ask His servant to be perfect in the message he is bringing, but to bring it.
Spurgeon used to tell his young preacher students that the pastor must not limit the proclamation of God’s Word to the portion they have lived up to, but that he is also preaching to himself as well as the congregation.
Nine. Pastors worry about the criticism they receive. Could my critics be right? They’re often unfair and are never satisfied. Nothing I do pleases them and no amount of adjustments I do in response to their belly-aching lessens their attacks. Am I diluting God’s message in order to win the approval of people who despise me?
I heard of a pastor who was called to a church by a vote of 98 for and 2 against. He spent the first six months trying to find who the two nay-votes were, and the second six months trying to win them over. At the end of his first year, he was voted out of the church: 98 against, 2 for.
Ten. Pastors worry about their appearance–clothing, haircut, etc. Am I trying to be too trendy? or too stuck in the 1950s? If I remove the necktie and swap the gabardine for denims, will I have better rapport with the congregation? or just alienate them? Would it be all right if I colored my hair just enough to remove the grey?
Now, at the age of 78, I am happy to announce to you that my worry list has nothing at all in common with the above ten things! (Please smile.) In fact, I may be in the enviable position of having no worries at all. I’ve informed my sons that for the first time in my long life, there is zero stress. And I attribute that to a lot of things–the grace of God, the blessings of the wife God has given me, the home He has provided for us, and the continued opportunities for ministry that He gives. I am so blessed.
But I remember. And of course, I’m with pastors all the time and I hear their hearts (and their concerns). So, the above is what I have gleaned from memory of my own situation and observing my friends.
What do we do with our worries?
Simple. “Casting all our cares on Him, for He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7). That is the eternal remedy, whether for God’s pastors or the rest of the family.
God’s children soon learn that casting our cares on Him is a constant thing. Even if we do that well today, tomorrow will bring a new set of concerns and we’ll be exercising that discipline again.
And we will learn one more skill: We will learn how to turn the concerns off in order to sleep at night. If we are unable to do so, we will not last in the Lord’s work. Pastors live in a world of unfinished jobs. If we cannot learn to leave them at the foot of the cross and rest in the Lord, we won’t make it.
Earlier today, while still in bed I found myself praying for my health and my wife’s health. We’re doing great, but only the Father knows the future. And I was simply asking Him to keep us in good health.
Now, if He would only turn Blue Bell Vanilla Bean ice cream into a health food, things would be perfect!