Depends on who's asking
Becoming Director of Pastoral Ministries for the South Carolina Baptist Convention back in 2001 required some personal adjustments I hadn't anticipated. One slapped me in the face during a lunch conversation with a pastor from a neighboring town. The verbatim went something like this, after lunch and all the small talk:
Me: Good to see you, How are you doing?
Pastor: Who's asking?
Me: What do you mean?
Pastor: Before I answer I need to know who's asking. Is my friend Sonny Holmes
asking? Or, is state convention staff member Sonny Holmes asking?
Right then I knew I needed a refresher course in basic statistics, gathering research, and how to factor the halo effect into what I was asking. His reluctance to speak honestly with me about his situation revealed not so much a cynicism about our state convention staff or institutions in general, but more about the personal fears that clouded his ministry. Those three years confirmed what I had suspected long before moving to the state convention staff: for the most part fear is the prime emotional trigger for pastors. Perhaps that's why Paul was so direct is addressing Timothy's tears. He wrote---
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you
through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of
power and love and self-control.
2 Timothy 1: 6-7, ESV
Evidently Paul had either seen or heard about this same reticence in Timothy. He wanted Timothy to be bold and compelled by love, self-control, and spiritual power.
Pause for a general observation. The spiritual landscape of America and the
church's response to it have changed more in the past ten years than in the
previous twenty-five of my ministry service. What had been a slippery slope of
moral slippage suddenly became a sharp, abrupt landslide of moral and ethical
change. The basic core foundations of American culture were upended quickly----
religion, family, government---and fear became the ethos of a society in shock.
The dynamics of ministry in this fast, relativistic, secular world changed as well,
introducing several new layers of uncertainty into church life, and upon those who lead
it. The stress level of pastors, church staff, and ministers in every phase of ministry have
been aggravated by these cultural changes. They are a new element of pressure for
There's probably ample research on the fears of spiritual leaders. My own observation has recognized five fears most experienced by pastors and others in key church leadership roles. They are----
1. The fear of failing or disappointing God.
2. The fear of not adequately caring for and ministering to his family.
3. The fear of being dismissed from a ministerial position.
4. The fear of criticism or conflict in the church.
5. The fear of making bad decisions.
Notes about these specific fears were scribbled in the margins of my memory during heart breaking conversations with pastors and leaders experiencing their weight. In accountability groups, friend-to-friend, they emerged easily after some trust was established and we could share the joys and frustrations of ministry. When I became a member of the convention staff, I had to dig them out. Not because there was any doubt in them about confidentiality or mistrust about the motivations of my counsel. No, their reluctance was mostly because they didn't want me to think they were
inadequate as leaders. In many instances their reservation challenged them deeply because they were people of faith who trusted God and believed that God could do anything, even overcome their failings. Often they were fearful of discussing their trouble with anyone else, including their wives.
My recent book, Finish. Period. Going the Distance in Ministry addresses many of these fears and provides biblical encouragement for pastors and leaders experiencing the exigencies of spiritual leadership. There are chapters about the character building Jesus is doing in those he calls, endurance and perseverance, the steps leaders must take for the long haul, and five promises God makes to spiritual leaders. They are all linked to the fears that so often shadow our service.
It's one of the reason I'm a champion of pastor-to-pastor accountability groups and people outside the denominational organization being equipped to encourage and bless those who lead. There's just one obstacle all of us need to overcome when a fellow pastor or colleague is hurting and in need of our help. If he asks, "who's asking?", we must be sure to know it's not about us.