It is easy to criticize. I know that all too well. Being a pastor makes me open to that sort of thing. Fear of criticism, though, paralyzes any positive actions that might be taken. But then we may fear criticism if those efforts fail. I promised four but sneaked in a fifth one here in the introductory paragraph. You’re welcome.
What If They Do Not Need Us?
Would the community notice if your church closed? Is that a fear? Most churches are small and struggle to pay the bills. The building is used by a few community organizations. But could they not find accommodations elsewhere. Church leaders are afraid they may be required to close their church. Pastors are never taught how to close churches. But fearing being regarded as irrelevant is scary. It is human nature to want to matter to someone.
Having a church for a neighbor can be a pain sometimes. People park in the street. Someone rings bells at odd times. But there is a concern a neighbor has for a church. Who (or what kind) of people is this church bringing to our neighborhood? This concern leads us to the next “what if” fear.
What If We Provoke Fear In Our Neighbors?
The greatest threat to liberty is an inordinate concern about what the neighbors think. We make sure our buildings and grounds are pleasing to the eye. We try remaining on good terms with our neighbors. But one reason white small churches in the South do not want female pastors is because some busybody is going to have something to say about it. Some will say it is against “Biblical teaching.” But the truth is their fundamentalist family and friends are going to say something about it.
A family member tried goading me into an argument about United Methodists “having women preachers.” I recommended one I knew. I still answer that way.
The fear of many church leaders is something unpopular will be done that stops people from coming into their church buildings.
What If We Change?
How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb? What? Change the light bulb?! I’ll have you know my grandpa put that light bulb in. If it is changed it won’t feel like church to me!
Okay, that is tongue in cheek. We all heard it before. But it is funny because it is true. Many leaders fear being required to change something. Congregations were afraid to close during the pandemic because some people might leave. Some did leave their churches for ones that remained open. One pastor said, “It makes you ask what their theology was to begin with.” I am more concerned about people refusing to examine their position.
What If It Does Not Work?
This is the most paralyzing fear. Despite all of our planning, cajoling, and praying, a plan or change may not work out in the end. We are afraid to spend political capital. Church leaders really want status quo to satisfy everyone. It never happens. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” is the motto of those who maintain the status quo of any organization. “If it is broke, see if a patch job will do,” is what most people want to be able to do. It requires no real commitment of time and effort. And most of all, patchwork requires little in the way of funding.
There is also a fear that some emergency will require everything we previously committed to the change. The resources are no longer available. What then? I wish I could predict for and plan every contingent. But it can not be done.
Pastors and Lay Leaders should let go of “what ifs.” We must recognize what is. Fear has ruled my 30 years of ministry. And it is not just mine. I offer for “what is'” to help relieve us of “what ifs”
- Ask ourselves what is right to do.
- Be concerned about what is the need around us.
- Know what is necessary because knowledge improves all our work.
- Teach what is the right way to treat other people.
Admittedly they are clunky. But they are still right.