I suppose I should start by saying that “fear” may be a strong word. But every pastor has certain things that cause them to wonder, and question, and — yes — even worry. I can’t speak for every pastor out there, but I can tell you three of my biggest “fears,” and how I combat them.
Fear #1: They won’t come back.
In the modern church, pastors often measure our success by the most obvious metric of church “health” — attendance. And, for sure, you can tell a lot about a church by looking at whether or not it’s growing. As a young pastor with just a couple years’ experience under my belt, I can tell you that I worry that first-time guests won’t come back. I worry that at the next conference, when someone asks me “How many you runnin’ now?” I’ll have to give them the same answer as last time.
But then I read a blog post from Seth Godin several years back that warned against the “false proxy trap:”
“Sometimes, we can’t measure what we need, so we invent a proxy, something that’s much easier to measure and stands in as an approximation. TV advertisers, for example, could never tell which viewers would be impacted by an ad, so instead, they measured how many people saw it… One last example: the non-profit that uses money raised as a proxy for difference made. You’ve already guessed the problem. Once you find the simple proxy and decide to make it go up, there are lots of available tactics that have nothing at all to do with improving the very thing you set out to achieve in the first place.”
If our success is only gauged by how many people show up, we may be using a “false proxy.” That’s not to say that attendance doesn’t matter. If we’re trying to be “hospitals for sick souls,” our success depends on people coming through our doors.
I’ve had to remind myself, however — especially in seasons of little or no obvious growth — that not everything that matters is measurable. And many times, growth has to happen in the root system of a plant before we ever see the “fruit.”
Fear #2: I won’t have the right Word.
This goes hand-in-hand with the previous fear. Because I’m so concerned about getting first-time-guests to return, it’s tempting to temper the Word I feel I’m supposed to be preaching or teaching. Being transparent, I tend to be a people-pleaser. I want everyone to like me, and I want everyone to come back and make my church their home. At the same time, I’m concerned that I’ll fail to give the committed what they need in an effort to appease and please first-time-guests. What’s a pastor to do?
I draw a lot of inspiration from leaders of all stripes, and Steve Jobs addressed this one time, saying:
“If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader — sell ice cream.”
I have to remind myself when this fear begins to rear its ugly head that I wasn’t called to make people happy — new people, members…whoever — I was called to preach the gospel. The best thing I can do to counter this fear is what Peter and John did to illicit this response in Acts 4:13:
“The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus.”
If I spend time in prayer, I’ll be able to preach boldly, without fear of response (or the lack thereof).
Fear #3: The church giving funds won’t be there.
I didn’t have this fear when I first accepted the call to pastoring. But I also didn’t realize how much my church was going to be counting on me to be the Chief Fund-raiser, or how important it was for me to “sell” the vision. I assumed it was kind of like the movie Field of Dreams — if you build it (or preach it), the church giving will come. How wrong I was!
It’s our job as pastors to not only present the vision to the church, but to be the architects that determine the structure and strategy to get there, and financiers that figure out how to pay for it all! Luckily, many times the money is “in the fish’s mouth” — we just have to figure out how to get it from Point A to Point B.
Volumes have been written on this subject, but one of the simplest solutions is also the easiest to overlook. Many times, we make it difficult for guests, visitors, and even members to contribute when they feel moved to support the vision. Before you can address inspiration, you have to address the function — is church giving easy to accomplish?
Just having envelopes on the back of your seats or pews is hardly making it easy. I never carry cash, and can’t even tell you where my checkbook is. But my phone? I know where it is 24/7, and so does every guest. Give them a way to give through an app or online, and you’ll see an immediate, positive impact on your church giving. Many places of worship using the Givelify app, for example, see an increase of 20, 30, and even 40% in their contributions, all because they’ve made it easy to give!