Leadership is Fighting Against Fear of Man

“You can’t preach on topics like circumcision from the pulpit. What on earth were you thinking?!” I so badly wanted to roll my eyes. With condescending eyes, the deacon’s wife brought accusations of me going through verse-by-verse expositional preaching through the Book of Luke.

I quite honestly wasn’t even shocked at this point anymore. Even before the meeting I sarcastically thought, “Oh this is going to be fun” I didn’t know if I should have laughed or cried at the same time as I faced the reality of pastoral leadership I was dealing with. The accusations brought by deacons and members were just crazy. The complaints were stacking up from the HR committee, staff members, and anonymous complaints, that seemed “unreasonable complaints”

– “Your sermon is a hot mess and you’re preaching heresy” 

– “I don’t respect you as you do not meet pastoral qualification” 

– “Since your son has been born, your sermon quality has dropped”  

– “You’re a liar because Easter service attendance was 392, and you said 400.” 

– “Pastors are to be blameless, but you’re not. Please revoke your ordination certificate” 

– “Yeah, about your wife, she better start treating my wife kindly” 

These lists were not taken, so that I could stack up people’s mistakes, as no one is perfect. Scripture says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5 NIV). Just like God does not keep a record of my wrongdoing, this naturally goes against my nature to keep a “log sheet” of past mistakes.

I felt like I was going crazy in my head. I felt I was insane. Even later, the associate pastor that I hired accused me that I had a personality disorder and needed to seek a professional licensed counselor for consultation/assessment.

In my head, I said, “You gotta be freaking kidding me!” I was quite frankly, just so exhausted. I was tired of the business meeting that started at 6:00 p.m. and I didn’t get home until 11:45 p.m. I was frustrated with all the committee meetings I needed to sit in which seemed like a waste of time.

Ministry at this point was more a burden to my heart than a delight to my soul. I lost sight of the “why” of pastoring and focused more on the “what” of pastoral ministry.

The Slow and Steady Derailing in Pastoral Ministry

At age 16, I met a Pastor who shared the gospel with me and for the very first time in my life, I decided to profess Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of the Father. My life has never been the same since meeting Jesus. Everything changed when Christ came into my life.

I wanted to be like that pastor who was the real deal. I remember telling myself as a new convert, “Now I do not want to even waste a day, hour, minute, or second, but to be alive for Jesus and to minister to those who have not heard the good news.” My dream was to become a pastor and preach the Gospel. I was on fire with passion for souls and told myself that, “If God says I must go to the mountain, the wilderness, the battlefield, then I will go, because there is nowhere safer than in His arm of love.”

Even though at times people laughed at me saying, “Ex-gang members can never be a pastor” there were consistently adults patting my back physically and verbally encouraging me to stand with the Lord by serving him vocationally.

I was eventually blindsided by a meeting. It was a rough meeting, with every wrong that I’ve ever done being displayed, and went for a total of 5 hours. I was accused of preaching a false gospel. One of the deacons said that I was a “heretic”. That day, the verbal and physical affirmation that I’ve received all my life faded away, and felt so small, that my world came down quickly.

The initial discouragement grew over time and spiraled into despair, and the despair eventually turned into disdain.

20 years later now, I had to humble myself and face the mirror of myself and ask, “What went wrong?” I knew deep down in my heart, what went wrong. It was time for me to put my big boy pants on and take a break from all the madness I was in. That was the hardest part for me. As a leader, I felt like I needed to be in control of the room, control of the conversation, and control so that there would not be chaos in those moments.

Quite frankly, we all must admit our weaknesses, don’t we? God’s grace is sufficient, yes, I knew that. My humble posture says, “In my weakness, God’s strength is made clear” I needed to confess my need as a leader to say that I didn’t have it all together. It didn’t matter if I had a Bible college degree, a seminary master’s education, or even a doctorate from one of the leading seminaries in the nation. I leaned on my self-sufficiency and tried to push through with my training and knowledge to get to the other side.

To be transparent, I was only a weak, pitiful, needy sinner of a strong, wonderful, rich Savior who is there for me. I tried to act like God himself who was omnipotent (can do all things), omniscient (knows all things), and omnipresent (be at all places) and that was pure foolishness.


The Biggest Battle in Leadership 

I remember going through David Powlison’s book, “Seeing Through New Eyes” with the X-Ray data gathering questionnaire. One of the questions is, “What are you fearful” Fear is a double-edged sword which shows the other side of desire. If one fears rejection, that is because the desire is acceptance. I wanted to be accepted by men and I did not seek acceptance by the Lord.

I stopped looking to the Lord. I didn’t trust God; I trusted my gut. That’s a bad place to be. I needed to trust God in all things, not within my situation. I in a sense, became a “practical atheist” and lived as though God did not exist as I took all the burdens and anxiety upon my shoulder.

I wanted to only escape from the reality of difficulty and conflict that was there which made me full of anxiety. I apologize I was not a pastor who was grounded in Christ, which led to a whole lot of other troubles. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3) I didn’t do that, but instead I have gotten caught up in self-pity and focused more on myself and less on others.

I realize that at first early on in ministry, I was focused on the right thing; namely focused on the glory of God and the salvation of all mankind. I knew the textbook answer in my mind, but not within my heart. As ministry progressed, church ministry became more about the ABC metrics. (1) attendance, (2) baptism, (3) cash flow. Yes, the church was growing, and God did amazing things, yet I was dying within my soul.

As the church grew, there were many challenges. There was a lot of fussing and fighting. There were no adjustments made in the leadership style, and pastoral care didn’t happen with quality and attention as needed, but I kept trying. I wore myself off, personal studies, I neglected exercise, neglected family time. I knew personally as well that I was not hitting home runs every week. With the ministry demands with many meetings, I’ve noticed, I just stopped sleeping. To do sermon prep I was getting up at 3:00 a.m every day to do sermon prep.

The issue was as the book “Motive” by Patrick Lencioni put it well of reward-centered leadership. I have lost sight of the casual and gradual change, the pressure of weight in ministry, and how my focus was no longer on the Lord but on the demands of the people.

The issue of “fear of man” became my main focus rather than “fear of God” (Prov 1:7). In other words, as Ed Welch said it well, people became big, and God became small.

Lesson from the Trenches of Pastoral Leadership Burnout 

“Consider it all joy, my brethren” (James 1:2-4). I was not rejoicing, I was bellyaching, a pastor who was not living out the theology I have taught. There was pain that was in the gut that just didn’t go away. Utter desperation, and spiritual answers from my soul, I felt trapped and couldn’t move forward. I wanted to simply quit and “cut and run”.

I became a bitter Christian, bitter husband, bitter father, and a bitter pastor. Eventually, that resulted in a season of depression.

“One given to anger causes many transgressions.” (Prov 29:22). Although I didn’t yell, walk out of a meeting, or slam doors, I was truly angry within my heart. I was hurt, I was anxious, I was mad at the situation. Because I was caught in self-pity, I began to live in self-preservation mode and began to live at the arms-length of leaders around me. I intentionally avoided certain phone calls after hours as I did not want to speak to people

As a result, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness” (Heb 12:15). I have become bitter and passive in my leadership where I simply began to focus only on the ministry of “preaching” and neglected in “discipleship” Towards the end, I was no longer a pastor but was a “chaplain” who did not lead courageously from up front and in the middle of the week.

This eventually flowed into my teaching and preaching as well. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have no love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor 13:1). I struggled in my heart to love people as Jesus did.

As I looked from the pulpit, I was frustrated with how people left the church for no good reason. I saw people who were not there and did not deal with conflict biblically, and I was upset about how people walked out during worship with the deacons. I failed to love my enemies as Jesus did. I have failed to love and was shown in my word of choice. I did not build up people but was passive and stopped leading through loving affirming words.

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