Early on in ministry, I suffered from pastoral agoraphobia. After two years as an associate of a growing church, the senior pastor left and I was asked to take his spot, actually voted in by the congregation. I soon realized my gift of church growth. I grew the church from 500 to 300 overnight. My re-occurring dream was walking on the stage to preach on a Sunday morning, and no one was sitting in the high school auditorium where we met—not even my wife and kids!
So I took control. If there was a meeting, I was in it. If there was a decision, I made it. If there was a newcomer to visit, I visited them. When there was a screw up, I owned it (like the time we advertised two different times for our one Christmas Eve service). Certainly God was sovereign, but I became his sovereign surrogate.
I have learned a lot over the years. And I am sure many who lead with me will tell you I’m not completely cured of agoraphobia. But here’s some ways I have confronted my fear.
1. Lead people with people.
I believe leaders lead. You have to step up, share the vision, provide overall leadership, and take responsibility. But leaders never lead alone. I am privileged to work with a strong group of elders and pastoral staff. Build a team of strong, trusted leaders.
2. Let other gifted leaders use their gifts.
Within a year of taking over as Senior Pastor, we were in a building campaign. And, of course, I was on the Building Team. This team was made up of extremely capable men and women who were experts in design and construction. The leader of the group led multi-million dollar building projects around the world. I had already shared the ministry vision and now it was up to the team to build a building that would allow that to happen. One night, one of my friends on the team said, “What are you doing here? Go home and spend some time with your family. You don’t know anything about building anyway.” He was right. I left and never attended another building team meeting unless they invited me to share ministry vision. That same team has led our church through three major building projects in the last 15 years.
I know this is Leadership 101—but share the vision, get the right people in the right place, and give them freedom to use their gifts.
3. Team up with strong leaders.
A leader cannot be afraid of strong leaders. Our Executive Director was a business leader before becoming a church leader. He is a strong leader and gifted in business administration. He leads a strong support team and functions as a liaison with our Finance Ministry Team made up of very strong men and women. Our Executive Pastor came from a successful business career. He is a gifted leader who gets things done through people. The pastor of our Men’s Ministry was an All-Pro offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was team captain for several years and served as the vice-president of the NFL players association. Our Men’s ministry is thriving under his leadership. Both the Executive Pastor and Men’s Pastor are gifted and dynamic teachers. Our Worship Pastor is not only a gifted musician but a strong leader. We have several young pastors on our staff who lead our community campuses and ministries. Our church is governed by a group of strong biblically-qualified elders—each a leader in his own right.
There are many reasons that 95% of the churches in the United States have 150 or fewer attenders. But I believe a major reason is pastoral agoraphobia. A church will never experience its full potential if the leader refuses to confront his fear of losing control. An effective pastor leading a healthy church must be secure enough to lead a team of men and women as strong or stronger than he is. With people all around us headed to an eternity separated from God, we cannot be satisfied with unhealthy communities content with “us four and no more” led by men and women unwilling or unable let the Body unleash its strong and dynamic gifts.
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, or arguments.