Before reading through to the end…
take just a minute to write down your hopes for Easter.
Don’t think too hard, just write down what is in the front of your mind about the upcoming holiday.
My guess from spending years on church staffs and subsequently working with church leaders is that a lot of what you wrote down (or that popped to the front of your consciousness) relates to goals and numbers. More people than there were last Easter. More first-time guests. More commitments to follow Christ. More sign-ups for upcoming programming.
These are the outcomes that have likely driven your to-do list heading into the holiday. Creating a system to get information from new attendees. Booking a local auditorium or school in order to accommodate hoped for crowds. Planning a message series that speaks to a community felt need. Recruiting people for special Easter programming like a breakfast or egg hunt. Choosing worship songs that are catchy and will inspire the anticipated guests. Sending out a full-color mailer to hundreds or thousands of homes to advertise what is coming up.
in our church culture, easter has become a growth event.
With that mindset of growth and the accompanying metrics, there is a magnification of anxiety, insecurity, and loneliness for the church leader. For many, these feelings are continually operating in the background every week. Each week presents a new need for the pastor to prove their value and live up to people’s expectations. Conversely, each week also presents a new opportunity for failure.
But Easter takes that pressure to another level. What happens if there is not growth or, worse, there is a decrease? Does that mean I am not good enough? Is God active in what I am doing? Is this a healthy church? So much of how the pastor feels about him or herself revolves around the word ‘more’.
Why does this holiday that is about freedom and reconciliation bring with it so much pastoral anxiety and worry?
the answer relates to the source of the church leader’s identity.
Identity is your sense of what gives you significance or value. There are three questions that we use to define our identity:
what do i do?
what do i have?
what do people think of me?
Or stated another way, we use roles, results, and relationships to give us a sense of who we are and why we matter. Herein lies the problem: these questions of identity were meant to be answered by our presence in the image of God. There is freedom and rest because we do not have to do anything; we are significant because God created us. In Christ, we have everything the Father could lavish on His children. We stand before Him approved.
Yet, we are curious creatures that try to prove our significance in ways apart from our Creator. For many pastors, this false sense of identity is fed by their role as the church leader.
It is an easy trap to fall into. Think of Abraham and Sarah. They were given a promise by the God who was the object of their faith. Numerous descendants would be theirs. Slowly, the promise became the source of their significance rather than the God who made the promise. As a result, they tried to create descendants in their own way. It was a false identity.
When a role is the foundation of our identity, then what you have is never enough. Contentment becomes impossible. The number of people in attendance becomes a reflection of value. More people adds value and fewer people will call our significance into question. Jesus becomes a means to an end; we look to our roles, results, and relationships and pray for Christ to give us the success it takes to build our identity.
When our role becomes the source of our identity, problems follow.
our message does not get approval
or there are fewer people in church
or giving is down
or there is a bigger church in town
or another church has a great outreach idea
It is often interpreted as a problem with you, or your relationship with God because your role is the source of your being.
Anxiety produced by comparison, competition, or complaint is a symptom of this false source of identity.
Like any other feeling, anxiety is a gift. It is an opportunity to develop self-awareness and deepen surrender of your will to Christ.
Easter is a reminder of the great lengths God went to in order to have a relationship with you. Take time each day for the one thing that matters. Be quiet. Come before God without a list of demands. Make no promises. Just listen. If the thought of doing that feels scary or like a waste of time, you are on to the root of the problem.
so the one thing that matters this easter is to make sure you are centered in Christ.
Remind yourself that Christ is the reason you are significant, not the size of your Easter crowd or the quality of your Sunday message.
effective ministry is not related to size; it is about faithfulness.
effective ministry is not related to programming; it is about loving others.
Live in awareness of your identity, for it is complete in Christ.
Questions to consider:
What causes you anxiety in a typical day? What might this indicate about where you are trying to draw a sense of significance from?
How can you remind yourself to pause and reflect on who you are in Christ?