The Toxic World of the Insecure Pastor

I exchanged emails with one of my pastor readers yesterday. She too has a ministry to pastors and realized that we share a common mission: to help pastors get emotionally healthy so they can have emotionally healthy churches.  blog_insecurity

But the truth is, with so many things to think about in pastoring a church, emotional health often falls to the bottom of the priority list. And that’s easy to understand for at least two reasons: one, it’s always easier to do most ANYTHING rather than focus on your weaknesses. And two, leadership training typically focuses on leadership tactics and strategy. In other words, there aren’t many people out there emphasizing emotional health in pastors.

That’s unfortunate because failing to look at your dark side – and deal with it – will undermine the greatest strategy. Worse, it will create a culture that nurtures unhealthy attitudes, which will remain long after you are gone.

What is the dark side? In my opinion, insecurity is at the heart of the dark side. Insecurity feeds all kinds of dysfunction. I’ve seen too many leaders use their leadership to find healing for their insecurity. In their mind, if people will follow them, it will prove to themselves and others that they are valuable. Most leaders would never admit this is their motivation to lead. And honestly, they probably don’t see it. But it’s there. And it’s destructive. 

The odd thing is, insecurity, in a backwards way, often creates leaders.

Years ago I was listening to a pastor talk about how his father never gave him any credit. I suddenly got this uneasy feeling that his pastoral “calling” may have been his way of dealing with his “father wound.” This is a danger in any helping field, wounded people seek to help others as a way to help themselves. It’s so important that pastors and counselors find their wholeness in Christ before they seek to help others or they will actually cause harm.

Insecurity will make you:

  • Competitive: you need to show others that you are better than they are.
  • Jealous: you constantly compare your ministry to others you consider more successful.
  • Ungrateful: focusing on what others have causes you to hold what you have in contempt.
  • Defensive: when people try to correct you, you are quick to offer excuses in fear of being exposed in your weakness.
  • Argumentative: defending yourself isn’t enough. You feel the need to go on the offensive.
  • Risk Averse: afraid that a challenge will expose your weakness, you play it safe.
  • Over Confident: in need of affirmation, you take unnecessary risks.
  • Unforgiving: easily hurt, you find it hard to “turn the other cheek” to your critics and brood.
  • Legalistic: because you never measure up in your mind, you make it hard for others to measure up to your standards.
  • Think Scarcity: not abundance. The insecure person lives in a small world where there is never enough to go around. It feels like the sky is falling.
  • No fun: when you are trying to justify your existence every day, life gets pretty serious. People around you walk on eggshells because they realize how fragile you are.
  • Toxic: add up everything I just listed out and, man…who wants to be around that? You will make people miserable and they’ll either stay and be miserable with you, or leave.

The odd thing is, insecurity, in a backwards way, often creates leaders. People become leaders to find the affirmation they lack. And since they are so driven to succeed, they often attract followers. It’s usually not until the organization is well on its way before followers notice the “cracks” in the leader. Churches that got off to a great start can slide into a slow fade or quick dive leaving people wondering, “What happened? I used to think he/she was great.” Church planters beware!

What happened is the leader was deeply insecure and sought to salve it by gaining followers…usually unknown to them. Left untreated, it created a negative culture that slowly began to erode. The vacuum of insecurity sucked the life out of the congregation.

On the other hand, when insecure pastors find wholeness in Christ it breeds a culture of grace. No topic is out of bounds. Mistakes are forgiven, not punished. Freedom is in the air, along with a “can do” attitude. And it’s just a lot of fun to “do church” together!

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in ministry for two years or twenty, your insecurity will hurt the church. Before you go to another leadership seminar, take an honest look in the mirror and ask yourself how much insecurity drives what you do.

I didn’t try to answer the problem of insecurity here because I’ve written about it many times on this blog. I added a few links below that you might explore, drop “shame” in the search box in the margin to pull up more posts, or check out my book, Healing the Hurts of Your Past.

You might also want to check out  Broken Trust…a practical guide to identify and recover from toxic faith, toxic church, and spiritual abuse.

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