Avoiding Anxiety, Cultivating Urgency

Fear of failure. Fear of closing our doors. Fear of no longer being relevant. Fear of not making the budget. Fear of losing members. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown.

Fear seems to be a constant companion for American churches and their leaders these days.

Our context for ministry continues to change exponentially. Our culture’s regard for institutions of all kinds continues to erode. The program-centered model for doing church proves increasingly ineffective. Shrinking congregations bear the burden of caring for aging facilities.

As they face these challenges, some congregations and their leaders are paralyzed by fear and anxiety. Often they turn inward, scrambling for technical solutions, or devolving into conflict. Their reactionary stance can keep them in a vicious, self-focused spiral - unable to pursue or even discern the work God has for them in the world.

Even the healthiest of clergy and churches wonder what the future holds. Will the ministries that have worked so well for decades still connect with emerging generations? Will attendance plateaus turn into decline? What new models for ministry are developing and what will it cost to pursue them?

Numerous times over the past year - in my Holy Experiment cohort group as well as in coaching sessions - the vocabulary of fear and anxiety has crept into conversations.

The words “Do not fear,” “Fear not,” or “Do not be afraid” appear in scripture at least 100 times - mostly on the lips of prophets, angels, and Jesus. The message could not be more clear!

But what would happen if we really believed these words? Do. Not. Fear.

When churches give up fear and anxiety as their guiding motivation, they are freed up to cultivate urgency around their God-given mission.

The same Jesus who says “Fear not!” also says:
“The time is coming and is now here…” (John 4)
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4)
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6)
“Keep awake, for you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25)

Jesus approached his mission in the world with a deep sense of urgency. There was work to be done to bring God’s kingdom into reality on earth. Everything Jesus did - from teaching and healing, to finding solitude to renew his connection to God, to sending out disciples on mission - was rooted in this sense of urgency for doing God’s work.

Jesus invited his disciples to participate in and continue that work. Indeed, he said, we will do “even greater things.” If we believe ourselves to be a part of God’s big project to redeem all of creation. And, if we trust God to provide what we need - time, resources, energy - to do the things God calls us to do. Then, we can leave fear behind, and with urgency join God’s mission in the world.

Cultivating a healthy sense of urgency can be an antidote for our tendency toward anxiety. But what are some practical steps toward getting there?

* Acknowledge the changing context and our tendency toward responding with fear and anxiety. We can pay attention to the world around us, the common experiences we share with other churches and clergy, and our own gut reactions to change.
• Believe that God work in the world continues, in the midst of change and challenge. We can watch for God’s movement in our own lives, in our congregations, and in our communities.
• Cultivate a culture of experimentation. We can discern together new ways of being/doing church, redefine failure as an opportunity to grow, take risks to join God’s mission in the world.
• Seek out resources to guide you an this journey. We can connect with many good books/blogs/articles, clergy cohort groups, community partners, or coaches and consultants who walk alongside churches in this journey.

We know there is important work to be done and we want to start today - we want to start right now. God’s kingdom is coming! It’s already on its way, on earth as it is in heaven. We want to help make it a reality.

So, let’s move past our fears and get to work!

Rev. David M. Brown
Consulting Coordinator
Pinnacle Leadership Associates