(CONTINUING TO LOOK AT VULNERABILITY AND ANXIETY FROM TED TALK BY BRENE’ BROWN as applied to the pastorate.)
HIDING FROM VULNERABILITY
When our institutions fail us, people feel very vulnerable and anxious. You are asked to be a pastor to anxious people who feel like the world is out of control. From sports teams, to bankers, to government, to military, to educational institutions, to merchants, and the list can go on, who do you really trust? As a pastor, you can add the church who many people feel has also let them down.
So you come to a church with people whose experience has made them feel vulnerable and who don’t trust anyone they can’t see up close. Brown suggests that people in such a situation try to numb the fears that make them feel bad. Some try to do it through drugs or sex, others by wealth or power, and still others by building a shield around them so they don’t have to feel. The problem is that you can’t selectively numb feelings, so you begin to shut down from all that gives life meaning and joy.
CONGREGATIONS OF SCARED PEOPLE
Brown suggests 3 basic responses to vulnerability that we can easily see in our churches as well. People want their church to offer clear and certain answers that help them feel secure. They want perfect institutions and people, so they have little tolerance for imperfection. They pretend that what they want is not secured at the cost to others. They want the church programs and pastor to attend to their needs and they don’t like being asked to think beyond themselves to the implications for the larger world. They may not say it, but they are scared and they want to be reassured that someone has the perfect answer that will build the perfect community, and if others don’t get it, that is their problem.
A VISION FOR A CONGREGATION
I will begin to spell out some practical steps in the next blog, but first I want to suggest some key theological steps that a pastor might draw upon for the congregation and for self.
- An emphasis on the sovereignty of God. In an uncertain world, people need to be reminded that we believe that God is Lord of history. It is God, not the politicians, personal wealth, or bright ideas that we look to for the future. If our prayer is accurate, “Thy will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven,” then we are looking for that hope in our earthly life. Human institutions do let us down, but God can be trusted.
- Humans, even the best of humans, are imperfect. That goes for our institutions as well. We don’t need to look for the perfect politician, preacher, or church to save us. We need to look for ways that imperfect people can build community and support each other in building a better life.
- Like Abraham and Sarah, when they began this venture of faith, we are on a journey without a clear set of answers but with a God who we can trust. It is natural that we will make mistakes and even suffer a little. But on the way, we can experience joy, creativity, and belonging. We are not alone and if we are compassionate to each other, we will be led to a better place.
Next time, I will suggest 3 practices that can help a pastor in this time of anxiety.