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Peter Steinke has written a helpful book, Congregational Leadership In Anxious Times.  Steinke subtitled his book, Being Calm and Courageous No Matter What.  Good advice for these anxious times.  In my presentation to small church pastors at The Cove last week, I borrowed Steinke’s “13 Triggers for Anxiety” in churches.  Here’s his take on what causes the panic meter to go up in congregations.  The categories are Steinke’s, the comments are mine:

  1. Money. We have lots of financial anxiety now, including at our own church.
  2. Sex/Sexuality. Does this really need explanation?
  3. Pastor’s Leadership Style. Whatever yours is, it’s not like the previous pastor’s and that can be good or bad, but in any event it’s different.
  4. Lay Leadership Style. Either doing too little or doing too much, or acting out in other ways, lay leaders can create anxiety in a church by their actions and reactions.
  5. Growth/Survival. Fears of survival, or anxiety about “all these new people” — either way growth or the lack of it can create tension in a congregation.  After a church I pastored had grown from 400 to 600, and had baptized 40 people in less than one year, the main concern of one deacon was that “we don’t have as much money in the bank as we used to.”  Growth is not the end of all your problems, it may be the beginning.
  6. Boundaries. Folks who cross them, intrude on the turf of others, or act inappropriately can cause lots of social anxiety.
  7. Trauma or transition. Changing pastors, relocating, natural disasters, community tragedy — all can take their toll on a church.  Just ask the churches in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
  8. Staff Conflict. Self-explanatory.  If God’s leaders can’t get along, who can?
  9. Harm Done To A Child, Death of a Child. Churches want to believe that they are safe places for children, but when a child is harmed or dies in the church’s care anxiety levels rise dramatically.
  10. Old and New. I’m sure you wondered when Steinke would mention this conflict.  Ever try to change anything in a church.  You know what this means.
  11. Contemporary vs. Traditional Worship. They don’t call it the “worship wars” for nothing.
  12. Gap between the Ideal and the Real. “We should give more to missions, but we can’t make the building payment.”
  13. Building, Construction, Space, and Territory. Having been through several remodeling and building programs, this is an anxiety creator for everyone involved — pastor and people.

Steinke says these are listed in no particular order, but any one can create anxiety in a congregation.  Mix two or three together — pastor’s style, growth, money, and a building program — and you have a recipe for high anxiety goes to church.  What anxiety triggers would you add to Steinke’s list?  I notice he doesn’t have any references to pastoral care or preaching, which would make my list if either is done poorly.  What would you add?   Tomorrow, How Not To Behave Like a Cat in a  Roomful of Rocking Chairs.

Disclaimer: I purchased this book from Amazon and did not receive any consideration from anyone for this post.