I grew up watching reruns of Scooby Doo. Yes, I even remember the crossover episodes with Jerry Reed and Batman and Robin. I get nauseated just recalling the dialogue and plot twists. “It’s Old Man Withers!” It should have been called Cheesy-Doo, but that probably more accurately represents something I found in back of the fridge a few weeks ago.
Still, I vote we bring back some of the catch phrases they used when they were afraid. “Zoinks!” “Jinkies!” Because I think we’d use those words in their cheesiest capacity.
Why those words? The fact is, for a people proclaiming to have God on our side, we – leaders, volunteers, churchgoers, etc. – are amazingly afraid of the most inane things.
- Sometimes it’s an idea. “We should start a contemporary service to connect with younger people.” “ZOINKS! BLASPHEMY!”
- Sometimes it’s our culture: “They’re voting to legalize alcohol sales again.” “CREEPERS! WE MUST FIGHT THAT WITH A BARRAGE OF CHURCH SIGNS!”
- Sometimes it’s a person who enters our crowd: “She thinks the pastor preaches too long.” “JINKIES! A DIVISIVE ONE. OFF WITH HER HEAD!”
Having worked in several churches over the years that vary in size, worship-style, and leadership structure, I can tell you with a degree of certainty that FEAR is rampant in many leadership circles. I don’t say this to accuse anyone. I say this to confess it. I’ve felt the fears that creep into our leadership and begin to affect our ministry in subtle ways. I’ve not been able to approach situations or people without a feeling of fear that overshadows all other emotions. It can be paralyzing. Or worse, it can change the way you’re supposed to act or respond to a situation.
Maybe that is because often we don’t even think of it as fear. Regarding situations or events, we disguise fear as “patience” or maybe even “discernment,” but deep down, we know it’s fear: Fear of confrontation, fear of change, fear of the unknown. Regarding people, we label our fear as “protection” or “preserving unity,” but we are sometimes merely afraid to extend love to people – because relationships CAN hurt.
Sure, there are real things to be afraid of. We have a very real Enemy who wants to destroy us. There ARE dangerous people in our congregations who would destroy us.
But fear can cause us to overreact – or even react sinfully. I’m even beginning to realize that many of the things we fear reveal just how small our faith in God can be. But more than that, they also can reveal how unhealthy our beliefs about church, people, culture, and EVEN our God can be.
Take some of the fears I’ve heard (and experienced) over and over:
1. We Fear Failing.
Imagine. Easter is coming. (And, if you’re a minister, just that word “Easter” probably just caused your eye to twitch a bit). It’s March 1. You’ve got 2 months to plan. Maybe less. What do you do? You plan the big series opener. You plan the big orchestral service. You bring in guest musicians. You redesign the stage. You market it with flyers and maybe even billboards. After all, it’s Easter. The Super Bowl of Sunday Services (as I’ve heard it termed). The day arrives, and BAM! You have a record number of people show up. You get on Facebook and Twitter and tell the world that your attendance was WAY up. “God is moving!” you say. Then the week after Easter arrives, and… the letdown kicks in. Your attendance is back to normal. Or worse, it’s lower than normal. ZOINKS! “What happened? What did we do wrong?” All the planning. All the resources. The execution of the service. And nothing changes. Failure.
Imagine. You’re a church planter. You’ve read all the right books. You’ve invested in people. But people you thought were with you just don’t seem interested anymore. Maybe it’s been a year…or two years…and you still can’t even get your core committed to the mission. Failure. You feel it. Like a plane that can’t get off the ground.
Imagine. You’re a youth pastor who can’t’ get enough kids to sign up for your beach trip.
Imagine. Giving is down for the third month in a row. JINKIES!!
Get the idea? Fear of failure can be a weekly thing for most ministers. But this fear reveals much about what we believe about what it means to succeed. Is a high attendance success? Is getting people to tithe success? Is getting people to volunteer success?
Sometimes, our goals and GOD’s goals may not be as aligned as we think. Jesus drew a crowd, but he didn’t put a lot of faith in numbers (in fact, he expected the crowd to walk away). The disciples were servants, but they served in an outward capacity. Giving IS important, but too often it becomes about maintaining a budget or building program rather than teaching people to worship with all that they are.
We have to re-define success. Maybe that big Easter service only impacted ONE life. But by God’s math, that is enough (there is rejoicing in heaven every time ONE soul is saved). I think if we adjust our math to line up with God’s, we would be much less afraid of the things we deem as “failure.”
Then the only thing we have to fear is disobedience.
2. We Fear People Will Leave Us.
While closely related to failure, this one is more personal. After all, you are the leader. Whether you’re a pastor or student minister or volunteer team leader, you’ve cast the vision – you’ve done the recruiting, you’ve built your team. Then it happens: Someone leaves.
And here’s where our fear is revealed: We resent them for leaving. “Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” we say. “Blessed subtractions,” we call them.
Admittedly, there can be problems with people. They can and should leave before they can do damage.
But in many cases, people aren’t divisive. They aren’t trying to make a statement. They just feel restless and maybe God is even prompting their desire to leave.
And maybe because we know that people CAN do damage, we demonize those that leave. But deep down, we are hurt because they left US. Without even realizing it, we’ve intertwined our egos into our leadership. We feel abandoned. So we preach sermons on unity. We dig in deeper in our vision casting. We may even guilt trip people who want to leave into staying.
This fear reveals how little we trust God at times. I’ve been THAT guy who has fought tooth and nail to keep someone from leaving, only to have them leave anyway. But you know what I’ve discovered? God ALWAYS fills the gap. God has a purpose for those that leave, and he has a purpose for those that fill the gap. We don’t need to fear people leaving. We should trust God’s purpose in their lives, in the same way we should trust His purpose in ours.
The only thing we have to fear is disobedience.
3. We Fear We Cannot Trust People.
Failed efforts. People start leaving. Now the trust issues begin. If you’re in ministry long enough, the failures and wounds can begin to take their toll. So where you were once excited about people joining your church/team, you are now a skeptic. Now you start distancing yourself from people. Rather than partners in ministry, you view them as tools YOU use to accomplish your goals. And the moment something goes wrong, you’re now even quicker to spur a “blessed subtraction.”
Yes, trust can be broken. But that also works two ways. If you do not CHOOSE to trust people, then they will always let you down.
We need perspective. On a very personal level, we need to remember that people who are trusted can feel empowered to become trustworthy. But if we are leaders who are constantly questioning others’ loyalty, we become examples of skepticism. We sow seeds of mistrust because we model it. We live it. We breathe it.
People are not tools. They are children of God who have CHOSEN to come alongside us and serve. If you cannot trust them, then TRUST the God you follow.
The only thing we have to fear is disobedience.
4. We Fear Someone “Stealing Our People”
A church I worked at received an email once from a despondent minister who was worried about the impact our opening a campus would have in his town. “People will leave us and go to you.” “You’ll steal what little crowd we have.”
You know the phrases: “They’re fishing in our pond.” “They’re recruiting families from our rows.” “They’re stealing our people!”
The “theft” happens when someone leaves and goes to another church, then asks a few of YOUR people to check it out with them. It happens when another worship leader asks one of your musicians to play at their church. It happens when someone we thought was plugging into our community finds more acceptance at another.
This is when we erupt. If you struggle with any of the 3 previous fears, this one not only hurts – it will send you into a rage. We’ll preach entire sermons against it. We’ll take up arms on Facebook and Twitter and spam our followers with Scriptures about dividing the flock. We’ll attempt to tarnish other churches’ and other leaders’ reputations.
But our rage REVEALS our fear – that people will find something BETTER than us.
This whole notion has just become silly in our church culture. First, I believe the idea of “stealing people” is not a problem the early church suffered from (Judaizers and Gnostics notwithstanding). Not being so institutionalized, they were ONE church. ONE Kingdom. I wonder how the Apostle Paul would react if he heard the phrase, “That church is stealing our people.” I imagine he’d face palm. In fact, he’d probably wonder why we are so “separated” and divided into so many 3-5 acre-Kingdoms in the first place.
Second, unless you’re a sicko into human trafficking, you CANNOT steal people. Why? Because people have free will. You can be mad at the so-called “recruiters” all you want – but people will NOT leave unless they already want to. Which really means, you’re struggling with #2 (above), only now you have another church or group to act as your scapegoat. And having a scapegoat means that now you don’t really have to examine your own sin of not trusting God to bless not just your church/ministry, but theirs as well.
There are more fears. Fear of change. Fear of an evolving culture. Fear of NOT changing. There’s a fear for everything.
Fear, like all emotions, can be a good thing. GODLY fear keeps us on guard. It helps us remain vigilant against our true Enemy and those who are truly dangerous. GODLY fear (the fear of God) can keep us on track to our calling.
But fear can also be driven by ego and the pains found in ministry. It can develop into a phobia or paranoia that actually skews how we interpret everything. When this happens, we can even begin to fear the very flock God has called us to lead. That kind of fear begins to alter how we DO ministry. It guides our sermon topics. It puts a bias on how we read Scripture. It prompts us to lash out on social networks (or run from them altogether, shutting out people or shutting down our accounts). It drives us away from close relationships with our congregations. It can become an obsession. Worst of all, you can create an atmosphere in your church that is DRIVEN by fear instead of the Gospel.
Fear of failure or of being hurt can override our trust in the God who called us in the first place.
The beautiful answer to fear, however, is that God does not ask for our success. He asks only for our obedience.
So this is what it boils down to: Are you building your own dynasty, or HIS KINGDOM? If you’re building your own, you will obsess over protecting it from the things that you fear. But if you are building HIS Kingdom, you can lose the fears and trust that GOD – in all his sovereignty and power – knows what He is doing…
…even when you don’t.
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” – Romans 8:14-16.