Fear is one of those common-to-man things. Even people who say they aren’t afraid of anything usually aren’t be genuine. For church revitalizers everywhere these fears sometimes come in the form of old ladies with hairnets, or anonymous notes about what they’re doing wrong, or an impending date with a business meeting. Sometimes the fears are connected to dysfunctions buried deep within ourselves (but that’s another blog post!) we consciously know little about. Fears, real or frozen in time with Aquanet, can paralyze even the best of us and keep us from fulfilling the mandate God has placed upon us for the work of the Kingdom. Regardless of where these fears originate, or through whom they manifest, if we’re going to see our churches breathe again we are going to have to decide to overcome these paralyzing fears for the sake of the Kingdom without and within us. In my experience I’ve identified FOUR fears which seem to be most prevalent.
- Fear of People
I want to be liked. Who doesn’t? I want people to be happy with my work efforts to shepherd, care, and love them. It bothers me when people feel like, and especially when they express, I may be falling short of their expectations. Of course we all know we’ll never be able to please everyone. It’s just not possible. But neither can we shift our calling or the direction of God for the church in order to please people. I remember once, out of fear of people, I conducted a foot washing service on a Sunday morning. They had approached me….said they felt God wanted us to do this….yada, yada, yada…….I did the foot washing even though I didn’t have the directive to do so from the Lord. Now there’s nothing wrong with foot washing services. If that’s who you are and where your church thrives, then by all means. It wasn’t for us, but I did it anyway because I was afraid of their reaction if I declined. How many times have you compromised who you were or what you felt God was making the church out of fear of people?
When we revitalize, we’re going to have to make at least a few unpopular decision. We’re going to paint a wall. We’re going to rearrange furniture, or worse, get new stuff. We’re going to change service times, logos, website designs, or even the actual name of the church! Change is going to happen. I mean if nothing needed changed, the church wouldn’t be in need of revitalization, right? Great leaders will work hard to limit the negativity in making these changes. They’ll prepare people, talk to them ahead of time, ease into changes, and even wait a little longer than they’d hoped in order to have credibility to enact the changes in the first place. But the reality is, no matter how hard we try, there will be vocal people unhappy. The enemy will use this to try and intimidate us to back down or even quit depending on the severity of the whole thing.
But we can’t. We can’t be afraid of people and we can’t quit because of them. Revitalizers must overcome any fear of people.
- Fear of Failure
This fear gets into the core of who we are, the experiences we’ve had, how we were raised and much more. The fear of failing is something quite common among anyone who sticks their neck out there for something in which they believe. For me, and probably you, this fear has manifested in a couple different ways.First, CAN I DO THIS? Do I have what it takes to get this done? Has God made a giant mistake in choosing me lead this thing? These are questions I’ve asked myself anytime I took on a new role, or stretched myself to accomplish something God had put in my heart – at least I thought He had put it there! Assuming He has, do we really believe He hasn’t surveyed the situation and knows exactly what we are and what we’re facing? Do we really think He drops that vision point into our heart then says, “whoops!! I didn’t realize I had given that one to you!” God knows you CANNOT do anything apart from Him! I’ve discovered the things God asks of me, I’m never equipped for. I always have to step out in faith and trust Him to make the way. To step out in faith, we have to overcome our fear of falling flat on our face.
Second, WHAT IF I END UP ALONE? This kind of hearkens back to our fear of people, but it’s screaming something a little louder. I’ve been through seasons where, if I didn’t know better (and sometimes I didn’t) I would swear I was fighting for this thing all by myself. Everyone else, supposedly fighting right beside me, seemed to be nowhere to be found. Leadership is lonely….that’s for sure! But if we wait for the crowd to gather before stepping out, we’ll never move. The first time we are abandoned by someone and we end up alone is discouraging. The second time it happens, we promise ourselves we’ll never do this again. If you’ve been there, let me encourage you to resist this fear. DO IT AGAIN!!! Step out again!! Risk it all again for the One who’ll never leave you or forsake you.
Third, WHAT IF I DIDN’T HEAR FROM GOD? This tiny seed of doubt can lead to an avalanche of indecision and eventual failure. I really believe nearly 100% of the time this nugget is deposited by the father of lies to create sort of an expectation of failure. So if things don’t go as we had hoped, we begin not only to doubt if we’ve heard from God about this, but have we heard from God about anything? Can we even hear from God? Once we move into a place of over-analyzing everything we sense God saying to us, we’ve already lost the battle. As far as hearing from God….I love this criteria (adapted from Perry Noble):
- If you feel confident that you can accomplish what is in front of you with no problem at all…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If no one is angry at you…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If you don’t have to ask anyone to sacrifice to make the vision come true…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If religious people are not steaming at you, blogging about you and/or leaving your church…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If you have the money in the bank to do what God has asked your church to do…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If every step is perfectly designed and nothing happens to totally throw you off along the way…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If someone doesn’t try to talk you out of what you are about to attempt…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If you don’t stay up at night thinking about the vision…then you didn’t hear from God.
- If your vision is in contradiction to God’s Word…then you didn’t hear from God. (And no, you didn’t get a “special revelation” that gave you permission to trump His Word!)
- If you know all of the answers…then you didn’t hear from God.
- Fear of God Himself
I’m not talking about the healthy “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” kind of thing. I’m not talking about God being angry with us or will we disappoint Him, etc. I’m talking about fearing God in just one single area:Will God come through?
I don’t pretend to know all the thoughts or the ways of God – they are higher and greater and deeper than mine. Sometimes we know we heard from God, we know we’ve obeyed, we know we’ve done all He asked us to do, and things still look differently than we thought. While often we see this kind of situation as a failure, I’m not sure the Lord does. He accomplished His purposes through your life, even if it wasn’t what you thought it might be. Jesus told the disciples to go and preach the Gospel. He didn’t tell them, save Peter, they would all die for their faith – many of them in gruesome and horrific ways. Did they accomplish His purposes? YES! Did it likely look the way they thought? I doubt it.
My favorite example for this idea is the Apostle Paul. When God called him to preach he went out with both guns blazing. After a few missionary journeys, God parked Paul’s behind in prison for the rest of his earthly life. That’s not how Paul had planned to spend his twilight years. Did God fail him? Did God not come through? OR did God have a larger purpose for Paul that he couldn’t see? I don’t know, like maybe being the most prolific New Testament author and influencing every aspect of church life for the next two thousand years or more. Not the way Paul saw his life working out, but God’s purposes prevailed and we thank God for it!! What if Paul hadn’t sat in prison and wrote letters? What if he’d demanded God to release him or refused to write? It’s not God who doesn’t come through. Sometimes it’s our inability to submit to His purposes, which often differ from ours, that derails the vision of God for a church or community, or even a calling.
God never fails. He always comes through. It might look differently; might express itself uniquely; might not be what you thought – but when He is glorified and His purposes prevail, He has come through for us.
Perfect love casts out fear. We know how perfectly our Father loves us. Nothing can change that or separate us from that Love. So fear really has no place in our lives as leaders. If we have fear like the ones I’ve mentioned above, we haven’t yet understood His perfect love. If you’re dealing with these fears or any other, I’d encourage you to start there……learn to understand how incredible is your Father’s love for you.