Fear is very powerful.
I suspect I have overreacted in a number of situations with my children through the years because of my fear. I also suspect this has caused me on occasion to be self-protective with my wife. Fear has been a part of my ministry at times. There have been times when my view of God was rather small compared to what I was fearing. Fear has its way.
I’ve seen what fear will do in churches. It causes some to raise their voices loudly. It causes others to gossip and lie. Fear moves us away from mission and toward appeasement. Fear prompts knee-jerk reactions instead of maintaining cool heads and thoughtfully pursuing a course of action. It has a way of shifting the focus away from a God whose forever presence was meant to instill courage and hope.
Churches are full of frightened people. Think about our fears:
- Fearful of the future.
- Fearful of a health situation.
- Fearful of losing control.
- Fearful of having to make a decision.
- Fearful of having to depend on God.
- Fearful of being alone.
- Fearful of having to change (personally).
- Fearful of seeing a church change.
- Fearful of looking silly.
- Fearful of what might happen with a job.
- Fearful of the debt that has been incurred.
- Fearful of growing old.
- Fearful of losing physical attractiveness.
- Fearful of not being seen as significant.
You might want to argue with a few of these. I suspect you might relate to some of these in your own life (as I do). The list simply consists of what I have observed or heard through the years. I don’t intend to write this with a spirit of condemnation. Rather, this is simply the reality of being human and desperately needing a God on whom we can trust and rely.
Jack Reese, in his fine book The Body Broken, writes the following:
Through years of ministry, I have not known how to address fear when I have encountered it, partly because I was so afraid myself. I was afraid of doing the wrong thing or making the wrong decision. I was afraid of criticism and afraid of confrontation. I would be lying if I somehow indicated that I am no longer afraid. But over time, my perspective has changed. Like a nurse who is no longer squeamish at the sight of blood, I am no longer so afraid. It is not that I have grown calloused. I pray that this is not so. Rather, I have learned to see people differently. After holding the hand of a young man with colon cancer as he took his last breath, after preaching the funerals of three-year-olds and young mothers, after walking through the divorces of friends and family, after seeing the human wreckage of sexual abuse and the devastation of racism, after receiving too many anonymous letters challenging my sanity or my faith, after hearing verbal attacks in the back foyer and curt words over the phone, after witnessing lives being destroyed through the abusive behavior of church members in the name of discipline and accountability, I have had my eyes opened to the frailty of the human condition and the sheer brokenness of Christ’s church.
To see with such eyes is liberating because it allows me to see others as I wish to be seen — as a hurting, broken, and sinful man in need of affirmation and care. At my best self, I no longer see dangerous enemies who oppose me but hurting people who deserve my kindness and prayers. I see people who are powerless or afraid, people who are protecting their loved ones and their future as well as safeguarding their understanding of the gospel. In other words, the more I look, the more I see people like me. I am a member of a community of brokenness. With that awareness comes the task of granting to others what I have received: grace and peace. (Reese, The Body Broken, pp. 160-161)