Much Fear in Many Churches

Fear.  

It is everywhere! No, I am not talking about the fear of the Lord. Nor am I talking about any sort of healthy fear.

No, I am referring to another kind of fear — an unhealthy fear.

She sat just outside the main doors to our auditorium (sanctuary, worship center, etc.). She was in her late 40s, had alcohol on her breath, and looked as if she had been crying for days. The doors were open and the service was about to begin. She sat in a chair and refused to go in. She said something about not being worthy. She sat in that chair, legs crossed, and rocked.

fear.jpg

I knew this woman and some of her family. She was an alcoholic and had lived in much pain and had caused much pain for many years. She had lived a sad life.

Deep within this woman was much fear. She was fearful that God no longer loved her. She was afraid to stop drinking and afraid to continue. She had been hurt deeply by others. She had been through one broken marriage and wondered if she would be loved again.

Fear.

There is much fear in many churches. For example:

  • The fear of being known.
  • The fear of being known and then rejected.
  • The fear of being left out.
  • The fear of being seen as “less than.”
  • The fear of being discovered.
  • The fear of having another see my guilt.
  • The fear of having another see my ignorance.
  • The fear of having another see my insecurity.
  • The fear of having another see how fearful I really am.

On and on it goes.

When I first began working with a church as a minister, I remember feeling fear. I was afraid that people would be very disappointed if they knew that I didn’t have it all together. I was afraid that some would be disappointed that I wasn’t like the Apostle Paul or Peter, not to mention Jesus. No, I was a minister and was living as a Christ-follower. Yet, I was also me — just a regular guy.

Fear.

Fear has a way of keeping our relationships shallow and our friendships surface level. Fear has a way of keeping others at arm’s length, even those who appear to be safe.

What about you?

What kind of fear have you seen among Christian people?

  

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35 thoughts on “Much Fear in Many Churches

  1. Certainly all of these, Jim. But there’s also the fear of getting involved with messy people, messy situations — the stuff of real life. People who are ill, people who have mental illness, people suffering grief, people with addiction. We fear we’re not equipped to deal with them, will get sucked in, will harm them or be harmed, or countless other things. Thanks for the post.

    • Jim, you are so right regarding this fear to get involved with these situations/people. I wonder if some of this reluctance is due to our fear of not being in control.

  2. Good article Jim. Thanks for sharing and
    I read in the scriptures that Jesus went
    teaching to the poor, the lame, the sick,
    the blind etc. He also provided for their
    healing.

  3. You are right: there is so much unhealthy fear. I think we ministers are afraid our lives will not count. That somehow we are just spinning our wheels running the machinery of some glorified club rather than making an powerful impact in the lives of people. We put so much freight on our sermons and yet we know people don’t remember them so much! Our programs are fine, but do they really accomplish much in the hearts of others? Do we truly touch the ones who need God’s touch the most?

    Your article reminds me of a Hasidic story. Reb Nahum once said, “When I appear before the heavenly tribunal on the last day and they ask me: ‘Nahum, why were you not a Moses who led the LORD’s people with power and strength?’ I will not be afraid. When they ask me: ‘Nahum, why were you not a David who joyously sang the LORD’s praises and led his people into victory?’ I will not be afraid. When they say: ‘Nahum, why were you not an Elijah who proclaimed the LORD’s word with power and conviction?’ Even then I will not fear. But, when they ask me: ‘Nahum. Why were you not the Nahum the LORD made you to be?’ Then I will tremble in my shoes and there will be no way to stop!”

    • Darryl, thanks for a great comment. You are so right. So often ministers, in particular, are afraid their lives, their work, their efforts, really don’t matter. Many of us have a sense that our ministries may be good, biblical, etc. but in the larger scheme of things, they don’t matter. (Love the Hasidic story!)

  4. Fear of letting go of the past … those comfortable patterns that have ceased to challenge us for decades. Fear of embracing a new generation with a new perspective on worship that reaches them. To name a couple that seemed to always impede ministry.

    • Fear of letting go of the past. I think this one in particular has haunted generations of churches in a variety of ways. Thanks Greg.

  5. It hit me as I read your post that it’s no wonder people struggle to find a place in the church when we are busy trying to be perceived as living without fear. A person who can’t help but struggle with it visibly would sense that immediately don’t you think? Beth Moore asked the question in my recent study “What would your life look like if you didn’t live in fear?” It was a startling question, seeing as do not fear is the most frequent command in scripture. What would our churches look like if we chose not to let fear dominate us? Maybe that woman would find her place more easily.

    • Jennifer, good point! You are right, it is not wonder so many have difficulty finding a place in the church. Beth Moore’s question is good. “What would my life look like if I didn’t live in fear?” I suspect, as you suggest, that churches would have a very different look. My concern, Jennifer, is that many of us have lived this way (living in fear) for so long that it seems “normal.” Consequently, we just avoid certain topics or behaviors. (Good to hear from you.)

  6. Jim-To all of you who dedicate your lives to ministry, sincerest thanks. My comment, I fear, may come out wrong, but if I don’t try, I won’t have a chance at getting a little more wisdom on the subject. I’ve always wondered why basic conversation seems to be such a mystery among many in Christ’s body as well as not returning simple emails and phone calls. My reaction all these years is just to speak to God on behalf of my Christian family with all the love I have, and maybe that’s all I can do and leave the loose ends to God. Any insight would be helpful.

    • Denise, I appreciate your comments. (I also appreciate Darryl’s words. Very, very good!) I suspect that some of us do not really have an appreciation for just how much nerve and courage it takes for some to do initiate a conversation, teach a class, or to be transparent. Realistically, some people are not going to be responsive to whatever initiatives a person might take. While that might be true, I think it is important for all of us to remember that our responsiveness might really make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Having said that, I want to remember that the only one who will ever be perfectly responsive is God himself. That is something all of us can be thankful for.

  7. Denise, If I understand you correctly maybe the issue is not fear, but our unresponsiveness to those who are afraid. We could do a lot to alleviate the fear in others by sitting with them, listening to them, and treating them the way we would want to be treated if we were afraid.

    Beth Moore’s question: “What would you life look like if you did not live in fear?” is a good question–but is it a bit unrealistic? But we still face fears. Even Paul speaks of coming to Corinth in “much fear and trembling” (1 Cor. 2:2-4). When he came to Macedonia he faced “conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7). I think we may be painting the picture with a brush too broad. Even Paul faced fear at the same time he told Timothy that God did not give us a spirit of timidity but of power. It is an unrealistic goal I think to totally eradicate fears from our lives. But we are called to increase our trust and love in God. In the 2 Corinthian 7 passage it was God who brought comfort by sending Titus with good news to Paul.

    For me the big issue is what I think Denise is getting at: being used by God to care for others–to be a tool of encouragement that may help others overcome their fear. Did I understand you correctly, Denise?

    • Darryl-Thanks for listening. I just got back from my daily walk and realized I just need to wait patiently for a reply for feedback on a women’s class I taught on Tuesday. I have a basic fear of public speaking and just needed some help before teaching my next class.

      I also just returned from my daily walk thinking about Jim’s post. Jeremiah 12:5 came to mind. Maybe this is simplistic, but I feel worth throwing out for meditating on anyway, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” Family is the best training ground for knowing how to treat the non-family member. I truly hope that was worthwhile to someone. Thanks for listening.

  8. Thanks for your kind words (both Denise and Jim)! Jim, since I didn’t include my last name, don’t know if you recognized me. Mentoring group member with Lynn–was it ’98? Been so long ago! I have missed getting with all of you guys!

    • Darryl, it is good to hear from you again! I did not realize that it had been 12 years since we were in that group together. Wow!

  9. I think much of our fear is not truly understanding or accepting God’s grace. We too often seem to be of the mindset that we really do have to earn our salvation. Scripturally we know it’s impossible to earn our salvation; as it is a gift from God. It seems this is where so much fear comes in, we know what we read and we believe it, yet perhaps not as completely as we claim too. Could this be where the fear of unworthiness creeps in, or of “not doing enough?

    Perhaps we fear we aren’t good “farmers” who go about planting the seed, letting our lights shine, being the salt of the earth and loving others as we love ourselves and letting God give the increase.

    • Janice, you make some good points here. I suspect that many of us have a theology in our minds that has never been transferred to our emotions and relationships. I say this not as a criticism but as a recognition that we may often feel conflicted internally because of this.

  10. I’ve pastored for nearly 30 years & I think the fear of failure is what has hit me fairly often. In some ways it’s been a helpful fear cos it’s often made me more prayerful, I guess Christ can use anything for His glory

    • John, I think many ministers can identify with this fear. I am wondering if you would elaborate more on this. What kind of failure is this for you as a minister? Is this about failing as a church leader? (Perhaps in comparison with other. Or, is this more about failing before God (perhaps feeling as if you have not been faithful to your call.)?

  11. This is such a great conversation. Beth Moore’s question was not meant to be that we would not ever have fears, but that we would not let them control us, or “live in them.” And the increased trust in God’s grace and love does help us step out of these places, but it is so hard to do. Speaking from personal experience.

  12. Jennifer, I really like the way you have expressed this. I think there is something about seeing this issue (in part) as the discipline to trust in God’s grace/love in order to now allow fear to shackle and control us.

  13. This has been a good string of posts and infused me with much courage, thank you all. As my brother used to say a lot (who is now with the Lord enjoying the wonder of being in Christ’s presence), “It’s all good.” Of course it wasn’t original to him, but he lived this saying and wanted others to know the Lord’s joy in all things. I’m reminded that for disciples of Christ, all things work together for the [glory of God], including fear. It is a necessary tool, but shouldn’t be the only tool. What comes to mind is this picture: Fear of getting hit by a car keeps me on a sidewalk where I can walk and talk with others on the journey, so I grow to love the sidewalk. Perfect love casts out all fear, or I believe grows us out of our fears into loving being whom Christ has called us to be, that is, with Him and each other. Thanks Jim, for this “sidewalk” blog. I’m finding joy getting to know others who are seeking the Father’s face.

  14. I am discouraged by fear of thinking and considering different opinions. Among some more conservative brethren, it seems that if we do anything other than read the Bible and give the regular/usual points, there is a danger of quickly leading down a slippery slope to judgment.

    I have had people in Bible classes get upset when the teacher asks imaginative questions, or challenges traditions, and that bothers me.

    I believe they are sincere, but have been taught that salvation can be lost quickly and easily unless they keep the views they have been taught.

    • Brian, I am glad you wrote. The atmosphere that you describe is tough and would be discouraging. Many people live and try to function in such an atmosphere. Nevertheless, I am grateful that you wrote and expressed this. (I think that Darryl has a good reply.)

  15. Brian,

    It isn’t just conservative brothers and sisters who have this fear (but it does seem more obvious with them). There seems to be this fear if someone questions any orthodox position then the “slippery slope” appears! As a parent of a teenager and a 21-year-old this kicks in, too! I’ve taught both of my daughters to question, to look intently. But doggone it, if they didn’t actually take my advice!!! And suddenly you find yourself a little fearful!

    I say that with a smile, though. It thrills me when they disagree with me, because I know they are actually THINKING. But the fear is there, too. Because with thinking comes the possibility for choosing other options I may not like. But ultimately, I cannot control that outcome. I have to trust God’s graciousness and that I have trained them how to think well. I have to quit trying to be in control.

    I wonder about this in churches. It is as if leaders are always feeling people are on the brink of hell. (It seems a rather demeaning way of looking at people to me). A friend who attends a small house church was chastised by his mother for not being in a church with elders because “who’s going to watch over you?” Yet, if the house church selected “elders” it would be from the people in that church. Nothing would have changed, only some folks would have been recognized as “elders.” They were already being accountable to each other.

    Somehow we’ve created a magic surrounding the concept of “eldership”. Somehow an “eldership” and slavish obedience to one is the magic potion to prevent apostasy. (Frankly, the criteria we often use to select such men tends to mitigate spiritual maturity–and I’m not talking about the qualities found in Timothy and Titus).

    Perhaps it is deep in our restorationist psyche. After all, we were taught the church fell into apostasy. So we have to be careful and watch–we have to be afraid. But what was the apostasy? When Jesus quit being the focus, when institutionalism took over, when we honored men over God.

    Our fear of apostasy may create an apostasy of sorts.

    Perhaps we should trust God loves us more than we could ever love anyone else–and that he is going to save us. We will never be orthodox enough, good enough, smart enough, or whatever enough! (Romans 5 is a great passage to meditate on!)

    Now I’m rambling! Sorry!

    • Very true. I didn’t intend to impugn only one side. The fear of apostasy (which def can happen)is rooted in our heritage and our constitutional theology

    • Darryl, very good comment and think that many, many parents of young adults can relate to what you have said. How do I behave when they make choices that are godly and good and yet not necessarily what I would have done? How will I manage myself in such a relationship?

  16. Jim, am glad i met you. Your articles have been sooo inspiring that sometimes i share them on Facebook & its such a blessing!
    I love this quote by Martin Luther on fear:
    “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
    No wonder the Bible says fear is a torment!

    • Paps, thanks you for your kind words regarding this blog. I’m glad that you read this blog and that you made this comment. I love this quote by Luther. I’ve not heard this one before. Thanks so much.

  17. A friend got me a plaque last year that says, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?” It’s been a great inspiration as I tredge this journey of God digging through my fear. But now I’m moving forward, because this quote reminds me that my fear of failing is what holds me, paralyzes me like Martin Luther said in that above quote. I don’t want to be that example to my son, not to any of the young women I mentor. And I don’t think the idea is that I won’t ever fail, because I do, but just to not let the fear of it hold me back from doing anything (meeting new people, calling to get together, starting a new exercise pattern, being more disciplined in my time with the Lord, you name it). As I read in someone’s bathroom a couple days ago, it’s not that we fail, but that we get up after we do. Fear has been such a companion to me, and I just am tired of it being such a downer.

    • Jennifer,
      What a good question! “What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?” When I read your question, I knew that I needed to really think through this. Is there some behavior that God is calling me to that I am avoiding because the fear of failing is much stronger than my desire to yield to his wishes or to accept this opportunity to be used by him. Thanks for this Jennnifer.

  18. This string has been such a God send to me. Thanks Jennifer for your thoughts-they came just as I was about to close email and head out the door for my daily walk. I happened to have taught James 1:1-18 over one week ago to our ladies class on asking God’s wisdom and persevering through tough times. So in true fashion, God allowed a test to come my way. Last night I walked through some treacherous ground listening to a dear sister wondering whether to give counsel, all the while praying for God’s wisdom. Goodness, how much I need the Lord and how I am thankful for the unexplainable Power that raised Jesus when I see it at work in my life. I saw His grace covering our conversation and yet wonder if some of my words were truly His or if they were from my failed wisdom. And yet, in it all, His mercies are being renewed in me today; He will, in a sense, separate the wheat from the chaff of that conversation and teach me further. He always does. I just cannot explain it, but I do recognize when He is working and all I can do is praise Him. I am lifting all of you who are God’s ministers and teachers in prayer. You all are all precious. Without all of your thoughts and comments I would not have grown a bit more the last week. Thank you.

    • Thank you Denise for your thoughts and for your desire to live in God’s presence, depending upon him to sustain you. Your willingness to make yourself available for ministry will be met by his faithfulness.

  19. “What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?” Wow. Thanks Jennifer and Jim for those comments! I am going to really have to reflect on this question.