Fear is a constant companion with many a minister.
The problem is most do not recognize it as fear. The monster takes many disguises, and can even show up as our closest friend.
The pastor who refuses to preach on a touchy subject because someone in his congregation is engaged in it is not acting from compassion or discretion. It’s good old-fashioned fear.
The pastor who refuses to train his people in faithful stewardship principles or shrinks from preaching on money because he hates being accused of money-grabbing is motivated, not by wise caution but by fear.
The pastor who will not stand up to a deacon bully, who cow-tows to a matron with a controlling passion, who keeps catering to unreasonable demands from the congregation because he does not like to “cause waves,” that pastor is living in fear and undermining his own ministry.
Nothing about fear pleases God. No ministry that finds its source in fear of people is of God. No powerful sermon, no sacrificial gift, no pastoral ministry, no church program rooted in fear of someone or some group has the blessings of Heaven.
Fear hath torment, according to I John 4:18.
We all know what fear feels like. You were middle-aged before taking your first plane ride. You took your grandchildren on that death-defying ride at Six Flags. You were giving a memorized speech to the entire student body and forgot the last half. You were playing a piano recital or performing in a school play and you lost your way and died in front of everyone.
It’s no fun humiliating yourself. Thereafter, the fear of doing just that can control your life if you’re not careful.
Why did you fear? Where is your faith? (Mark 4:40)
We have to choose. Faith and fear are sworn enemies. They cannot co-exist inside the Lord’s disciples.
If faith is confidence in Jesus, fear is the absence of it.
Again and again in the Gospels, we read that certain ones “feared the people.” That is quite an indictment upon leaders who should have been out front setting the example, blazing the path. Instead, with timid souls and cowardly hearts, they took their own version of polls–public opinion sampling is as old as humanity–to see what they could safely do without offending their constituents.
King Herod would have executed John, but “he feared the crowd since they regarded him as a prophet” (Matthew 14:5). Later, he executed John anyway because as much as he feared the people, he feared his wife’s displeasure even more.
The religious leaders refused to answer Jesus honestly because “we’re afraid of the crowd” (Matthew 21:26).
No one in Jerusalem was speaking openly of Jesus because “they feared the Jews,” a reference to the religious leaders (John 7:13).
Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple of Jesus, we read, but “secretly because of his fear of the Jews” (John 19:38).
On the first Easter afternoon, the disciples are gathered behind locked doors “because of their fear of the Jews” (John 20:19).
So much fear.
Fear intimidates us into doing the wrong thing, or more likely, doing nothing.
It’s a human thing. We do not like to stand apart from the accepted custom, to be exposed, to have everyone looking at us, particularly if in anger.
Often, we who are called leaders should more appropriately be termed “people-pleasers.”
So, we stay back with the crowd and do the safe thing.
God is not pleased. Not in the least.
To youthful Jeremiah, God said: Do not be afraid of anyone, for I am with you to deliver you. And again: Stand up and tell them everything that I command you. Do not be intimidated by them or I will cause you to cower before them.
Easy for the Lord to say, right? But wait. God proceeded to make Jeremiah a fascinating promise: Today, I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls against the whole land–against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the population. They will fight against you but never prevail over you, since I am with you to rescue you. (Jeremiah chapter 1)
The one that fascinates me is the bronze wall. Even though I’ve never seen such a structure, I know what would happen when someone threw a rock (or a tomato) at it: it would bounce off.
God was promising to make Jeremiah impervious to personal attacks. Good thing, because he sure received his share and more during his long ministry.
Over a span of 42 years, I pastored six churches. The first I served for 14 months; the last three for a total of 30 years. I know what it is to lead a church and serve the Lord from fear. From time to time, it was a personal thing for me and at other times, I recognized it in fellow pastors.
Fear does a lot of things to a pastor, none of them good. Because of fear, a pastor will tiptoe around certain members. He will neglect his family in order to run to their beckoning. He will worry about his job, cut corners on areas of ministry and his personal life that are unseen by the ones who matter most to him, and will shape his sermons and even his daily living to suit his captors.
His captors. Did you get that?
Such a minister is not free. He is the captive of those who are calling the shots in his life.
It was for freedom that Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:1)
This is one of those ironies or paradoxes of which the Christian life has an abundance. We are slaves to Christ and we are free in Christ. We are servants of God’s people but we are free from all men (I Corinthians 9:19).
So, let us go serve all the people. But let us do it for Jesus’ sake. (II Corinthians 4:5)
Let us not write our own emancipation proclamation. That was written for us at Calvary. Instead, let us find the freedom in Christ which He bought and paid for at that time.
Every Christian has the same freedom, the identical liberty.
The problem arises when some get away from the Lord–or never grow in Christ in the first place–and begin to assert dominance over others in the Lord’s family. “Diotrephes loves to have the pre-eminence” (III John 9).
The time to deal with Diotrephes and his descendants is before the pastor arrives on the field.
The prospective pastor lets it be known first to the pastor search committee and eventually to the entire congregation that he will be the servant of all but under the thumb of no one.
Then, once he arrives and settles into the office and begins to see the subtle pressure being exerted, he has a quiet conversation with the offender in his office. He says, as sweetly as God enables him, that “you are special to me and to the Lord and to this church. However, no more special than anyone else. So, please don’t ever put me in this position again.” And then, invite the offender to a round of golf or lunch.
The pastor must beware of gifts. In some churches, they come with strings attached. The giver will be up to something. A wise pastor will do one of two things: turn down a gift altogether or make it known to every member of his deacons (or other “ruling board”) what the gift was and who gave it. He does either one kindly and graciously. He walks away with his integrity intact.
“Pastor, we’d like to give you a week in our time-share cottage.” Or their mountain getaway. Or their beach condo.
I’ve even known church members to buy the pastor a new car, even a luxury one. (And I’m not talking about the congregation doing it, but individual members.)
My friend Larry was given a new car by a small group of leaders. He was overwhelmed and he thanked them. Then, to their surprise, he said, “Could I ask you something before I accept this? Am I obligating myself for anything in the future? To do anything or to stay a certain number of years or anything at all?”
They assured him there were no strings. They were expressing appreciation for his outstanding ministry.
I was not a member of that church, but when I heard what Larry had done, the lesson went deep within me. My respect for this man of God shot through the ceiling.
God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (II Timothy 1:7)
Not a fear of the devil and his forces, but power.
Not a fear of people, but love.
Not a fear of the unknown, but a sound mind.
Heavenly Father, deliver us from a fear of the forces of darkness and replace it with power, from a fear of the powers that be in our churches or denomination and replace it with love, and from a fear of the unknown–whether it brings prosperity or economic disaster, health or sickness, life or death–and replace it with soundness of mind.
Empower us with thy Spirit with the kind of boldness that comes from fearing the displeasure of Thee alone and no one else. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.