Photo by  Tim Trad   

Photo by Tim Trad 

Everybody’s afraid of something, and that’s not always bad. Fear of falling keeps us away from the edge of a cliff. Fear of wrecking (or getting a fine) stops us from ignoring a red light.

But when fear drives how you lead, your ability to lead will suffer. Here’s what I mean.

1. Leading a person by fear causes them to bleed, not feed.

Maybe it’s time for a volunteer in your church to take a risk and try a task they’ve never tackled before. They’re not sure they’ll succeed, and neither are you, but you see their potential. If your fear stops you from challenging them to take the next step, they won’t grow, and the church will lose.

Maybe a member of your church is vocally criticizing church leaders to whomever she can get to listen. Maybe a worker in your church is circulating emails or petitions in a campaign to undermine a decision of your elders. Maybe a church leader refuses to give, challenges every initiative, and demonstrates an attitude bitter and ungodly. Maybe an elder agrees with a decision in a meeting but then he or his wife complains about it to their friends in private.

This kind of behavior is bad for the church, but it’s death for the individual. We dare not let our fear of confrontation keep us from helping such people grow.

More subtle is the temptation to keep peace by limiting your ministry to what your most vocal church members will tolerate. Your decisions are driven by what you think people want, even if that’s not the best.

You may think this is good for them, but it’s not. You are creating in such people a sense of entitlement, not empowerment. And when the day inevitably comes that you finally tell them no, they won’t hear it. They’ll take their ball and go home. You will have contributed to the death of their spirit and their vision.

2. Leading an organization by fear causes complacency, not continuity.

Today more than ever, culture is changing at an exhausting rate. “If anything,” Carey Nieuwhof wrote, “the pace is accelerating, not slowing.” If you’re afraid to adopt new strategies, embrace new tactics, or attempt different methods, you will succeed at only one thing: keeping complacent followers happy. But you will fail at continuing to put the hope of the gospel before those who haven’t yet discovered it. Your congregation’s effectiveness will stall in place instead of continuing to advance.

Photo by  Ayo Ogunseinde

3. Leading by fear causes leaders to become misguided, not missional.

Most fears spring from a focus on self. The snake will bite me. I will suffocate in this confined space.  I will die if this plane goes down.

So when fear is the leader’s main motivator, he or she is focusing on self-preservation instead of accomplishing the mission.

Fear keeps some church leaders from saying no to ideas they know will dilute the congregation’s mission. Fear keeps some church leaders from moving forward on a vital step they suspect several will resist. Fear prompts some preachers to stay safe with their sermons because they think a clear presentation of a hard biblical truth will drive some away.

Sometimes this is difficult to detect, because the leader is very busy. He gives hours to minutiae instead of the mission. Or she adopts shadow missions, seemingly worthwhile work that actually distracts from the enterprise’s main purpose.

All of this can be cover for not making the hard decision or taking the difficult stand. The leader concentrates on making people happy, not reaching the most lost people in the shortest amount of time.

It’s easy to forget that Jesus wasn’t worried about the truth driving some away. After proclaiming ideas his listeners found difficult to accept (John 6:25-65), “many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him” (v. 66).

Instead of fretting over this, Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v. 67).

“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’” (v. 68)

If we will continue to speak those words and lift up the example of the one who spoke them, our fear will fade. As we take our eyes off ourselves, we’ll be free to focus on the compelling invitation of Jesus. And our mission will stay on track.

Have you stopped to think what in your ministry or life makes you afraid? What can you do to lessen or reduce those fears? Which of the three headings above strikes closest to home for you? 

Trevor DeVageComment