By Bill Easum with Doug Murren
The war with Iraq is “over” and the one in Afghanistan is winding down. But one thing is certain: The terrorists have already won because America is becoming a culture of fear. People are afraid to fly, even though they are more likely to be killed in an automobile accident. And what can we say about those who have cleaned out the hardware stores of duct tape and plastic to seal their homes in case of a biological attack. . . . I wonder if these folks stopped to ask how long it would take to plastic-wrap their house, or how they would get inside once it was accomplished; or better yet, if the terrorists would be kind enough to give them enough warning to seal their house?
But America’s culture of fear is not the most serious problem. Many, if not most, church leaders have succumbed to the culture of fear. You don’t have to work with churches very long to be painfully aware of a chilling reality: Most church leaders are consumed with a wide array of fears. They fear change, fear rejection, fear failure, fear being hurt again, fear the unknown, fear strong leaders, fear running out of mone y, fear conflict, fear being bullied by controlling and intimidating individuals. But even that’s not the end of the story. Since 9-11 I have watched this fear escalate to absurd proportions. Ministries have been put on hold, offerings are down 10 to 15 percent, and pastors spend more and more time counseling people about the fear of what might happen. Notice, not of what has happened but what might happen. And when you realize that fear is the opposite of love, you understand why so many churches aren’t doing well.
I can understand our nation going berserk. We’ve been a sheltered nation for a long time and have grown shallow in our resolve. Also, I can understand some individuals going off half-cocked and acting insane. What I refuse to accept is that Christians are being filled with fear. Surely not Christians! Fear can possess us only when we shut faith, hope, and love out of our lives.
A Love Affair with Fear
Fear has always been a nagging problem in our history. Beginning with Adam and Eve’s fear of not knowing what God knows, all the way to the disciples who feared for their lives during the storm, fear has been a constant sidekick of Christians. And whenever it becomes our friend, we make big, hairy mistakes.
Any quick read through the Old and New Testaments reveals the following major lessons about our relationship with fear.
· When we are impressed by God’s awesomeness our fears disappear. But as soon as we lose sight of God, our fears return.
· Fear ruins our life’s calling when we allow it to distort our actions.
· Fear always leads to sin, since fear is the opposite of love.
· If given the chance, most people will choose fear over faith.
· Even the best of us need constant reminders not to allow fear to drain our energy in the face of life’s battles.
· When we fear for our lives, we are abrogating the work of God in Jesus.
· When we take our eyes off Jesus, fear fills our lives.
A Closer Look at Fear
Doug Murren wrote Neutralizing Fear. The book is about the debilitating culture of fear that causes Christian leaders to do things they would not otherwise do and to rationalize behavior that any other time would look ridiculous. Here are a few of the things discovered in research on this subject.
Fears fill the voids that we create. That’s right. We have to let fear into our lives. It never forces its way in; we let it in when we push faith, hope, and love out of our lives. They create a void when they leave and fear rushes in to fill it. Of course, we’ve always known the remedy – “There is no fear in love, but [mature] love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).
Fear brings false relief. As we deal with diminishing faith, hope, and love, over time we begin to wrestle more with fear. As we do, this drains our energy. When we are exhausted enough, we begin to use fear as a source of energy. It is true that fear gives us a rush of adrenaline. The more fear, the more adrenaline. The more adrenaline, the more fear; the more fear, the more energy – at least for the moment.
Fear is contagious and addictive. Like a group of kids on a camping trip telling stories late at night, the more you talk about fear, the more fear builds up. The more it builds up, the more groups like to talk about it and feed off of its energy.
In time we learn to live with “friendly fears.” These friendly fears become our constant companion. Here are a few oldies but goodies: “We’ve never done it that way before.” “We have to save that money for a rainy day” (even though the Ark came by twice yesterday). “We tried that before, and it didn’t work.” Here’s my favorite: “I guess change is necessary, if there’s no other way around it.” People actually think these comments are full of wisdom. Fear creeps up on us so quietly that we often confuse it for wisdom. I’m sure those folks who won’t fly or who purchase the duct tape and plastic think it is the wise thing to do. That’s the scary part. Our adrenaline starts pumping so hard that our brain can’t tell the difference between fear and wisdom.
Fear always leads to sin. Christians were made to live in the joy and celebration of God’s constant presence. When we realize that nothing can separate us from God’s presence, fear doesn’t have a chance.
Religion feeds fear. Much of the “religious” part of Christianity has been little more than one big fear tactic. Some groups hold our eternal destiny over our heads if we don’t do this or if we do that. Some groups even believe that certain religious leaders can excommunicate you from the Church. We’ve all been part of a fundraising experience that has appealed to our guilt. The weaker ones among us give out of fear of what might happen it they don’t give. So much of what the church does today is done on the back of fear and its companion guilt.
How to Neutralize Fear
Research has shown several ways to neutralize fear. We don’t have room here for them all, but here are a few.
Leaders need to lead fearlessly and compassionately. The only way fear can penetrate a community is because the leaders aren’t leading. Strong, compassionate leaders cast faith, hope, and love into the community, and where these three abide, fear takes a vacation. The moment leaders quit demonstrating that kind of leadership, fear creeps back in. Too many leaders avoid giving strong leadership for fear of what might happen. Some are too exhausted to lead because they have spent all their energy fighting the dysfunctional leaders in the church who should have at least been taken out of leadership, or perhaps, even asked to leave the church. But the other leaders were too afraid.
How do leaders fearlessly lead? Among other things, by
· casting faith, hope, and love everywhere they turn
· keeping the church focused on the God-given mission in Jesus Christ—to reach out to the world
· embracing new ideas and encouraging people to think beyond the box
· helping other leaders dream of things that probably will never happen
· holding people accountable for their actions, never allowing fear to gain a foothold
· seeing the future as a friend
· treating failures as opportunities to learn
· showing compassion for those who have not yet experienced Christ
· being open to the hopes and dreams of others as well as those of the Holy Spirit
Trust must dominate an organization. Usually trust is lost because of past betraya ls by one or more spiritual leaders. When leaders seriously fall, the trust is very hard to ever recover.
How do leaders maintain trust? Among other things, by
· keeping their lives pure
· not making capricious decisions
· valuing the work and ministry of everyo ne on the team
· sharing the credit with everyone on the team
Lead from Faith, Not Fear
If a congregation is a thriving, healthy community of faith, hope, and love, we know that fear can’t find a foothold for very long. Of course, fear is present from time to time in all of us because, like Peter, at times we all take our eyes off Jesus and sink beneath the murky waters of our self-made fears. But fear never reigns when love and faith are present. A fearful Christian is an oxymoron.
Our world needs Christians who model a fearless faith and uncover the roots and dangers of the culture of fear itself. The more enslaved we are to fear, the more disconnected we become from one another, God, and the mission on which we have been sent. It is time we named fear for what it is – the opposite of all that is holy and just.
Faithful leaders simply never lead from fear. It never works. So, get ready to confront whatever fears you may have and replace them with faith, hope, and love.
During February of this year, when the country’s alert status went up, near the highest it can go, my email box overflowed from leaders seeking direction on what to say to their congregations.
Here was my response . . .
· Be calm and remind them that nothing can separate them from the love of God.
· Be calm and fill them with many of the ways God has been with you in your times of trial.
· Be calm and share with them some of the promises God has made to those who believe.
· Be calm and help them see that courage, not fear, is the legacy of faith in Jesus Christ.
· Be calm and remind them that, as James says, we can learn to count it all joy when surrounded by all kinds of trials.
· Be calm and demonstrate contempt for fear. Be calm and pray for the fearful that they might find faith.
· Be calm and show them the airline ticket you just purchased, or tell them that you are going to sleep with the windows open, or that you’re planning a trip overseas, or whatever might lend some humor to the moment.
· Finally, be calm.
–from Bill Easum, calm, cool, and, collected . . . firmly holding his out-of-the-country airline tickets in his white-knuckled hand