As a young man, only twenty-one years of age, my wife and I spent two years in Colombia as part of a church planting team. There were a number of disadvantages involved in living in another country but one of the pleasant advantages that we had was that we regularly went swimming in the Caribbean Sea. Knowing that people spent large sums of money to experience what we experienced on a regular basis made it even more enjoyable.
One such occasion, however, almost proved to be my last day on earth. Where we swam there was a series of sand bars that stretched out into the ocean. One could stand in relatively shallow water, step off the sand bar and swim a short distance to the next one and be in shallow water again.
I decided to see how far out the sand bars extended. It was fun swimming from shallow area to shallow area until I was a fair distance from shore. Finally I decided that I had gone out far enough and turned to swim back.
What I didn’t know was that there was an undertow when one got that far out. I turned and swam trying to find a sandbar on which I could stand up and rest. The problem was that every time that I stopped swimming the undertow would carry me away from the shore.
I am not a particularly strong swimmer and after a while shore started looking like it was a long way away. I can still remember that moment of sheer panic when I thought that I just might not make it back to shore. After that initial reaction I was able to calm down and think the situation through.
I made the decision that I would not stop swimming again until I was so close to shore that I had to be able to touch bottom. With that decision made, I put my head down and began swimming. It seemed like it took forever but I did finally get out of the grasp of the undertow and to a point at which I knew that I was safe.
I can still remember staggering onto the beach too tired to do anything except fall down on the sand and rest.
That day fear almost did me in because as long as I was afraid, I wasn’t thinking about a solution. It was only when I conquered the fear, that I was able to make the decision that saved my life.
Fear tends to paralyze people. It keeps people from working through a solution and then acting upon it.
Fear in the church
Fear may be the most destructive element in the church today. It shapes many of our decisions. It determines how we act towards each other. It causes us to ignore biblical injunctions that should be molding our churches into what God has designed them to be.
In Reality Check for the Church I wrote a chapter on leadership because I believe that it is the heart of a healthy church. In that chapter I outlined a number of qualities that need to characterize leaders. The final quality that I mention is courage. Leaders need to be able to get over their fear and lead. What I wrote in that section is vitally important for leaders to hear and act upon. Here is one quote from that chapter.
“Leadership is about meeting the very real needs that very real people have. It is about growing men and women so that they have a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. To do that, leaders sometimes need to make difficult decisions that people don’t necessarily like. It’s at those moments when the potential growth of people demands unpopular decisions that leaders truly show what it means to be leaders.” pp. 49-50
Over the next few weeks I want to look at some specific fears that can prevent leaders from making difficult decisions. If these fears characterize your church, then you need to take a step back, take a deep breath and overcome the fear.
Fear in the early church
Fear isn’t new. After Jesus’ death, the disciples were motivated by fear. In John’s Gospel we find the following description of them:
“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them” John 20:19
There they are: a group of terrified people unable to do anything except hide from the authorities and hope that no outsiders would know where they were. All that they were concerned about was their own safety.
If nothing changed, nothing was going to happen. If that was the end of the story, there would be no Christian faith, no church and no sense of mission for Christ followers.
A few weeks later two of those same disciples are standing in front of the same authorities who had killed Jesus and with unbelievable boldness they proclaim:
“Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Acts 4:19-20
Out of the boldness of their witness the early church was planted and grew until it reached a point three hundred years later when it had become the dominant religion in the entire Roman Empire.
Two powerful forces transformed those early disciples from a frightened group meeting behind locked doors to a powerful force that would change the world.
They met the risen Christ and they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
The exciting news is that today Jesus is still alive and the Holy Spirit is still indwelling every believer. God is still working transformation in his followers and we still need the courage that that transformation produces.
A final word
I want to leave you with one final verse. Starting next week I want to get into some specific fears but for this morning I hope that this verse encourages you.
“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Tim. 1:7