If you have a heartbeat, you likely live your life combatting fears and anxieties of all kinds. This is not necessarily a bad thing. This fear response is hardwired in our brains to protect us from real-life threats. (It is a great thing that you have a fear response if you stumble upon a mountain lion on your morning run!)
The drawback of our fear response is when we get stuck in that response and live our lives in a constant state of worry, anxiety, and panic. If you struggle with this, you’re not alone.
We all deal with fear in some way or another, but in the past few years particularly, it has been elevated to a completely different level. All of us have had to come face-to-face with our fears in a much more intense way since 2020.
Fear of financial collapse
Fear of disease
Fear of conflict and war
Fear of the unknown
This fear has wreaked havoc on our society and crashed through our comfort like a tornado. Whether we want to admit it or not, the pandemic has changed us in ways we never could have imagined.
But we genuinely believe that we have not been made worse by this time of fear, but we have been made better.
Fear can completely break down us if we let it, but rather than let fear destroy us, the Church has been able to leverage fear in a way that has strengthened us. Throughout our history, the Church has consistently faced the fears present in society and brought a beacon of hope right in the middle of it.
Although it is unlikely many of us will face persecution for our faith in the way the early church did, it is good for us to look to examples of the saints and their ability to face fear straight on.
In Acts 7, we read the story of the first Christian martyr named Stephen. In this account, Stephen has just preached the Gospel to the crowds around him, specifically the Sanhedrin. Upon hearing the Good News of Jesus, the religious leaders are furious. It says this in Acts 7:54-56:
“When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Stephen was coming face-to-face with the ultimate fear: death by stoning. Yet even though he was able to have his life taken away from him, Stephen was able to have hope as he looked to Christ (literally!). He even was so bold as to pray for his murderers before he took his final breath, echoing the actions of Christ on the cross.
In many stories about the church fathers and saints of old, we hear account after account of the courage and power of martyrdom. Early Christian author Tertullian once famously said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” What we see in the martyrs are those who face the fear of death and it is their embrace of it that spreads the message of Jesus like wildfire.
This blog isn’t about seeking to be a martyr for the Gospel. We mention this to emphasize that throughout the ages, the Church has been courageous enough to face every type of fear knowing that there is hope to be found even in the midst of it.
Fear cannot destroy the church
Fear is the very catalyst that makes the church grow
If you’re a church leader or pastor, it is vital to recognize that now is the moment to act. People all around us are still in great fear from all of the things going on in our world. We are not those who shrink back, but we are those who have faith and are saved (Hebrews 10:39).
Faith chooses to step directly into the chaos in order to minister to the fearful and hurting in our midst.
So how can we actively take the fear present in our individual lives, society, and especially churches and flip it on its head? How can fear actually be leveraged to reach more people for Christ? We want to give you a few pointers on exactly how to do this.
Many of us may be a bit hesitant about even naming that we have fear and anxiety. We can act as if a proper Christian should never have fears about anything and we surely shouldn’t worry either. While yes, Scripture instructs us not to worry or have fear, we cannot do this by simply ignoring fear's existence.
To face your fears, you must be able to name your fears. You cannot fight an enemy head-on if you are in denial of their very existence.
Instead of pretending fear isn’t real, we must discover the particular fear we are facing and recognize it for what it is. Calling it out paves the way for healing from the fear. We are instructed to shine a light on every dark place and exposing fear is a part of this.
For the church, we should call out and expose the many fears we have collectively as the Body of Christ. We must see that COVID-19 brought out many of our deepest fears that we all but concealed for years and even decades. But those fears surrounding finances, community, and health coming to the light was truly the best thing that could happen!
When we shine a light on fear, it must flee! When fears try to barge into the presence of God (the very essence of perfect love) fear is eliminated because “perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).
So it’s quite simple: recognize the fear! Let God know about the fear in your prayer time. Discuss your fears with your closest friends, pastor, and other leaders. You may just discover that you are not the only one who has the fears you have. On a church-wide level, addressing these fears from the platform and through prayer time is essential. Shining a light on fear is key.
Fear is not just a catch-all statement for all the things out there to worry about. Fear is tailor-made for every individual on the planet. We know from 2 Timothy 1:7 that God has not given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of power, love, and a sound mind. While small doses of fear keep us safe (e.g. from the mountain lions on your hike), when fear overrides your system, this is not from God.
The dark spiritual powers use fear to paralyze you, but they don’t just do this blindly. The enemy can recognize the particular things that cause you to worry. Then he uses these tiny bits of anxiety and emphasizes hopelessness in your life. But behind every temptation and fear tactic of the enemy comes a warping of the goodness inside of you.
This fear doesn’t just attack on the personal level, it attacks the good thing that the church is accomplishing on the earth.
The enemy knows that the more the church grows, the looser the grip of evil gets on humanity. Each person that enters our church doors and receives the salvation of God is a win for heaven and a loss for hell.
We must see that the biggest thing fear wants to do is directly attack the purpose of the church — to be a light of the world.
If we can recognize this plot and scheme of the enemy, the Church would be more powerful than ever! If we were to pray against these schemes, we can begin to cultivate these good things instead of letting fear tarnish them.
Again, 1 Timothy 1:6-7 says it perfectly: “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind.”
Stir up the gift God has given your congregation. War against evil and don’t allow fear to distract from the purpose and mission of your church.
It is often said that courage is the opposite of fear, but this isn’t necessarily the case. The most courageous people don’t lack fear, but they instead use this fear as a motivator and face fear head-on despite its threat.
Others may say faith is the opposite of fear but this doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head either. Oftentimes in our faith, we experience fear of the unknown. Yet when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, we can experience a peace that surpasses understanding that remains true despite anxiety’s presence.
The point in facing our fears is exactly that: we face them! And as the Body of Christ, we are called to face them together in faith. We don’t ignore our fears and we don’t try to bear down and push past them. Instead, we face them knowing that our Prince of Peace has total control even though we do not.
This is precisely what Stephen did in Acts 7. He didn’t ignore his fear; he couldn’t. Death was knocking at the door. Yet, even in the middle of what should have been the most terrifying experience of his life, he had the faith to look to heaven and see Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Death and fear did not have the final word — Christ did!
Looking to God in the middle of our fear isn’t some spiritual platitude, it is an absolute necessity if we want to see the Church grow and thrive in these tumultuous times. We must walk by faith, not by sight. This is not blind faith, rather it is a faith in which we set our gaze and attention on the Prince of Peace.
You’ve probably noticed this by now, but facing and naming the fear that affects the church is not something we just do on an individual level. To address fear and then use it to grow our church, we must do this work together.
Fear wants to keep you stunted in your growth. Fear wants to eradicate and ransack the church. But when we choose to name it, recognize the good things it is targeting, and choose to set our attention on Jesus, fear has no power.
From this point, growth is a natural result. When we can look fear dead in the face and say “you are no match!” we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to move forward in power and not be hindered by fear any longer.
Practically, this means we can take big steps of faith in our churches without fear of failure, financial collapse, or other anxieties.
We can pursue expanding our online reach knowing the content we share can change lives.
We can pursue opening another campus knowing God will provide the funds.
We can start a young adult ministry knowing God will draw in the people who need to be there.
When we choose to walk by faith and not by sight, the fears that pop up around every corner don’t distract us as they used to. Instead, we can use these fears as stepping stones to move toward what God has called us to do.
As you continue through difficult times in the life of your church, you can have comfort in knowing you are not alone in your struggles. We all have fears and anxieties at every single corner. Yet, we can come together in solidarity as we wage war against evil’s scheme of fear and worry.
The best part of all of this? The thing evil tries to use to hurt the church is the very thing that catalyzes the church to growth! Fear doesn’t have to be the end. We can reverse-engineer its power to change the Church forever!
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