A Destroyer of Ministry: The Fear of Man
A surprising revelation emerged recently from one of the Growth Group meetings I lead. I had just finished reading a book entitled Growing Young. The focus of the book fell on the necessity of churches to grow numerically with the young generations. One takeaway (of the few) that I garnered was the need to consciously invest time and ministry in the young people of the church. This recently established burden lay fresh on my mind as we met that evening, and I wanted others to catch the burden. I cannot fully recall how the opportunity presented itself, but it did. And I seized it. I candidly asked an older adult what kept her from engaging the younger generation in ministry. The answer: she believed the younger generation would perceive her as stupid and dumb. Just a few feet away sat a young adult. I turned to her and flipped the question around - I asked her why she was hesitant to engage the older generation in ministry. To the shock and amazement of the older generation in the room, her answer was identical. She believed that the older generation would perceive her as dumb and stupid. This was a revealing moment for our group.
At the heart of what was being said can easily be boiled down to four words: the fear of man. What was especially revealing about this situation was not that these two individuals thought this way, but how we all did. The older generation resonated with what was said. And so did the younger. Both generations are gripped by a fear of what the other generation thinks of them. As a result, meaningful and necessary ministry suffers.
Proverbs 29:25 speaks to this very issue: “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Rephrase that first line to focus on ministry: “The fear of man lays a snare for ministry.” I believe the fear of man stunts the development of much fruitful and necessary ministry. If my heart is any indication of what we might commonly feel, then the fear of man flourishes. Unfortunately, the fear of man keeps me from ministering to others. Consider the following three ways this is so:
The Fear of Man . . .
Keeps me from engaging others outside my comfort zone.
The Growth Group scenario revealed this reality perfectly. Both younger and older had a great desire to engage in cross-generational ministry. But fear crippled both generations from getting out of their comfort zone to engage the other generation. As a result, great opportunities for Gospel growth and cross-generational ministry have been missed. I wonder how many chances to show the love of Christ, mentor one another in the faith, or simply serve others slip by because we are afraid to get out of our comfort zones?
Keeps me dependent on what I can control, rather than dependent upon God.
Stepping out in ministry comes with a level of vulnerability. To willingly embrace vulnerability requires faith in God. No matter how we are perceived, we must entrust ourselves to God and believe that even if others reject us, God has not. But when we fear others, we will depend on what we believe we can control. We mistakenly believe we can control our comfort or other’s opinions of us. The beauty of stepping out to minister, rather than being controlled by the fear of man, is that this act reveals our dependence upon God. We trust that this act of vulnerability is pleasing to him. Therefore, we follow his plan for ministry with total abandonment.
Unfairly makes assumptions about others.
When we are fearful of other’s opinions, we are projecting upon them our assumptions of what they think. We do not give them the benefit of the doubt that they may actually be thinking differently than what we believe they are thinking! This is the opposite of ministry mindedness. True ministry flows from a heart that is open to help, serve, and uplift others. But if we harbor our pre-conceived, unverified perceptions of others, we will never willingly serve them.
Let’s face it - we all struggle with the fear of man. It truly lays a snare as to how we minister. Remember this: whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. Put fear aside; engage in ministry for the glory of God and the good of others.
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