“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” Ambrose Redmoon
Over the last few weeks of travel, I visited 26 CCCC member charities across the country and asked how things are going. There is no doubt that the economy has affected many charities, but the most notable observation I had from these visits was the lack of fear displayed by ministry leaders. We are all human after all, and fear is a natural emotion that strikes everyone, even Paul (1 Cor 2:3 and 2 Cor 7:5). Now, I’m sure that if leaders do have fear they try very hard not to display it, but I didn’t get a whiff of anything even approaching fear. Many of these ministries have been affected by falling donations, grants and earned income, and some have had to trim back their programs and reduce their staffing levels. These ministry leaders have had to make tough decisions! The topic of this post is how Christian leaders should handle fear.
While fear is a natural emotion, it is important that it be mastered. When Moses continually rebuts God’s call because of fear, we discover that finally “the anger of the LORD burned against Moses” (Exo 4:14). God expects us to deal with fear. Moses did, and at the end of his life he was able to say with confidence to his people, “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deut 31:8).
My daughter taught me something about mastering fear. It was really hard to watch. She was riding an ex-racehorse, and the horse was speeding up as he went over every jump. After the first jump her feet were out of the stirrups, she hung on as she went over the second jump, but as he continued to speed up and round the far end of the arena, she slowly and inexorably began to slide off the horse. As the horse rounded the other end she was flung right into the wall. I heard the crack as her helmet hit the wood and I was out of my seat. But she got up right away and started to walk back to the horse, who was now standing still. After a few minutes of recovering from a bad shake-up, she was back in the saddle again. She had to face her fear and get back on the horse! Sometimes as leaders we get thrown by something and land on our keisters (that’s a technical, anatomical term!). Like my daughter, somehow we have to get up, face our fear, and get back in the saddle. But how?
Challenging circumstances that cause fear can grow gradually over time or crash into your world quite suddenly, but either way Dan Allender says in his book Leading with a Limp that such crises “force leaders to make a choice — either to risk and suffer with courage or to crumble under the weight of fear and threatening circumstances.” He points out that every crisis has both an external and an internal dimension. The circumstances are external, but “every crisis has the effect of revealing something about the leader’s character and inner life.”
Courage is the internal resource we draw upon in the face of fear. Oswald Sanders defines courage in his book Spiritual Leadership as that which enables us to “encounter difficulty or danger without fear or discouragement.” Where does courage come from? I think it comes from remembering your call, your mission, your past experience of God and your present relationship with God.
Reggie McNeal, in A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders, says you should be driven by your call, not your fear. Fear can manifest itself in many ways, including discouragement and self-doubt. I was crushed by both for a time and I came through okay by remembering the specific call of God on my life (I talked about how I was called in the post Discerning Your Call). I am determined that I will not allow any person or any thing to keep me from what God has called me to.
One of the authors I’ve referred to mentions David’s sense of personal destiny (related to God’s call) as a source for his courage during his kingship. Assuming that you and your board still agree that you are called to leadership, nothing should be allowed to frighten or discourage you away from that call. Whatever the circumstances, God wants you where you are, and that is enough for me. Perhaps there are things you can learn from adversity to further develop yourself, but don’t let anything stifle your call.
When circumstances threaten your organization, fear should drive you back to your ministry’s mission. I experienced some fear once as I considered various threats in a SWOT analysis, until I brought to mind that we are working diligently on the portion of God’s mission that he has assigned to CCCC. If we stay true to this mission, we are doing the Lord’s work and the Lord will look after his own. (This is why I have reservations about traditional strategic planning as detailed in another post; strategic planning has its place, but keep it in its place!)
Rather than dreaming up ways to respond to the external environment that would be only peripheral to our mission, I erased the fear of threat by focusing on the mission given to CCCC by God. Don’t let fear distract you from your mission! As long as we faithfully perform our work to accomplish God’s purpose for us, we will survive.
Some of the people I visited over the last few weeks took their reduced resources as a sign to re-evaluate their ministries in light of their mission and strip away some of the good things they were doing that were not central to their mission. When you have lots of money it is easy to add programs, but are they the best use of your resources? Scarcity forces us to revisit our mission and our priorities, and make choices. I believe our ministry’s mission is protected by God, but not necessarily the means we have chosen to fulfill it. I am committed to our mission, not our means. The leaders I spoke with all believe that as a result of the pruning they have done, they are well-positioned to proceed effectively with their mission.
Your Past Experience of God
Read again how David got the courage to face Goliath. When the whole army of Israel trembled and fled in fear, David went out alone to do battle against him. Where did his courage come from?
David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine” (1 Sam 17:34-37).
I know what God has already done in and through me, just as you know the same about yourself, and those memories give all of us a rational basis upon which to take heart and be courageous. Reflect on your experience of God over a lifetime and you will undoubtedly find places where he was training you for leadership. Those lessons become a rich resource from which to draw courage when you need it. The principle of God working in us in small things to prepare us for big things is an important lesson from the Parable of the Talents.
Your Present Relationship with God
We discover in John 20:19 that the doors of the place where the disciples were staying were shut tight because they were afraid of the Jews, yet in Acts 4:8-13 we see Peter and John confidently testifying to the leaders of the Jews. What was the difference? They were now full of the Holy Spirit, and we know from 2 Tim 1:7 that he gives us a spirit of power and not timidity. Fifty-seven times in Scripture we are told “Do not fear” and seventeen times “Be strong and courageous!”
Keep your relationship with God vital and fresh. Remember that Isaiah spoke prophetically to God saying that “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you” (Isaiah 26:3). Psalm 118:6 affirms that “the Lord is for me; I will not fear” and of course Paul gave us that great builder of courage, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38). Nothing can prevent you from fulfilling God’s purpose except what you allow to come between you and God.
Ambrose Redmoon, who gave us that great quote at the top, was a New Age beatnik who lived the last thirty years of his life as a paraplegic due to a car accident. He must have learned a lot about courage by living so long with his adversity, but whatever his source of courage was, it pales to the source of our courage. We have a divine call and mission, coupled with our experience of God and relationship with him. When God calls us into his service to fulfill his mission, he strengthens and equips us to fulfill his purpose for us and our ministries. So,
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Hebrews 13:20-21