My latest column at ChristianWeek:
If you asked me if I struggled with fear just three years ago, I would have told you no. But then I began to notice traces of fear in my life: fear of confronting people, fear of taking a bold stand, fear of putting everything on the line when needed. One day a colleague who's not noted for his tact asked me, "When did you become such a chicken?" I was stunned by his question, but I realized he was right.
So when we sensed it was time to make a ministry transition last year, I had to confront my fears. I had two relatively safe options. One in particular could have become very comfortable. I also had the option of church planting. The upside of church planting is huge. The downside is that the pay is uncertain, and the risk of failure is real. I came to realize that if we didn't plant, it would be because of fear. I knew I could fail, unless I redefined failure as not trying. I took a deep breath and chose church planting.
One of the most helpful things I read while confronting my fears is an article in the Harvard Business Review, of all places, by Whitney Johnson called "Disrupt Yourself." Johnson walked away from a seven-figure income to an uncertain future. "If it feels scary and lonely, you're probably on the right track," she writes. "Be assured you have no idea what will come next." On the upside, "Your odds of success will improve when you pursue a disruptive course." Fear is a good indicator that we may be on the right track.
When we're young, we risk a lot because we have to, and because we often have little to lose. The same goes for churches. As we age, we have more to protect, and we start taking less risk. This makes sense to my financial advisor, but it also explains why a lot of people and a lot of churches stop growing.
Fear is ultimately an issue of idolatry. Tim Keller, a pastor in New York, defines an idol as anything more important to you than God. An idol is "anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living." In other words, our fears point to our idols. This means a lot of us miss out on living the risk-filled adventure of serving God because we're too busy servicing our idols, and we don't even know it.
This helped me. As I prayed and read through Scriptures like Psalm 27, I began to realize that God's invitation isn't really about giving up good things, as much as it is to give up the idols that hold us back from cherishing Him above all things.
"Fear is a daily battle that everyone in ministry is called to fight," says Paul Tripp. The way to avoid stagnation, individually and as churches, is to confront our fears and idols. Disrupt yourself.