Pastor Note #90: The Fearless Church

Venice Church at sunrise
Venice Church at Sunrise; photo by GAC

Fear can be a distressingly common feature of church life across America.  The Bible is quite clear on this point.  The only proper source of fear for Christians should be God.  Nothing else in all creation should cause us fear.  Of course, I know what it is to feel fear and anxiety.  As do, I suspect, most all of you.  Just as individuals can struggle with fear, so too, I have found, can churches.  I have known many churches where fear has exercised a very strong influence over their ministry, their vision, and their relationships.  Fear sets the atmosphere for many churches.

  • Fearful churches don’t take risks; they play everything safe.
  • Fearful churches like the status quo, the “way we’ve always done it;” change is uncomfortable; change can be unpredictable and, therefore, not safe; change is risky.
  • Fearful churches and their people give sparingly and grudgingly, because they aren’t sure God can be trusted to provide for them.
  • Fearful churches and their people are afraid to give themselves to each other in love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and so they tend to be argumentative and criticizing.
  • Fearful churches are not welcoming or hospitable to new people; new people are different from us; they might want to do things differently; new people mean change; change is unpredictable and therefore not safe (see above).
  • Fearful churches want to control the direction of their ministry and mission. They do not want God to control the direction of their church because the suspect (rightly) that God may direct them to do risky things.  Fearful churches do not take risks.  Fearful churches claim to seek God’s guidance, but somehow their God always seems to guide them to do only safe things, the things they’ve always done in the way they have always done them.
James S. French, 1800-1881
From Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, NY; photo by GAC

Fearless churches are different.  They base their fearlessness on two important truths.  God provides for his church all the resources – money, people, equipment, spiritual power – to do whatever he calls them to do.  So, they know that they will always have what they need to do whatever God leads them to do.  And fearless churches always eagerly seek God’s guidance and leading for their ministry and mission.  They know that he may lead them to do things that are risky or costly, but they also know that if they are doing what he has led them to do, he will provide for them and take care of them.

  • Fearless churches are willing to take risks, because faithfulness not safety is the guiding principle for those who follow Jesus.
  • Fearless churches are open to appropriate change, even though it can be risky, because appropriate, God-directed change is how churches step into new opportunities and leave behind approaches whose time has passed.
  • Fearful churches and their people are unafraid of giving themselves to each other in love, acceptance, and forgiveness, and so they tend to be patient with and affirming of each other.
  • Fearless churches and their members are not afraid to give freely, generously, even sacrificially, because they know that their God who provided in the past will also provide in the future.
  • Fearless churches are welcoming and hospitable, because introducing people to Jesus is our top goal and meeting those new people and welcoming them is the first step to that.
  • Fearless churches joyfully integrating new brothers and sisters into the body of Christ (the Church), because growing the Church is their joy, and they are unafraid of the changes that come with that.
  • Fearless churches seek God’s leading for them and follow where they sense he is directing them. They know that if they make a mistake about God’s leading and what they attempt doesn’t work out, he will still take care of them.  They will listen again more carefully and try again.

Just as fear can poison a church’s life and cripple its ministry, so fearlessness in a church can provide fertile soil for loving relationships and a welcoming reception for strangers, for a boldness and even joyfulness in pursuing ministry and mission even in the face of risk and uncertainty, for a willingness to engage graciously with people who look different, who live differently, and who believe differently.  Fearless churches are vibrant, venturesome, and overflowing with hope.

Fearless churches are just what our American culture needs right now.  We live in an age when so many of God’s people are living in fear and looking for some sort of worldly protector.  God is our provision.  All other sources of protection will fail us or corrupt us.  Genuine, winsome, loving fearlessness can come only from exclusive trust in God through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Be that kind of fearless, friends.

© 2020 Gary A. Chorpenning; all rights reserved.


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