I am increasingly convinced that most unsavoury behaviour in our world, particularly unkind and violent behaviour, can be traced back to fear. It is not surprising that biblical literature contains much instruction not to fear. This counsel is important in every aspect of life.
At each level of church structure we frequently find ourselves expressing fear. Anxiously we worry about our future together: What will become of our children, our attendance, our budgets, our committees, our worship, indeed, our very denomination and even our faith?
A simple yet helpful question to ask and contemplate honestly is, “What are we afraid of?”
Certainly there are normal things in life that cause understandable fear, such as pain, loss and difficulty in life. We fear these even though we don’t realistically expect to avoid them. We learn to live with these and even gain character from them.
Perhaps the larger fear that stalks us is the fear that ultimately loss, pain and failure will overwhelm and finally overcome us.
If we believe that the church is built by God and belongs to God, then how do we address our fears about the church? How many of the obstacles and barriers that exist in our churches have a foundation of fear? And do these cloud our ability to see hope and possibility? Do they result in less than gracious and generous behaviour?
I find the first two verses of Psalm 127 to be comforting and liberating: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.”
I wonder if we might behave differently if fear were given lower status in our individual and collective lives. Pursuing the practice of letting go of fear could move us to places of unanticipated delight and draw us into the momentum of God’s sustained building activity.
Jerry Buhler is area church minister for Mennonite Church Saskatchewan.