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7/17/13 at 01:14 PM 0 Comments

When Leaders Are Afraid to Lead

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Photo: Carl Mueller - Flickr/Creative Commons

By Joe McKeever

“Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you….” (Jeremiah 1:8).

A friend asked me, “Why is it taking our church so long to get a new pastor?”

I said, “Because your search committee is afraid. They know that certain members of your congregation are quick to pick apart any minister who isn’t like (a previous pastor, now in Heaven). And they don’t want to take that chance.”

What would you say if I told you most leaders of our churches operate from fear?

You would wisely ask me how I know and where I got such information or arrived at such a conclusion. And I would admit that I do not know this for a fact, that it’s something I’ve come to believe from observing churches and their leaders all these decades. Furthermore, as a pastor for over four decades, I am well-acquainted with the practice of operating from fear.

For instance….

–Leaders operate from fear when they poll the congregation to see what they want in the next pastor, the kind of program they want, what the next building should be, and so forth. The hard reality, non-leaders, is that the congregation does not know what it wants. Quit asking them.

Lead or get out of the way.

–Leaders operate from fear when they shrink from taking a position which they strongly believe because it will be unpopular or certain ones in the congregation will attack it. That’s why the second most important quality we should require in leaders is courage.  (The first is “a commitment to Jesus Christ,” or “Spirit-filled,” no matter how we word it.)

Again and again, as Joshua was assuming leadership of the Lord’s people, he was told to “be strong in the Lord and of good courage” (Deut.31:6,7,23 and Joshua 1:6,7,9, 18). Anyone see a trend in those verses?

–Leaders operate from fear when they cancel a program that is taking flack. We wonder how far Israel would have gotten in the wilderness had Moses turned back every time the Lord’s people murmured against him. (It started early. They’d hardly left town when the people began griping. See Exodus 15:24 and chapter 16.)

–Leaders operate from fear when the will of God takes a back seat to the majority of the people. The Apostle Paul has a word for us: “Let God be true and every man be found a liar” (Romans 3:4). The unbelief of some–or even all!–does not overrule or annul or cancel out God’s word. His will is not up for approval.

In Scripture, we read that fear was a huge factor in the hesitancy of people to confess Jesus. “No one was speaking openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (John 7:13). “Jews” referring to the religious leaders, of course, as they were all Jews. However….

The religious leaders were afraid also. “Many of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him….” (John 12:42).

And we recall how Paul said Peter would pull back from the Gentile believers “fearing the party of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:12).

Get that? They were all afraid of one another.

No one was willing to stand apart from the others and say, “This is the way! Let’s do this!”

The congregations are often afraid…

–afraid to hold their leaders accountable, fearful of standing up in a business meeting and asking, “Who made the decision to do this?” “Why was this done?” Or to call a minister in private and ask important questions.

–afraid to be singled out as a critic, to be called a nay-sayer, to be attacked for rocking the boat.

–afraid to challenge an influential member of the congregation who has bullied pastors for years and has run several off.

The “leaders” are often afraid of the congregation.

Pastors may fear being fired, of key members departing, of the bad reputation their church would get in the community or the bad stain on their record if they take a risky stand.

Pastors fear being criticized. We slip into the rut of people-pleasers and fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing well if no one is attacking us.

It was with good reason–and with great insight–that our Lord said, “Beware when all men speak well of you” ( Luke 6:26). That’s how your fathers treated the false prophets, He told them. So, it’s meaningless, a barometer of nothing important.

Leaders who cannot abide criticism have no business in such crucial places.

Leaders who are afraid of those to whom they have been sent should turn in their credentials and find honest work. “Do not fear them,” God told Jeremiah, “or I will humiliate you in front of them” (Jer. 1:17).

Leaders who fear the next church business meeting more than they do the Judgment Seat of Christ ought to drop to their knees in shame and ask God for mercy and another chance to get it right.

I know pastors who are deathly afraid the old people in the congregation will complain if they bring a guitar into the services, erect a screen so everyone can see the words, or sing a chorus. The fact is most of the seniors would love those things! It’s a vocal few who are calling the shots and scaredy-cat pastors are letting them get away with it.

I have seen church leaders turn away from the lost in their community because some in their congregation will be offended that the unwashed or ill-mannered or untaught or non-Caucasian are filling the pews (pews which they would prefer to see vacant than occupied by such). God help us.

Be strong and of good courage, leader.

Both strength and courage come from the Lord who called you into this work in the first place. “I love Thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge….” (Psalm 18:1-2)

Did we think those were just pious words meant to make us feel good?

Before dealing with the enemy–and once in a while with his friends–we read that “David went down into his stronghold and inquired of the Lord” (see II Samuel 5:17,23, etc). That’s the place and He’s your Source, no matter whether you are a king of Israel or a shepherd of the Lord’s flock.

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So that we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my Helper. I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

What can man do to you, church leader?

A lot, actually. But none of it is of any consequence compared to what the living God can do to you (or to them!).

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

We know the answer to that question incidentally. A lot of people can be against you. But the point is, it does not matter.

The only thing that matters is obedience to Him, faithfulness to His calling.

Paul put it like this: “We do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5).

True, leaders are the servants of the congregation (see Mark 10:43). However, leaders do not take their orders from the congregation, for we are “your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

We take orders from the Lord on how to serve His people.

Be strong in the Lord, Christian, whether you are a member or a leader or sometimes both. Remember, we shall all stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ.

When you see the Lord, you will never be ashamed of those times you stood strong for Him and resisted pressure to back down for fear of losing an income, losing some members, losing prestige, or losing your career. What will cause you to drop your head in shame are all the times you caved to the loudest voice, the strongest personality, the greatest fear.

Let’s get it right, pastor. God bless you.


Joe McKeever is retired missions director for the New Orleans Baptist Association. Before that Mr. McKeever pastored churches in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and North Carolina.

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