I have been thinking a lot recently about fear and how it grips the heart and squeezes out faith. I am of course speaking from personal experience because it has stalked me for most of my ministry and has been responsible for some of the u-turns or back-ups I have made as conflict and confrontations have arisen with various strong-minded and larger than life figures in the various churches I have served. What will happen for example if I don't keep people happy - will they leave? What will happen to the Parish share? How will it look? I will be a failure etc.. As a result when the going gets tough I have compromised and retreated and tried to smooth ruffled feathers in a bid to keep the status quo and make life a little bit easire and free from stress and strife. But where has that left me with God? Having put fear before faith it has seriously hamstrung much of what He has envisioned me to do and ultimately what I have by God's grace managed to build has been largely founded on sand. Jesus warned about this in Matthew 7:24-29 where the house on sand fell as soon as there were the winds and storms of challenge and confrontation. So fear rather than faith has, sadly, been a hallmark of my ministry to date.
We see its influence everywhere in our nation and especially in our church too. Fear of extinction or decline for example is holding us back from doing God's will. He wants us to step out in faith but we are so afraid that we batton down the hatches and stay where we are thinking that it is better to hang on to the little life we have than venture out and maybe losing it altogether. It reminds me a little of my childhood when I was young and my parents would put all the lights of the house out when they went to bed. I would be so scared of the dark that I would huddle under the bedclothes pulling them tightly around me as if they were a body of armour that could protect me from the horrible things that lurked in the darkness.
I see this in the church at the moment which huddles behind its formal, traditional services, doing what it has always done for fear that if it didn't it would lose the few members that it has got. At least this way, it reasons, we can just about manage to pay the parish share or keep the building open for that little bit longer, at least until it sees us out. But this is bound to fail. Waiting for God to do something spectacular when He has already told us what to do and we aren't doing it, is doomed to fail and we will die. In fact we are dying and unless we conquer our fears and step out in faith Anglicanism, at least, will cease to exist in any obvious form in Britain.
Like the suite of armour that was offered David as he strode out to fight Goliath, our church/denomination as it stands is much too restrictive and hampers any movement into mission. The Christian faith is all about freedom of movement. Jesus said "Go" to Abraham and "Go" to Moses and "Go" to the first disciples. In other words move out and I will go with you. Trust me. Even if you only have a sling and a few pebbles that will be enough as I am with you. But we are gripped with fear and as long as we are we will stay huddled behind our bedclothes and die under the warm comforting sheets.
The Church is sleeping the sleep of death and will slowly slip away into oblivion. We need to wake up, face our fears, and boldly step out in faith and obedience. We need to confront our fear of failure, our fear of what others will think, our fear of losing/damaging our reputations, our fear of closing our buildings, our fear of change and follow the Spirit's leading. We need to love God and demonstrate that by our willingness to obey Him. For perfect loves castes our fear.