By the Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div., D.Min., ABD
Have you ever been afraid of approaching your leader about a new idea or about something important to you? If so, have you ever wondered why you were afraid? Is being fearful wrong?
I used to believe that being fearful of the leader was probably a sign of my inner unholy-ness or sinfulness because I was so uncomfortable being in the presence of “one that God had ordained.” I used to wonder why I was so uneasy. Had I not been baptized into Christ? Was not the Holy Spirit guiding me? Was I not truly saved?
I recently interviewed a church member who admitted his apparent addiction to being fearful of the leader. This caused him to keep himself “in line” so as to not “incur the wrath of the leader.”
As I read books on toxic leadership and spiritual abuse, I have found that members of toxic churches are often fearful of their leaders. They sometimes fear disappointing the leader because they believe that disappointing their leader is somehow disappointing God. Yes, as members of churches, we should be loyal to our leaders, but our loyalty to our leaders should not outweigh or contradict our loyalty to God.
2 Timothy 1:7 says:
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
So, if God has not given us, as believers, “the spirit of fear,” the question becomes, where does fear come from? Fear is the result of intimidation on one part and a common insecurity on the part of the other. Marc A. Dupont in the book “Toxic Churches: Restoration from Spiritual Abuse” writes, “One of the most basic ways in which Christians can be abused by a Christian leader is in the manipulation of their lives.” (Dupont 134) Dupont goes on to say that “Manipulation is the use of fear, flattery and/or guilt to force people to do something they are not inclined to do.” (Dupont 134-135)
I must make a comment. There are scriptures that talk about fearing the Lord (Proverbs 1:7; Ecclesiastes 12:13). The word “fear” when referring to the Lord generally means reverence. This is in direct opposition to the definition of “fear” that often refers to one living life being afraid and the fear that is often debilitating—causing great anxiety. It is important that we keep that in mind.
Someone once shared with me how they were fearful of telling their leaders that they had been accepted to a graduate educational program out of state. They were afraid that their leader would not approve of a transition from the church. This church member was not operating as the fearless Christian who is led by the Spirit of God, but rather was operating out of fear.
So many things keep believers bound. The leader had not even made a statement but the member was plagued with fear. Perhaps the member had personal insecurities that caused them to be fearful. Or, the leader possibly gave off an uninviting disposition. Another possibility could be that in the past, the leader responded negatively to such thoughts from other members. What should be the Christian response?
The Christian response to being fearful should be immediate communication with God, also known as prayer. Believers are told that they can “cast cares on the Lord” because He cares for them in 1 Peter 5:7. It is very good news to know that God cares for us! Life gets pretty tough and we as humans have the propensity to become depressed when times get rough. On this week, if you find yourself feeling down or fearful, I challenge you to cast your cares and your burdens on God. He walks with us and promised never to leave us. How will you respond to fear?
For questions or further correspondence concerning future topics or speaking engagements, please email at RevStewartSpeaks@outlook.com.
The Rev. Dr. Lakeya Stewart, M.Div., D.Min., ABD attended Berea College and the Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and earned a double major B.A. degree in Sociology and in African & African American Studies as well as the Master of Divinity Degree. Rev. Stewart is currently writing a dissertation on Toxic Leadership and Spiritual Abuse from Regent University.