Our Deepest Fear...Rising to the Top and Staying There


What are you afraid of?

Has anyone asked you that question lately? That question is usually asked when we don’t dare take on a new challenge, especially one involving leadership such as heading up a committee, serving on a church council or board, or standing in front of a crowd.

What is your deepest fear? The words of Marianne Williamson spring to mind.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Interesting concept, isn’t it?

Most of us don’t see ourselves as leaders. In fact we are quite content living lives as followers. It’s much easier to criticize if you are a follower. There isn’t any risk. Go ahead, rock the boat, criticize a decision. Just sit back and take pot shots at our various leaders: criticize the city administration, police, federal politicians or some other favorite target. There’s no risk.

At first blush, the fear of being involved in leadership may be that we might just make the wrong decision or say the wrong thing and consequently fall flat on our fannies. We risk failure so we don’t bother.

But our deepest fear, as Williamson says, is that we are powerful beyond measure. Our fear isn’t a fear of failure; it’s that we don’t want to succeed. We are afraid that we may just end up doing a pretty good job in that new role. In fact, we are probably more afraid of being stretched beyond our comfort zone…and we are quite content just where we are, thank you.

What is the risk of being a strong, articulate, wise leader? Everyone wants a piece of your wisdom. You are asked to succeed over and over again. You are suddenly given incredible influence over others and that frightens you to death.

There is a wonderful benefit to strong leadership: leadership gives others permission to rise to the occasion. If you dare risk your pride and your integrity by becoming a leader, others may also decide to follow your lead and rise to the occasion, too. You are no longer standing alone among a room full of followers. Instead, you find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder in a room full of leaders. You have suddenly raised the bar on leadership.

Leadership should not be confused with power. In fact, true leadership has nothing to do with clinging to power; rather it has everything to do with giving it away. A true leader empowers others; mentors others. A prime minister, president or premier who clings to power for power’s sake isn’t a leader at all. And that certainly applies to church leaders. Leadership is all about sharing the workload; sharing the glory as well as the fallout.

Williamson said something else: “It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” Most of us tend to fear darkness. We are afraid of the unknown and skeptical of that which we cannot see. But our deepest fear is of those things we know all too well. We fear terrorists, cancer, losing a job. Many of us also fear certain men and women within our work place or church who tend to be control freaks. But as we overcome our fears, others around us are also freed from their fears.

We still live with the incredible notion that the local church or organization consists of one or two leaders and dozens (if not hundreds) of followers. What happens when two leaders give their power awa—equip or mentor—to two other people, and they mentor four others, and they train 16 others, and so on. Before you know it, you have an entire congregation or organization of leaders. . .each person capable and equipped to become engaged in significant ministry.

Dare to take the risk. Dare to lead. Dare to influence others.

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Amen - a modern summary and pointing to why "the priesthood of all believers" is such a critical part of the Reformation and continues to be important. Thanks Keith.

I hear, more and more, the "narrative of fear" as an explanation for people not stepping up to a challenge, and/or not helping out and have come to wonder whether this is really a misnomer for something else. There is a "meta-narrative that runs deeper in our post modern world, i.e. "disengagement" from institutions and community life that has been evolving over the last 20-30 years that is likely at odds with the vision of communal life set out in scripture. 

Are there really that many fearful/inadequate people out there? It is troubling in today's society and churches to find that many people consider themselves inadequate in engaging in social institutions, etc. when they operate quite "competently" in the work and family world, skills that can be carried over to the former. Yet, having seen the results of a recent Building Blocks of Faith Formation survey, only confirms the inadequacy explanation for not engaging. Think we need to dig deeper.

Question: Is "fear" a mask "cover-up" for something else?

Question: Why is it that in today's church, rather than volunteer, the preference is to hire/pay someone else to do the task?