Dr. Justin Irving, author and professor at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, writes in his book Leadership in Christian Perspective, “Leaders must care and not care at the same time. They must care deeply for the people they lead, but not for the shifting praise and approval of others.”
Dr. Irving hits on a struggle faced by many Christian leaders — seeking the approval of others. We know from the Bible that this desire to be approved of is a trap. Proverbs 29:25a says, “The fear of man brings a snare.” The fear of man is not a phobia of people, but instead apprehension of their disapproval. We want to be liked and accepted.
Here are five reasons Christian leaders must gain mastery over the monster of the fear of man.
1. Because it keeps us from obeying God: In John 12:42 we are told that many leaders believed in Jesus, but for fear of being put out of the synagogue they would not confess Him publicly. The fear of man kept them from obeying Jesus. Many of us have passed up witnessing opportunities because we were afraid of what others would think of us if we attempted to share the gospel with them.
2. Because it keeps us from serving others: The fear of man may mean that we fail to make a phone call to encourage someone because we think we will be a bother. We may be timid about praying for someone in the moment because we don’t want to come across as overly spiritual. We may fail to make a pastoral visit because of an unhealthy preoccupation about whether they are the kind of people that would like a visit. I have been guilty of all these ministry fails and have missed many opportunities to serve others because of the fear of man.
3. Because it keeps us from speaking up: Proverbs 31:9 tells us to use our voice for the good of others. William Wilberforce spoke up on behalf of enslaved people. Lottie Moon spoke up for the eternal good of lost souls in China. Many modern believers have acted like timid children, afraid to speak up while others have faced discrimination, ridicule — even abuse. Many of us have failed to speak up out of fear of what someone would think about what we had to say.
4. Because it keeps us from making decisions: A recent Lifeway survey revealed that 12 percent of Christians surveyed were ashamed about how their church handled decisions related to COVID. The deeper truth is that those 12 percent were ashamed for different reasons. Some believed the church went too far and others were upset because their church did not go far enough. Pastors and Christian leaders who struggle with the fear of man will also struggle with decision making.
5. Because it keeps us from becoming like Jesus: Jesus didn’t waste time with an internal debate about what people would think if He rubbed mud on someone’s eyes for healing or if He went on to fulfill His duty to preach the gospel in neighboring towns instead of staying put to develop a healing ministry. He came to do the will of the Father, and in doing so He did not please all people. If we want to be like Jesus, we must gain victory over the fear of man.
The old quote from poet John Lyndgate, and later adapted by President Abraham Lincoln, rings true: “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
Jesus told us in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Christian leaders must decide to live for an audience of one. As indicated in the opening quote, we need to care about people but not care too much about their approval.
May the Lord give you victory over the sin of the fear of man as you seek to serve and lead his people.