Christian leaders have long preached that fear is an enemy to be avoided. But I would suggest that the new face of ministry means we need to befriend fear and walk with it. Our fears include trying something new, dancing with the Institution, and befriending our context in new and innovative ways.
A few years ago when a number of friends and I began laying the groundwork for ChurchNext we did so because we wanted to find a way to engage people who said they wanted to learn more about faith but were unable to commit to traditional ‘content delivery venues’ (ie six mid-week, in-person education classes). So we began exploring online education and were taken by its big three attractions: expert teachers, convenience, and affordability. So, we decided to try something new: build online schools for churches which would allow formation to happen online as well as in-person. Our fears were real because none of us had ever done this before. Our fears were somewhat assuaged though, because few others had either.
Sure, there were other entities out there who were not only much better equipped, but who probably saw this as part of their missions – who are we to do this? Soon we realized it’s new ground, we’re all standing there, and no one was staking claim to it, so we did. And we did so partnering quite successfully with denominational leadership, publishing houses, and other existing ministries. When trying something new, it’s not us-vs.-them, be a learner, look at what God’s doing, lay our gifts on the table, rely on the Spirit and do it together.
Finally, what’s kept us going is realizing our context: a very small percentage of us routinely try new things: 2.4% of us are considered innovators on the ‘change adaptation’ bell curve. Church institutions are no different. Trying something new means there will be people who ‘get’ you – but mostly, you’ll be in for a slog, so plan for it and embrace it.
Today, while we’ve hopped many hurdles, the key understanding is that none of us has ever done anything significant that has not involved fear. Quit looking at fear as your enemy and start looking to fear as your validation – that you’re attempting something of significance. God is with us through our fears. Have faith. If you’re not doing something fearful today, will it be memorable, life-changing, and valuable tomorrow?