What could be stifling growth in the American church—and in individual spiritual growth? A couple of deadly emotions are killing us.

The first is widespread, sneaky, crippling, and the very antithesis of faith. It is fear.

For the past 35 years I’ve had one foot in the church ministry world and one foot in the business world. I’ve seen many examples of success and failure, growth and stagnation. How leaders—in church and business—handle the emotion of fear usually predicts their success and growth—or lack thereof.

Those who’ve learned to manage fear ask, “What could we gain?” These are the successful ministry leaders and entrepreneurs who overcome obstacles, accomplish big things, and make a difference. They’re not reckless. They count the costs and plan for contingencies. But they’re juiced more by the prospect of success than the fear of failure.

Meanwhile, those who fearfully obsess over questions such as, “What could go wrong?” repeatedly turn down promising opportunities. And they, and their organizations, shrink.

In my work at Group Publishing and Lifetree Café I hear all kinds of fear-based questions and comments from timid church leaders. “What if it doesn’t work?” “What if nobody comes?” “What if somebody doesn’t like it?” “What if one of my elders objects?” “What will people think of me if I support something that doesn’t work?” The church today suffers from fear-induced paralysis. It’s slowly killing us.

Throughout history we see sad examples of fear-based thinking. The scriptures tell story after story of the disappointing results of fearful thinking. What caused Peter to deny Christ? Fear. What caused Judas to betray Jesus? Fear. What caused Thomas to doubt? Fear.

God knows our weaknesses—especially our tendency to fear. That’s why we see hundreds of commands throughout scripture to “fear not.”

When circumstances call for change (and current circumstances in the church are crying for change), it’s time to ask God’s guidance, to trust in him, to have faith—and to fear not.

When we stop angsting over what we may lose, and starting dreaming about what we may gain, then we’ll starting growing.

Fear not.

Now, what’s the other emotion that’s killing us? See you next time on Holy Soup for that one.