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Nothing To Fear...But The Phobic Response
Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.
- Some Sample Situations
* An individual has great ideas and plans but, when implementation is to begin, the
individual is either "too busy" to be involved or nowhere to be seen;
* A valued relationship with a staff member, member, or confidant suddenly and
inexplicably "vanishes." All that is left is the coldness of an inexplicable
* After a seemingly very manageable and minor disagreement, an individual or group of
individuals suddenly "turn off" the switch of trust, respect, and relationship.
* A staff member suddenly does a "Jekyl and Hyde" on you after many years of
trusting teamwork and excellent two-way communication;
* And many other variations in all of our personal and professional lives.
What Do These Have In Common?
- The common denominator to each of these scenarios is that they were driven by a response
of fear. Though it is said, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself," the
reality is that given the right conditions, fears can arise in "virtually
anyone" (p. 54). Though the triggers may be unknown and the reasons for the fear
responses indecipherable, many people shape and direct their lives toward one major
objective: avoid fear at all costs. The more they aspire toward this objective, the more
fear-full they become.
- What Do They Fear?
- Fear-driven individuals may fear virtually everything and anything. They can fear health
or sickness, wealth or poverty, love or hate, leaders or followers, perfection or
- Certainly there are many things which can cause a fear response. Examples of just some
of these might include...
- fear of relationships
- fear of intimacy
- fear of vulnerability
- fear of failure
- fear of lack of freedom
- fear of losing or threatening a security cushion
- fear of death
- fear of dealing with the deep, painful feelings of grief
- fear of being wrong
- fear of tomorrow
- fear of today
- fear of repeating yesterday's mistakes again
- fear of not being able to pay back
- fear of admitting failure
- fear of change
- fear of admitting what is being done is not as good as what can be done
- fear of lack of control
- fear of a break from the security of the past
- fear of what others think
- fear of rejection
- fear of hurting others
- fear of making a decision
- fear of making a mistake
- fear of being out of control
- fear of commitment
- fear of being "trapped" by obligations
- fear of having fearfulness discovered
- fear of reprisal and punishment
- fear of not being able to do better after previous successes
- fear of losing respect
- fear of being in the middle of conflict
- fear of being hurt
- fear of being blamed
- fear of blaming others unjustly
- fear of God's leading
- fear of being overwhelmed
- fear of going too fast
- fear of going too slow
- fear of not knowing where one is going
- fear of not knowing if one can be trusted
- fear of surprises
- fear of known consequences
- fear of lost security
- fear of alienation from others for taking a position
- fear of incompetence
- fear of weakness
- fear of victory
- fear of popularity
- fear of betrayal
- fear of rejection
- fear of being hurt
- fear of doing something which will later be regretted
- fear of being imperfect
- fear of being too perfect
- fear of being confronted
- fear of being inadequately prepared
- fear of not being able to be strong enough
- fear of being hurt and not being able to rebound quickly
- fear of pain
- fear of having to deal with the thought of having to deal with the possibility of fear
- fear that reality will not meet the expectations of fantasy
- fear that the change will take away the security of the current state and that the
future state of things will be difficult to adjust to
- fear of seeing what is outside the "box" of one's life
- fear of having to divert energies to sustain oneself and one's emotional well-being to
external uncertain causes
- fear of alienation
- fear of God's calling
- fear of the unknown
- fear of a lack of resources
- fear of having one's lack of faith exposed
- fear of having to deal with guilt of being wrong
- fear of risks causing other unforeseen risks and hazards to arise
- fear of being overwhelmed by fear
- The Root Of Fear: Phobia
- Of course, fear first became evident in the guilt response of Adam and Eve. When God
asked, "Why did you hide?" they responded, "Because we were afraid"
(Genesis 2). Since the moment mankind fell into sin fear has enslaved mankind.
- Recently the topic of fear has become the topic of numerous books. Carter and Sokol's
book, Men Who Can't Love (Berkley Books, 1988), contains an excellent extended
discussion of the phobias and relationships. Phobia, they explain, is a variation or type
of claustrophobia. Like claustrophobia, phobic responses can give virtually any
individual a fear of being trapped, helpless or in danger.
- Phobias are especially widespread in relationships. Since the body of Christ is
comprised of numerous relationships, phobias also have a widespread affect on the church.
- Feeling Fear
- Those who are prone to the phobias will likely utilize the "F" response. In
doing so, they may reflexively respond to their fear because of some or all of the
- Waves of anxiety;
- Sense of dread;
- Hyperventilating and/or labored breathing;
- Suffocating sensations;
- A skipping or racing of the heart;
- Stomach distress;
- Excessive sweating; and
- Sweating or chills ("cold feet").
- Intense Phobic Reactions
- Of course, the intensity of these phobic responses can vary.
- "The one-alarm response may be nothing more than a slightly elevated breathing
rate, increased perspiration, and a modest release of anxiety.... A two- or three-alarm
response, in contrast, might be characterized by substantial but seeming manageable
anxiety, further elevation in heartbeat and respiratory rate, stomach distress, and
- These symptoms will make you feel uncomfortable in your surroundings. They may even
provoke mild fear, panicky feelings, and a desire to get away from or avoid whatever it is
that seems to be making you anxious, be it a tunnel, a snake [difficult relationships, or
your church].... Collectively, all this is experienced as fear, if not outright panic, and
it will compel you to avoid or escape from whatever seems to be triggering these
frightening symptoms" (Carter & Sokol, Men Who Can't Love, pp. 54-55).
- Phobias: An "Understandable" Response
- Given the various levels of phobic intensity, perhaps one can understand how individuals
often use the "F" response to avoid pain, especially the frightening experience
of outright panic. Unfortunately, those who are caught unawares on the receiving end of
the "F" response may have no idea at all of the role which fear plays in the
- Instead, those on the receiving end may respond healthily with attempts at
reconciliation and numerous non-threatening approaches or unhealthy in uncontrolled anger,
inappropriate confrontation, or other uses of power. When either type of approaches are
unsuccessful, the rejected one may become plagued with feelings of guilt, injustice,
anger, and painful, unresolved grief.
- The most frequent reality, however, is that there is virtually nothing one can do to
reconcile or communicate with an "F" responder. Virtually any approach by the
rejected will incite the same--or greater--phobic reaction which triggered the initial
- Even time, untold patience, and--dare one suggest--prayer may be of no use to restore
the relationship or at least end it respectfully. Often the answer to prayer given in such
situations is the long-term healing from the confusion, rejection and unraveling of a
seemingly otherwise normal or enjoyable relationship.
- Phobias: What's Our Response
1) Emphasize The Biblical Teaching on "Fear"
It's no accident. One of the most frequently found commands in Scripture is "Don't
be afraid." The word "fear" and its related cognates occurs at least 260
times in Scripture.
In many cases in Scripture, fear is contrast to the fearlessness of faith in a trusting
God who is in control. Rooted in sin, fear strikes at the heart of faith. It denies God's
gracious control and guidance while panicking in a pervasive sense of being out of
Addressing the "fear" issue strikes at the root of our sinfulness. If the
perfect love of Christ casts out all fears, then the Gospel of Christ which has overcome
fear and its author must be preached clearly, boldly and repeatedly.
- 2) Recognize Fear Is An Often Uncontrollable Response
- Do you remember how scared you were the first time you jumped off the diving board? Went
on an airplane? Dialed the phone for a date? Were looking down a high cliff from the edge
of a precipice?
- Though you may have been able to control these and other experiences, the
fear was still there. The fear lasted until you repeated these actions over and over
again. You controlled these feelings of fear because you confronted them and were willing
to overcome that fear.
- Those who repeatedly resort to the phobic response are afraid to repeat these
experiences. Why? Because they fear feelings will elicit feelings of increased fear if
they do them again. Unable to face and begin to control their fears, they must turn to
other means to deal with these fears including denial, flight et al. Since they cannot
control their own fears, it is reasonable to expect that others won't be able to control
them either. Any attempt by others to deal with these fears entails the risk of inciting
fear responses directed at--or against--them.
- 3) Don't Let Fear Hold You Back
- Fearful individuals often fear not just the phobia, but the bearer of the phobia. Thus
leaders may often be the target of fear-driven responses. There may be no rational reason
for it. The leader may not have even done anything even remotely close to deserve a
- But it can happen. In such cases, leaders must be able to do emotionally what Jesus told
the disciples to do physically: shake the sand off your sandals and move on.
- 4) Don't Let Fear Hold The Organization Back
- More than one local church, cluster of churches or entire denominations are driven more
by fear than faith. This is largely evidenced by their desire to continually carry out the
same ministries in the same way as they did in the past.
- This, of course, is the simplest way to cope with fear of the present and future. Since
the past has already occurred, is totally predictable, and offers no surprises.
Individuals, churches, denominations and all sorts of organizations may be driven simply
to avoid the past.
- Couched in righteous language of "orthodoxy" or
"faithfulness" to God's Word, etc., often the most "super-orthodox"
and militant for conservatism may bend the Scriptures to suit their needs faster than the
most raging liberal.
- Why? Because they may be driven more by fear-driven control rather
than a faith-driven moving forward in the unpredictable horizon of faith.
- A major litmus test of a phobic organization is to take a look at the agenda. Whether it
is the agenda of a local congregation or the denominational convention
- * What kind
of issues predominate?
- * Are they merely the same old recommendations, affirmations, and
items regurgitated for yet another convention? Or
- * Do the issues represent new, cutting
edge ministry issues which may incite controversy or discussion?
- Certainly there is nothing wrong with affirming a denomination's
confessional identity whenever possible.
One must never sacrifice the teachings of Scripture on the altar of non-Scriptural agenda.
But when these affirmations become a means for stifling the real, substantial forward
movement of the mission of Christ, they may not serve the church well. They may only be
indicators of the degree of systemic fear the organization harbors.
- Whatever the degree of bureaucracy, no matter how entrenched the "politicians that
be" are, don't let their fear stifle you. If they succeed, you not only lose.
- Be A Voice Of The Fearless
- From a biblical perspective, one of the most pervasive and profound indicators of the
destructive action of the Law is fear. Fear impedes vision, growth, faith, love, and the
freedom of the Gospel found only in Christ. Fear and its cousin, guilt, do much to destroy
morale, enthusiasm, and the joyful response to the Gospel.
- Unfortunately, when fear and guilt get together, they often form a potent weapon of
distrust directed at Christian leaders and their God-pleasing ministry. By means of
overtaking the agenda with perfectionistic and legalistic control-tactics, many a pastor,
congregational leader, and congregation has been brought to its knees.
- The only way to really effectively break down this pervasive phobia-driven legalism is
to preach the Gospel as clearly, unconditionally, and boldly as possible. Jesus recognized
the power of fear. That's why one of His and Scripture's most frequent commands is,
- Of course, pastors and Christian leaders in churches dominated by fear, distrust, guilt,
and phobia-driven legalism have no immunity from the results of these dynamics. Our own
internal corrupt sinful nature succumbs to it all-too-easily. Unexpectedly, such strong
and faithful leaders of unquestioned character may absorb the fear projected by others.
- You Must Be The Voice
- In spite of it all, Pastors and Christian leaders must be the voice of the
"fearless." They must continue to preach the fullness of the unconditional love
of Christ at all times. They must preach it regardless of its response. If they fail to
proclaim this freedom in Christ, they not only hurt their hearers but themselves as well.
- Therefore, when it comes to dealing with the phobic responses which inevitably arise in
ministry, keep preaching the Gospel. Take for yourself what should be the motto of every
Christian pastor. When it comes to the ministry of the Gospel, Nuncam decadamus,
i.e. "We never give up."
- Keep preaching the Gospel...over and over and over again. Each time you do, God uses
that proclamation to bring that possibility that another phobic may exchange his or her
fear into the joy of Jesus Christ's forgiveness.
- Thomas F. Fischer
For further insights and discussion on fear and other issues, see
Ministry Health's article
#203 Conflict: The "F" Response
Index Articles 1-49
Articles 50-99 Articles
100-149 Articles 150-199
200-249 Articles 250-299
Articles 300-349 Articles
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was revised on:
Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:55 PM