by Elizabeth Ahlman
Recently, my husband and I welcomed our third child to our family. One day not long afterward, while the rest of the family was at church, I found myself overwhelmed with paralyzing fear. I imagined the rest of my family dying in a car accident, and I silently wept. Every once in a while, such moments of paralyzing fear overtake me. I couldn’t shake the thoughts in my head. Most of us have at some point in our lives been so afraid that the fear stopped us from doing something we wanted to do or even from living day-to-day life.
Like individual people, congregations can also be gripped by fear when faced with a difficult circumstance or even a new opportunity. The fear can prevent the congregation from moving forward. One congregation was given the opportunity to move locations several years ago. The new location would allow them to proclaim the Gospel to many more people, as well as serve more people with acts of mercy. Donor money poured in from individuals and other congregations, but just as everyone thought the plans were in place, the fears of one or two members stopped the process in its tracks. Their fears that they were too small and couldn’t afford the move took hold among others. Suddenly, what had appeared to be mere weeks or months away from completion was pushed off.
Congregations, like people, are often faced with new opportunities to proclaim the Gospel or difficult decisions that need to be made in order to move forward. Fear can often derail the process of what needs to be done or of the exciting new opportunities set before them. When fear wins, often love and the Gospel lose.
However, St. John assures us that: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:16-18).
We are free from fear because we are children of God! It need not paralyze us as congregations. Instead, the perfect love of God in Christ for us drives out the fears that plague us with doubt and stop us in our tracks. We can move forward in proclaiming the Gospel through new opportunities to a world in need. The congregation that put off the move learned that truth over the course of another year. The pastors taught, preached and showed that God’s perfect love for the congregation and its members, and His perfect love for the people to whom they were sent, would accomplish all that was needed. They drove out the fear with love. The congregation has moved to the new location and begun its work . . . the work of proclaiming that perfect love that drives out all fear.