Using Fear as a Catalyst for Greatness

Published March 5, 2018

“One can choose to go backward toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen? again and again; fear must be overcome? again and again.” – Abraham Maslow

One of the most frequent commands God gives us in Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.”

Why? Because fear is inevitable. And fear can be paralyzing and suffocating.

Fear prevents us from tackling the brave, important tasks we were created to accomplish. When leaders are ruled by fear, there are even greater consequences, because it affects their businesses, their employees and their communities.

My son, Kenny, worked for a grocery store while attending college in Southern California. Late one night, a man came running past him while he stood near the check-out stands. As the man ran past, he turned to face Kenny, pulled out a gun and began shooting toward him. Kenny found himself in the center of a shootout between the gunman and a police officer.

He quickly dove for cover behind a chip display as shards of nacho cheese snacks and debris flew all around him. The sound of the shattering glass doors at the entrance, coupled with two guns firing at close range, left Kenny dazed and temporarily deaf.

After the crossfire ended, Kenny was sent to give a statement at the police station, where he crossed paths with an interesting couple. They were from Washington State, and the husband was an accounting professor. He had always wanted to teach at a Christian university, and he just so happened to be interviewing at the school Kenny attended.

The school offered the man the job. However, his wife had reservations about living in Southern California; she had heard it was a dangerous place to live. The university encouraged the couple to make a trip to the area to get a feel for Southern California. After landing at the airport, they decided to stop at a local grocery store for some snacks before heading to their hotel. Instead of getting snacks, their rental car was riddled with the very bullets Kenny was dodging inside.

This couple had been in Southern California for less than two hours, and their worst fears were coming true. Thankfully they were not harmed, but their nerves were severely rattled. As Kenny heard their story, he thought, There’s no way this guy is taking the job.

Three months later, Kenny was working late at the grocery store when he spotted the woman from Washington. She told Kenny they had decided to take the job and move to Southern California. She said, We’re not going to let some random act of violence keep us from doing what God wants. We’re not going to let fear have the last word!

The world needs more leaders, pastors and CEOs who will courageously step forward.

Author and humanitarian, Rosalie Bardo, once said, “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.”

I often consult with NGOs, executive teams at churches and nonprofit leaders. When I consult, I always ask the leaders to share their greatest fears. As they share, I often hear common themes including:

  • change
  • the unknown
  • rejection
  • not reaching their full potential
  • lack of resources
  • getting out of their comfort zones
  • failure

I ask them to rate, on a scale from 1-10, how much fear is influencing their decisions. The average falls somewhere between 7 and 8. That number is too high.

Here are 3 ways you can overcome fear in your life:

1. Do the thing you fear the most

This is what leaders are called to do. C. Joybell C., author of The Sun is Snowing, once wrote, “Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.”

2. Surround yourself with people who will remind you to be brave

We cannot be brave alone. We cannot overcome fear in isolation. A. A. Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh, said, “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”

3. Lean into God’s love

Scripture reminds us that perfect love casts out all fear. Love and fear cannot coexist. Love expands, and fear constricts. Love frees, and fear restricts. Love clarifies, while fear contradicts.

The words “fear not” are found 365 times in Scripture, one for each day of the year.

Author Stephen Hunt once said, “If you are not living life on the edge, you are taking up too much space.” We don’t need more leaders taking up space. Our communities need leaders who will lean into fear and choose to be brave on the edges. Our world is desperate for these kinds of leaders.

Each day, fear will attempt to keep us from courageously following God’s calling on our lives. The leaders of today cannot stay bound by fear or take the safe, comfortable, non-controversial road toward ineffective mediocrity.

Rather, may we become courageous leaders who have the bravery to overcome.

About the Author(s)
Ken Burkey

Ken Burkey

Executive Director


Ken Burkey is the executive director of Live58 fosters collaborative partnerships with local churches to develop focused strategies to better position themselves to serve the poor effectively. Prior to his role at Live58, Ken was the senior pastor at Green Valley Community Church in Placerville, California, for 23 years. He is the author of the book, The Power of an Orange Chair: Anecdotes, Stories and Celebrations of an Isaiah 58 Church.

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