Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

How to Lose the Fear of Failure

  • Joshua Ross and Jonathan Storment Church of Christ Pastors
  • Published Oct 20, 2015
How to Lose the Fear of Failure

Phobias interfere with life and cause deep personal distress. They alter moods and lifestyles. They can have a major impact on relationships. Phobias also can change how we think about time, and they can prevent us from wanting to join in the party that Jesus invites us to.

Did you know that 60 percent of phobias will never actually take place? Ninety percent of the things we fear are considered to be insignificant issues. And 88 percent of things feared are in relation to our health and will never come to pass. Yet we live in a culture that is obsessed with fear.

We are fearful because we have heard stories and we’ve watched movies and we’ve listened to country music. Bad things happen, and most of the time it has nothing to do with our unwise choices or self-destructive behavior. We fear things because we have children and want them to be safe, or because we have been hurt in the past and never want to be hurt again.

Fear isn’t always negative. It keeps us on our toes. It teaches us to be people of caution. And sometimes these things are good.

But fear is not good when it haunts our families and triggers unhealthy decisions. It has penetrated the life of the church, keeping us from embracing risky faith. Fear can paralyze decision making that would draw us deeper into the heart and mission of God. There is a reason the command “Do not be afraid” shows up more than any other command in Scripture.

There is a phobia that has the power to paralyze the church as well as the culture of the twenty-first century. It’s called atychiphobia, a fear of failure. This is closely connected to the fear of letting people down and being obsessed with pleasing people. It is described as an extreme, irrational fear.

It’s easy to say we don’t care what people think of us, but in our heart of hearts we do. We want to be accepted; we want people to think well of us. I have a friend who is a pastor. His addiction to people-pleasing led him into a twelve-step program. It can become a form of idolatry, and it can cripple the local church. Kingdom people who take risks for the gospel must conquer their need to hear applause.

There is real danger here for followers of Jesus. Failure can loom so large that Christians choose to avoid all risks. They may fear failure so much that they choose to not take a risk again. Their default setting in life will be to play it safe no matter what. This has a profound and stifling impact on discipleship, evangelism, loving neighbors, creating community, fostering environments for authenticity, and living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

This fear helps explain why so many Christians are locked in homogeneous communities. In most congregations you will see very little ethnic diversity. Further, churches often organize ministries and activities in ways that segregate seniors from younger members, married persons from singles, youth from adults, and even men from women. It is rare to hear anyone raise serious questions that can lead to fruitful discussion and learning. The emphasis instead focuses on fitting in and being just like everyone else. Such uniformity might make people feel safe and comfortable, but it is the opposite of risky faith.

You might read on a church website that the congregation welcomes people just as they are. But the unstated fine print lists exceptions. All are welcome (except single mothers, cohabitating couples, those showing symptoms of substance abuse, anyone dressed like a gang banger or biker or sex worker, same-gendered couples, women wearing shorts, those who don’t speak English, and undocumented immigrants).

The fear of people who aren’t like us keeps us separate from our neighbors. We set up parallel structures, such as alternate school proms, homeschool collectives for gym class and field trips, church softball leagues, and other efforts that duplicate what our neighbors are involved in. When we could be joining our neighbors in park district sports and community work days and block parties, we stay busy doing the same types of things but with people who remind us of ourselves.

Can you see how paralyzing and detrimental this is for the local church? If heaven really is invading earth, if Kingdom parties are as inclusive and welcoming as we claim them to be, how do our fear-limited lives serve as a witness to others? How can our isolation be taken as an open invitation to others to join the celebrations endorsed by heaven?

The apostle John makes this claim: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). It takes guts to make that claim. Think about it. If perfect love drives out fear, what are the things that need to be driven out of your life? What needs to be driven out of the life of the church? The fear of failing at a new ministry initiative, or the obsession with trying to keep a dozen people happy? These are not concerns that ever directed Jesus’s decision making. He taught His followers differently.

No matter how much we avoid risk and give in to fear, nothing can change what God is doing and what He will do when heaven crashes to earth. The sounds of the Kingdom coming into this world will drown out all sounds made by fear.

Perfect love drives out fear, and when that happens, we can’t help but celebrate.

[Editor’s Note: Adapted from Bringing Heaven to Earth by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment Copyright © 2015 by Josh Ross and Jonathan Storment. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.]

Josh Ross is lead minister of Sycamore View Church in Memphis Tennessee, and the author of Scarred Faith. His church works to restore justice, opportunity, and dignity. Josh lives in Memphis with his wife, Kayci and their children.

Jonathan Storment is the preaching minister at Highland Church in Abilene, Texas. Highland works to end systemic homelessness in their city. Jonathan, his wife, Leslie, and their children live in Abilene. He is the author of How to Start a Riot and contributes to Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog.

Publication date: October 20, 2015