Number One Obstacle

Adam and Christine Jeske, at IVP’s blog, asked college students… well, here are his words but you can go to the link for his explanations:

Three weeks ago, I asked several hundred college students a question:

What is your biggest obstacle today to giving your whole life for God’s global mission?

Let me be clear, as I was that day—I wasn’t asking about dropping out of society, selling everything, and moving to Turkmenistan (although that was fair game).

Rather, I explained that giving your whole life for God’s global mission is being fully given over to God’s purposes in the world. If you’re following Jesus’ calling, you can serve God just as well as a businessperson in the U.S. as a church planter in Sri Lanka.

I had people text me their biggest obstacles to fully following Jesus (you can, too: 608-352-3263). Some answers were not very surprising: selfishness, busyness, lust, health issues, lack of self-discipline, and materialism.

But one answer stood out, named by a quarter of those responding as their biggest obstacle to giving their whole life to global mission: fear.

These students—and Christians, no less—were afraid of everything:

  • Being alone
  • Failing
  • Being uncomfortable
  • Not knowing where they’re going or what they’re doing
  • Entering a new culture
  • What their parents would say
  • Not hearing God correctly
  • Not being good enough
  • Being unprepared spiritually
  • Not speaking well
  • Being too broken

I couldn’t believe it. Fear is the biggest obstacle to these followers of Jesus fully joining in his mission, whether here in the U.S. or anywhere in the world. How did this happen?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Matthew

    Interesting you post this Scot, as I was just thinking about the possibility of going to seminary, and the main hindrance for me is fear.

  • Tyler

    Isn’t it the case that some things never change? It seems that fear is the biggest factor of not proclaiming in the Gospel of Mark as well. Are we going to be afraid and silent or will we have faith and proclaim? The heart of man hasn’t changed in all that time and I see the difficulty in my own life as well with fear.

  • http://antiitchmeditation.wordpress.com jeff weddle

    When you love the world, you are afraid to lose it.

  • http://www.theupsidedownworld.com Rebecca Trotter

    I think that part of this is simply being human, but a lot of it also comes out of the fear based approach which is common in many churches. There’s fear of hell used to motivate conversion. Fear of not being faithful which motivates most literalist thinking (see slippery slope arguments). There’s fear of being turned away (“not everyone who says, Lord, Lord . . .”) based not on what we’ve been told we’ll be judged on – love and care of others – but on breaking rules or not believing enough or correctly. There’s fear of shunning if you ask too many questions or show doubt. For many Christians, their entire faith experience is shaped by and policed by fear.

    I’ve always thought it was so odd that fear is such a common tactic in many churches. Jesus told us not to be afraid many times. Practically every time an angel shows up with a message the start by saying, “don’t be afraid. The bible says, “perfect love casts out fear”. Unfortunately, I’m not surprised at all to hear that our churches aren’t raising fearless followers.

  • Joe Canner

    When I was in college I was convinced I was going on the mission field right away after graduation, but when I found out what that fund-raising was required I high-tailed it for the business world. I suppose that is a form of fear, and I am surprised it isn’t on this list.

    I did eventually make it to the mission field, the first time (4 yrs) as a tent-maker with no fundraising required, the second time (7 yrs) as a tent-maker with a moderate amount of fundraising required. Now my concern has as much to do with spiritual preparation. No doubt it’s a fear, but it’s based on experience.

  • Jeremy B.

    This makes total sense. I worked for a very brief time as an admissions rep for a university. Potential students’ had 3 major concerns – time, money, and fear. Almost every decision to not go to school was ultimately fear-based as time and money could almost always be dealt with. The people I know that operate fearlessly in faith are almost always older with years of experience having God come through for them.

  • Paul Mast Hewitt

    It does not surprise me. If we are honest, it is what holds us all back. We are afraid of change, afraid of having to give up something we hold dear, whether that is our stuff, our cultural assumptions, or even our dearest relationships. We have come to believe that following the Gospel is easy and fits within our North American lifestyle. When that assumption is held up to the light of the true Gospel, then we are shaken with fear for it is not what we had always thought.

  • http://www.nateweatherly.com Nate W.

    Doesn’t surprise me at all. fear is the number one reason that i sin on a daily basis. Fear is the basis of pride and probably central to all sin. We are all afraid that we don’t measure up. To give myself in love to another is to risk revealing the true wretch that I secretly believe myself to be. I fear above all that when I am known for “who I am” I will be rejected because I am not “enough” to be loved.

    Only faith in unconditional love is able to overcome fear.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ordinaryadventure Adam Jeske

    Scot, thanks for sharing my piece here.

    Others, let me say that as I wrote this, I actually was surprised. I am not generally a fearful person. We headed off to Nicaragua right after school without doing any fundraising (re: Joe Canner above). We just lived in abject poverty, as the funny adopted friends of a whole village.

    But the comment from Rebecca Trotter was insightful: “For many Christians, their entire faith experience is shaped by and policed by fear.” Wow.

    That’s something for us churchy folks to sit with and simmer in for a bit.

  • Craig Querfeld

    WOW!!. I guess I never thought about fear being a major hindrance for global mission. Having grown up overseas, I was (and still am) more fearful about living and ministering in the United States than living and working in Latin America. I will keep this in mind as I talk to others about committing to work outside of the the comfortable US. I need to look into this some more. With Adam #9 I need to let it simmer.

  • Terry

    Paul at 7: “We have come to believe that following the Gospel is easy and fits within our North American lifestyle. When that assumption is held up to the light of the true Gospel, then we are shaken with fear for it is not what we had always thought.” I think Paul, coupled with Rebecca’s #4: “For many Christians, their entire faith experience is shaped by and policed by fear” pretty much nails it.

    In the US, we’re either afraid to try, to risk, to (potentially) sacrifice, or we’re afraid of an American-shaped or American-church-shaped failure in having done so. Having both risked, and failed in American ways, I get this. The question is, how to overcome it? Although Rebecca is right “perfect love casts out fear,” etc., I am guessing that I am not the only one who is sometimes taken aback by the lack of perfection of my love in the face of having genuinely given my whole life for God’s global mission. Fear is not just a precursor to the risk of entering God’s global mission with abandon, fear challenges perseverance or even re-entry at every step. I would also say some fear is warranted, even in faith. I think it can be far more complicated than the charge of loving the world more than God.

    In addition to spurring the Body of Christ forward in love and good deeds, the Body of Christ must also grow up from our shallow American-evaluation (Western-evaluation?) of fruitful mission. Only in this will we really be able to faithfully spur ourselves forward.

  • Steve

    Why would fear be a surprising answer? Jesus had to keep telling people over and over again to stop being afraid.


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