In Exodus 14 we see Moses and the children of Israel trapped against the shore of the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army wants to kill them and only the Angel of God who stood between them kept the army from killing God’s people.
All they could see was the danger behind them. It was all they could think about. They forgot all about their new found freedom and railed against Moses, accusing him of purposefully putting them in mortal danger.
Moses tried to calm them down.
“And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever. The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’” (Exodus 14:13-14)
Then God spoke to Moses about direction:
“And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.’” (Exodus 14:15)
God didn’t tell Moses anything about what to do behind himself. He said to address what was in front of Moses and the people.
“But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.” (Exodus 14:16)
As a leader in the body of Christ I know that there are times to look back. One is to remember what God has done for us. It is very valuable to spend time worshiping God for what HE has done for us.
Another important time for the people of God to look back is when we practice forgiveness. We cannot do that without looking back at what was done to us so that we can submit it to the Lord in forgiveness.
So, there ARE times when a Christian leader is to encourage people to look back. For the most part, however, it is FAR more important that we set our faces toward where God is taking us. That is what the Israelites were supposed to be doing; they were supposed to be looking toward the Promised Land instead of looking back to slavery with longing.
“Then they said to Moses, ‘Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, 'Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 14:11-12)
Why did they do that?
They were afraid.
I have noticed something in the Body of Christ….the Church.
When I say this, I am not referring to any one autonomous congregation of the Church. I am considering the entire Church as one unit, the way God does.
“For as THE BODY is ONE and has many members, but all the members of that ONE BODY, being many, are ONE BODY, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
In that one body (the Church Jesus built) there are many leaders. I have personally witnessed and often hear reports about many of these leaders using fear to motivate people to do things that Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of prompting God’s people to do.
For instance, the Word is clear that it is the Lord Who connects us in the Body of Christ. In Ephesians 4:8 Paul says God gives each person grace. Then in a few verses later in 4:16 he says that Christians in the body are connected with the people Christ, as the head, assembles them.
In contrast, many leaders use fear to encourage people to stay in their congregations. They focus on the failures of the past. This often keeps people in their worst times, rather than encouraging hope based on the advances God has made in their lives since those times.
They direct the people they lead to look backwards, using fear, instead of looking forward to see what God intends to do in their lives.
Brothers and sisters, we must be aware of what we allow into our souls. The following verse has been used a lot in the Church to encourage us to resist fear and I will use it here:
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Neither looking backwards nor using fear to motivate are valid ways to drive God’s people to do things. We aren’t meant to be goats that one DRIVES with fear.
Instead, God chooses the image of sheep to portray His people.
They are to be LED from in front. Sheep need a Shepherd….and there really is just One of those:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” (John 10:14)
“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be ONE FLOCK and ONE SHEPHERD.” (John 10:16)
Jesus is the head of the one Church. He is the Good Shepherd.
There are, however, what some call “under-shepherds.” The idea of “under-shepherds” is an underused one but one that is Biblical. It comes from understanding passages like this one in which Peter is speaking to older leaders (elders) in the Body of Christ:
“Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” (1 Peter 5:2-4)
Jesus is the “Chief Shepherd”. Those who “shepherd the flock of God” who are among them are, if you will, “under-shepherds.” They are to oversee or watch over God’s people.
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
The word most often used to label these is “pastor.” I happen to function in this way in the lives of some of those with whom the Lord has connected me. These are, as we saw earlier, connections arranged by Jesus Himself.
As I recognized my role in the Body of Christ, researched it in the Bible and started to practice it I was surprised to see that the often used title “pastor” appears only one time (in the plural) in the entire New Testament (Ephesians 4:11). You would think that a title that appears on signs in front of pretty much every congregation of the Lord’s ONE Church would be more prominent in the Bible, but it isn’t (as a title).
This is because “pastor” (which really means “shepherd”) was never meant to be a title. You might notice at the end of this article I will use the term “Pastor Mike McInerney”. I do not use it as a “title” because I do not consider it to be one. Rather, it is a functional ROLE, one of several in which I operate in God’s Kingdom. (We are all called to multiple roles in God’s Kingdom.)
Paul, speaking to the leaders of the members of the ONE Church (which met in multiple homes and business places) in Ephesus, said this:
“Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
We also saw in 1 Peter 5:2-4 this idea of the leaders shepherding the people (watching over them) on behalf of Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.
Holy Spirit has an excellent command of the language. He chose the idea of shepherding, watching over, etc. to convey His expectations.
The people who first read or heard these words were familiar with sheep and shepherds. They knew that the main functions of a shepherd was to lead, feed and protect the sheep.
Shepherds watched over sheep to keep track of any dangers there may be that might threaten the sheep. They did this specifically so that the sheep could eat, rest and grow WITHOUT BEING BURDENED BY FEAR!
I’ll repeat something I said earlier because it is important that we receive this:
Brothers and sisters, we must be aware of what we allow into our souls. We must not allow anyone to place fear of anything on the earth into our hearts.
The Bible says that we are to fear (live in awe and reverence) of God alone.
So, I caution us all to be wary of anyone who ever uses fear to get us to look backwards rather than looking forward to see what the Lord hopes to accomplish in the future in our lives and through our lives.
In fact, there are several places in the Word where we are encouraged to look ahead.
The Holy Spirit of God speaking through Paul:
“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead….” (Philippians 3:13)
The Holy Spirit speaking through Peter:
“Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless…” (2 Peter 3:14)
The Holy Spirit speaking through John to the Elder, Gaius about those he led:
“…who have borne witness of your love before the church. If you send them forward on their journey in a manner worthy of God, you will do well….” (3 John 1:6)
Finally, as a man turned back from Jesus and His plan for his life, Jesus told him this to encourage him to stop looking backwards:
“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:2)
I, therefore, urge my fellow leaders in the Body of Christ to stop using backward glances over shoulders and fear to motivate the people we are to watch over on behalf of the very same Chief Shepherd who said those words.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ, I implore you to pay attention to what is taught you and to resist receiving fear as a motivator. Our God is LOVE (1 John 4:16) and He is Perfect.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
The title of this article is “Which Way Are You Going?”
I chose it because we are being led by the Holy Spirit of God on what John called a “journey” in 3 John 1:6. That journey, as is the case with all journeys, goes FORWARD.
It seems to me that it is a bad idea to be moving forward with God (Who is love) while looking backwards in fear.
It is my hope that what has been written here will help us all be wary of satan’s attempts to cause us to be captivated by fear, whether it be through bad memories, the lingering effects of unforgiveness, a well-meaning but misdirected teaching, or anything else.
May the Lord protect us from being ruled by fear. May our focus be on Him and on His direction for our lives.
Let us look forward as He walks with us on this journey of His making.