A boy Wearing long, red swim trunks races down a pier toward a blue lake under a big sky … well, races as fast as he can with swim fins on his feet … and leaps into the air with arms spread wide. The boy in midair graces the cover of Max Lucado's new book Fearless, and the subtitle speaks a word of hope and vision that every preacher longs to inhabit: "Imagine your life without fear." Indeed, imagine preaching without fear of how well you will "perform" or of how people will respond. PreachingToday.com editor Brian Larson interviewed Max, who is minister of writing and preaching at Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, Texas, about his own preaching fears and the glorious calling to preach courage into Christians.
As a preacher, what do you fear?
Almost every time I preach I wrestle with the fear: Do I really have something significant to say? I battle insecurity on a weekly basis. I always end up at the same place: No, I don't, but this is a call from God, so he must have given me something to say. I go through this little wrestling match before I get up to speak, and then when I sit down after a message my first thought is usually, Boy, I blew it. The good side of that insecurity is it causes me to be especially prepared.
Have those feelings changed over time?
Over the 26 years that I've been preaching, the fear has not changed, but my faith has grown. When fear surfaces, I now have much more experience on which I can draw and say, God has taken care of this every single time in the past, so I'm not going to be afraid. It's like David going into battle against Goliath, knowing he's already faced a lion and a bear.
Are the fears that come with preaching different when you're speaking to your own congregation versus when you're speaking elsewhere?
For me it takes more courage to preach to the same people and do a good job week-in and week-out than it does to fly somewhere, speak at a conference, and then get on a plane and leave. When I preach to the people in our church, I know that we're going to serve on committees together, going to see them at the restaurant, they're going to see me in traffic, they're going to know the kind of person I am. I can't pull the wool over their eyes. It takes more courage in the week-in and week-out to be faithful and bring a faithful message.
What effects does fear have on a preacher?
We tend to do one of two things: either withdraw from our people or become hyper-controlling of them. Fear makes a person a poor leader. And the extreme example of this is Adolph Hitler. Martin Niemoller, the Lutheran pastor, heard Hitler speak in 1933. His wife asked him what he thought and he said, "I perceive that Herr Hitler is a terribly frightened man."
Fear brings out the tyrant within us. So we either become hyper-controlling of the church or we withdraw from people in the church. The better posture, of course, is to set fear aside so that we can be out in of the church but still confident enough to lead them.
Why do we need to preach about fear?
First, because Jesus spoke so much about it. Jesus had more imperatives about fear than any other topic. If Jesus talked so much about fear, then I should be talking about fear.
The second reason to preach on this is that the state of fear can do so much damage. The appearance of fear is not the issue. In fact, I don't think fear is a sin; it's an emotion, but it can lead to sin. It's the pervasion of fear, when fear takes over our lives, when we live in a perpetual state of unrest, that is the problem.