When Fear Rules

Seth Godin calls it the “lizard brain.” It’s that voice inside that rises up and protests doing anything different. The one that feels threatened by a new direction or new idea. It’s the one that defends the status quo. Often, it employs the slippery slope argument to protect its position. The argument that says if we make this change or take this chance it is only a matter of time before the sky falls and civilization as we know it comes crashing down. OK, that might be a bit extreme, but I have heard some put that kind of fear into their arguments.

While using fear can be an effective tactic for debate or to “win the day,” it is dangerous.

Fear keeps us from being able to properly discuss the issue at hand because it causes us to bring up other things to help us pass along that fear to others. Fear likes company. It hates being alone. It’s fear that causes companies and organizations to take 20 years to change. In the world and time we live in today, that is too long. We don’t often have the luxury of that kind of time to wait for everyone to get over the fear and catch up.

The ironic truth is that fear is the real slippery slope. When fear directs the decisions, the worst case scenario becomes a self-fulfilling reality. When the lizard brain wins the people and organization loses. Fear might allow for a seeming short-term victory, but it leads to long-term failure.

Yes, we must look ahead, calculate risks, and use wisdom and experience. But, we must not make “wisdom” the scapegoat of fear. Change is natural and necessary. Progress demands it. Growth requires it. There is always a better way to do something, a more effective tactic, a different perspective. When fear rules, these are silenced and ignored. Eventually, when fear rules the organization becomes irrelevant and obsolete.

Would love to hear your thoughts or even stories of when you have seen fear hinder an organization…


  1. Pastor Shane,

    Your original post was spot on and what we must consider before we step out upon the road to change is the prayer in PS: 19:14 – are the meditations of our hearts in the right place and lined up with what God expects and demands of us WHILE we consider and eventually pursue whatever change we are in the midst of? To me, that is the crux of the matter. Does the character of God as revealed through scripture support the notion that He will support and stengthen the change efforts undertaken? If so, than the change is worth pursuing. It then falls upon us to gather the necessary courage to step out into the water and watch God part them for us to whatever degree He decides to. This is where “lizard brain” needs to be defeated; otherwise we won’t take that step. Fears should be observed but never be allowed to stand in the way of any NEEDED or PRODUCTIVE change that we realize through prayer God wants us to grab hold of.

    So back to the motivations; what is it that is prompting the change? Change for the sake of change sounds to me like something that should appear in Ecclesiastes; tantamount to chasing after the wind. However, if motives undergirding a change line up with God’s word and will for our lives, we don’t have anything to fear by changing. If the motivations for said change do not line up with God’s word and will for our lives, we have everything to fear from the change. I understand Bart’s concern. It’s disturbing. I just believe the motives and reasoning of gays and lesbians who aspire to carve out a place for themselves within the church do not line up with God’s word or will, visa-vi GOD, so it would not only be foolish it would be dangerous for the church to even remotely embrace their demands for the changes they want. It also disturbs me that our world SEEMS to me to be increasingly populated with people who see nothing wrong what-so-ever with trying to cloak bent, warped, and occasionally sinsister motives with flowery language, political correctness, fairness doctrines of all stripes, blah.. blah.. Anything but the Truth. WE, people of faith, can’t be like that, but it’s always a battle. The slippery slope, apart from fear, I see is that we cannot allow our worldview to “slip” from the eternal to the temporal and there are mounting forces at work in the world that would love for us to do it. If we do that, our views about change and who’s REALLY in control will shift also, and surely for the worse. So we need to remember the PS 19:14 concept of the meditations of the heart and pray they are pleasing to our “Rock and Redeemer” especially while making our decisions about change. The comforting thought for me is teathered to the Rock, how far down ANY slope, slippery or not, are you bound to slip?

    As far as the sole concept of change goes, I see nothing but firm ground; it’s very black and white. CHANGE OR DON’T. If you change, will God be glorified by the change? Will He find it pleasing? YES – Great.. Do it! Make a plan and DO IT!! If the answer is NO than don’t change; just keep praying and seeking for change opportunities that will start you and/or your organization down the road that leads to that place where God wants you to land. When those change opportunities that are in alignment with God’s will come and are embraced, we can take solice in that fact that God will not foresake us as we endure the accociated pain, doubt, and fear that will accompany the REAL changes that lead to posative results.

  2. I wonder if wisdom would caution against demanding progress or growth? I wonder if, in an impassioned effort to change and grow, we would throw away things that remain cornerstones?

    People have used your argument, Shane, to invite homosexuals into the pulpit and to refuse the inerrancy of the Bible among other things. Fact is, some things ARE a slippery slope. The question is then, what are things in which we can/should change and which are things we need to remain firmly commited to upholding? Or, when is the “lizard brain” correct to caution change?

    I just don’t want to throw a blanket over every refusal to change and claim that fear is the motive. I’m sure you don’t as well, I just thought it should be said.

    1. Bart, I do agree that there are things that must be protected. God’s Word is our standard for that. Yes, people have used this argument for wrong purposes, however, we must come back to the Word of God as the authority.

      I am speaking mostly to issues of style, structure, policy, etc within an organization. I also want to make a distinction between wisdom and fear. The two are not the same at all. I don’t believe real wisdom uses fear to guide us. The Bible says that God does not give us a spirit of fear. It also tells us that wisdom comes from God.

      I am also not talking about changing for the sake of change. This is in regard to growth and progress in moving forward and adjusting with the current time and context. I actually wrote this post during a business meeting a couple of weeks ago.

      I appreciate your thoughts greatly and for helping me to clarify this a bit more.

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