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the fear of empowerment

Updated: Dec 7, 2020

This article is Part 4 of a discussion on Why Emerging Generations Are Leaving the Church.

Written by reKindle Contributor, Stu Barton.



Do you remember how FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) was used in almost every conversation a few years back? Although the use of that phrase has relatively dried up now, the fear aspect has not. Perhaps it has only increased?


When I was starting in pastoral ministry, I worked under a pastor that said, “I did not have any fear until I had kids.” Not yet married or a parent at the time, I did not truly understand what he meant. However, twelve years and three kids later, I now get exactly what he was saying. I feel fear from the responsibility I have as a dad to my kids.

Zach Williams wrote a song called ‘Fear Is a Liar.’ Although the words of the song are very personal to an individual, there is still a truth that rings out for all of us collectively.

Fear, he is a liar

He will take your breath

Stop you in your steps

Fear, he is a liar

He will rob your rest

Steal your happiness

Cast your fear in the fire

'Cause fear, he is a liar

In looking at the question ‘Why are emerging generations leaving the church?’ I believe a significant part of the answer boils down to fear. Yet maybe not in the way you’d first expect.


In the book Growing Young, Kara Powell and her team of researchers suggest that often the persons who are most trusted in a church or organization are given a set of physical keys to the building. Keys provide access to physical rooms, as well as to strategic meetings, significant decisions, and central roles. In other words, the more keys you have, the more power and authority you tend to possess.


But while we can think of a set of keys as a physical privilege and responsibility of leadership, keys can also be symbolic of the authority, access and capability church leaders have to empower others, particularly those up-and-coming leaders (i.e., the next generation) by giving said keys away. Yet sadly, this idea of giving away one’s keys is an area of hesitancy, even fear, for many church leaders.


As a younger leader (I’m in my early 30’s) I have experienced and observed fear in older leaders manifesting in an unwillingness to give the “keys” away to a younger leader. As a result, for many emerging adults, this hoarding of authority and responsibility by senior leadership, and subsequent lack of empowerment, has created in them the belief that they’re not needed; that they have nothing to say, nothing to bring or give to the ministry, the mission, the church.


While the emerging generations have their own hopes and dreams for the future of the church, and quite possibly better strategies for reaching their peers and the following generations than those currently in senior leadership, unfortunately, far too few are being given the keys necessary to serve and lead with any lasting impact.


Simply put, fear has crippled our ability to entrust and empower the emerging generations. The result? They choose to leave. In other words, where we lack empowerment within the church is where we will always find people leaving. Surely this is true of the emerging generations. While this may sound harsh, it is a reality we must face in the church today.


Is fear a determinant factor in your leadership?


For senior church leaders, I encourage you to consider this: is the reason you struggle handing over the “keys” because of a fear of failure? Perhaps you fear the failure of the emerging generations? Do you fear that they will screw it up? Do you fear they will do it differently than the way you’ve always done it, or the way you like it done? Or perhaps you’re afraid that they will do it better than you? Is fear keeping you from empowering others?


Fearful leaders don’t make good leaders. Rather, good leaders acknowledge and face their fears. Good leaders empower. Good leaders lift others up. Good leaders give away authority, opportunity, and the praise and gratitude of a job well done. And when failure happens – and it will! – good leaders are there to support, offer learnings, model grace, and entrust and empower once again. For more on this, consider the relationship between Moses and Joshua.

To borrow from an earlier post in this series, if we “present [the emerging generations] with a robust and compelling gospel that bids them to come and die rather than offering a bargain-basement opportunity,” combined with true empowerment to lead, we may just see a generation changed for a lifetime, a generation that is wholeheartedly surrendered to Jesus and committed to discipling and releasing the next generation in a way that has been paved and modelled to them by the generation before.


Fear, he is a liar

He will take your breath

Stop you in your steps

Fear, he is a liar

He will rob your rest

Steal your happiness

Cast your fear in the fire

'Cause fear, he is a liar


The emerging generation can see the future of the church and they want to be a part of it, but will you allow them?

Have you considered that the next generation might have a better strategy for reaching their generation, and the next, than you?


Are you willing to release and empower a new leader that may do things differently than you?




Stu serves as the Young Adults Pastor at Beulah Alliance Church in Edmonton, AB, bringing vision, teaching, and leadership to this diverse group. Having been born in Liverpool England, and living in California, USA before moving to Edmonton in 2016, Stu is both British and American. He is married to Sarah and together they have three kids. Stu desires to see this generation become resilient disciples by being with Jesus, becoming like Jesus, and practicing the ways of Jesus. It won’t take long for you to see that Stu loves people deeply. He also loves the original football (soccer) - perhaps a little too much?!


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