Leading with Fear: Gathering or Scattering?

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Leading with Fear: Gathering or Scattering?

Jeremiah 23:1-81

Restoration after Exile

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.

The Righteous Branch of David

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” Then they shall live in their own land.

Fear is a dangerous thing for leaders to employ. Goats own leadership involves a certain degree of fear, to be sure, but it is questionable whether we, as His human agents in leadership should employ fear.

Fear can be used to both scatter and gather. Usually we attribute it to only the former, but it is a powerful tool in shaping the behavior of those around us. Often, like a storm, a little bit of fear scatters us, each off to their own unique place of safety. However if the storm continues and the flood waters rise, we will leave our individual places of safety to seek out a focused, higher ground, especially if we believe that it is the only place that will remain safe.

What does that mean for leaders? Either you use fear sporadically to chase away your flock from a circumstantial place of danger, or you have to exert the effort to pour it on and keep them continually afraid and continually following you. This is brainwashing 101 and for the personality cults that employ it, some use charismatic attraction, but most use some form of fear to keep their members close. This is not Godly leadership, and the prophets and history of the Bible all attest that if we abuse our leadership by using fear tactics, there is a price to pay. God will take our leadership away and we will be seen for the insecure, over-reaching fools we are.

There is a place for fear and scattering though, as Ecclesiastesreminds us. Jesus used it, not only for occasional warnings to keep people safe, such as His warning about following the Pharisees but also to quell the ambition and pride of His own followers. Note though, that even in these instances, Jesus does not act out of a threat to His own leadership, but instead out of care for the well-being of His followers who have lost touch with the reality of their situation.

Matthew 20:17-28

A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection2

While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”

The Request of the Mother of James and John3

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

I suppose, in the end, the greatest danger of employing fear is that, like working with poison or explosives, it is a weapon which often ones back to harm those who employ it, bringing us under its own control, eliminating our ability to choose wisely and freely, and thus crippling our own ability to lead. See pretty much any movie or read any story ever made… once the villainous fear-monger is overtaken by fear themselves, their end is near.


  1. (Cp Jer 16:14–15)
  2. (Mk 10:32–34; Lk 18:31–34)
  3. (Mk 10:35–45)

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