Leadership Mentoring: The Fear of Man

“If you are afraid of people, it will trap you.” —Prov. 29:25

“Then Saul admitted to Samuel, ‘Yes, I have sinned. I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.’” —1 Sam. 15:24

My son is a pastor in another state. These Leadership Mentoring exercises are an attempt to impart on him—and other church leaders—what God has given me. They are designed to be discussed over coffee or FaceTime in order to stimulate thinking and wrestle with leadership themes, skills and perspectives. They are not easy fixes, 1-2-3 strategies or spoon-fed biblical remedies. Rather, they are intended to stimulate investigation and an internal wrestling match resulting in deeper learning and more thoughtfully held values and convictions. The wrestling match has a shaping effect on us. Wrestle away!

The Fear of Man

Leaders must beware of the self-deceiving effects of people-pleasing and the fear of man.

My Experience

“The spirit of beguilement is an insidious thing,” the South African speaker declared with a strong accent. What?! “The spirit of beguilement is an insidious thing.” He spoke for about 45 minutes, using that phrase about 100 times. I leaned over and whispered to the friend next to me, “Do you know what that means?” He said, “I have no idea.” Me neither.

The message disturbed me, mostly because I couldn’t figure it out. I went to bed that night bothered and awoke the next morning with an, “Aha!”

The speaker was teaching out of 1 Samuel 15, when King Saul (sort of) followed Samuel’s orders to completely destroy the Amalekites. He returned from the mission as a hero, but allowed his army to take the spoils, which the Lord commanded him not to do. It looked like obedience, but it was not.

Finally, when confronted, Saul conceded that he caved into the people’s desires because he feared the people (more than the Lord).

Whenever we care about the opinions of others more than what the Lord says (like Saul), it can have a self-deceiving, compromising effect on us. Thus, “the spirit of beguilement (deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re doing what God wants, when we’re not) is an insidious thing (it can entrap us in a seemingly harmless way).” The “fear of man” has a self-deceiving effect on us.

This hit me hard. I had conceded so much ground—so many convictions—because I was insecure and wanted to be liked. I would shave sharp edges off the truth because I didn’t want to endure the consequences of people’s disapproval. I would not confront for fear of being rejected. And I thought it was harmless, but it was not. Yikes!

God was generous and granted me a deep and flushing repentance, but I was guilty and it was ugly. From time to time, I have to revisit these subtle, underground currents within me to make sure that I am living and leading to “please him” (Col. 1:10), rather than please others.

People-pleasing. The fear of man.

In Ministry

This is a constant temptation in ministry. We lead volunteers. We want to be liked. We hate being misunderstood or seen as “the bad guy.” We steer clear of confrontation at all costs for fear of rejection.

We can dress it up in all kinds of ways—“I’m just praying for them” or “waiting on God” or “being merciful like Jesus”—but the fear of man (and its brother, people-pleasing) can easily infect, motivate and steer us. We can easily “play to the crowd” for the feelings we receive, rather than what is best for the flock.

Fear of man. People-pleasing.

In preaching and teaching, we can play to the crowd and be more comedians than communicators of the truth. People laugh. We feel good. We feel we are connecting with them. “It’s all so they’ll come back, right?” People-pleasing. We can use more statistics than Scripture, more sentimental images than truth. Pleasing people.

We’re leading people, and we want to make sure everyone’s onboard and having a good time. We may smooth things over instead of confronting sin and immaturity. With the migratory habits of American Christians, we may fear that if we are too truthful, too honest or too vulnerable, then people will simply leave and go somewhere else. We are afraid of that, so we craft an image they will like better, and we sell off our convictions.

People-pleasing. Fear of man.

The fear of man and pleasing people can infect us almost unawares. From time to time, it’s helpful to take a motive inventory with the Holy Spirit and a trusted mentor or friend.


  • Name some biblical characters who caved to public opinion like King Saul. Why do you think they caved? Are any of those dynamics at work in you?
  • Name two or three biblical characters who stood firm in the midst of public pressure. (Jesus is the obvious one. Who else?) Why do you think they were able to stand in the midst of the pressure? What do you think was going on inside them when the heat was on?
  • Have you ever been rejected for taking an unpopular position on an issue? How did that rejection make you feel? What was your response to those who rejected you? What can you learn about yourself from that experience? How would Jesus interact with you on it?
  • Do you like being in front of people? (Be honest.) Why or why not?
  • When you receive verbal affirmation for a job well-done, does your soul 1) receive it, 2) deflect it and/or 3) hunger and thirst for more of it? Why do you respond that way? Is there a preferred way to respond?
  • If you were not afraid of what people thought of you, how would you lead them? How would you teach/preach? How would you care for people? How much more or less would you prepare?
  • In your preparation process, how much “pleasing people” is driving it? When you are finished delivering a message, how much do you crave positive affirmation?

Read more in the Leadership Mentoring series »

Bob Branch is the husband of Becky; father of Daniel, Hannah, Charis and Becca; father-in-law to Amelia and Nate, and the founder and pastor of The Springs Community Church in Temecula, California. Besides connecting with his family, he enjoys traveling, guitars, watches, football, baseball, Clive Cussler books, good coffee, sushi and almost all kinds of food.