What We Are Afraid Of

Fear is a powerful thing. It can cause us to do some very irrational things. Of all the threats that we face on a daily basis, we put more time, money, and effort into protecting ourselves from things that we find very scary, whether they are likely to happen to us or not. In Chapter 5 of his 2005 book Freakonomics, Steven Levitt offers an example of this “fear of the scary over the real. ” More children die each year drowning in swimming pools (550 deaths per year, 1 death for every 11,000 pools) than from gunshots (175 deaths per year, 1 death for every 1,000,000 guns). Yet much more money is spent on campaigns, legislature, and passive protection (gun locks, safes, registration, licensing, etc.) than on pool safety (education, awareness, first-aid training, fences, covers, etc.) When was the last time you heard about requiring pool owners to have licenses or to be registered and trained?

Guns are way scarier than swimming pools.

A missions organization has many people doing high-risk things (evangelism, scripture distribution, discipleship) in high-risk areas. It makes sense, then, that the International Mission Board would spend money on training it’s missionaries to respond to crises such as natural disasters, terrorism, or targeted violence. But how many IMB missionaries are personally faced with such events each year?

Compare that to the number of our people every year who fall victim to moral failure, poor stewardship, team conflict, and depression. These aren’t the ones you read about, but these are the real killers of missionaries’ ministries and personal lives. Are we responding proportionately to these threats that every one of our people face on a daily basis? How much do we spend in discipleship for our missionaries on the field? What emphasis are we putting on continued training, pastoral care, and ongoing spiritual development?

Hopefully, we aren’t responding to the risks that scare us at the expense of responding to the risks that kill us.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.