Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.

Marianne Williamson

When I was seven years old, my parents went away for the evening and left me in the care of my 16 year old brother. Most of the time we got along, and he generally treated me well. I thought it was awesome to have an older brother!

On this particular night, I walked out of the family room to go upstairs to bed. I confidently walked into my bedroom and before I could even turn on the light, my brother jumped out from a closet and yelled, “Surprise!” 

He thought it was funny; I was terrified! Even as I write this, I can still remember the overwhelming fear I felt at that moment. Ironically, he really didn’t intend to do anything hurtful. He was 16. I was seven. To him it was a harmless prank; to me it was a distressing experience that planted a seed of fear inside of me. 

Even though my brother apologized immediately after he saw my distress, it took years for me to feel safe in my room. My brother loved me, he didn’t intend to hurt me, but that experience had a deep effect on me.

For many of us, woundedness, even unintentionally, from a person we loved and trusted can have a devastating effect on our ability to love. We were created by God with a capacity to receive and give love, but our experiences can cause us to feel unsafe and vulnerable. We build self-protective walls so we won’t get hurt again. The result is that our interactions and relationships are tainted by fear and we live closed off from God and from those around us.

It took some time for me to feel safe with my brother again. Even as I struggled with my feelings toward him, I could sense my desire to trust him, but I was cautious and unsure. It took time and a conscious effort on my part to believe that my brother had my best interest at heart. Even as a child, I realized that my ability to trust my brother again was rooted in my choice to believe that God would be with me and that he would help me love even when I didn’t feel safe.

Obviously I’ve never forgotten that experience, but I’m so grateful for what God taught me through it. I don’t need to let fear get in the way of love. Perfect love casts out fear. God’s love for me tears down the walls that I build and helps me honestly and authentically love others. 

What experiences have caused you to build walls that keep you from receiving and giving love? How is God redeeming those experiences to help you exchange fear with love?

Deb Hinkel is the Director of Spiritual Formation and Family Ministry at Hershey Free Church. She joined the church’s staff in 2015 after spending fourteen years as an assistant professor in the Church and Ministry Leadership department at Lancaster Bible College.

Deb holds a Master of Arts degree in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College; and prior to her work there, she spent fifteen years in church ministry, developing programs in Christian education, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry.

Also by Deb: Identity Matters


“I’m just tired of hearing all these success stories. For once I just want to hear somebody get up and say it’s not working.” A pastor friend of mine said that to me when we were talking on the phone one day.

I believe we live in the greatest country in the world, but let’s admit it, Americans love success. Sometimes all the success stories cause us to not take action because we fear failure. We don’t want to admit things aren’t working well when it seems they are working for other people. I really believe that we learn more from our failures than our successes.

That’s true in my life, is it true in yours? I am a huge football fan, anyone that knows me knows this. An offense will never be dynamic if it never takes risks. So many of us like to throw short screen passes and play it safe because we fear failure. We are afraid of something not working.

In coaching some of our Missional Action Group leaders, and some of the churches that I work with, I sometimes feel like people spin their wheels and don’t have any new and fresh stories. Part of this is that fear of failure paralyzes us from taking any sort of action. If we are to learn, progress forward, and really make a difference, we need to take action and fail a bunch.

I can’t emphasize enough, if you come back and say, “we tried 10 different things to engage people that didn’t know Jesus and none of them worked,” I would be thrilled! You seriously tried 10 different things to engage people who don’t know Jesus? That’s amazing! What did you learn? What is God teaching you? What would you do differently next time?

Stepping out and attempting things even if they don’t work is part of how God grows us. We must create a culture of action, experimentation, and freedom to fail. As followers of Jesus, we are all about grace, right?

I think the bigger thing we should fear isn’t failure, it’s not attempting great things for the kingdom of God because we sat back with a list of, “what if’s.” Step out of the boat and look at Jesus…. You’ll sink and you’ll learn. There’s grace for that.

Jesus built his church on people that failed and learned. Let’s create cultures where that’s the norm. Experiment, Grow, engage the lost, be creative, and be OK with things not working the first 10 times. Let’s re-embrace adventure together!

At Narrow Road Church we regularly talk about what isn’t working, and on Sunday mornings have celebrated stories of failure because people took leaps of faith and risks for the kingdom. Do you highlight people who take risks even when they don’t work? Do people feel intimidated because they think they have to get it right all the time? How might God be calling you to create a culture of faith, risk, and adventure knowing that we have the safety net of God’s grace?


Mike Jarrell was a youth director in the Philadelphia area for a few years and loves teens. He left youth ministry convinced that the best way to impact teens is to reach families. Mike then became the senior lead pastor at Cornerstone Christian Church in Duncannon PA. After about 5 years at Cornerstone, Mike and his family followed God to start a missional church in Enola, PA. The Narrow Road Church has been around for 3 years. NRC is a movement of missional communities that follow Jesus on mission and grow in community.



One of the most basic questions that we all ask is, “Who am I?” This question is usually followed by another question that goes something like this, “Do I matter?” Everyone wants and needs to feel valued and accepted. We have an innate desire to know that who we are and what we do counts for something or someone bigger than ourselves. And so we do, strive, work to become someone who contributes something to someone. 

We want to matter. I wanted to matter.


For much of my life I struggled to believe I had worth and value, and hid my struggle really well. I had loving parents, but often felt as though I couldn’t measure up. And so my identity became deeply rooted in a desire to perform and please. I needed that “A” in EVERY subject. I needed to be the captain of the basketball team and the president of the club. I needed to be the Resident Assistant in my dorm and the leader of the Youth for Christ intern team. It was more than using gifts and abilities, I needed to lead and to achieve because I placed my identity in my achievements. Graciously, God still used the talents He had given me and, graciously, He kept prompting me to face my own false thinking.

The more He prompted me, the more I became aware of the false identity I had created. I realized that I was living out of a false sense of self and that I believed the lie that God loved me more when I was good, successful, serving, and “put together.”  

My first real step toward a true understanding of identity was when I truly believed that I was loved no matter what I did or didn’t do. As I surrendered my need for approval and accepted that I already had God’s approval, I began to see myself differently. I began to believe that who I was could best be explained by seeing myself through God’s eyes, and I began to live from a deep sense of wholeness. God began to integrate every part of me into one complete person. I accepted His identity for me. I am His beloved daughter, no matter what.

Identity does matter. The Creator of the universe desires to be our Father and give us our identity which is far greater than any identity I can create on my own. Will you give Him permission to “poke and prod” at your thoughts and beliefs? Will you then allow Him to transform and change your very identity?  You are a new person in Christ; live that way!


Deb Hinkel is the Director of Spiritual Formation and Family Ministry at Hershey Free Church. She joined the church’s staff in 2015 after spending fourteen years as an assistant professor in the Church and Ministry Leadership department at Lancaster Bible College. Deb holds a Master of Arts degree in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College; and prior to her work there, she spent fifteen years in church ministry, developing programs in Christian education, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry.


A personal reflection from Associate Superintendent Peter Johnson.

Being in darkness is never good when you know that you should be in the light. A month ago, I was mowing the grass and gathering up the leaves one last time before the winter season. The last thing I remember was mowing around the garden next to the garage door. The mower bag was filling up with shredded leaves from our oak tree. The next thing I remember was groggily looking around and seeing doctors looking down on me as I was being placed in an MRI machine.  

Then I was unconscious again until I awoke being wheeled into a bay in the ER, my wife and daughter nearby. I have no memory of what had just happened. I heard them say that I had a broken rib, had a gash in my forehead that needed stitches, and had a concussion. They listed out a litany of possible reasons as to why I might have fallen. Dehydration? Stroke? Heart attack? Seizure?

While ongoing tests are ruling each of these out, we are pretty sure that I was just clumsy, that I slipped while on an incline near the street, perhaps tripping while trying to maneuver the mower with a full bag of leaves. Whatever happened, because of my weak right side, I was unable to put out my right arm to protect myself while falling and I landed head first on my driveway. Fortunately, someone was driving by as I fell, saw the whole thing happen, stopped to help me as I laid there dazed and bleeding, and called 911. 

Once home from the ER, I mostly slept for the first few days, lying flat on my back in a darkened room. Any movement caused aggressive dizziness. Any noise or light was too much for my bruised brain. Now, a month into this experience, the world has pretty much stopped spinning when I try to get up, and the rib is just about healed. While still a little wobbly, I am gaining my strength back and getting stronger all the time. Hopefully after a few more medical tests, I will be cleared to drive.       

I have to tell you, it is very disconcerting to wake up and have no memory of several hours. But the truth is, I have already lost a month to this fall. And what a month to lose. I was only able to observe Advent and Christmas from the sidelines. I totally missed the tree being decorated. I could not handle the light from the first Advent candle flickering across the room. 

As Christmas approached I sat in a recliner watching as the family gathered to celebrate together.  Decorating the sugar cookies. Wrapping gifts. Going on outings with the grandchildren. Anticipating the birth of Jesus at church. I missed it all. 

Laying in a darkened room gives a person time to think. To pass the time and think about Advent themes I had my daughter read to me from a favorite book called The Birth by Gene Edwards (part of the Chronicles of the Door series). In the story, Michael the archangel breaks through the dark, brassy hardness between heaven’s throne room and earth after centuries of silence from heaven due to humanities sin. 

Once more God’s Light would shine upon God’s favored realm. Ultimately the host of heaven would watch in awe as the very essence of Almighty God would shrink, without losing any of its all-encompassing glory, and the doorway between heaven and earth would open into the womb of Mary, implanting this incredible Almighty seed of God into her womb. The door between heaven and earth would eternally be open in the person of Incarnate Jesus. God’s glory in the person of Jesus Christ would now change everything. 

Light would dispel the darkness. 

As we begin a New Year, what darkness is encumbering you? Like me, do you feel like life has come to a standstill? Are you struggling with a desert wilderness because of some emotionally charged quagmire? Has paying too much attention to the darkness of the world around you dragged you down? Maybe there is sin that is causing your heart to become brassy, hard, and dark?  

Let me challenge you as we begin 2018. Psalm 119:105, 130 says that opening the Word … is a light to your path. Commit to reading the Word devotionally, not just to prepare for a sermon but to prepare your soul to follow God’s path for you this year. Why? John 12:35 says we are to walk in the light of the word so the darkness will not overcome you.   

I found it intriguing that the online verse of the day for January 1 comes from Isaiah 43:19 (ESV).  “Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? It will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Listen to what His Word has to say. Talk to Him. Pray that God will release you from the hard brassy darkness in your soul. What new thing does God have waiting for you this year? What path through the wilderness and river in the desert has God already prepared for you to walk through? The doorway to Heaven’s throne is open and well lit.  Because of Jesus, it will never be closed again. There is Light. Walk in it.                    


I’ve been deeply committed to growth as a leader for more than 20 years. Admittedly, I haven’t always had the same idea of what kind of leader I should be. This has often looked different to me, according to whatever stage of ministry or season of life I was in at a given time.

For example, in my earliest years as a pastor, I would often say that John Maxwell was helping me pastor my church. I read everything he published, listened to every cassette (it was the mid-late 90’s!) or CD he released, and I took dozens of church members and staff with me to his conferences. Sp, for about 3 years my two biggest influencers were Jesus and John Maxwell. Jesus was certainly my Lord, but John was my leadership guru. It was a great season and I grew a lot.

As time progressed I found myself being deeply influenced by other leaders with more Church-specific expertise, such as Tim Keller, Jim Cymbala and many other lesser-known but incredible leaders.

Reflecting on this makes me recognize that the objectives of the organization and needs of the people I lead determine what kind of personal growth I should invest in at any given point. 

Because I knew very little about providing clear and concrete leadership, John Maxwell was perfect for me in those early days. When I moved to Staten Island, NY I needed to build on that knowledge base and get more specific to NYC so I could effectively lead there. I chose to learn from other very gifted, more experienced local leaders.    

One thing is certain and unchanging – leaders need to be committed to grow in character and in skill at every stage and in every season of life. And we need help from others on the journey.

Where are you leading others to in 2018? What are your God-given goals? What are your plans to accomplish them? Who are you learning from?

Below are five characteristics that should be true of every Christian leader. You will also see some related blog posts. You may want to subscribe to one or more of them in order to help you grow in 2018. The right blog posts often prick my mind regarding important things and connect me to other pieces of information that I might not know about. Take a look…

Holy: 10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year

Humble: 5 Bad Habits to Break for a Better New Year

Hungry: Ten Critical Trends for Churches in 2018

Hopeful: 19 Leadership Hacks to Start the New Year

Helpful: Hero or Hero Maker: Which Will You Be?

I hope God makes 2018 the most fruitful year of our lives as we become the kind of leaders He wants us to become.

Blessings to you and those you lead!