As President of Life Action, I spend much of my time with pastors—listening, encouraging, seeking to be a friend. And I have never seen a time like this in my thirty-eight years in ministry.
Pastors are discouraged today at a level that is dangerous to the body of Christ. I am going to begin writing about some of the reasons for this, and hopefully some of the answers.
As a whole, the church in North America is not in a good place. Others have effectively listed the grim statistics of decline and evangelistic collapse. Those of us who are or have been pastors have to bear some of the responsibility for this.
But pastors are often expected to be something like “ecclesiastical magicians”—to wave a godly magic wand and make systemic sickness disappear among church members who don’t really want the kind of changes that would make the church vibrant again. Church members must take responsibility for this and not expect the pastor to somehow usher in a new era of growth while also pleasing all those longing for “the good ol’ days”!
So, reason number one for pastoral discouragement? Opposition and attack.
It has always existed in the church, but I have never seen it like it is today. Certainly there are exceptions. But at a recent meeting of hundreds of pastors, I asked every one I could how they felt about ministry these days.
I found three that were encouraged. Only three! Many of the rest just wanted someone to talk to about their burdens.
I never break confidentiality, but I wish every church member could hear the stories that I heard, and that we often hear at Life Action. These stories are coming from every size and kind of church, and they are often brutal and inexcusable stories of division and unbiblical behavior in our churches.
Church member, you must take very seriously the biblical call to unity which Jesus was so serious about. He prayed “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21 ESV).
You’d better have a clear biblical reason to threaten that unity. The latest gossip, whether you like your pastor’s preaching, or whether you agree with his direction do not qualify as acceptable reasons to cause disunity.
You are not the Holy Spirit. Don’t try to be. He can change or remove your pastor if that is needed. He doesn’t need your help.
Pastor, you will not escape opposition. Some of it you will earn by your mistakes. Much of it, though, will be nasty, unfair, and even blatantly unbiblical. But this quote calls to me and challenges me:
Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me. (Jim Elliott)
I love this quote. But if we aspire to be this kind of leader, we must accept that many people in our churches will choose the wrong direction at the fork in the road. Apart from repentance and revival, they will never accept responsibility for their poor choices. They will blame you. And oppose you.
If we want to be “crisis men,” we will have to be okay with that. It cost Jim Elliott his life. But it also allowed him to change the world. I believe God is looking for this kind of courageous leader.
Clearly there are problems in our churches simply caused by the fact that as pastors, we often make poor decisions and are poor leaders. When I look at much of my pastoral leadership, I am surprised that God used it at all!
But if pastors would be willing to be “crisis men” kind of leaders, and if more people in our churches would radically support and follow them when they do, I believe we would see the power of the Holy Spirit begin to move in our churches in fresh ways again.
Making It Personal
More on these issues in the future; but for now, what is God saying to YOU about this? Do you hear Him?
Pastor, is He calling you to renew your commitment to be His “crisis man” leader, even when it’s costly, hard, and discouraging? Say yes to Him!
Church member, is He calling you to repent of any divisive talk or spirit of disunity you may have been a part of? Say yes to Him!
The good news is that at Life Action, we are also seeing the flipside of this problem. We are seeing pastors and church members come together to say yes to God, respond to Him, and see Him revive their lives and their churches.
And we are ready to see more! If we can help you or your church, let us know. That’s why we’re here.
We are not pessimistic. We are good news people, not bad news people. Take a holy pause. God has not abandoned you or your church. Yes, these are dark times, but there is light ahead.