Overcoming the Pastoral Pandemic
As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic a variety of robust opinions are circulating about the work of the gospel in the coming days. We read of varying opinions about the health and future of the church. Researchers are trying to understand more about what pastoral ministry will look like in coming years. Experts are weighing in on the real emotional, financial, spiritual, and family needs of pastors.
The good news (post-Covid-19) is that the vast majority of pastors are “hanging in there.” More important, they are being held up by a strong sense of divine calling and spiritual sufficiency in Christ. (See the article “Pastors Are Not Quitting in Droves”.)
The good news (post-Covid-19) is that the vast majority of pastors are “hanging in there.” More important, they are being held up by a strong sense of divine calling and spiritual sufficiency in Christ.
Yet, church leaders are under relentless spiritual attack, not because they are inherently more important than other Christians but because they are strategic targets for the Devil’s schemes of destruction. Of course, there are many other unique occupational hazards inherent in their calling.[i]
If you have not picked up your copy of Glorious Finish: Keeping Your Eye on the Prize of Eternity in a Time of Pastoral Failings, we believe it would be a very helpful and timely summer read for every believer who wants to understand the nature of our spiritual battle and the biblical pathway to finishing strong in this life. You can learn more HERE.
A Time to Understand and Pray
We should all understand the unique challenges pastors face as we pray for them with a firm hope in God’s power to strengthen and sustain them. While some ministry landmines have been constant for millennia, the current technological age has accentuated certain vulnerabilities that could be described much like a pandemic.
By definition a pandemic is a destructive entity that occurs over a wide geographic area and typically affects a significant proportion of the population. In the same way a physical pandemic is invisible but threatening, so it is with the pandemics that remain today in church leadership. I see four that seem unique to modern-day ministry.
The Pandemic of Ambition – Television, the Internet, and social media have created a perception of the “haves” and “have nots” in ministry. Two thousand years ago Paul wrote about the call to leadership. He stated, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1). Paul reminded potential leaders that the office and calling were noble because many shied away from the sacred role. In that day, persecution was rampant and pastors would often be the first to lose their lives for the gospel. Leaders were also the target of attacks from false teachers and demonic forces.
Today, many who desire a position in church leadership can be driven by other aspirations. Sadly, the “heroes” of the faith today are no longer martyrs but mega-stars. They are celebrity pastors who lead mega-churches and write mega-seller books and have a mega-following on social media. The meaning and function of a “pastor” has been tainted by a noxious notoriety.
The word “ambition” is from the Latin and means “campaigning for promotion” and suggests social visibility and approval, popularity, peer recognition, and the exercise of authority over others. J. Oswald Sanders notes that “in many cultures Christian leadership carries prestige and privilege” and “people aspire to leadership for reasons quite unworthy and self-seeking.” Conversely, he notes, “Ambition that centers on the glory of God and welfare of the church is a mighty force for good.”[ii]
We can pray for our leaders, that God would expose any motive that is not centered on the example of Jesus. We can intercede from Mark 10:42-44, asking the Lord to deliver our leaders from a pursuit of power and authority and instead produce the fruit of authentic servanthood.
The Pandemic of Distraction – The information age and availability of massive amounts of content on various devices has exponentially increased the diversity and regularity of distraction. I have often noted that the Devil does not have to destroy pastors; he simply has to distract them. The enemy is always launching weapons of mass distraction on church leaders today. A distracted leader will experience a diluted focus, diminished influence, and eventually a decimated ministry.
I have often noted that the Devil does not have to destroy pastors; he simply has to distract them. The enemy is always launching weapons of mass distraction on church leaders today. A distracted leader will experience a diluted focus, diminished influence, and eventually a decimated ministry.
This is why our global fellowship of pastors is focused on Acts 6:4. The early church leaders were quick to empower others to handle the breakdown of the widow-feeding program in Acts 6. Instead, they were resolute to devote themselves continually to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” This wisdom and focus is still essential today. (See http://www.64fellowship.com/ for more information.)
This past week (6/4/2021) we launched our summer matching campaign to support the pastors of The 6:4 Fellowship and countless thousands of other leaders that we are endeavoring to reach. By your participation you can both “double and multiply” your investment in pastors. To learn more, CLICK HERE.
We should pray that our leaders will embrace clear, simple, and biblical priorities as they also have the courage to say “no” to lesser things. We should come alongside our pastors and help lift their load by taking on ministry that might otherwise overwhelm or divert them.
The Pandemic of Impurity – I remember sitting in a meeting of pastors listening to a national expert whose chief calling was to lead the charge against the destructive impact of pornography. This meeting occurred just as the Internet was taking root in society. He announced with tears, “We have officially lost the battle.” With adult websites and on-demand smut, we now have garbage disposals in our kitchen but garbage distributors in our living rooms, our bedrooms, and our handheld devices.
With adult websites and on-demand smut, we now have garbage disposals in our kitchen but garbage distributors in our living rooms, our bedrooms, and our handheld devices.
We’ve all noticed the profusion of news reports describing shocking incidents of debauchery. Weekly reports of teachers having sex with students, child molestation, rape, and a whole array of perversion leave us numb. There is a direct parallel between the increase in these tragic offenses and the spread of pornography.
A generation ago a man had to search earnestly to find these “pleasures”. Today, the battle is to avoid them. Pastors are called to a higher standard of moral behavior, but are not immune to the influence and easy access to these snares. Paul’s admonition is more relevant than ever: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).
We must pray for our church leaders’ purity and encourage their accountability. The enemy lurks at every turn.
The Pandemic of Comparison – A century ago, the only way to compare your pastor with another pastor was to go on vacation. Today, it seems that every pastor in America is compared against a composite of the “best of the best.” They are expected to have the depth of John MacArthur, the cleverness of Andy Stanley, the pastoral wisdom of David Jeremiah, the relevance of Craig Groeschel, the appeal of Louie Giglio, and the hair and teeth of Joel Osteen. It is a losing proposition that stirs discontent in the hearts of church members and defeat in the efforts of pastors. Comparison is an ugly game that no one ever wins.
A century ago, the only way to compare your pastor with another pastor was to go on vacation. Today, it seems that every pastor in America is compared against a composite of the “best of the best.”
Comparison was the calling card of the false teachers in the church at Corinth. Paul wrote, “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
We must pray for our church leaders to “live for an audience of one,” seeking to please Christ alone (2 Corinthians 5:9). We must encourage them to focus on the only opinion that matters – the eternal scoreboard. We must stop comparing our own pastors with the edited versions of the famous media preachers. (Believe me, those “big guys” are not as perfect as we think they are.) We can hope that every pastor will rest firmly in the truth of his identity in Christ and remain undaunted by the relentless and superficial comparisons of modern ministry.
Comparison is an ugly game that no one ever wins.
The Antibody of Grace
Only the Lord knows how many pastors have been attacked and weakened by these realities. Yet, God has a powerful “antibody” to prevent future failure. It is divine grace. Paul learned the power of grace in his weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). We need to pray for abundant grace in the lives of our pastors. Titus 2:11-12 promises, “But the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age.” As the hymn declares, “Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that will pardon and cleanse within. Grace, grace, God’s grace. Grace that is greater than all our sin.”
May God shower our leaders with amazing grace – grace that is more powerful than the destructive contagions of a spiritual pandemic.
Copyright © 2021 Daniel Henderson. All rights reserved.
[ii] Oswald J. Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994) 15