I’ve said this before, but there has never been a more difficult time to be a pastor in the west in my lifetime. I use both of those caveats because of course there have been more difficult times in church history and of course there have been more difficult times around the world. Most of you are pastoring in the west and all of you are pastoring now. And in the 20 years I have been a pastor, it has never been more difficult.
Which is why we are seeing guys drop out of ministry at higher than normal rates. It’s hard and no one likes doing hard things. But it’s not just that guys are leaving ministry.
First, there are a number of guys who have taken their cues from the madness of social media and have chosen to fight. They are engaged online and they are constantly fighting the battles that everyone else is fighting. This is coming from guys across the theological and political spectrum. My world tends to lean right, so I see those guys more often but it’s happening on all sides. The guys on the right see the trends towards secularism and are rightly worried about it. They are afraid their church will “go woke” and so they have decided to fight it, both online and from the pulpit. They are the newest iteration of the Focus on the Family fights of my youth.
Second, there are guys who see the same trends but have chosen to hide instead of fight. They cloak their hiding in godly language about “just shepherding their people” but truly, they just don’t want to fight. They want to lead their churches and are happy to do it in anonymity if that means no one will be mad at them. Some of these guys are shifting theologically in order to avoid the fights, but most are just choosing not to engage the hottest issues.
Leadership is having a crisis right now. No one quite knows how to lead in an environment so filled with landmines and uncertainty. Exposés about Hillsong and Mars Hill have spooked a lot of people, especially when anyone can tweet or start a podcast to throw you under the bus. Strong, male leaders are looked at with greater suspicion than ever, especially those with conservative, complementarian theology.
The answer isn’t to fight, at least not the way I’m seeing it. Fighting mostly just confirms the priors of our critics and more dangerously, postures church ministry as a weapon to do battle with worldly powers using worldly means. Fighting with sarcasm, inflammatory and derisive language online or in our sermons is succumbing to the enemy’s rules. You are fighting with his weapons and using his strategies.
Hiding might be worse in the long run. Hiding in order to avoid confrontation or pain is cowardice. You aren’t protecting anyone but yourself, especially when you shift theologically to stay in line with the mores of culture. You are softening your people to falsehood, rather than rooting them in the truth. Anonymity is for people who are trying to get away with something.
Rather, we should be preparing ourselves to lead as God has called us to lead. Leadership will require us to fight, but Godly leadership requires us to fight the way Jesus fought. We should tell the truth, valiantly and boldly, but also humbly and graciously. Arrogance and malice has no place in the mouths of God’s messengers. We should fight by constantly appealing to the truth, demonstrating it in our lives, holding ourselves and our people accountable to both the words and the way of Jesus.
We should fight by resisting the weapons and strategies of Satan and embracing the way of Jesus. I am writing this on Good Friday and it seems perfectly clear to me how the way of the cross teaches us to fight. We fight injustice by doing justice, at great personal cost. We fight lies by hewing ourselves to the truth unswervingly. We fight arrogance and self-righteousness by quick and constant repentance.
Hiding is not the answer, but neither is grandstanding. Anonymity may be our destiny, but that is for God to decide. Our calling is not to lurk in the shadows or avoid controversy, though neither should we seek it.
If we tell the truth, hold the line and lead our people to do the same, anonymity may be our lot, but just as easily God could make an example of you, for his glory and the good of all men. That’s not for you to decide.
We have never needed Christian leaders more than we do now. We need men to stand in pulpits and declare the truth about Jesus. We don’t need men who seek the spotlight, nor shy from it. We need men who will fight with the weapons Jesus gave us and not the ones the enemy employs. We need men who so genuinely desire to see people repent and believe the gospel that grace is always on their lips and mercy always in their hearts.
We need bold men who will stand and lead, in the strength and humility of Christ. We can’t abandon ship. The storm is too big and someone needs to steer.