We sat holding our newborn baby, watching as the doctor drew a diagram. It was a heart. He drew what it should look like. Then he drew it with the four abnormalities of the congenital defect known as tetralogy, the condition with which our first son, Ryan, was born. At first, my untrained eyes didn’t even recognize the blueness around his little eyes and lips. We found ourselves in the midst of a journey for which we were so unprepared, a long walk of faith. But in those first few moments that day with the heart specialist, our world changed forever, and I was about to join the ranks of the “hospital moms!”
As home missionaries to a western Chicago suburb, we expected sacrifices and hardships, financial and personal. But we never expected anything like this. In fact, over the next six years, Ryan underwent four complex open-heart surgeries, at three months, eighteen months, four years, and five years of age. And, each time, the surgeon was working only millimeters from Ryan’s coronary artery. Thankfully, the Lord understands when we question our circumstances, knowing that we see “through a glass darkly.” These were undoubtedly the “desert of our days,” and our faith, like never before, would have to stand the test of fire. Like the three Hebrew children, we came to realize that faith is not merely knowing “God is able to deliver us.” We, too, prayed, “but if not,” as the operating room doors closed before us, only to find that same God standing with us in the midst of the fire.
Each was supposed to be the last, yet we came to the day we had to tell Ryan that he needed a fourth surgery. I will never forget the difficulty of explaining that to a five-year-old with vivid memories of his hospital experiences. For two years, he was the poster child for the Chicago Metropolitan Heart Association. At the news of the surgery, his blue eyes filled with tears. “What did I do wrong?” he asked. Quickly, we reassured him that he’d done nothing wrong. Nevertheless, the test of faith had come yet again. But, at age eight, when a previously inserted patch began to leak, and surgery was inevitable, the miracle came! My husband was preaching a camp on the east coast when, in the middle of the service, the Lord spoke to him that He had just healed Ryan! The doctor soon confirmed it. The leak had, indeed, sealed off—this time, God had chosen to deliver from the fire.
Our hospital journey, though, was not ended. We had now been blessed with two more sons, Jonathan, two, and six-month-old Nathan. The same week of Ryan’s miracle, Jonathan, began limping and could barely walk. The doctor, after blood work and scheduling orthopedics, reassured us – lightning rarely “strikes twice in the same place.” Still, we felt something was very wrong. His fever spiked, and he became lethargic. Then, suddenly, I had a sense of “knowing” exactly what was wrong. I shared it with my husband. With news now about the second of our sons, we received the call from our concerned family doctor, “I hate to have to tell you this, Reverend and Mrs. French.” Then, he said the very words I had spoken to my husband earlier, “Jonathan has leukemia!” We were to leave immediately for Chicago’s Children’s Memorial.
In the early morning hours, though dazed, the first miracle in this fiery trial became clear. As Jonathan was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, God had given me a word from Him. Then, the Lord said to me, “I spoke to you to assure you that I am here. I know all about it. My face is turned in your direction.” As battle-weary as we were, I desperately needed extra grace, so the Lord prepared the way, a peace beyond understanding. Nevertheless, the seemingly endless chemo, the needles, the non-sedated bone marrow aspirations, the spinals – were all incredibly difficult. But, early into treatment, I was blessed to hear Sis. Nona Freeman minister on the subject: “Praising the Lord in All Things!” God used it mightily. God was reminding me of the source of my strength amidst the trial – the power of praise!
Praise God for his mighty power! Twice God delivered Jon as he went into life-threatening septic shock, as doctors worked feverishly over him to save him. One day a newly purchased minivan suddenly appeared in our driveway, keys and all! Later, at a particularly low point, Jon could barely eat, yet the doctors allowed us to take him to his great grandfather’s funeral near St. Jude hospital. So we took him, as well, to a special service nearby for prayer. My husband’s unsaved step-father joined us and wanted to hold his grandson as they anointed him. The Lord’s touch was instantaneous, with Jon immediately asking his grandpa for something to eat! Powerfully moved, grandpa returned the next week and received the Holy Ghost!
The mountain of medical bills was miraculously wiped out, with one incredibly huge sum forgiven in total because they inexplicably lost the account! The trials left no hint of smoke, only the sweet aroma of the presence of the One Who stood with us in the midst of the fire. Both Ryan and Jon are well and active in the church we pastor in Atlanta, Ryan serving as Associate Pastor and Jon as a vital part of our youth and music ministry. To God be the glory.
The trials left no hint of smoke, only the sweet aroma of the presence of the One Who stood with us in the midst of the fire.
Ep. 16 | Talking with Mom (Rebecca French) About Pain, Sickness, Parenting, Faith, Ministry, Pastor's Wives, and People with Special Needs
Ryan talks to his mother (Rebecca French) about parenting children with major health issues, keeping the faith through the fire, parenting tips for raising godly kids, ministry, what saints need to know about their pastor’s wife, and growing up with a disabled brother. Be sure to check out Rebecca French’s article at www.ryanafrench.com called Praising the Lord in All Things.
Rebecca French, alongside her husband, Dr. Talmadge French, has faithfully served the members of Apostolic Tabernacle in Jonesboro, Georgia, for ten years. They have been married and leading in numerous ministry capacities for forty-three years. Rebecca’s greatest joy is that her three sons, their wives, and her six grandchildren serve the Lord.
Ryan speaks with longtime best-friend and highly decorated army veteran Josh Michael. They reminisce about younger days in the band Four In The Fire, discuss ways churches and individuals can minister to veterans in their communities, how to overcome hot tempers, simple, practical insights into life and success that everyone can use right now. They put success in its proper perspective and discuss how every failure and pain prepares us for better things in the future.
Ep. 14 | Ministering to Vets, Overcoming Tempers & Practical Apostolic Principles for Success with Special Guest Josh Michael
Ryan speaks with his longtime best-friend and highly decorated army veteran Josh Michael. They reminisce about younger days in the band Four In The Fire, discuss ways churches and individuals can minister to veterans in their communities, how to overcome hot tempers, simple practical insights into life and success that everyone can use right now, and they put success in its proper perspective and discuss how every failure and pain prepares us for better things in the future.
If you’re looking at the recent past feeling like a loser because you just barely survived, take a moment to remember that there’s no such thing as revival without survival. In the end, suffering through seasons of survival are the most remarkable victories you will ever achieve. I know survival doesn’t feel glamorous. Sometimes seasons of survival feel more like you’re sitting on death row waiting for your last meal. If you’re anything like me, seasons of survival force you to swallow that nasty pride and accept that others will criticize your inability to thrive. And to make it worse, social media often causes survivors to feel like the last people on earth who aren’t proudly standing on top of the world.
If you’re looking at the recent past feeling like a loser because you just barely survived, take a moment to remember that there’s no such thing as revival without survival.
Asaph lamented that his feet almost slipped when he saw the wicked’s prosperity (Psalm 73:2-3). He almost gave up, he almost fell backward, almost quit, but he went into the house of the Lord and remembered that temporary prosperity is a poor substitute for merely staying near God (Psalm 73:17-28). Staying near God is the key to survival in the worst of times. When you’re gut-punched and your whole world feels shaken, stay close to God. Stay in prayer. Stay in church. Stay submitted. Stay in the Word. Stay faithful.
Staying near God is the key to survival in the worst of times. When you’re gut-punched and your whole world feels shaken, stay close to God. Stay in prayer. Stay in church. Stay submitted. Stay in the Word. Stay faithful.
Regardless of what life coaches, self-help gurus, and prosperity prophets teach, it’s ok to be in survival mode. The Bible is full of ordinary heroes who endured horrific hardships, but they survived their way into revival. The woman with the issue of blood had to crawl her way to revival (Mark 5:25-34). Noah spent over a year on a stinky ark surviving a worldwide flood (Genesis 7:11-13, Genesis 8:14-20). Jonah survived a mess of his own making (Jonah 1:1-17). David spent eight long years surviving the murderous hatred of king Saul. Paul was shipwrecked, stoned (literally to death), beaten, imprisoned, and survived vicious attack after vicious attack. The list is almost endless, but they all had one thing in common; they endured without quitting or giving up. Once you quit, the possibility for revival goes to zero. That’s what the Bible means when it says, “…and having done all, to stand. Stand… (Ephesians 6:13-14)”. Sometimes just standing takes more courage than moving forward. Refusing to give up in the face of crushing defeat takes more courage than winning with ease. Paul couldn’t have known that revival was about to break out on the island of Malta while he was hanging onto broken pieces of a ship (Acts 27:44). He just held on until the Storm was over and faithed his way into unexpected revival.
Regardless of what life coaches, self-help gurus, and prosperity prophets teach, it’s ok to be in survival mode. The Bible is full of ordinary heroes who endured horrific hardships, but they survived their way into revival.
Once you quit, the possibility for revival goes to zero. That’s what the Bible means when it says, “…and having done all, to stand. Stand… (Ephesians 6:13-14)”. Sometimes just standing takes more courage than moving forward.
Paul couldn’t have known that revival was about to break out on the island of Malta while he was hanging onto broken pieces of a ship (Acts 27:44). He just held on until the Storm was over and faithed his way into unexpected revival.
There is a cycle of life that runs throughout the stories of the Bible. The same process plays out in our lives today: surviving, reviving, thriving, and repeating the cycle. We’re always in one stage of that cycle. There’s never a guarantee of how long each stage of the cycle will last. Every mountain climber survived a valley. Everyone is either ascending or descending a mountain of victory. This realization is mildly depressing news for people thriving on mountain tops, but it’s terrific news for people surviving valleys. Thankfully, every valley prepares us for the next valley, and every mountain gives us confidence that we can get to another mountain top.
There is a cycle of life that runs throughout the stories of the Bible. The same process plays out in our lives today: surviving, reviving, thriving, and repeating the cycle. We’re always in one stage of that cycle.
Every mountain climber survived a valley. Everyone is either ascending or descending a mountain of victory. This is mildly depressing news for people thriving on mountain tops, but it’s terrific news for people surviving valleys.
So, here’s a little key to mentally surviving the valleys. It seems overly simplistic and trite. It might even sound like a silly platitude if you feel trapped in a dark, unforgiving survival stage. But if you could somehow grab this concept and keep it close, it will pull you through terribly difficult times. And, if you stay faithful to God, you will look back and find that what I am about to tell you is profoundly true. Are you ready for it? Here it is: Every valley is an opportunity for another victory. Let me say it this way: Every season of survival is another chance for fresh revival. You will be revived, and you will thrive. And, then the process will be repeated until we reach our pinnacle destination; Heaven. In Heaven, we will thrive forever in the eternal presence of the Lord.
Every valley is an opportunity for another victory. You will be revived, and you will thrive. And, then the process will be repeated until we reach our pinnacle destination; Heaven.
Don’t ever allow anyone or anything to make you feel like a loser because you’re simply surviving. Survival is just the beginning of a revival. When you’re surviving, you’re in the perfect position for God to work miracles on your behalf. Solomon wisely said, “Whatsoever your hand findeth to do; do it with all thy might… (Ecclesiastes 9:10)”. Keep doing everything within your power and strength to do. And, when you’ve reached your limit, God will step in and pick up your slack. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any instance in the Bible where God did something for someone that they could have done for themselves. You’ll be even harder pressed to find an example where God did something for someone without requiring them to do something first. So, when you’re weak, barely surviving, at the end of your rope, and you have done everything you can possibly do, and you’re standing at a Red Sea with no solutions, take heart. Miraculous revival is right around the corner.
Don’t ever allow anyone or anything to make you feel like a loser because you’re simply surviving. Survival is just the beginning of a revival. When you’re surviving, you’re in the perfect position for God to work miracles on your behalf.
When you’re weak, barely surviving, at the end of your rope, and you have done everything you can possibly do, and you’re standing at a Red Sea with no solutions, take heart. Miraculous revival is right around the corner.
It would be prudent, to begin with, this statement of belief: I believe in solid connection with students while being connected to each student in a unique and individually specific way. I believe and am an advocate for personal, one on one connection. Yet, I think we (student pastors, youth pastors, youth workers) are in danger of blurring the lines of connection and crossing into carnality. Let’s talk about it.
The Field and the Pressure
If we look at student ministry, we will find one of the most significant evangelism fields in the world. In the United States alone, there are 74 million people under the age of 18, which accounts for nearly 25% of the population. It’s not a stretch to say students make up a substantial part and are the driving force of our culture. As adults, we look to teenagers to see what is new, trendy, or popular. While pre-teens look to the 15 to 18-year-old group to see what aspirations they should be entertaining. This reality places a powerful burden of influence in the hands of teenagers.
I have no problem with the fact teenagers can help define and shape culture. In fact, as youth pastors, we should capitalize on this fact and use it to our advantage. If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations. However, there is a disturbing trend of blurred lines on how to connect with the current generation. In prayer recently, the Lord put this thought in my mind: “The danger of student ministry is justifying carnality and calling it connection.”
If we gather teens and connect with them, if we can help them connect with a spiritual walk with God, then we will, in turn, affect both younger and older generations.
One of the dangers of blurring the line between connection and carnality is social media mirroring. Allow me to explain. I served as an assistant and full-time youth pastor for eight years. During this incredible season of life, my wife, Jessica, and I were privileged to be youth pastor to some of the most amazing students. As we transitioned to Youth Pastor, we felt excitement but also horror in our position. We were committed to reaching our students but also totally “out of touch” with our role as their youth pastor. Our predecessor, Rev. Chadwick Craft, was a phenomenal leader and spiritual guide. We knew we couldn’t fill his shoes, nor were we supposed to fill them. We would need to walk “OUR” path with our giftings and abilities. So, despite Paul warning us about comparison (2 Corinthians 10:1-11), I looked at other student ministry social media accounts and felt instantly demoralized.
I discovered incredible graphics, mind-blowing stage designs, relevant lesson plans, and youth pastors who looked incredibly; yes, I’m old enough to use the word “cool”. My goal was to immediately mirror these ministries by being in schools at lunchtime and being at their events and recitals. I wanted to post pictures of myself with students to prove my connection, my impact on their lives. It was a rush to mirror the “social media success” stories posted daily.
Obviously, there is nothing wrong with wanting connection, but here is where the danger came into play. In the rush to mirror student ministry, we became very uncomfortable with the “connection” moments we were seeing and felt pressured to perform. Lunch was a great time to connect with new students, so this continued for us. However, other events began to weigh heavily on us spiritually. As pressure to post and “connect” increased, we joined in, trying to conform to other groups’ pressure, even though they were in other cities with different church cultures. In doing so, we realized our purpose, worship, and witness would quickly become compromised and carnal if we followed these trends.
The Crossroads of Connection and Carnality
The purpose of spending time with a student to witness was quickly becoming time spent at school functions with no spiritual depth. Connection meant being pressured to attend ballgames, chaperone dances, and have student movie nights in place of youth services. The pressure was unreal. I was told, “This is how you do student ministry,” “This is the way to connect with students,” “Meet them where they are… be in the environment they are in, encourage them in the endeavors of school athletics and programs.” “Dress casual.” “Don’t yell so much” (this was in reference to preaching). That pressure to be like other student pastors left me feeling drained spiritually. It felt wrong. It felt carnal.
Daily I was doing my best to have the right haircut, to wear trendy clothes, listen to the right music, and play the right games on my phone. Yet what was happening was wholesale accepting a culture of carnality. My pressured changes were disingenuous and created a false narrative of who I was and what an apostolic youth group should become. It was time to take a step back and review where we were as a group, where we were spiritually, and where God wanted us to go. We began to search diligently for authentic connection, and in doing so, realized several truths:
Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
Students do not care if I play the games they play, as long as I spend time with them.
Students didn’t care if I was at a sporting event if we were there to weep with them while in an altar.
The only person who cared if I was “cool” was other youth workers.
Carnal connection was not what God intended; Spiritual connection is what was going to be the difference-maker in their lives.
Students do not care about trendy clothes, as long as someone cares about them.
Genuine connection comes from sitting down and connecting over shared interests. If the interest is carnal, then the connection by proxy will also be carnal. How, then, could real connection happen in carnal environments?
The Case for Genuinly Apostolic Connection
Please receive this in the spirit in which it’s written. We need apostolic student pastors to be apostolic. The wholesale acceptance of involvement in sports, proms, accepting worldly artists who are suddenly “Christian” is not only dangerous but flies in the face of the Scriptures command: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Do you see the danger? It starts so simply, “I am trying to connect with them. I am trying to connect them to Jesus. If I host a movie night, we have common ground. If we listen to traditionally ungodly artists who suddenly find salvation, we show them how to accept new converts. We must dress casually so they will be comfortable. We must like their posts, so they know we approve.”
While all of these arguments seem valid, each of them draws a very fine line between connection and simply being carnal. We should connect with students. We should lead them to Jesus. We should teach them to accept new converts. But, to do these things without maintaining a clear apostolic voice is simply justifying carnal behavior under the guise of connection.
It is time. We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection. Should we be present when we can? Should we have P7 clubs and CMI chapters? Should we visit students at school during lunches or breaks? Absolutely, YES! Should we be at their ballgames, dances, and carnal events? Decidedly, the answer would be no. Because in doing so, we are giving permission for their involvement in these carnal events. Our presence equals permission in the minds of teens.
We must shift our focus and become more focused on SPIRITUAL connection, not carnal connection.
Student ministers are pressured on so many fronts: Host movie nights, institute casual approaches to dress codes in service, accept secular artists’ new Christian albums, like posts on Facebook of students going to prom while dressed ungodly and involved in unacceptable activities. Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.
Liking carnal posts (pics of ungodly dress or worldly music in an IG story) is like giving a high five to a drowning person. It says I see you drowning, but I don’t love you enough to make you uncomfortable by pulling you out.
Youth group movie night should never happen in an apostolic youth group. It is shocking to see movie nights’ acceptance as not just a fringe idea but being accepted and lauded by many student pastors. In an effort to connect with students by watching movies, we are teaching them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This thinking is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.
Connecting with students by watching movies, teaches them to look towards the world for their spiritual lessons and morality. This is a significant error because the Bible is the only guidebook we should use to find our moral compass.
Snoop and Kanye suddenly becoming “Christian” does not mean we should immediately play their music in youth service. I’m thankful they are moving in the right direction; their private lives reflect their true nature. Smoking weed, calling themselves yeezus, and the other filthy and frankly barbaric lifestyles they entertain should be reason enough to keep them blacklisted from Apostolic environments.
Apostolic Precedence Over Pressure
Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together. He got them involved in the field! As student pastors, we only get 45-50 hours of connection with them each year in youth service. If you are lucky and have a small group on Sundays, then maybe another 45-50 hours. Above all else, our connections must be viewed as the single most important hour of their lives. That connection must be apostolic.
Paul connected not by taking new converts to the coliseum or the Olympic games, but by prayer, fasting, and house to house studying the Word of God together.
So, what does true apostolic connection look like? It starts with daily prayer and study personally. Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens. As a gentle reminder, you get what you preach, but who you are is what you produce. This personal devotion aligns you with God as you move through the day. Once you have prayed through, next, you must be honest. Honest with yourself. Is there anything slipping in which promotes carnality and not Christ? If so, be honest with yourself… and change it.
Daily prayer and Bible study sets the mind and spirit on a path of biblical connection personally and focuses your vision through a spiritual lens.
We cut out all of the fluff. We stopped trying to be the “textbook” student pastor. Instead, we began to focus on prayer. Our group was running 79 students when we decided to do an event we called The Hunger Event. It was a simple call to fasting and prayer. We would fast together as a group from Friday at 7 am until Saturday at 7 am. We would meet at the church and pray from 7 pm until 7 am and break our fast together.
We announced this: If you want to play basketball, that will happen next week. If you want to play video games, please don’t be offended, but we won’t be playing games. If you aren’t serious about growth, no worries, we love you… but this event isn’t for you.
The night of the event, we had a sign-in sheet. Ninety-three students signed in by 7 pm. (remember, we were averaging 79 in service). I cannot adequately describe the move of God we experienced. From this meeting, we began a very intentional plan to connect. We promoted prayer as the premier event on our calendar. It was our way of common connection. We preached about prayer. We preached about being apostolic. We promoted prayer and apostolic lifestyle as we would a giveaway. It became the fundamental pressure applied by our team.
We would meet one on one with students and be honest with them about music, lifestyle changes needed but also the importance of being a disciple. We didn’t run an errand alone. If we had to go out of our way to pick up a student to pick up dry cleaning, we did. We became rabid in our connection. We were staying in their texts, calling them, showing up at school or work. Always, every meeting was an encouragement for them to stay connected to God and us.
It was during this season we began to tell them how God wanted to use them. We shifted all connection, all narrative, to being a worshipper and a witness. Every action had to fit those criteria in some way. It was tough. It was different. But in eight months, we grew from 79 in youth service to 135. We taught a dozen bible studies a month because our connection was based on their spiritual growth. True connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.
True student ministry connection focuses on their spiritual growth and accepting the responsibility to be the Apostolic Voice in their lives.
Titus 1:16 is, frankly, very heavy. But it’s a Scripture that stands out. It defines or should define our interactions and connection. It warns about blurring the line between carnality and connection. Paul says (and I’m paraphrasing), they say its connection in relationship, but actually what they are doing is in opposition to His nature; it is unthinkable and unlawful. It makes their work worthless.
They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.
It is in us to fall into the trap of carnal connections. It is an easy snare to fall into, yet it is my desire for someone to read this and realize our connection to students can be deeper and more impactful. I beg you, evaluate how you connect. Filter it through the fact; you have a biblical mandate to be unapologetically apostolic. If you connect them to the Spirit first, God will honor this and bring multiplication to the ministry you serve.
Darrell Bates is married to his incredible and sweet wife, Jessica. They have been married twelve years. Currently, they serve as Youth President of the UPCI Mississippi District and evangelize full-time. They served in Youth Ministry for nearly fifteen years at First Pentecostal Church in Jackson, MS, and eight years in the MS District Youth department. They both love coffee, reading, and being with students. You can connect with them on Facebook here.
Pastors are doing their best to navigate the confusing and challenging impacts of COVID in the way they best see fit for their entire congregation’s needs. They are looking at the needs and concerns of the whole flock. Yet, pastors are (as always) scrutinized and judged from the comfortable armchairs of sideliners who do not bear the same burdens of responsibility. Furthermore, trying to balance a local flock’s physical and spiritual needs is tricky, to say the least. Universally speaking, most churches have faced unprecedented physical sickness, psychological trauma, and spiritual fallout over the past year. There isn’t a perfect solution to each of these problems. Anyone who says differently is either lying or very foolish. Aside from the actual dangers of COVID (we can argue later about the real depth of the physical risks), a spiritual danger is lurking that I call “COVID-Carnality.”
COVID-Carnality: Cause & Effect
For some, COVID revealed hidden pockets of pre-COVID spiritual sicknesses. For others, the tragic spiritual side-effects of COVID weakened them spiritually (or worse), and they are struggling with sinful symptoms and conditions they would not have encountered otherwise. Joblessness, fear, uncertainty, lack of vibrant community, limited fellowship opportunities, stifled church gatherings, inhibited worship, canceled conferences and meetings, impersonal online worship, and adjusted service schedules continue to take a spiritual toll on us all.
For some, COVID revealed hidden pockets of pre-COVID spiritual sicknesses. For others, the tragic spiritual side-effects of COVID weakened them spiritually (or worse).
I certainly hoped writing about COVID in this new year would be unnecessary. We all prayed fervently that we would not be dealing with yet another wave of COVID. Like you, I’m tired of hearing about COVID, talking about COVID, and thinking about COVID. As someone who has walked personally with many individuals through COVID, I’ve learned that almost nothing about the virus makes sense. I’ve known of perfectly healthy people dying and tremendously unhealthy people surviving the virus. COVID is a death sentence for some people, and for others, it’s little more than the seasonal flu. I don’t say this to stoke fear but instead, as a reminder that circumstances force spiritual leaders on the ground to make big picture decisions armed with more information than Monday morning quarterbacks.
In Defense of Pastors
With that in mind, I sense a renewed need to lift pastors’ hands and support them in their decisions. Many pastors have made decisions that differed from what I considered best for my local church. However, I firmly believe they are striving diligently to do what is right in their local context. Even in rare situations where pastors made decisions that, in hindsight, turned out to be imperfect, I give them grace for all kinds of reasons. One, often the “facts” they had were convoluted at best. Two, grace is a vital part of the Christian faith (Ephesians 4:29). Three, their motives were pure. Four, we need unity more than ever before. And five, circumstances change so quickly that yesterday’s right decision becomes tomorrow’s wrong decision.
Saints who abandon or attack their pastor from within during this season are a disgrace to the Kingdom of God. Truth preaching pastors who verbally attack other truth preaching pastors COVID-related leadership during this season are foolish, unwise, and ungodly. Those statements might sound harsh, but the truth always sounds offensive to ears suffering from COVID-Carnality. I realize carnality is not a new problem. However, covert and overt carnality has exponentially increased over the past year.
Saints who abandon or attack their pastor from within during this season are a disgrace to the Kingdom of God.
Studies show that addictions (of all kinds), pornography, rated M Netflix viewing, domestic disturbances, child abuse, molestations, harmful self-medicating, and more are at all-time highs. My anecdotal experiences reveal that unusual levels of carnality are running rampant even within apostolic churches. People who are usually wise are making foolish decisions. Strange sins of perversion are on the rise. Out-of-character attitude issues are being manifested outwardly in the lives of saints. It’s often difficult to tell if these problems are just being exacerbated by COVID or as a direct result of COVID-induced carnality. In other words, is COVID the cause or the revealer? Likely, we’ll never really know for sure. However, I believe it’s a blend of both, depending on the situation.
Studies show that addictions (of all kinds), pornography, rated M Netflix viewing, domestic disturbances, child abuse, molestations, harmful self-medicating, and more are at all-time highs.
Unusual levels of carnality are running rampant within apostolic churches. Wise people are making foolish decisions. Strange sins of perversion are on the rise. Out-of-character attitude issues are being manifested in the lives of saints.
Just recognizing COVID-Carnality is hardly helpful. However, the sickness must be diagnosed before the cure can be prescribed. Now that we’ve identified the spiritual virus, we can talk about solutions. For example, while prayer gatherings are essential, COVID is revealing the private prayerlessness of saints. Anemic personal prayer lives left the door wide open for COVID-Carnality. Far too many saints were utterly dependent on corporate prayer gatherings. They barely made it from prayer meeting to prayer meeting, and they had no real prayer times between corporate gatherings. Even worse, while in those church prayer meetings, they were mooching off the anointing of a handful of godly prayer warriors in their midst. Meaning, they didn’t know how to touch God for themselves, so they needed others to usher in the anointing on their behalf.
Prayer gatherings are essential, COVID is revealing the private prayerlessness of saints. Anemic personal prayer lives left the door wide open for COVID-Carnality.
The solution is simple yet profound at the same time; our churches need a revival of private prayer closets. I fervently believe in the gathering together of the Church for prayer, worship, and the Word. But the assembling of saints is not a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines. In Matthew 6:5-13, Jesus teaches about prayer during His famed sermon on the mount. He instructs us not to imitate the hypocrites’ prayer lives: …when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. (Matthew 6:5). Jesus wasn’t telling us that we should never pray together or in public, but He was stressing the importance of private prayer that isn’t contrived. The hypocritical Pharisees loved public prayer but shunned private prayer. Their reward wasn’t the blessings of God but the accolades of men.
Our churches need a revival of private prayer closets. I fervently believe in the gathering together of the Church for prayer, worship, and the Word. But the assembling of saints is not a substitute for personal spiritual disciplines.
Jesus continued saying: …when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Matthew 6:6). Private prayer has public results. Again, we have tons of Bible mandating corporate prayer, but Jesus carefully taught us that corporate prayer must be an extension of our secret prayer lives. While giving us an example of how to pray, Jesus said: And lead (bring) us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen (Matthew 6:13, Amplified Bible). Do you see it? Our private prayers should invite God to deliver us and guide us away from temptation. Consistent personal prayer is a vital component in the vaccine against COVID-carnality.
Private prayer has public results (Matthew 6:6). We have tons of Bible mandating corporate prayer, but Jesus carefully taught us that corporate prayer must be an extension of our secret prayer lives.
“May grace (God’s favor) and peace (which is perfect well-being, all necessary good, all spiritual prosperity, and freedom from fears and agitating passions and moral conflicts) be multiplied to you in [the full, personal, precise, and correct] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. For His divine power has bestowed upon us all things that [are requisite and suited] to life and godliness, through the [full, personal] knowledge of Him Who called us by and to His own glory and excellence (virtue). By means of these He has bestowed on us His precious and exceedingly great promises, so that through them you may escape [by flight] from the moral decay (rottenness and corruption) that is in the world because of covetousness (lust and greed), and become sharers (partakers) of the divine nature. For this very reason, adding your diligence [to the divine promises], employ every effort in exercising your faith to develop virtue (excellence, resolution, Christian energy), and in [exercising] virtue [develop] knowledge (intelligence), And in [exercising] knowledge [develop] self-control, and in [exercising] self-control [develop] steadfastness (patience, endurance), and in [exercising] steadfastness [develop] godliness (piety), And in [exercising] godliness [develop] brotherly affection, and in [exercising] brotherly affection [develop] Christian love. For as these qualities are yours and increasingly abound in you, they will keep [you] from being idle or unfruitful unto the [full personal] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). For whoever lacks these qualities is blind, [spiritually] shortsighted, seeing only what is near to him, and has become oblivious [to the fact] that he was cleansed from his old sins”.
2 Peter 1:2-9, Amplified Bible
I hope you read that entire passage because it gives the final additives to spiritual vaccination against COVID-Carnality. First, the apostle Peter defines godly peace as the absence of moral conflicts. Perfect peace comes from God as a result of godliness. The Divine power of God comes through the correct knowledge of Jesus. Understanding who God is and knowing Him invites His favor and power into our lives. We can’t know God without faith. We know God through faith, and He gives us all the things needed to serve Him properly. Remembering the promises of God is crucial to maintaining faith, which is the opposite of carnality. The ultimate promise of God is that we will be with the Lord in Heaven for eternity. When we sincerely long for that promise, it takes our affections off the things of this world. The knowledge of God and His promises are achieved through prayer, Bible study, and spiritual discipline. Remembering the promises of God helps us escape the moral decay of this world.
The ultimate promise of God is that we will be with the Lord in Heaven for eternity. When we sincerely long for that promise, it takes our affections off the things of this world.
The apostle Peter implores us to diligently remember the promises of God, which increases our faith. Then Peter goes on to list the final additives to the ingredients of spiritual vaccination from carnality. Add to your faith virtue (moral excellence). Add to virtue knowledge (of good and evil). Add to knowledge temperance (self-control). Add to temperance patience (steadfastness, endurance). Add to patience godliness. Add to godliness brotherly affection. Add to brotherly affection charity (love). As we add these things into our lives, our faith becomes effective and productive. Those who fail to add these things to God’s promises diligently are shortsighted and forgetful of their old sins. They are highly susceptible to COVID-Carnality and in great danger of falling away from God.
“So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.
2 Peter 1:10-11, New Living Translation
Continued COVID-Carnality Vaccination
The vaccination against carnality is a constant process. But it’s not something your pastor or anyone else can do for you. To be sure, God designed the Church to help us and strengthen us in this process. But having church is no substitute for prayer and diligent faith. Whether or not COVID caused or effected current carnality matters little in the grand scheme of things. What matters now is that we vaccinate ourselves from carnality moving forward. God can turn this into good and usher in great revival if we learn how to serve Him in this season. Perhaps God is preparing the Church for victory by sifting the carnal out from among us much as He did for Gideon at the spring of Herod (Judges 7:1-8). At that spring, God dwindled Gideon’s army down to 300 men by separating the fearful and less watchful from the rest. I pray God doesn’t have to sift us down that drastically. Either way, let’s commit ourselves to fearless faith and a careful posture so we can be a part of the astonishing things God is about to accomplish.
Perhaps God is preparing the Church for victory by sifting the carnal out from among us much as He did for Gideon at the spring of Herod (Judges 7:1-8).
God dwindled Gideon’s army down to 300 men by separating the fearful and less watchful from the rest. Let’s commit ourselves to fearless faith and a careful posture so we can be a part of the astonishing things God is about to accomplish.
An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.
Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.
Gathering Still Matters!
While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.
To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.
Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.
Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis
I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.
It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.
Speaking of the Heart
If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.
We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.
We Americans make plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.
Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.
The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.
Speaking of Crisis Moments
Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.
With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.
I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.
We Always Do Better Under Pressure
God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. That was certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.
But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching to myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.
This Will Pass
We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.
At the end of every year, I enjoy reviewing the most read posts of the past twelve months. I’ve included links to all ten of them below. Just click the pictures and it’ll take you to the articles. Interestingly, the top three haven’t changed in several years. I haven’t written much new content in 2019 (I plan to change that in 2020). Oddly, this has still been an exciting year for Apostolic Voice; we leaped over the million click mark, gained a tremendous number of new readers, and made progress on relaunching the podcast. I deeply appreciate your confidence and support. Thank you for allowing my writings into your life. God bless you all, and may 2020 be your best year yet. If you’re new to the Apostolic Voice family, welcome and I hope you find something helpful, inspiring, or at least mildly interesting.
I recently finished a book by Mark Batterson entitled Whisper. Batterson is best known for authoring TheCircle Maker, a tremendous book on prayer. Whisper, however, zeros in on the necessity of hearing the gentle voice of God. What good is prayer if we never bother to listen? What good is begging God to speak if we do not know how to hear His response? Whisper, is well worth the read.
This is not a regurgitation of that tremendous book. Rather, the book caused me to consider how often we long to hear the seemingly silent voice of God. How many times have we desperately longed to know the will of God, and coveted the voice of God?
The reality is that God rarely refuses to respond. We are simply incapable of hearing His voice. What if you could hear the voice of God right now? Would you be willing to remove the distractions and the competing voices? What if God is whispering the answer to your prayer right now, but you just don’t know how to listen properly? I believe, in most instances, this is indeed the case.
Scripture teaches us that even the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1-6). There are over ten references to God speaking in Genesis chapter 1 alone. God literally spoke the world into existence and He is not mysteriously silent today. With that in mind, below are six reasons we often can’t hear what God is saying to us.
We mistake the voice of God for someone or something else (1 Samuel 3:1-11).
When young Samuel heard the voice of God in the middle of the night he assumed it was Eli the priest calling. God spoke to Samuel three times before Eli realized God was trying to speak to Samuel. Because Samuel was submitted to the man of God he received instruction on how to hear and respond to the voice of God. Many people never learn to communicate with God because they are not submitted to a man of God.
We run from the flames rather than towards them (Exodus 3:1-12).
When the Lord decided to speak to Moses He sent a sign in the wilderness. God caused a bush to blaze with fire but not to be consumed. But it was not until Moses walked towards the flame that God spoke. Beyond that, God refused to speak again until Moses had removed his sandals in honor of holy ground.
Many today turn their back on the fires of the Holy Ghost and miss what God desires to speak into their lives. Others, walk towards the flames but refuse to surrender themselves to purity and holiness.
We are too busy talking to hear the voice of God (Psalm 4:4, Proverbs 10:8).
Many Christians know the importance of talking to God but fail to listen to God. They petition but they never position themselves to hear his response. They cry out to God but they complain rather than calmly listen for His reply.
We are too busy listening to other voices (Mark 4:9).
Many pray and then run around seeking advice from the closest person they can find. They speak with confidants and friends looking for a word from God. They trust that God will speak to someone else on their behalf, but not that He will speak to their heart. They listen to everything and everyone, but God.
In modern culture, we are surrounded by constant noises and inundated by media. Our headphones are on and the volume is turned up to the max. We are addicted to our phones and glued to our devices. The news cycle is twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. We listen and listen and listen to every voice and sound but ignore God. The Lord is not silent, but we are too loud.
We neglect His Word and the preaching of the word (Luke 11:28, Psalm 119:11, Psalm 119:105).
God has already spoken unalterably through His Word. God chooses to speak according to His Word through the preaching of His Word. God interacts with us as we interact with the Bible. God speaks to us through the preaching of the Word. God speaks to us through righteous men. When we are submitted to the Word and the preached Word we will be positioned to personally hear His voice.
We don’t recognize God’s voice because we are a goat, not a sheep (John 10:27-28, John 8:47).
The Lord’s sheep hear His voice and they follow him. God is constantly speaking to His people. Many can’t hear or recognize His voice because they have become goats. Only sheep can hear the Shephard’s voice. Only repentance will allow them to hear Him once again.
Preachers need our prayers and support more than ever before. I’m a fierce advocate of preachers and preaching. I’ve written in defense of preachers on numerous occasions here, here, and here. That doesn’t mean I view preachers as superhuman or little deities; however, God ordained the foolishness of preaching as the mechanism for reaching the world with the Gospel (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, Acts 17:18, Mark 16:15). Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16). Bottom line, preaching is really, really, really vital for the overall health of the Church and the advancement of the Gospel. It only makes sense that Satan would set traps for preachers faster than a poacher on a wildlife preservation.
Preaching is Divinely designed to preserve, encourage, strengthen, equip, and correct the Church (1 Corinthians 15:2, 1 Peter 1:25, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16).
Without descending into a pit of needless negativity, I can safely assume everyone reading this post has witnessed at least one sincere preacher turn, shall we say… less than sincere. With very few exceptions, preachers do not begin ministering with nefarious intentions. For the most part, preachers make tremendous sacrifices to enter the ministry. Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.
Preacher problems develop over time as they fall into traps either because of carelessness or unresolved character flaws the enemy cleverly exploits.
My motivation for writing isn’t to criticize the fallen; there’s plenty of preacher bashing going on without me jumping unceremoniously into the ring. Instead, I’m writing with the earnest hearted preacher in mind. Additionally, I’m writing for those who may have stepped a toe across a line yet still have the capacity to feel a surge of conscience. One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap. I’ve identified eight common traps in the hopes of building awareness, fortifications, and wisdom.
One thing is for sure if you labor in ministry long enough, you will be forced to navigate around or fight your way out of a preacher trap.
Most preachers have tons of incredibly humbling moments in their early days of ministry. My brother has a “blackmail tape” containing one of the first sermons I ever preached to this day. I sounded like a scared parrot that only knew four words. After those four words, everything else was just squawking, and weird chirping sounds. It was horrible. God bless that precious congregation and Pastor James Fielder for loving me enough to be encouraging despite that pathetic, although sincere attempt to preach.
Yep. Early days of ministry are filled with epic fails, empty blusters, false starts, zealous stumbles, learning curves, knowledge gaps, unrestrained enthusiasm, and embarrassing awkwardness. Some endure that maturation process longer than others, but over time the resilient step into a season of ministerial success. Now, measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success, but that’s another post for another day. Regardless, even achieving a godly standard of success can suck the humility right out of a sincere heart. Once that humility is gone, all kinds of nasty things compete to fill the void.
Measuring ministerial success can be tricky because it really has nothing to do with money, fame, large congregations, or popularity. God defines success differently than most people define success.
Success is not the problem. Success is a good thing. Responding correctly to success is the key. Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.
Most people spend a lot of time figuring out how to deal with failure but very little time preparing their hearts to handle success and popularity.
When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine. Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, terrific even, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
When a preacher realizes he is talented enough to move a crowd without relying on the anointing, his foot is poised above a preacher killing landmine.
Lawyers, politicians, comedians, actors, false prophets, and motivational speakers move crowds emotionally every day without the anointing’s help. Having talent is great, but it is the anointing that breaks the yoke (Isaiah 10:27).
I firmly believe that preachers should work to develop strong communication skills. I think preachers should work as hard as possible to communicate biblical truths effectively and with as much excellence as possible. This is partially what the Apostle Paul was alluding to when he admonished Timothy, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).” But all the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
All the talent, work, study, and charisma in the world is no substitute for prayer, fasting, and humble reliance upon the Lord.
Every talented preacher should remember the warning of the ever-somber prophet Jeremiah: Cursed is that man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength (Jeremiah 17:5-9). Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
Learning how to move a crowd emotionally is a cheap substitute for the genuine power and demonstration of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
This is one of the most common traps to ensnare preachers. It shames me to admit that I’ve had to fight my way out of this trap a time or two. This one takes a lot of self-introspection to detect.
Upon reflection, I’ve pinpointed a few things about my preaching while wriggling out of that devious little trap. One, I preached way longer than needed to communicate what God laid on my heart. Two, I chased many rabbit trails that interested me but were of little help or value to the hearers. Three, I resisted the Spirit when it prompted me to deviate from my prepared notes. Four, I rebuked out of personal anger rather than real righteous indignation. Five, I spent less time weeping over the lost and broken than concocting just the right wording for each sermon point. Six, in the preparation process, I resisted the Spirit’s directing, opting instead to build my favorite soapbox or pursue topics that were intellectually stimulating to me personally. Seven, I was more passionate about winning arguments than winning hearts. Eight, I preached condescendingly, smugly, and arrogantly.
Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation. Nothing mentioned here should leave the impression that preachers should be push-overs, milquetoasts, or overly obsessive about offending the hearers. But the fact remains a preacher’s motives matter. Preachers should always stand behind the sacred desk driven by love for God, God’s Word, God’s Church, and lost people.
Preaching cannot and should not be solely directed towards the “felt” needs of a congregation. Neither should preaching be spineless, compromising, or afraid of necessary confrontation.
As I mentioned earlier, preaching has many noble purposes, but none more vital than the propagation of the Gospel (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Timothy 4:17, 2 Corinthians 10:14, Acts 8:12-17). Preaching can quickly devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and ultimately fail their mission.
Preaching can devolve into mere motivational jargon if it isn’t Christocentric. During the endless quest to remain relevant, creative, engaging, inspiring, and fresh, some preachers lose sight of the Great Commission and fail their mission.
5. Valuing Crowd Size Above the Spiritual Growth of the Congregation
I’ve written a fair bit on church growth here, here, and here. No preacher in their right mind wants seats to be empty while the Word is being preached. Every empty seat represents a soul that needs God. Regardless, God never called preachers to build large congregations. Instead, we are called to plant the seed; God alone gives the Harvest (Matthew 9:38). Every preacher reading this knows that is the case, but it doesn’t stop us from feeling like failures when church attendance dips or doesn’t grow at the pace we had envisioned. All of that is normal and acceptable to a certain degree, yet very dangerous if we begin to value large crowds above the people’s actual spiritual health.
Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America. When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they will suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers, which leads nicely to the next trap.
Just gathering large groups of people together every Sunday isn’t the ultimate spiritual objective. Otherwise, the NFL would be one of the most spiritual organizations in America.
When preachers become inordinately focused on crowd size instead of spiritual maturation, they suffer depression, discouragement, insecurity, jealousy, and struggle with the temptation to become people pleasers rather than God pleasers.
There are many reasons a preacher might be tempted to compromise biblical truths. Some compromise due to the illusion of assured numerical growth, desired popularity, personal carnality, outside pressure, peer pressure, spiritual battle fatigue, greed, or any number of other factors. Regardless, failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.
Failing to preach the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth is a gross betrayal of God’s calling and the trust placed in us by others.
Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness. For every preacher with a golf course “ministry” reputation, there are ten others burning the candle at both ends. As I’ve written before, the ministry is incredibly demanding. Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety, or both. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.
Unresolved physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion can result in burnout, and burnout produces bitterness.
Burnout usually manifests itself as depression or anxiety. The tragedy of the burnout trap is that it takes advantage of a preacher’s good intentions. We want to be all things, to all people, all the time. It’s just not humanly possible.
I understand that a preacher’s family must be willing to make sacrifices for the sake of ministry. I get that. Been there. Done that. Still doing that. But a preacher’s first ministerial obligation is to his family (Genesis 18:19, 1 Samuel 3:13, 1 Timothy 3:1-12, Titus 1:6). Many dynamic ministries have been rendered powerless because their family fell apart. They were so busy ministering to others; they lost sight of their primary responsibility.
In the last 25 years, the church growth movement has transformed how America has church. It has also changed how younger people view church.
Many churches are now driven by business and marketing philosophies, moving away from a focus on discipleship and relationship with God.
The pastor has changed roles from shepherd to salesman. A distorted view of grace is his wares.
Evangelism is nonexistent. Apostles are no longer understood. Prophets are rejected. Teaching revolves around life skills. Prayer is redefined as positive thoughts, and the Spirit has no place in the business plan.
People now go to church to be courted and entertained, rather than to worship God.
Choosing churches is now the equivalent of deciding between buying jeans at the GAP or Old Navy. The product is pretty much the same. So who has better customer service? Or you can always stay home and do your shopping every Sunday morning online with a beer in your hand.
The result of this church culture is that younger people now view most churches like the last old department store in town, barely hanging on from the last century.
And they are simply shopping elsewhere.
Attempts to become mega church businesses have equated churches in the minds of millennials with the Sears downtown.
There is a “Going out of business” sign on the windows and everything is for sale, including the fixtures, the building, and even management.
The only way the Church will ever out-market, out-perform, or out-sell the world is through prayer, the preached Word, and the power of the Holy Ghost.
This world doesn’t need the Church to be Sears, a megachurch, their coffee shop, or a theater where they can view a well designed theological-themed production.
The world needs the Church to be Apostolic, Spirit-led, and Gospel preaching.
The world needs the Church to be full of conviction and separated unto God.
They need the God-designed Church that began in the Book of Acts, has thrived in every century, and still preaches the Truth that has the power to change even this generation.
Rev. Jonathan Sanders is a dynamic evangelist, preacher, teacher, and coffee connoisseur. This article originally appeared on Jonathan’s Facebook page. His posts and daily thoughts are always inspirational, articulate, interesting, relevant, and thought provoking. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitterhere and here. As I read his original post, I couldn’t help but think of David refusing King Saul’s armor before fighting Goliath. David understood that he needed to use the tools that God had equipped him with rather than conventional weapons of war. The modern Church desperatelly needs to reject marketing methods and embrace spiritual, God-ordained weaponry.