[Note: This article by our new Dean of Graduate Studies Chuck Lawless is the tenth in a semester-long series on Mondays describing various ways we at SEBTS seek to equip pastors for local churches. Dean Lawless also serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions at Southeastern.]
Have you ever found leading a church to be difficult? Does it sometimes seem like you’re fighting against forces that are stronger than you? Have there been days when you wanted to give up? Maybe you are facing the reality of spiritual warfare in your strivings to be a church leader.
Spiritual warfare has become a hot topic in the last few decades. Regrettably, much of the teaching about spiritual warfare lacks a biblical base, and we should be careful to filter everything through the scriptures. At the same time, the Bible does say something about the warfare we face as we seek to pastor churches.
First, we are trying to reach lost people who are blinded. The apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers that unbelievers are “blinded by the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:3-4). The “god of this age” is Satan, who is also called the “prince of this world” (John 16:11) and the “ruler of the kingdom of the air” (Eph. 2:2). Nonbelievers are held under his dominion (Acts 26:18) in the “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13).
What does this reality mean for pastors as we try to reach lost people? Obviously, we don’t have the power in ourselves to reach people blinded by the enemy. Nothing we can do in our own strength is sufficient to open blinded minds. The enemy will therefore do everything he can do to distract us from the task of prayerful evangelism. He will particularly seek to lead pastors astray, as seldom is a local church more evangelistic than the one who preaches to them each Sunday.
Second, undiscipled believers are targets for the enemy. The enemy aims his arrows at young believers who haven’t been discipled. He strikes them with doubt and discouragement. Sometimes he hits them with loneliness, as they lean away from their non-Christian friends and try to fit into a church that is unfamiliar to them. At other times, he lures them with the same temptations they faced as non-believers. Whatever his strategy may be, the enemy wants to strike at new believers before they get solidly planted in the church.
Our response to Satan’s strategy is simple: intentionally disciple new believers. Enlist a group of faithful church members, and train them to be disciplers. Assign a trained mentor to each new believer. Develop a strategy for leading a new believer toward maturity in Christ, and use the trained mentors to guide converts through the process. In the spiritual battles we face, discipleship may mean the difference between victory and defeat.
Third, we cannot overcome the enemy apart from God’s Word. Do you remember Jesus’ own battle with the devil in the wilderness? Three times, the devil tempted Him, and three times He responded by quoting God’s Word (Matt. 4:1-11). The simple phrase, “It is written” was enough to cause Satan ultimately to back down from the battle. The enemy who was brazen enough to attack the Son of God will surely attack us, too, but we also have the Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) at our disposal.
In several studies of evangelistically growing churches, preaching the Word has
been a primary factor in the churches’ effectiveness in evangelism and assimilation. That finding shouldn’t surprise us, though. The Word of God is alive and powerful (Heb. 4:12), converting the soul (Psa. 19:7) and protecting us from sin (Psa. 119:11). Satan remains no match for the scriptures; thus, we must know and proclaim the Word.
Fourth, spiritual disciplines are a non-negotiable warfare strategy. Disciplines are much more than that, of course, but they are not less than that. Faithfulness to spiritual disciplines is a recognition of the proper focus of spiritual warfare: God the victor rather than Satan the tempter. As Jessie Penn-Lewis recognized in the classic treatise, War on the Saints, “counterfeiting the divine” is Satan’s first tool for deceiving believers.[i] Hence, our primary task as a spiritual warrior is not to know Satan well—it is to know God so intimately that Satan’s counterfeit becomes obvious in comparison.
As a church leader, how well do you know God’s voice? How much time do you intentionally set aside to listen to God through Bible study and prayer? The reality of spiritual warfare ought to help us develop a consistent quiet time, for only by knowing God’s voice can we best recognize the voice of the enemy.
And, only by knowing God can we most effectively lead God’s church toward healthy Great Commission growth. Church leadership begins not with strategy or technique, but with Christ followers who are completely submitted to God.
If you desire to lead a church that overcomes the enemy, preach the Word. As you do so, evangelize and pray. Then, disciple new believers toward maturity in Christ. In essence, be a New Testament pastor—and you’ll experience victory in spiritual battles.
[i]Jessie Penn-Lewis, War on the Saints (reprint, Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1988), 97-124.