Ravaged by apostasy in the church or the pressures of ministry, many pastors have given up and have quietly fallen by the wayside in defeat. But it is possible to stand strong in your personal life and ministry.
Apostasy has silently crept into the church, seeking to strangle and kill pastors as well as those in the pew. Every year, an alarming number of ministers decide to never again go behind the pulpit. Many others have their credentials taken away by their denomination.
While revival fires ignite hearts around the world, and winds of the Holy Spirit keep us focused on holiness and purity, many churches and pastors in the United States see only the ashes of yesterday's glory. Hearts frequently are filled with doubt instead of faith and rebellion instead of obedience.
Apathy affects many. The pastor preaches while some in the congregation sleep, dream, look at a watch or turn a head at anyone who moves or coughs. Altars often remain empty, despite the invitation to come to Christ. Ministers, whose egos depend on results, go home irritable, hoping their sports team wins so the service can be forgotten.
Church boards and pastors sometimes spend more time arguing than in prayer with and for one another. Church members like to excuse their own sins and gossip about everyone else's.
Ministers see members of their congregations who once knew the Lord deliberately turn from the faith. Sometimes the pastor is the one to fall.
I was called to help one church when the pastor left his wife and ran off to another state to have an affair with a woman he met on the Internet. After allegedly critically injuring the woman's child in a moment of anger, the man was arrested for child abuse. The story was published in newspapers across the country. According to the last report I received, this former pastor was still in jail.
Apostasy is sweeping across many congregations like the 1918 flu epidemic, and even if the pastor doesn't come down with it, he's affected by what is happening in his congregation.
"I can't face my situation another day," sobbed one pastor when he came to me. "I want to get out of here. I'm so burned out." After he told me some of the things he was putting up with, I didn't blame him.
About 10 years before I resigned as pastor of Pueblo Christian Center in Pueblo, Colorado, where I'd been for 30 years, I felt a stirring in my heart to minister to discouraged pastors. While serving on the district presbytery of the Assemblies of God, I observed that some pastors weren't even making enough money to pay their bills.
Many had ongoing conflict with church boards or with someone in the congregation. They were putting in so many hours at the church that they didn't have time for their families. The constant demands, especially in smaller churches, were a heavy burden. Many churches have less than 100 people, and some of these pastors have to balance a secular job with their ministry duties.
I'm no novice. I've been preaching 44 years, and my father was in the ministry for more than 50 years. I've experienced pressure in the ministry. But it's as tough today as I've ever seen it.
When I resigned from the local church pastorate in July 1998, my wife, Julie, and I sold our home and built a duplex. One side is used as a place for ministers to get away and to enjoy some rest and relaxation. But many come needing ministry themselves, and that's where I come in. In our district, I minister to general needs, giving pastoral counseling. John Gowins has a similar setup with housing and counseling in Ouray, Colorado. He provides more clinical help.
Some ministers stay in our duplex for two or three days. If they just need to rest, I give them a key, and they come and go as they please. They can golf at Pueblo West, boat at Lake Pueblo, and skiing during the winter months is just two hours away. There also are activities in Colorado Springs, about 40 miles away.
I spend several hours a day with pastors who come for assistance. I listen, pray with them and answer questions. Sometimes I try to get them to have an objective view of where they are. For instance, I try to help them evaluate whether they inherited problems or whether they had a part in them.
If there is serious conflict in the church, sometimes mediation is necessary. This is different from arbitration, which ends in a judgment. Mediators don't solve problems; they help people solve their own problems.
Many problems in the church can be traced to apostasy in the congregation or dying fervor in the heart of the pastor. Both the pastor and the congregation need to be melted again by Holy Ghost fire so they can become one in heart, love and mission.
The apostasy we are seeing today is a sign that our Lord is about to come back. Apostasy is one of the many things Jesus said would announce the nearness of His coming (see Matt. 24). We're also seeing the other signs He mentioned, such as famines, pestilences--among them the new "super bugs" and drug-resistant bacteria--international unrest, wars and rumors of wars, and increasing earthquakes.
Persecution of the Christian faith has never been greater. What happened in Colorado and Kentucky, when students were shot because they believed in God, happens every day around the globe, and thousands are dying for their testimony every year.
False prophets are another sign of the second coming. Deception runs rampant. People are led astray, and ministers as well as other Christians are being deceived by the enemy. Satan is a liar, and he is distracting attention from Jesus and the promises of God.
Apostasy is a conscious abandonment of duty, faith and principles. In Matthew 24, when Jesus spoke about what would occur before His return, He was talking to the church, specifically the leadership. Apostasy can only happen among those who once knew the Lord.
But what Jesus taught wasn't only for His disciples; it is for us today. Jesus told us to "keep watch" and to be faithful and wise servants, feeding His people at the proper time, and continuing to do it until the Master returns (see Matt. 24:42-51).
We are told not to be shaken in mind, or troubled, even though there will be a falling away before Christ comes (see 2 Thess. 2:2-3). We can't turn our back on God and say, "What's the use?" when we observe the increase of wickedness and the highly visible moral decay of society. There is no reason for us to give up, even if the love of most grows cold (see Matt. 24:12).
In Matthew 24:13-14 Jesus said: "'But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come'" (NKJV). If we know the Word, we know that where sin increases, grace increases all the more (see Rom. 5:20).
So what can you do to keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning in your heart? With apostasy running rampant, what steps can you take to stay strong in your walk with the Lord and to stay effective in your ministry? Following are three key steps:
1. Remember God's divine power. Simon Peter, who experienced yo-yo feelings in the early years of his ministry, reminds us to remember God's divine power: "His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (2 Pet. 1:3-4).
Peter needed power even though he'd walked with Jesus, seen miracles and witnessed the resurrection. He got the power needed at Pentecost and found it was all he needed to live a holy life, preach the gospel, win souls and heal the sick.
He had so much power that everywhere he went, men and women believed on the Lord. People brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed (see Acts 5:14-16).
Like Peter, we can stay filled with Holy Ghost power if we abide in Christ, the source of power. The Holy Spirit is a part of the end-time events as described by Joel, who prophesied that God would pour out His Spirit on all people in the last days. This was fulfilled in part in the early church, but Joel spoke about the "early rain" and the "latter rain," or autumn and spring rains (see Joel 2).
God has given us everything we need--even in these perilous times--to equip us for life, godliness and ministry.
2. Overflow with the Holy Spirit's fruit. Although the gifts of the Spirit, especially the power gifts, are sought after by ministers, we must not forget the fruit of the Spirit. There are times when you'll need peace as much as prophecy. If you're going to speak peace to others, you need it in your heart first.
We must remember that the Spirit's fruit is as miraculous as His gifts. We must cultivate fruit, and sometimes it's difficult to grow. We have to plant seeds from the Word, fertilize our minds with prayer, pull the weeds sown by the enemy of our souls, hoe when the soil gets hard and water with our tears during spiritual drought.
Sometimes the fruit is endangered by our environment. A good "frost" in the church can affect our fruit. But if it's supernatural fruit, a cold church can't kill it.
Seek after the Spirit's gifts--they're a definite part of our spiritual arsenal, and we're told to covet them. But also seek after goodness (genuineness), self-control, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, peace and love.
>The cymbal's crash or the peal of a trumpet can remind us that if we don't have love in our hearts, we're just making a loud noise--even if we are quoted as often as the angel who proclaimed to the shepherds: "'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy'" (Luke 2:10). For even if we can speak with the tongues of men and angels, without love, it profits nothing.
Without love, it is nothing, even if we can fathom all theological mysteries and have superior spiritual knowledge. If our faith can cause bodies to be healed or signs and wonders to occur--or even if we raise the dead--if we don't have love for one another, we won't pass our final exam.
We can even give everything we own to the ministry or to feed the poor and house the homeless, and it can mean nothing if we have hatred or bitterness in our heart. We can go on the mission field and die a martyr's death and still be damned if we've let our love for God and His people die.
And whether we like it or not, genuine love first shows at home, when we're out of the spotlight, away from the microphone and off our pedestal.
3. Stay close to Christ. The most important thing a minister can do is to keep his personal life close to Christ. He must have a prayer life and a personal study of the Word not related to preaching. He must keep his own battery charged. It's the Mary-Martha syndrome: We get so busy doing that we forget the most important thing is being--being close to Jesus. Our personal devotional life must be kept strong.
When we've got our priorities right, the family is on our calendar. I used to say if my relationship with God is what it ought to be, I would have something to offer my wife. If my relationships with my heavenly Father and my wife were what they ought to be, I'd have something to offer my children. If my relationships with my heavenly Father, my wife and my children were what they ought to be, I'd have something to offer my congregation. My ministry should be in fourth place.
There are times when the Lord might ask you to pray all night, and the Bible says a husband and wife can agree to sacrifice some personal time for seasons of fasting and prayer (see 1 Cor. 7:5). Many days you should spend at least an hour on your knees because revival won't come without prayer. But don't get the mistaken notion that you must spend a certain amount of time in a prayer closet. It is not the amount of time, but the fervency and faith of your prayer.
One pastor I know prays while he jogs. David Wilkerson used to do some of his praying on a commuter train. Elijah called fire down from heaven in a prayer about 75 words long. It probably took him a minute or less to pray it.
It might take an hour for you to get fervent in your praying and for a new touch of faith to fill your heart. But there can be times when other demands tax you so much you don't have that luxury. Keep oil in your lamp burning at all times; then you don't have to worry about the enemy blowing your match out when you try to relight it. Moral failure often comes after burnout--so guard your own spirituality.
Some people put unrealistic pressures and expectations on ministers. Because pastors preach the Word, some people believe they always practice everything they preach. We probably won't reach that point of perfection. We're human. We aren't God. Being put on a pedestal is too much pressure to handle. We're no different from any other member of the body, and we should remember that ourselves.
Even though we know we're not perfect, it's difficult for a member of the cloth to admit a need. That's why in my ministry to other pastors, I try to provide a safe zone with extreme confidentiality so they can be honest and say, "I need help."
Even though you can go directly to the throne of grace and find mercy and help in time of need, you may need someone else to encourage you or have faith for you when you're weak or wounded. When you're burned-out, sometimes you can't think clearly or stand back and look at your situation from another point of view. Sometimes you simply don't have faith to get through it alone.
Find someone who can help you before you quit or get yourself so spiritually down the tempter snatches away your anointing or entices you into sin.
In my ministry to pastors, I don't go around putting Band-Aids on people or try to tape them up so they can go back into battle wounded. More often than not, when pastors come for help, we spend time on our knees and the glory comes down. They rediscover that God's divine power is available. That's when healing for the spiritually wounded comes.
My goal is helping Jesus heal the brokenhearted and to set the captive free--and that includes the Lord's precious servants and shepherds who are leading His flock.
Jim Maley, a pastor of ministerial and church relationships for the Rocky Mountain District of the Assemblies of God, warns about last-days events affecting clergy today. Ada Brownell is a free-lance Christian writer in Pueblo, Colorado.
Standing Strong in the Battle
Don't let today's moral climate and the stress of ministry cripple you. Here's how to survive the pressure of spiritual warfare.
Look at Jesus. He experienced rejection. He preached in the midst of controversy and unbelief. Yet, His heart burst with love. He is the Son of God and the Christ of power. With Him at our side, we can be more than conquerors.
Remember Christ's generosity. Jesus can multiply your feeble efforts and feed a world hungry for forgiveness of sin and hope of eternal life.
Beware of deception. Realize ministers can be deceived, and the enemy can cause you to believe a lie. The lie could be something as subtle as telling you you're wasting your breath preaching, to something serious such as telling you God isn't there. Satan sometimes deceives by inflating our egos when we see results, knowing that pride goes before a fall. Resist the devil and he will flee.
Hold on to God's promises. He's still the same as He was yesterday, and He will be the same tomorrow. He will never leave you or forsake you. He still loves the world just like He did when He gave His Son. Anybody who believes in Him and follows Him will have eternal life. He is still pouring out His Spirit on our sons and daughters, His servants and His handmaidens. He still heals the sick and the brokenhearted. Through Christ we can escape the world's corruption. The world doesn't have to squeeze us into its mold. We can be strong in the Lord and the power of His might. He who is in us is still greater than he that is in the world.
Share in His divine nature. He lives within us. We have supernatural power at our disposal to help us live holy lives and spread the good news of redemption.
Add to your faith. Study for the benefit of your own faith and spiritual health. Allow your soul to be fed by others. Never think you know it all and don't need encouragement, correction or blessing from someone else. Also, pray for more faith. Faith is one of the gifts of the Spirit. Seek it. Ask for it. Accept it--and use it.
Take time for family. The Word says that if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever (see 1 Tim. 5:8).
Take time for yourself. Forget the pressures and rest. But while doing so, keep your spirit in harmony with the Holy Spirit.
Remember that results aren't your responsibility. Keep making altar calls. Keep praying for the sick. Keep expecting miracles of deliverance. Squash the ego that hates rejection and seeming failure and concentrate on obedience to God. "Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart" (Gal. 6:9).
Realize Jesus may come at any moment. While the Master is gone, get to work doing the best you can with your talents, as the wise servants did in the parable Jesus related in Luke 19:11-27. Don't hide your talent away. Subject it to the risks of the ministry with your hand in His. That's all you need to do to hear, "'"Well done, good and faithful servant"'" (Matt. 25:23). Let the promise of His return prompt you to keep your heart pure, your life holy and to keep you remembering why you're doing what you're doing.