Landmines in the Path of the Pastor
Don’t let hidden dangers sabotage your ministry
by Charles F. Stanley
From time to time, God will bless a pastor with unexpected, tremendous popularity. His church quickly mushrooms. Everyone wants to be a part of his congregation or learn from his innovative approach. People begin to make predictions about the effect his leadership will have on the next generation. Sadly, sometimes these men do not pass the test of time. Their ministries fail or simply fade into obscurity. After a few years, I look back and wonder, What ever became of them?
Leaders never plan to get sidetracked from God’s best for their lives. Satan deceives us into thinking we can be prideful and autocratic, isolated from genuine accountability, or secretly complacent about the choices we make in private. But we suffer when we separate ourselves from absolute commitment to God’s will and His ways.
Some people believe the Enemy uses obvious means to draw us off course and onto a battlefield where he has placed his dark arsenal. But I believe his most devastating weapons are hidden and lethal, like landmines. When we stray from God’s will onto ground that is riddled with sin and corruption, Satan’s landmines explode beneath us, leaving us writhing in emotional pain. Feelings of guilt, shame, and regret quickly construct a barrier between God and us, and eventually undermine our ministry.
How Spiritual Landmines Destroy Us
The spiritual landmines that I believe are the most common include pride, jealousy and envy, insecurity, compromise, unforgiveness, discouragement, fear, sexual immorality, and slothfulness. These are the devices Satan places in our path in an effort to prevent us from experiencing God’s love.
First, Satan wants to damage our close, personal relationship with the Savior. God created us for fellowship. His greatest desire is for us to know and love Him. But you will not find it possible to enjoy God’s fellowship if, in the back of your mind, you’re wrestling with thoughts of moral compromise, fear, insecurity, and pride.
Pride causes us to put ourselves first—above God. A pastor who has stepped on the landmine of pride does not consider how the Lord has gifted him for his calling. Instead, he looks at his accomplishments and thinks, Look what I’ve done! He begins to take to heart praise about his teaching, leadership, or advice. A person who is prideful soon begins to value his ministry more than his personal devotion to the Lord. God may let him get away with pride for a season, but ultimately, it will end in destruction (Prov. 16:18).
Second, the Enemy wants to distract us from the Lord. He wants us to focus only on ourselves, and he will use thoughts of discouragement, insecurity, fear, and jealousy to achieve this. We live in a world of comparisons, where we are trained by the media to watch those ahead of and behind us. Am I keeping pace? Am I reaching my goals quickly enough?
God is primarily interested in one thing: a correct focus. He wants us to focus on Him and His will for our lives. When our thoughts are wrapped up in our heavenly Father, He provides the discernment we need to locate the Enemy’s landmines and disarm each one as we turn away from temptation and sin. If a passing thought comes to mind, we can ask God to speak His truth to our hearts. For instance, we may be tempted to gauge our spiritual success on the number of souls saved each week, the number of members, the square footage of our facilities, or our annual church budget. The truth is, God’s approval is based on His unconditional love for us. Nothing brings our Creator greater joy than when we surrender our lives to Him, follow His guidance, and walk intimately with Him, secure in the fact that He has our destiny under control.
Third, the Devil’s primary goal is to discourage us. He wants us to give up. He tempts us to yield to sin. And if we do, he whispers accusations to our minds, telling us how awful we are. He thinks that if he can manipulate the circumstances enough, we will fall for his deception and become discouraged. An area the Enemy commonly uses is sexual sin, because this particular trap stops ministry in its tracks. It not only brings deep shame and sorrow but also causes feelings of worthlessness and isolation. The results are devastating—not only for ourselves, but for our family, friends, and congregation.
No one is a spiritual island. We need each other. It is my prayer that you will find someone with whom you can develop an accountability relationship. Ask God to bring into your life a friend who sticks closer than a brother, who can encourage you when you are weak (Prov. 18:24). Whatever you are struggling with, you are not alone.Get the help you need before discouragement undermines your ministry.
Finally, Satan wants us to give in to doubt and fear. A fearful person is an easy target for the Enemy. There was a time when I faced deep sorrow. The temptation to doubt God’s goodness was strong, but the thought of becoming fearful because of my circumstances was even stronger. God in His faithfulness reminded me of a Scripture He had given me when I was young: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). We never have reason to become fearful, because the sovereign God of the universe loves us with an everlasting love, has a plan for us, and is committed to keeping watch over us.
How to Detect and Uncover Satan’s Landmines
1. Surrender your life to the Lord. An intimate relationship with God is the most important line of defense that you have. If you are still trying to control certain areas of your life, then you are already standing in the middle of a minefield. The next step you take could be deadly. Without thinking of the consequences, people become jealous, controlling, or unforgiving. They compromise their convictions, open the door to immorality, or yield to laziness of mind and heart, and then wonder why life has turned dark and stormy. On God’s battlefield, surrender is not waving a white flag of defeat. Instead, it is a bold step taken toward victory, peace, and blessing. My friend, determine right now to submit your will to God on a daily basis.
2. Ask Him to teach you His truth. In chapter six of Ephesians, Paul lists the full armor of God. I believe putting on the armor each morning is an essential part of being in the Lord’s armed forces. There is only one offensive weapon that He has given us, and it is all we need to stay firm in our faith against the attacks of Satan. It is the same weapon that Jesus used when facing the Enemy’s temptation—the Word of God, which is God’s eternal truth spoken to man. If your private time with God frequently turns into sermon preparation, try reading a different translation of the Bible or using a paraphrase. No matter what, find a way to read God’s Word for your own benefit, not just for your congregation’s.
3. Be committed to following Him, even in times of difficulty. There is no escaping disappointment and pain in this life. All pastors go through seasons of hardship, but we do not have to become discouraged. Adversity is a powerful tool in God’s hand. Usually, the difficulties we face provide perfect opportunities for God to prove His faithfulness. God knew just how to use the personal disappointment and frustration in Moses’ life to train him to lead the Israelites. All those years that he spent in the desert were a season of preparation for something greater. Don’t waste your life and time by harboring feelings of unforgiveness and jealousy. Instead, be grateful when God allows you to wait for His blessings to come. You may feel as though you’ve been overlooked or pushed aside, but God is not finished with you. If you will trust Him, you’ll experience His goodness at the right time and in the best way.
4. Ask the Lord to give you godly discernment and wisdom. Prayer is absolutely essential if you want to avoid landmines. Ask God to teach you more about Himself so that you’ll know His ways and be able to avoid Satan’s traps. God knows every landmine the Enemy has hidden along your path. Trust the Holy Spirit to make God’s will clear to you—and to teach you to follow only His voice. Then, be willing to obey His call. Obedience to God will not only expose any landmines hidden in front of you, it also prepares a safe way for you to travel straight through any difficulty. The Enemy’s tactics do not have to destroy you. You are more than a conqueror in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:37).
Dr. Charles F. Stanley demonstrates a keen awareness of people’s needs by providing practical biblical truths for everyday life. He is a best-selling author with more than 3.5 million copies of his books in print. He is also pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and founder of In Touch Ministries. On Tuesday, September 4, Dr. Stanley releases his newest book, Landmines in the Path of the Believer: Avoiding the Hidden Dangres.” It is now available for order.