Why is it that we always talk about evil only after evil has had its way with another leader in the church?
Just recently, another pastor in a prominent evangelical church was arrested for soliciting a thirteen-year-old girl for sex. She was an undercover policewoman, and he will be going to jail. In response to the arrest, the senior pastor of his church gave a three-minute address to the congregation. Amidst other comments was the following statement: "We've taken a hit from the enemy this week, but we will rise above and respond to the challenge," as church members applauded. He summed it up by saying, “We want to put this in our rear-view mirror."
In this situation, I feel a “rear-view mirror” is an oxymoron. I want to put it on a twenty-by-twenty foot plasma screen in high definition for every set of eyes reading the words of this article. I am sick of evil having its way with our best leaders. It’s time to pick a fight.
Less Painful Hindsight
There was a time before September 11, 2001, when counter-terrorist agencies possessed good intelligence about a group called Al-Qaeda. We knew who their leader was, where their leader was, and where their training facilities were. We knew how to “touch” them, and we knew the United States was the object of their brand of hatred. And yet, with so many other higher-priority issues, so many other international and domestic crises demanding time and attention, and not enough “actionable intelligence,” we didn’t assign the right amount of attention to this character Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist network. The world knows the rest of the story.
Granted, foresight is always 20/40. You can see some things clearly, but not all things. You can discern a good portion of the picture, but the small details and facts are a little fuzzy. Hindsight, on the other hand, is always 20/20. The pain or trauma acts like window cleaner. We learn from our mistakes, and we evaluate and assess what went wrong. Between foresight and hindsight is a crucial period in the battle with an evil opponent: when all you have is foresight, focus more resources, energy, and attention on those who unashamedly want you dead. If you do, hindsight will be much less painful.
That episode with our pastor-brother hit me like a sledge hammer. It should pain every one of us, sober us all up, and renew our own vigilance against the schemes of evil against the men of God.
Face it: Satan has been watching film on you. He’s relentless. Get that one firmly planted in your brain. Even after getting taken to the shed by the Son of God, the Bible says that Satan “left him until the next opportunity came…” (Luke 4:13 NLT my italics for emphasis). Satan is not just relentless, but a relentless opportunist. He never rests.
This is the big pink elephant in the room of the church today, and there are only two options in dealing with it: live in reality or live in fantasy. One attitude is very comfortable, and the other is uncomfortable. Hitler said, “What luck for rulers that men do not think.” Where do you think that thought came from? The Bible labels Satan “the ruler of this present world.” What luck for him that leaders in ministry, and consequently the people they lead, do not account for him rightly. But what horrible luck for those who are intimately connected to his leadership and influence. It’s time to snap out of it and recapture reality.
Anatomy of a Takedown
An old European proverb worth heeding reads: “Age and treachery will always defeat youth and zeal.” Eugene Peterson might retranslate this to read: “Crafty veterans will take down the energetic and distracted kids every time.”
Satan is legendary for his ability to take down leaders of God’s people who began their journey with Christ fully equipped with all the resources of God and the best of intentions. Get that. We have to see just how good he is at this game of leader- destruction in order to raise our respect and awareness to where it needs to be. While ownership of the spiritual resources for our dogfight with evil is guaranteed, this does not promise possession or mastery or victory in our fight on earth. Zeal and equipment are not enough. Because of my work with leaders, every week I hear of another leader or fellow pastor in God’s army that has been shot down after what seemed to be an awesome beginning. We need to see and analyze the patterns in order to avoid them in our lives and ministries.
Here are the common denominators I have mapped out, the anatomy of a takedown:
- A highly visible conversion
- Accelerated spiritual growth and training
- Visionary aspirations
- Strong spiritual gifting and willingness to risk
- Clear calls to service and ministry for Christ
- Growing responsibilities of leadership in the Body of Christ
- Success and recognition
Sound familiar? Now add:
- Growing pressures connected to their responsibilities
- Character issues magnified by stress and exploited by evil
- Increasing isolation and openness to small spiritual compromises
- Establishment of spiritual footholds in private sin
- Satanic assault on relationships with God and people (i.e., wife, children, elders, members)
- Loss of openness and accountability with respect to personal battles
- Private struggles continuing despite public “success”
- Sin-induced cynicism; callousness with respect to beliefs.
- Fierce satanic resistance to efforts by the leader toward prayer, confession, accountability, and possible healing.
- Confusion and disillusionment, creating more clouding of the mind and isolation from God and people.
Then the kill-shots:
- Failure to recognize the satanic campaign against him.
- Extreme vulnerability to satanic assault.
- Discontentment and loss of vision in service for the Lord
- Acceptance of a form of habitual sin to medicate spiritual despair.
- A fireball trailing thick black smoke plummeting toward earth.
For these men (maybe you right now) and many others like them, their sin did not initially bring about their fall; it was their lack of discernment and understanding of their foe. Somewhere along the way, the leader:
- Compartmentalizes the Devil away
- Makes him a theological construct vs. a daily reality
- Expects Satan to stay in some box
Early in the leaders’ spiritual quest, Satan and evil was a huge threat. But now, with victory over major sins, some spiritual growth and success, and a little knowledge to flex about God with others, the threat level was lowered to Condition Green (i.e., low risk of terrorist attacks). The leader stops learning, repenting, and reflecting and starts coasting. Pride begets stupidity.
Sheep Among Hamsters?
Jesus sent out his leaders with a warning: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves…” (Matthew 10:16). Leaders are to be the ones who feel the battle against evil, not dismiss it. We are the ones who are supposed to be talking about it and taking great pains to fortify ourselves against the evil one and his terrorist help. One of the reasons we leaders are getting massacred publicly and privately is that we are sheep among wolves, but we act like sheep among hamsters. That kind of ignorance is the definition of spiritual dysfunction. Satan convinces leaders he is no threat to them: sheep among hamsters. Don’t swallow that. Listen to Christ my brother and sister: it’s wolves!
The solution: shrewdness and innocence. We are called to be perceptive to evil, not naïve. Good awareness and good intel, combined with a personal commitment to spiritual integrity, will give us the ability we need to see evil, call it out, expose it, and put it to flight early in the attack. Leaders fail because they naively underestimate Satan, put him in a mental box of their own making, and he eats them alive when he takes them by surprise.
“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Pastor, don’t get eaten. Train up yourself. Train up your people. Train up your church. Fight!