Take five minutes out. Lean back in your chair at the office or put your feet up in your recliner. You might close your eyes to help you think and ponder. Now ask yourself a question that could determine if you'll still have an effective ministry 20 years from now: "If Satan were to sneak into your pulpit, how would he do it?" Keep in mind that you won't recognize him by his clothing or actions. He'll be kind, polite, winsome, and attractive. But he's ugly and deceptive underneath.
Effective ministry demands that we recognize the tactics of the enemy and then guard against them. Penetrating Satan's mind and knowing that "He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world" are key (I John 4:4).
Criss-crossing the world as an evangelist, I've seen five prominent ways he sneaks in the pulpit. Let's examine what they are and how to avoid them.
1. Satan will convince you that you're not only someone, you are SOMETHING.
God never uses one person or one ministry to touch everyone. It's together that we get the job done. It's the combination of spiritual gifts God uses to build up the body. That's why I Corinthians 12: 21 teaches, "And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you'; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'"
You are one of the "someones." Uniquely gifted, God uses you and your giftedness to both reach the lost and build up those who are His. As people are helped and blessed, they let you know. They should! All of us need to be encouraged.
But one encouraging comment can become several comments, sometimes many comments. They come verbally through text messages and emails. Sometimes comments you make get repeated on a website or two, and then you might find people have referred to you on Twitter or Facebook.
That's when Satan causes you to think you're not only someone, you are SOMETHING. Pride creeps in—not overnight, just one Sunday at a time. In six months, you start to be a different person. You begin to ponder, "Where would the church be without me? Why don't other preachers develop the skills that I have? I never knew God was going to so abundantly use me."
The answer for this problem is two-fold. First, secure an accountability partner who is honest enough to tell you every time they see something prideful about you. But don't get defensive, since they are probably right and are trying to help (as you asked them to), not hurt. Secondly, every day remember something: Should you be wiped off the scene today, the work of Christ would go on pretty much unhindered. This fact is sobering to say the least and keeps you right where you need to be—feeling dependent, undeserving, and grateful.
2. Satan will suggest that instead of teaching something relevant, you need to teach something new.
The preacher's job is well defined. II Timothy 4:2 says, "Preach the word! " This means our message is confined to what He says. We are not teaching something new but truth as old as the Bible itself. We don't have to make it relevant; it is relevant. All we have to do is communicate effectively to the people. This is why the pressure we need to feel is not how to come up with a truth our people have never heard of. Instead, it's the pressure to take the truth God gave years ago and put it in words that are meaningful and applicable. Sometimes we teach the same truth 50 times. It's been accurately stated that effective communication is saying the same thing in different words.
But the longer you're in the ministry, the easier it can be for Satan to convince you that people are tired of hearing the same old thing. Therefore, instead of feeling the need to use sentences, illustrations, and analogies that drive truth home in a fresh way, you think that you need to come up with something new, period—something never thought of, never taught, and never heard. The subject may be the mind, marriage, relationships, spiritual growth, love, hate, or a myriad of things. Soon you have stepped outside the Scriptures, teaching your thoughts instead of His. Discerning people will appropriately begin to say, "I'm not sure that's what the Scriptures say." The difference is profound. God has never promised to bless your word; He's only promised to bless His.
The answer? Get down on your knees, open the Bible in front of you, and utter a simple prayer: "Don't let me stray outside this book, but help me teach whatever is in this book clearly and effectively." Then, approach someone in your church who is very knowledgeable in the Word and say to them, "If you hear me say something strange, don't just accept it. Ask me about it, and don't assume that because I'm the preacher I am right." That person should regard you highly for caring enough to make sure you're preaching His thoughts, not yours.
3. Satan will tell you that your people need an exhorter in evangelism.
A pastor who has spent any time in the Word knows II Timothy 4:5: "But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." When Paul wrote that, he was not addressing Timothy as a gifted evangelist, but Timothy as a gifted pastor-teacher.
Unfortunately, Satan will try to define that verse for you. He can convince you that you have to stand before your people and say, "Evangelize, evangelize, and evangelize." That way, you feel that you have done your part.
It is what Satan doesn't tell you that matters. He doesn't tell you that people are most apt to do what you do, not what you say. If you talk about the lost, they will talk about the lost. If you talk to the lost, they will talk to the lost. Examples, not exhortation, change the hearts of people in evangelism.
As you show your church how you take advantage of opportunities to converse with the lost, soon you will have a church full of people who are not just "discussing" the work of an evangelist but are doing the work of an evangelist. How do you get there? It's simpler than you might think.
First, as Paul did in Ephesians 6:19–20, ask your people to pray that when you open your mouth, something will come out of it (utterance) and boldly. Secondly, once again, find an accountability partner. This may be the one you've asked to check your pride or maybe a different one. But once a month, have that person ask you, "What have you done to reach out this week to a lost person?" I assure you, I know pastors who have taken up that challenge, and it is changing their lives and—guess what—their churches.
4. Satan will convince you that you can grow spiritually through your sermon preparation.
I've heard of few sermons that benefited people much when they didn't first hit the preacher. Preachers who preach with passion are those who have been so deeply touched by a passage that they become a channel to transfer the blessing to others. It shows in the way they come across. Their whole demeanor is not, "This is what you need." Instead, it is, "This is what God showed me I need, and I know you're going to be blessed by it, too." Sometimes there's uncertainty as to whether it's a sermon or a testimonial.
But Satan uses the struggle every preacher faces: time. You can begin to think that you don't have time to get alone with God, so your sermon preparation, climaxed by a few moments of prayer, will suffice.
Since God is a God of grace, He obviously understands your time constraints and loves you, but He also desires your fellowship (I John 1:3). Those moments when you close your ear to everyone else's voice and just listen to His as it comes through devotional study of the Word—those uninterrupted moments with your best friend—are what keeps you fresh. Some of those times cause tears to run down your cheeks as He shows you areas in which you're flawed and need improvement, but you still come away feeling energized. Interestingly enough, preachers who have fallen away from the Lord have commented to me that where they made their mistake was neglecting their quiet time with Him.
Consider creating a hallowed spot. For me, it's my chair in the living room where God and I meet each morning. Always going through a book of the Bible, I may cover one verse or I may cover a chapter. I don't care. What I do care about is that I go from there into my day's activity with one truth to meditate on for that day. I also keep the requests I give Him carefully noted on a 3x5 card, so I'm careful not to forget. I come away fed, energized, helped, and encouraged—as only the One who saved me more than 40 years ago can do. Don't ask me why He would ever want to be with someone so depraved as you or me. But He can't wait to talk, and I can't wait to listen and respond.
5. Satan will convince you that "you're not getting the attention you deserve."
Frustrating, isn't it? You may be more faithful in your study and preparation of your message than many preachers you know, but somehow they get the recognition you don't. What follows is money. Increased recognition brings increased funds with it. So while you and your church struggle to make it, the other preacher's church and even the preacher are doing quite well.
Satan can convince you that you have a right to be frustrated. You are not getting half the attention you deserve. Soon your frustration turns to others whom you deem responsible—your people, a staff member, board member, denominational head, or perhaps your own mate. Tension builds, and Satan stands on the sideline smiling…correction: laughing.
The answer: Go back to the starting block. Don't memorize but master I Corinthians 4:2, "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful." Note the word is "faithful," not "famous." Place it in front of you on the desk. Hang it in your office. But don't just memorize it; swallow it. Absorb it into your spiritual being so that it becomes a governing principle of your life.
Why? Because God is the keeper of the books. No good deed goes unrewarded. No amount of discipleship goes unnoticed. No mistakes are made in His bookkeeping. Everything due to you will come in terms of recognition, if not now, then later. He promises, "And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work" (Revelation 22:12). Think about it—who would you rather be rewarded by? Someone down here who only sees a lot of what you do, or someone "up there" who sees all of what you do?
Now that you know Satan's tactics and how to prevent them, ACT! Let Satan know in no uncertain terms that his tactics won't work with you. James 4:7 promises, "Resist the devil and he will flee from you." Your prayers and action will give him a not-so-subtle message: "I'm not interested in a truce; I'm only interested in victory. And victory will be mine."