There are at least 3 seasons of ministry.
- The first is when everything is outstanding.
- The second is when everything is terrible.
- The third is when everything is somewhere in between.
This third season is typically the longest and the one in which we serve most of the time. When it comes to choosing a church to serve in or hiring/releasing ministers, don’t overlook season two--the one that will determine so much of your future and that of the church you serve in. For the sake of this post, I’ll refer to it as battle season.
Scripture speaks of the Christian life as a battle, not against flesh and blood, but a battle nonetheless. Paul isn’t using hyperbole. He really seems to think it’s a battle. Ignoring Scripture on this point will lead to undue suffering in ministry. I’ve watched some young people head out into ministry like a new family moving into a violent neighborhood who doesn’t know it’s such. Ministry doesn’t bring with it physical violence (hopefully), but the other ways sin manifests itself in the lives and actions of people can do great violence to the hearts and faith of pastors and parishioners alike.
We have some opportunity to choose our fellow soldiers, and when the Evil One is attacking, you don’t want pacifists with you. Paul encourages Christians to take up the full armor of God–and those in ministry will find out it’s all needed. Those who lack the conviction to confront, rebuke, protect, or hold the hill make poor ministry partners and aid the Enemy (again, not one of flesh and blood). Some of the finest fellow soldiers I’ve served with are pacifists in real life, but four-star generals in spiritual battle.
Ministry obviously isn’t all battle. Hopefully, battles make up only a tiny part of ministry. But, when you are in the foxhole and bullets are flying (spiritually speaking), courage shines brightly from the Holy Spirit inside people. It’s absence is equally obvious. Leadership’s best test isn’t in the sunshine, it’s in the driving snow.
Do they hide things? Do they lie? Do they adopt a “end justifies the means” morality? Do they abuse power when it’s theirs? Do they make godly decisions even when they made terrible mistakes? Do they make rash decisions in panic? These are all war-time questions.
When you’re hiring, look for how they handle themselves in conflict. Don’t just look for what they’ve done in peace time. It’s easier to hit the target on the practice range. It’s easier to run the hills with no pack on. Look for whether they make godly decisions, born fruit, and made wise decisions in battle seasons. Do they carry God’s armor, or do they cave to the Enemy’s command? Do they surrender their core convictions for the sake of feaux-peace, or do they help make genuine peace by standing for truth? Do their convictions bend when it’s expedient?
And then…there’s us.
When it comes to our own spiritual formation, we need to seek closeness to Christ that is inseparable in battle. I’ve seen many fellow pastors go into battle and come out with a spiritual PTSD that ends their time in ministry or jades them beyond repair. I’ve seen others disqualified because their character failed them under pressure. Spiritual preparation for battle is one key to surviving it. There is no greater defense than the Holy Spirit.
A church’s future is shaped at least as much by the battle seasons as by peace-time. Battle skews the ability of leadership to make decisions when we aren’t prepared and alongside those who are strong in battle.
Take up God’s full armor. Be strong and courageous.