If you haven’t realized it yet, we are in one of the greatest spiritual battles of our life-time.

A simple read of the headlines will show the absolute mess our world is in, and a quick phone call to any pastor that hasn’t abandoned ministry in the last year and is still feeding the sheep will tell you that the church is in a vicious spiritual war.

Today I want to bring you behind the scenes into the pastoral war-room. For those of you who have never pastored or are pastoring and struggling, I hope this will be helpful. I don’t pretend to speak for all pastors, but the things I’m about to share will no doubt resonate with many and will hopefully provide you with a practical tool to help guide your own life.

My journey to pastoring:

Before jumping in you should know that my journey to becoming a pastor wasn’t very straightforward. When I was 14 years old a good friend, employer, and mentor told me that I one day could be an elder in the church. I heard that several times throughout my teen years as people sensed God’s calling in my life as I served in the church; however, I honestly wasn’t interested. Frankly, even though this wasn’t the case in my church, my image of a pastor was that they were overweight and irrelevant. I opted to apprenticing in carpentry and, after a year of realizing that was good but not where God wanted me, I finally enrolled in Bible college and began training. I love people and found in my first internship an opportunity to do what I love – point people to Christ and make His Word clear to them. But I was still unsure about pastoral ministry. One pastor even took me aside and told me at that point that if I could do anything else other than pastor I should.

God had other plans and used one of my professors to re-light the passion for vocational ministry and today I have the privilege of serving under his leadership. Pastoring isn’t a job for me, it’s a calling. And I know many other men who would say the exact same thing.

Pastoring isn’t a job, it’s a calling.

Pastors care about souls:

Two years ago we were building this new worship centre. When it was completed, we spent time praying over each chair in this room – praying that God would work in the lives of those who would come. For us, church has never been about the building – the building is merely a tool allowing us to gather and minister the gospel to people. Here we call this our living room. It’s for family to gather. For us, church is about ministering to people for God’s glory.

As a pastor, I genuinely care for every single soul that comes in these doors. I can’t necessarily care and know each of them directly, but through the 11 other elders that God has called to lead this flock and through the many small group leaders we have trained we are able to minister to most. And through the month of January and early February when we were restricted to 10 people at a time, I saw our church leaders come together and minister to as many as possible – scheduling 25-30 groups per week sometimes staying past midnight in order to worship together. I think we would all agree it’s been exhausting, but it’s been so worth it. It’s been critical in the spiritual battle we are fighting.

But there have been serious… serious… casualties along the way and every pastor feels the weight of that.

What is a win?

In the war room, pastors must ask themselves. What win are we going for? Some may let unity be their main goal, that’s a serious mistake. Division is not our biggest problem. Let me say that again. Division is not our biggest problem. Lack of mission is. Clarity about the mission of our church leads to unity. Lack of unity may be a symptom of a problem, but pursuing unity at the expense of our mission is a huge win for Satan. We become unified in uselessness.

Pursuing unity at the expense of our mission is a huge win for Satan. We become unified in uselessness.

Some may let positive public opinion be their main goal. That’s a mistake and Paul reminds us in Galatians 1:10 that if we are seeking to please man, we are NOT servants of Christ.

Some may even let public safety become their main goal – as their win. That is also a mistake. God has not called pastors to safety at all costs. In a spiritual war there will be casualties and while there may be a time to take cover in the trenches, a soldier must embrace danger to accomplish his mission. And a general must be willing to expose his soldiers to hurt and harm in order to fulfill the mission.

Some, and this hits close to home for me, may choose to make ending lockdowns their main goal. That, I need to remind myself, is also a mistake. If we are more concerned about the injustice and damage of lockdowns than about the need for eternal souls to be made right before God we are soldiers losing sight of our mission.

Yet, if we are foolish and believe that senseless lockdowns, public safety, unity, and public perception don’t matter at all and have no bearing on our ultimate mission, we are ignorant soldiers that don’t understand the complexities of spiritual war.

So, in the war-room, pastors must gather around the mission: To glorify God through the fulfillment of the great commission. That’s what it boils down to. That’s what everything hinges upon. And they must lead their soldiers to focus on the same.

There is only ever one ultimate win and that’s to glorify God by making disciples. We make disciples in good times and we make disciples in bad times. Matthew 28 says “And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Pastors, Christians, you’ve been given authority to do this. You never need to apologize for doing what it takes to make disciples. You never need to apologize for baptizing, for teaching. Never. That’s the mission. You’ve been given authority by God. Go do it.

You never need to apologize for doing what it takes to make disciples.

The War Room Strategy: Aim for righteousness.

And here’s a spiritual war strategy to keep in mind as you go – one that I use almost daily. We are called not simply to teach disciples but to teach them to observe. Action matters. Soldiers must actually fight in the battle. We shoot ourselves in the foot if we train up sideline soldiers who are professional critics of those who actually fight.

But in spiritual war, and this is key, getting people to do the right action is not enough. Right action does not equal righteousness. Right action must be coupled with the right motive for it to be truly righteous.

Imagine it like a graph. On the one end you have right actions and the other wrong actions. And on the vertical axis you have right motives and at the other end wrong motives.

Right Actions Right Motives

Those who do the wrong action for the wrong motive are the wicked. They hate truth and have a corrupt heart. A biblical example of this might be Eli’s sons who were called worthless in 1 Samuel 2.

Those who do the right action with the wrong motive are the selfish. They use truth and have a deceitful heart. A biblical example of this might be the Pharisees or hypocrites mentioned in Matthew 6.

Those who do the wrong action with the right motive are the naïve. They neglect or are ignorant of the truth and have a simple heart. A biblical example of this might be Abimelech of Genesis 20 who took Abraham’s wife Sarah to be his wife without knowing she was a married woman.

Then there are those who do the right action with the right motive – the righteous. That’s obviously where we are aiming for. They apply the truth and have a pure heart. Perhaps men like Daniel, or Stephen could be pointed to as biblical examples.

In spiritual battle, I cannot be content with simply doing the right action. My motive matters. And I cannot be content with my flock going through the motions, I need to push them to examine their hearts. Our church has taken a strong stand to say that it is right to gather the church regardless of what the government mandates. You can watch my other video on the cost of discipleship or go to our church’s website to find more about the reason for that position. We have said, “this is the right action: gather in person for ministry.” But there is a real danger that our position will attract and be favourable to people who are by nature rebellious to authority. There is a danger that some may see our position as a license for them to be belligerent, disobedient, and – let’s be honest – rebellious jerks. They may do the right thing by gathering for church, but be completely wrong in their motive for doing it. That matters to me as a pastor fighting a spiritual battle and I have to lead my people away from those sins.

Likewise, I know pastors that have taken the position that the right thing to do is to follow every rule of the government regarding the pandemic, and I would imagine they have struggled with their position attracting people who are by nature spineless. There is a danger that some will see that position as a license to be faithless, conflict avoidant and – let’s be honest – cowards. They may do what their church views as the right thing by going online for church, but be completely wrong in their motive for doing it. And I know that matters to pastors who are fighting a spiritual battle and they have to find a way to call those people out away from their sin.

We’ve spent months declaring, discussing, and arguing what the right action is – and I believe very strongly in our position, but let’s not leave our motives unchecked lest we leave ourselves critically exposed to Satan’s attacks.

The Christian life is described in Scripture as a narrow path. As a pastor, I’m called to not only walk that narrow path myself, but to lead others down it. Some days it feels like a tightrope where it is so easy to get off track. That’s why the best thing I can do is to call people to keep their eyes on Christ and make sure, as far as I can influence, that their actions and motives are right.

Interestingly I’ve found that resistance has revealed and refined my motives. If I’m willing to break the rules to gather with family or friends but not willing to break the rules to gather with the church, that’s a huge problem. If I receive a fine and that changes my mind about my convictions, that’s a problem. That means my convictions can be bought.

If I receive a fine and that changes my mind about my convictions, that’s a problem. That means my convictions can be bought.

Throughout all of this, I’ve made it my aim that, if people are going to fault us for anything, it will be that we viewed the gathering of the church too much. That we thought the Gospel preached and ministered in person was too important – not that we were a crew of rebellious jerks with a license to behave however we wanted. I will admit I haven’t been perfect at this, but that’s my aim.

The importance of tone

Through this I’ve realized that our tone is important. This is part of the war-room discussion for pastors – how we communicate matters. But critics of tone need to understand this: If a gunman walks in my house and shoots my wife in front of me, and I swear and yell at the gunman – and someone looking on says, “Chris! I can’t believe you just swore at that man. You need to watch your tone! I could never support that tone!” Can you see how ridiculous and lopsided that is? Sure, swearing is not right, but it is completely understandable in that moment.

Faithful pastors have been watching the devil pick off their flock one by one to sinful addictions, to despair, to faithlessness, to apostasy, even to suicide – and they are expected to passively watch the spiritual slaughter with a nice pastoral smile talking with a smooth and even tone. That’s crap.

If you are not righteously angry about the devastation brought on by foolish governments senselessly locking down churches across our country, then you are spiritually blind and deaf and are completely out of line to criticize a pastor’s tone. And if you are not willing to get in the trenches to fight this spiritual battle, then let me be crystal clear: your critique of tone has no credibility.

The tone of lazy silence is equally if not more so wrong than the tone of brash speakers of truth. With one you at least have the truth. With the other you have nothing.

The tone of lazy silence is equally if not more so wrong than the tone of brash speakers of truth. With one you at least have the truth. With the other you have nothing.

Discerning who is a Wounded Soldier

Now let me say this. Not all soldiers are at the same place in this spiritual battle. And thoughtful pastors know that. Some soldiers have been deeply wounded and need to be transported from the front lines to the medic. It’s kind of like me parenting my children:

We put vegetables on their plate and expect them to eat them. If they stubbornly refuse, we have them stay at the table until they eat. If they don’t eat the vegetables there is no dessert and they eat reheated vegetables for breakfast. But imagine they are sitting down for dinner, complaining of an upset stomach, they are running a fever and then they puke. No loving parent would force them to sit at the table and eat their vegetables.

Similarly, pastors and small group leaders have to discern in a spiritual battle who is being lazy or stubborn, and who is running a fever and just about to puke. The general leading the army at the front lines has a very different tone in battle than the medic treating the wounded.

With a spiritual battle, we can’t always tell who is wounded and who isn’t – especially when we are isolated, so if you are wounded, call out for help! Let your small group leader or pastor know. And care for other wounded soldiers – including your pastor. Whatever you do, don’t become a sideline critic or deserter. At the end of the day, pastors will stand before God to give account for the leadership of the church. At the end of the day I don’t need to worry about standing before the supreme Court of Canada and being found wrong. I need to worry about standing before the supreme court of heaven. The danger is not in the disapproval of the public, the danger is in the disapproval of heaven. You will give account for your sphere of leadership. Make sure, whatever you do, you point them to Jesus – to righteous living for God’s glory.

At the end of the day I don’t need to worry about standing before the supreme Court of Canada and being found wrong. I need to worry about standing before the supreme court of heaven.

This spiritual battle is ugly. It’s not going to let up anytime soon. There will be casualties – I pray not as a result of my foolishness – but there will be a cost to faithful discipleship. I pray you’ll embrace it, check your motives, and engage in the spiritual battle for God’s glory.

Keep your eyes on Christ! (Hebrews 12:1-2)