I think most would agree that we are living in unique and uncertain times. Christians in this country are witnessing events we’ve seen in other countries but never dreamed would take place here.
In some states, as a result of the pandemic, government officials have issued edicts banning gatherings for religious services, while others are trying to regulate how many people can attend. You may remember in March how New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio threatened the religious community with fines and permanent closures if they refused to stop holding worship services. In early July, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a ban on singing, and even more recently, he announced on Twitter that churches in 30 counties in his state would be banned from having indoor services.
Aside from churches being denied their constitutionally guaranteed liberty, there seems to be chaos everywhere. In the wake of George Floyd’s death near the end of May, we’ve seen protesters take to the streets burning, rioting, looting, destroying statues, and even committing murders.
Many wonder if our nation is on the brink of civil war; some say it’s already begun. With the liberal media driving the narrative concerning the Black Lives Matter movement as well as COVID-19, and with the presidential election fast approaching, returning to normal anytime soon appears doubtful.
As Christians observe all that’s going on, many feel the overwhelming sense that something needs to be done, but what?
Pastors especially, understanding their responsibility to both feed and protect their flock, are often under intense pressure and faced with difficult decisions about how to move forward.
I would submit to pastors, that though the times and circumstances have changed, our responsibilities have not.
Should you, as a pastor today, find yourself questioning what you should be doing in light of all that’s going on, let me direct you to God’s Word.
Paul’s pastoral epistles offer much-needed insight.
Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season. …”
To be “instant” means “to be present, to stand upon, to be ready.”
“In season, out of season” means during both good times and bad, convenient and inconvenient, during opportune and inopportune times.
In other words, we are to stand at our post as pastors, always ready to preach the Word, regardless of the times and circumstances. In this wonderful country of ours, we’ve enjoyed many years of freedom and opportunity to preach the wonderful gospel of Jesus.
If the past few months have taught us anything, and if this time has been an indication of what’s to come, we seem to be in those “out of season” times Paul was speaking of. Our job is to faithfully preach regardless.
Let me offer four practical steps we can take as pastors as we navigate today’s rough waters.
“You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed” (Generally attributed to John Bunyan).
Too often we get so involved in our work that we neglect the most important aspect of prayer. Without prayer, we are operating in our own power, which profits little, if anything at all.
Paul counseled Timothy on the importance of prayer and its vital role as he sought to lead God’s church. The first 8 verses of 1 Timothy 2 deal with the subject: “(1) I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, [and] giving of thanks, be made for all men; ... (8) I will therefore that men pray every where…”
Paul also spoke to Timothy about the importance of a pastor being cleansed of personal sin, which of course is accomplished through prayer. Second Timothy 2:21 says,
If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, [and] prepared unto every good work.
Concerning prayerful preparation, the late Dr. Adrian Rogers said, “I would be a sheer, unmitigated fool to stand up here and try to preach with a heart that is not clean and not pure.”
A [good] name [is] rather to be chosen than great riches, [and] loving favour rather than silver and gold (Proverbs 22:1).
A good name [is] better than precious ointment… (Ecclesiastes 7:1).
The reputation, or more importantly, the character, of a pastor should be one of righteousness. I didn’t say perfection, as we all know that’s not attainable this side of eternity; however, the life of the minister should certainly be one that doesn’t bring shame or disgrace to the Lord or His church.
D.L. Moody said, “God doesn’t seek for golden vessels and does not ask for silver ones, but he must have clean ones.”
Consider the following verses where Paul instructed Timothy of the importance of character:
1 Timothy 3:2, “A bishop then must be blameless… of good behaviour…”
1 Timothy 3:7, “Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without…”
1 Timothy 4:12, “…be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
1 Timothy 4:16, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”
1 Timothy 6:11, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.”
2 Timothy 2:19 “…And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”
2 Timothy 2:22 “…follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
Few things will undermine a pastor’s ministry like not practicing what he preaches. I’m sure we could all testify of churches or ministries that were destroyed as a result of the man of God not taking his call to be above reproach seriously. And there is always collateral damage, sometimes with eternal implications.
This ought not to be so. Pastors should live in such a way that if their character is ever called into question, the initial response would be not to believe the rumors until proven otherwise. In fact, Peter tells us we should live this way:
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men… (1 Peter 2:15)
For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God (Acts 20:27).
Guess what? The issues your flock are dealing with today are nothing new. Man has faced them since the beginning and will continue to face them. The Bible speaks to those issues, however, and since the Word of God addresses all issues, pastors should too.
Transgenderism, homosexuality, pornography, adultery, divorce, drug abuse, anger, worldliness, pride, apathy, and the list goes on and on. The pastor has the right and responsibility to address those things and call them what they are – sin!
Sure, the messages should be tempered with love, mercy, and grace, but they simply can’t be avoided just because they are uncomfortable or controversial.
And no, they won’t always be well received. Paul told Timothy as much in 2 Timothy 4:3-4:
…the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
People love to quote 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear…”
While that is certainly true, in its context, Paul was actually directing that sentiment toward the young preacher, Timothy. Essentially, he was reminding Timothy, and all preachers, to “stir up the gift of God” and to declare God’s Word boldly because “… God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”
So much of the biblical illiteracy today can be attributed to pastors not preaching the whole counsel of God. (Families not discipling their children are at fault too, but I’m addressing pastors here.)
In his book, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True, the late W.A. Criswell wrote, “When a man goes to church, he often hears a preacher in the pulpit rehash everything that he has read in the editorials, the newspapers, and the magazines. On the TV commentaries, he hears that same stuff over again, yawns, and goes out and plays golf on Sunday. When a man comes to church, actually what he is saying to you is this, “Preacher, I know what the TV commentator has to say; I hear him every day. I know what the editorial writer has to say; I read it every day. I know what the magazines have to say; I read them every week. Preacher, what I want to know is, does God have anything to say? If God has anything to say, tell us what it is.”
So preacher, open up the Word, and preach plainly.
This [is] a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief (1 Timothy 1:15).
Christ Jesus came to save sinners! That’s the ultimate message. All our preaching is vain unless we point to Jesus.
If it were possible to make the world more moral without Jesus, all we’d accomplish is making the world a better place from which to enter hell.
Many false gospels are being presented today.
People don’t need more entertainment. They don’t need more programs. They don’t need another motivational speech. They don’t need to be conned into believing that if they plant a seed of faith they’ll be blessed beyond their wildest dreams. They get all that from the world – I promise.
They don’t need to be taught how to become a “woke” social justice warrior, how to support Black Lives Matter, how to be more tolerant or inclusive, or how to divest themselves of their “privilege.”
They need the truth. They need to know that they are hopelessly lost sinners in need of a Savior.
They need someone to tell them about Jesus. Will you do it?
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14).