The good pastors of the world are under siege!
I have been a senior pastor of the same Southern Baptist Church, Vanguard Church, in Colorado Springs for the past twenty-six years. My wife, Tosha, and I, started the church twenty-six years ago as North American Mission Board church planters for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Recently I hosted a city-wide pastor gathering in our city and prayed with forty other pastors for Israel, our nation, our city, and the mental and physical health of our pastors and their spouses.
As I stood in that room and led other pastors, I could feel the weight of sorrow, suffering, and pain that each of them carries. Afterwards, I heard stories of pressure, disappointment, betrayal, and the never-ending battle of leading God's people to live simply by God's Word.
In my almost three decades of pastoring, these last five years, during and after Covid, have been the most difficult. New Barna data shows that pastors' confidence and satisfaction in their vocation has decreased significantly in the past few years, and two in five (41%) say they've considered quitting ministry in the last 12 months. Here are the top five reasons:
1. The immense stress of the job: 56%
2. I feel lonely and isolated: 43%
3. Current political divisions: 38%
4. I am unhappy with the effect this role has had on my family: 29%
5. I am not optimistic about the future of my church: 29%
Lifeway Research said that since July 2020, the greatest challenge for pastors was keeping their congregations unified and committed to unity.
As these factors bear down on pastors, there is another very critical matter brewing among good pastors: opposition toward a conservative view of Scripture, the biblical moral behavioral code, along with the absolute exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way to eternal life with the Father.
The most notable person in this shift is Pastor Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Pastor Andy is one of the most influential evangelical pastors of our day. North Point Community Church averages almost 40,000 people a weekend across eight locations. Pastor Andy is the son of the late Pastor Charles Stanley. For the past ten plus years Pastor Andy has been on a journey to shift his view of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and specifically his view on homosexuality. He has very methodically walked a tight rope between conservative theology and his drifting view of it.
Ten years ago, the Baptist Press in an article questioned Pastor Andy's view when they stated, "Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley is being criticized for a recent sermon illustration involving a gay couple in which Stanley labeled adultery, but not homosexuality, a sin." He has since bolstered his comments on this issue and has recently hosted a conference where he invited openly gay Christian leaders to share on how parents can help their children who identify as same sex.
This sort of example along with other lesser-known examples across the evangelical world has ignited an even greater debate and struggle for pastors in their large and small towns across small, medium, large, and mega-large churches.
Pastors who choose to stand in the pulpit and use their social media pages to combat the drift in evangelical circles are facing massive backlash and pushback from congregants who have loved ones and children who identify as same sex or who have been swept up into the gender modification movement that has taken our world by storm since the pandemic.
The Enemy is unleashing warfare on the Evangelical Church like I have never seen in my lifetime. The disunity is beyond comprehension and the antagonism and full-on insult to pastors who choose to hold to what the Bible teaches about sexuality, are finding themselves often on an island being reprimanded by their leadership because these bold statements of truth are causing "good paying customers" to leave God's church.
There is a massive movement among Evangelical congregations and pastors to only talk about what God is "for" while leaving out what He is against believing they will have these conversations privately one on one and spare themselves the shame, embarrassment, pain, and rejection that comes with being vocal publicly with what the Bible teaches about these matters.
The Prophet Elijah lived in such a day that we live in now. He stood against 400 prophets of Baal and asked the Lord to reign down fire on his offering to show these prophets and the people of God along with Israel's King and Queen, who the real God was and is. God answered his prayer and fire fell and Elijah rose and slaughtered all the prophets of Baal. But then Jezebel got word of it, and Elijah became afraid. He fled for his life and ran to a cave. He hid in that cave. God came to him in that cave and look at what the Lord said to him in 2 Kings 19:9:
"And the word of the Lord came to him: 'What are you doing here, Elijah?' He replied, 'I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.'
"The Lord said, 'Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."
And in 2 Kings 19:15 we read:
"The Lord said to him, 'Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him."
Through one man God ignited a revolution. When it felt like everybody was going one way, God had Elijah go the other way.
He told him, "Go back the way you came." Let me say it another way, "Stop running from your calling, pastor, and have the courage to return to what God Almighty has called and asked you to do for Him as a pastor." Speak the truth in love.
Thirty years ago, I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, the same seminary that Pastor Andy Stanley attended. See, God had used Pastor Charles Stanley when I was 17 years old to confirm for me that I was called to be a pastor. I was really struggling, and I turned on the television and Pastor Charles Stanley was preaching, and he said strangely enough, "Are you struggling with whether God has called you to be a pastor?"
I said out loud, "Yeah, how'd you know?" I sat down and listened. Pastor Charles Stanley said, "If you can do anything else and be happy, don't be a pastor, but if you can't, know you are called." I rose from that moment and committed the rest of my life to being a pastor. I headed off to Liberty University, met my wife, Tosha, and we later headed to Dallas Theological Seminary to prepare for the pastorate to get ready to plant a church with the Southern Baptist Convention.
While I was at seminary, I took a class with Dr John Hannah. He said one day to us, a class of about twenty, "Do you want to be great for God?" I leaned forward in my seat again, like I did that day Pastor Stanley called me out regarding the pastorate. I said deep within myself, "I do. I do want to be great for God."
Dr Hannah said, "Then don't quit, don't fornicate, and you will be the only one left, and you will be great for God."
I was stunned.
Really? Is that all it takes? "Don't quit! Don't fornicate!"
That statement has carried me for the past thirty years.
And just last year, I published and released a book with Leadership Books called, "The Good Pastor." It takes the statement Dr Hannah made to me and our class thirty years ago and it identifies four pillars that have enabled me to not quit and to not fornicate.
Maybe you are in a lead role right now. Maybe you are a pastor, a ministry leader, a business leader, a community leader, an advocate for others. You are struggling. You are facing massive opposition over your desire to remain faithful to God's Word.
In the very first chapter of the Good Pastor book, I lay out the calling God placed on my life to read His Word. When I was at Liberty University, I made a commitment to read 10 chapters of my Bible a day until I had read it 100 times. I am currently in my 100th reading of the Bible. I have missed about 500 days over the last 34 years. But I can say with full assurance it has been the anchor that has enabled me not to go the way of Pastor Andy Stanley, but to remain faithful to God's Word like Pastor Charles Stanley and other people like Charles Spurgeon.
Once someone asked Spurgeon, "What's more important, prayer or Bible reading?" He said back, "Let me ask you this, what's more important breathing in or breathing out?" We breathe in God's Word; we breathe out prayers to God.
The Good Pastor book outlines the four D's that have given me the ability to remain faithful to the calling that God has placed on my life. Those four D's are as follows: 1) Disciplines 2) Dreams 3) Determination and 4) Dependence.
Maybe you know a pastor who is struggling right now. Maybe you want to pick up a copy of The Good Pastor book for him or her. Maybe you know of a pastor or ministry leader who is standing for Biblical Truth on social media or in their church pulpit or better yet in their own home, in their family and they are getting the life beat out of them.
Over the years I must confess I haven't and don't feel "great" for God. I have struggled with the definition of "success" many times as a church planter and a senior pastor. I have battled many demons of my selfish desires to succeed. But I always come back to the reminder and promise that God gave Joshua when he said in Joshua 1:8:
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."
It is possible to have "bad success." Bad success is winning the approval of those you pastor and losing the anointing of God's truth through compromise.
Joshua told the people, "Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord."
You and I have been called to "good success" like Joshua. Good success like Dr Hannah taught me at Dallas Theological Seminary is born out of faithfulness to not give up and to not fornicate. You and I get to choose if we remain faithful to the calling that God has placed on our lives. Yes, the wounds will be great, the pain will be excruciating but at some point, like the Apostle Paul we must stop fixating on the pain and focus on the privilege of who we represent.
May God remind us through these words of the Apostle Paul while he was in a jail cell in Ephesus: "Though I am the least deserving of all God's people, he graciously gave me the privilege of telling the Gentiles about the endless treasures available to them in Christ."
The privilege of what we get to do for Christ outweighs the pain we suffer from it.
Remain faithful dear evangelical pastors, don't unhook your plough from the Old Testament, don't change what God's Word says, come out of your cave and go back the way you came, and God will reward you with "good success" with these words at the end of your life, "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into your reward!"
I live every day to hear those words one day.
What we do for God matters, and in the end, it is all that matters.
Kelly Williams is co-founder and senior pastor of Vanguard Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His books include: The Good Pastor, The Mystery of 23, Friend of Sinners and Real Marriage. He also maintains a blog.