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The truth is that although there are many times that war is essential to protect what we love and walk in victory, battles always have a cost. Jesus Himself said that before you go to war – before you engage in a battle, pick a fight, confront someone – there will always be a cost (Luke 14.31-32). Sometimes this is unavoidable, and many times the cost of battle will be less than the cost of ignoring a problem or a disloyal person or a satanic vulnerable. But there are other times when the best way to win is not to fight.
It is not a good idea to engage in a fight you cannot win. Sometimes people go into a church to try and change it from the bottom up – that is impossible, it is rebellion, it will rip a church apart, cause you to be mistrusted and kill your ministry. It is a lazy way to do ministry, and the cost of doing that will always be more than the reward.
There are times, and part of being a great leader, is being able to recognize these times – when the best thing to do is win without fighting. Too many people think a retreat or a surrender is always a sign of weakness, but sometimes it is a sign of wisdom, strength and remarkable character.
It take a lot of grace and humility to not fight – sometimes an enemy is too big or strong and it is best to step back. We need to be grown ups in the house – have you noticed that children love to get the toys out, but it takes a grown up to put them away? Anyone can start a fight, but it takes maturity and skill to avoid a fight. You have to pick your battles. If you pick your battles carefully you will win!
Here are some battles you can avoid:
Do not employ someone who is not suited for the job, that is going to lead to a war down the road that you cannot win.
Do not appoint someone as a leader who you do not trust or haven’t seen tested
Flee youthful lusts (2 Tim. 2.22). It is not a sign of strength to hang out with your girlfriend or boyfriend alone in your dorm room, alone in your car, and so on, and spend time doing things that are going to excite your body. It is not a sign of weakness to avoid that battle, it is a sign of wisdom and maturity. Lust is a strong and powerful enemy, and either staying apart or getting married is probably smarter than fighting lust everyday.
Don’t hang around people with death in their words then go and fight those words all night and all day. Stop listening to them!
Don’t cast your pearls before swine and then try and convince those pigs that those pearls are worth something. Pigs don’t think anything is worthwhile if they cannot stuff it in their faces.
Don’t try and change a stranger’s point of view. I get letters from TV viewers telling me to embrace their pet doctrines – I don’t know them, I don’t respect them, it’s a waste of pen and paper. If you have a great revelation, produce some fruit and get fruitful and learn how to grow in that and then you will have a place to share it.
Get good advice before you start a war! Listen to other people who have been in your situation, have a mentor, listen to CDs and DVDs, learn some history. The battle is not to the biggest but to the one who knows the most. David’s knowledge about covenant and the history of his nation meant Goliath’s size and experience were meaningless! What do you know about your covenant? About your history? These things matter! What do you think about you and your calling? What do you know about the Word of God? Why can a human beat a lion – because the battle goes to the people who know the most, not the biggest teeth.
I had a situation a few years ago where one of our pastors was going a different direction from the Tree of Life Family, I could have come in as the big boss and started a fight. I would have won the fight, I am in charge and so on, so I would have won, but it would have cost me a lot of credibility, it would have injured people in the church, it would have hurt people to watch that fight even. That would have been a fight I could not afford to get into. So, I could not do nothing, I could not start a fight, so I started to pray about a third option, a wise man’s option, a grown up option.
So I sat down with the pastor and offered him the church. The whole church, offered to pay the rent for six months, and support it financially while he was the pastor. Obviously, he couldn’t call it Tree of Life but he could keep pastoring and ministering and I wouldn’t be responsible for his words or actions. I made that offer, and the pastor decided he wanted to step back and we put another pastor in the church, and it is still growing and thriving. Sometimes we need to press pause and find a third option! Pray for wisdom for yourself!
In every battle, there is information that if known by the enemy, could change the outcome of that battle. It is important that, while still maintaining an open and honest culture, we do not give our enemies the bullets to shoot us with. It’s not about being secretive, it’s about being careful and keeping private things private.
I have always been a very open person and that has occasionally got me into trouble, as I have given information to disloyal people who used that information to attack me and try and destroy me. You need to make sure that information that is vital to battle-succcess is not handed out to people who will just use it to destroy you.
Now as Christians, you might tell me – look, Ben, having secrets sounds a little unbiblical, a little immoral, that doesn’t sound right at all! And I hear you – there is a great value in being open, honest and having integrity.
However, telling some people some information is not open, not honest and not integrity, it is just gossip, it is giving away state secrets, it is giving people who want to shoot you bullets.
Jesus Christ deliberately withheld information from the Pharisees. He taught in parables to make sure certain people were not aware of what he was saying. The Pharisees in the end murdered Jesus in cold-blood, they were enemies, they should not have been told everything! When a war is going on, there are definite reasons for not giving all the information to all the people all the time.
Certain people are looking to use information to hurt you and hinder your ministry and obstruct your church. You do not owe them information, you do not have to tell them anything. I have people regularly email me who have maybe seen me on Tree of Life TV once, or used to go to the church, demanding to know what I think about A, B, or C. I am not going to tell them my opinions – that is called casting your pearls before swine. If they want to know they can turn up at the Tree and listen to me preach!
Let me say it again: when there are people who want to destroy you, you do not have to tell all the people all the information all the time. Secrets are not evil, in fact the Bible says the exact opposite.
There are three things which according to the Bible if you do not keep secret, you are a fool, a moron, a stupid person. Here they are:
All Your Opinions
A fool utters all his mind, but a wise man keeps it in until afterward (Proverbs 29.11)
You see you might have some opinions on a topic that taken out of context will cause people to attack you or despise you or think less of you. You do not have to give your opinion on anything! There are issues that are irrelevant to the good news that divide your church, if you start sharing those regularly, you could divide your church on something that does not matter.
Not that long ago there was a Christian book that I could see was dividing the church, people had very strong views one way and the other about the content of this book. Some thought it was virtually word for word from heaven, others thought it was from hell. I deliberately have not read it, have no opinion on it, and haven’t spoke about it. Why? I am not a fool, it won’t help anyone get to still waters or green grass. Better to keep that private. Someone will use it against me.
I don’t recommend TV programmes or films, because someone will watch a movie I recommend – and there will be a small scene that is inappropriate that I just missed out on or forgot about, and suddenly, I am recommending my church watch unsuitable scenes! You do not have to tell everyone all your mind all the time! It is not smart to do that.
When the Black Lives Matter protests were happening in London, I did not make a comment for three weeks, because I was only to comment on it in the context of the gospel. And what, in terms of me as a pastor discipling people, concerns me about both sides of the rhetoric in this subject area, is people are cursing themselves and speaking negatively over their own future, and words have so much power, we much learn to speak carefully and positively about our future. I had people who have left our church wanted me to say certain things – why? To shoot me down. I do not have to reveal my whole mind. You being a great disciple of Jesus does not depend on it.
All Your Revelations
Paul saw heaven, and heard things he could not share with people. I have no idea what he encountered, he didn’t share it, but you do not have to share with people all your revelations all the time. Paul actually says that it was unlawful to share what he had heard. Sometimes I am preaching in a church that does not understand grace, and I cannot choke them, that would be against the law of love – so I give people a spoonful of grace and faith, and help feed them. We do not have to share all the revelations all the time. Did you know the Father is keeping a big revelation from Jesus? (read Mark 13.32 if you don’t believe me). The Father has a revelation that will change the world, but He hasn’t told a single human, a single angel and not even Jesus! That’s staggering. Some things are not only permissible to keep secret, it is better to keep them secret.
Other People’s Failings
We are not gossips, and we should not be talking about others behind their back – even if it is true! People who gossip about your failings in private are disloyal to you and will destroy your church. I am not talking about earth shattering church destroying sins, but your humanity, your weaknesses, your infirmities should be kept quiet by those around you.
I like to say it like this, using the analogy of a restaurant: some conversations should only happen in the kitchen.
Loose lips can sink ships. Make sure the ship of your church is not one of them!
Saul was a terrible king for a number of reasons, but one of those reasons is that he did not deal with the Amalekites with a stubborn ruthlessness. He spared the king and the best of the sheep and the oxen (1 Sam. 15.8-9). The Amalekites were evil and harassed and attacked Israel for years, they attacked them in the wilderness, in the promised land – everywhere. God had given Saul a very clear instruction – wipe out the Amalekites. Saul only partially obeyed.
God was not impressed that Saul only partially obeyed. He lost that battle, because he was kind to satan. We cannot be kind to satan, we have to be ruthless with satan. Now in the New Covenant, we must be kind to people, but there are times to even be ruthless with people and insist they shape up or leave your church or business or organization.
But at no time can we be kind to satan! I have seen pastors lose their churches because they have been kind to satan. I have seen pastors see their church ripped in two because they were being kind to disloyal, wicked people. They show mercy to people who have not changed and show no fruit of repentance and let them assault their church over and over. Some pastors are desperate to be even kinder than God is!
God was not kind to the Amalekites – they were trying to rip his people about and hurt them, and God was not going to put up with that. Satan is not about to be kind to you – he will rip your church apart, he will find your weakness and exploit that, he will lie about you, he will be happy to hit you at your weakest, most tired and most vulnerable. Satan will do anything to make you do what he wants.
You are making a huge mistake if you are trying to be kind to satan! And yet, it happens often. Let me give you, as a leader, three scenarios in which you are being kind to satan:
Men leaders, you are being too kind to satan when you are not ruthless with the way you relate to the opposite sex. Do not leave traces of certain relationships in your life. If a woman even hints at being inappropriate with you, do not give them a second chance. They can be counselled by someone else. I mean no texting, no WhatsApping, no calling them, no Facebooking them, no going out for lunch with them. Be wise, there is a war on for you! Satan wants to destroy you! Do not be gentle with women like that. Do not be kind. I was once working at a church and some of my team (women) complained to the senior pastor and said “I was standoffish”. He wisely said “That’s a good thing, a worse thing would be he was not standoffish”.
Do not be kind to satan by platforming your accusers. Oh there will always be people who accuse you, but do not platform them. Remove them as elders, take them off the rota, do not let them receive an offering, do not let them have access to your corporate social media accounts.
When people leave your church offended and attack you as they leave, do not let them just walk back through the door as though nothing has happened. They will come back and rip you apart from within, they are bored at the lack of damage they can cause from outside, they are annoyed people are loyal to you and love you, and they think that coming back in will be the best way to attack you. Do not bring them back on staff, back into leadership, back into anything. Move really really slowly and watch the fruit. If they complain about it, you let them know that you are protecting your people.
Do not trust people who have a habit of lying to you. I am not saying be unkind to the person, but you do not have to trust what they say. That is being kinder than Jesus!
Pray about every situation, every situation is different and when people fall they should be restored, but when people suddenly join satan’s team, you will have to be ruthless – you will have to be strong, you will have to stand for truth and stand for what you through the grace of God have built.
Most of you reading this will be familiar with what is probably Joshua’s biggest mistake as a general and leader. If not, you can read it in Joshua 9. Essentially the Gibeonites deceived Joshua into thinking they did not live in the promised land and make a peace treaty with him based on deception. They pretended to be Joshua’s friends when in reality they were his enemies.
I have seen whole churches fail because the lead pastor could not tell the difference between a friend and an enemy. Joshua was deceived because he did not do a little bit of praying and a little bit of thinking, and therefore had no discernment on an issue in which he should have had discernment on. You must pray about the people around you. I am not saying create a culture of fear and suspicion, I am just saying before embarking on a major project with anyone or putting a responsibility on someone, you as a leader should be discerning.
Many people do not tell the truth to leaders. I was talking to a pastor friend of mine a few months ago – he was not part of Tree, he is the senior pastor of several churches like I am, and I knew one of his leaders was being deceitful because that leader had contacted me and said some things that were clearly wrong. The other pastor said to me “they never acted like that to me” – and they didn’t, because he was the leader and sometimes people lie to leaders! Sometimes people deceive leaders to gain favour and position, and we need to be aware of that. I know someone who got a job with a major ministry because of a CV that had blatant outright lies on it! These things do happen, we need to be diligent!
Lies are the most surefire sign that someone is working with satan. Jesus told us that satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8.44) and when there are lies in any church or organization, satan will always have a place in that church or organization. When there is deception and lies, there satan is, causing trouble! If you are a pastor, a leader, an elder, be very very careful about telling lies – you step into satan’s fatherhood when you do!
It is a tragedy to see how many pastors and travelling ministries lie. I went to a meeting with a American minister in London, and the room seated 5000. Although the room was mainly full, it was not packed full, and not utterly full. What a surprise I had when I read the man’s prayer letter the following month to find that there were 15000 people crammed into the room every single night, and every night at least 5000 people were getting born again. That is just a total lie. There was no truth in that statement at all. That man is siding with the father of lies by allowing that to be printed!
So, the first category of people that you must discern to win every battle is you – discern when and where you are tempted to lie and deceive, and deal with your heart. Ensure lying and deception are not part of your ministry.
The second category of people that you must discern to win your battles is those close to you. Again, do not become the next Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher, but just be aware sometimes an innocent face hides a guilty heart. Be aware if someone tells you something that you know not to be true. The Bible does not have soft, kind, sweet words for those who lie. Some people are experts at lying, and just because they go to church, that doesn’t change things. I have known pastors who can look you in the eye and tell you something that is utterly not true. I had a pastor recently tell me another minister had asked him personally to check up on me, and I said “really, shall I call him and ask him?”, and it turned out to be a lie that was made up so that minister could get some information from me that he wanted. Expert liars are difficult even for the trained to detect. All politicians can lie to a certain degree, Hitler’s lies caused millions to die. His chief of staff, Hess, said that if you tell a big enough lie frequently enough people will believe it.
Why did the Germans invade Poland? Because Hitler lied and told the German people over and over again that Poland was about to invade. The average German soldier thought he was acting in self-defence because he was lied to over and over. Hitler told the Germans that Britain was looking to invade, and that they must be attacked, he just made things up.
Today, in the UK, the media tell all sorts of lies, the BBC deliberately stirring up police investigations of innocent figures like Cliff Richard to deflect questions from their ignoring the clear danger of the evil Jimmy Saville. If you get your facts from the secular media, you are one of the most deceived people there can be!
We have to be discerning if we want to win the war and make disciples of all nations.
Here are some warning signs that as a pastor you should listen to and contemplate before appointing someone to leadership:
They expect others to behave in ways they do not. To assume they are immune from the same expectations as others, they have lied to themselves and are probably fairly good at lying.
They do not want any accountability. They do not want you to look out for them or confront them ever.
They have favourites and it is obvious to everyone
They are saying one thing to some people, and something else to others
They are not making disciples. They are not investing themselves into people.
They will try and make you feel guilty.
They are vague about things they should be specific on
And what can you do about it as a leader, if someone lies to you:
Keep your heart clean. Don’t take it personally, get angry, get carnal. You should deal with it, but not until you understand this has impacted you and you are acting as a pastor, not as a furious wronged person!
Speak directly and clearly to the person who has lied. Now, you do not want to attack the person, but you want to address the behaviour. Focus on the person, not the behaviour. “What you have said here, does not match what you have said to this person, and does not help our church walk in love and transparency with each other” is better than “you are a liar!”. If you say someone is a liar, you will put their back up. If you confront the behaviour and explain you expected better, you are walking in love, expecting and hoping the best. Your goal should be a resolution at this point.
Do something to back up your words. Speak to someone first – pastors should never shoot the gun until you have tried to talk someone down! Now, here is the truth you should know – the person may accept your words but then get upset at the action. But you cannot allow someone who is lying to run a small group, for example. They need a time off to heal and change and fall in love with the truth. That action may really upset someone, but you need to be firm as well as kind.
Make Sure Everything that is Redemptive. Your goal is to have the situation in the rear view mirror as soon as possible. If the person accepts your words and actions, move forward. Do not get emotionally attached, and learn to forgive. People may have to do things to rebuild trust, but as a spiritual leader your job is always to restore people (Gal. 6.1).
I hope this post helps you, and again – I am not interested in creating a culture of suspicion, just making sure you use your discernment and win plenty of battles and lead your church into victory and making disciples and changing the world.
I am sure all of you know that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. One of the times in which we cannot afford to be unstable in all our ways is when we are facing conflict and trying to get the Word of God out to the nations!
If you are a leader, you are going to have to take decisions. One of the reasons we are not seeing mega-churches in the UK is that some pastors seem to find it really difficult to make decisions. You must learn how to make decisions and then do it – make some decisions.
It is not easy having an indecisive leader. Now I am not saying be impatient, no a good decision should take time – find out the relevant information, consult with the relevant people, discuss the implications with those who will face them. When the right time comes you will, as a leader, have to make your mind up.
Now why is it British people (and others) find it hard to make decisions.
We are historically a practical people – but that means a lot of inertia when it comes to taking steps forward. We often have not thought things through and then cannot decide because our plans are uninformed.
We are afraid of upsetting people. Whatever direction you steer, someone will wish you had turned the other way. You need to have a revelation that you are going somewhere, so stop being double minded and steer somewhere. What are you going to do, hit the brakes in the middle of the M25? That’s foolish. You might as well go somewhere you are leading!
In war, not committing to a decision and being double minded can kill you. Hitler lost WWII because he was incapable of making decisions. Hitler invaded Poland in the 1st Sept 1939, and England then sent armies to France to help fight Germany. But after beating Poland so quickly, Germany invaded Belgium and Holland. The Germans were easily able to beat the English and pushed them right back to the sea at Dunkirk. The British Army was now trapped, and was about to be wiped out and Hitler would have won Europe.
Thankfully, that is not what happened. A miracle, on the par of the Red Sea parting, happened. Hitler did not make a decision, his armies asked to attack, but Hitler could not decide. He didn’t know whether to wipe out the British Army or not. While he was making his mind up, the entire army was rescued and escaped across the sea. Where eventually they re-attacked and defeated Hitler. That cost Germany the whole of the second world war.
I believe that the confusion surrounding Hitler’s indecision that day was supernatural, and from God. But I also believe the indecision among pastors today is also supernatural, but from satan. I have had pastors come to me and told me their assistant pastor has impregnated three ladies in the church, and what is my advice? They need to fire the assistant. I have had pastors tell me about how certain people in their church are holding the whole church to ransom, blackmailing the pastor, stealing money from the church, and a host of other things – they need to be decisively removed from the church.
I had to make the decision last month to remove someone from the church. This person had acted in a way that was hurting people in the church, disrupting services, and giving false prophetic words that were confusing. They also had started to try and disciple people in the church and divide the church, telling people that I was not spiritual for a number of reasons.
This was not a decision I made lightly, I prayed, I sought the wisdom of pastor friends and mentors, I spoke to several people in the church, I even spoke to the previous pastor. I fasted and prayed. I then contacted the person on three occasions asking them to change their behaviour, pointing out the behaviour I needed to see change for that person to stay at the church. Finally, when they said “I will do whatever I think God wants, and I will ignore any instructions from you and any leader in the church”, I knew I had to make a decision, our church would be healthier and safer without this person, so I removed them from the church., Was I concerned what people thought? Yes! Would I rather be pragmatic and just let it play itself out? Yes! But I am the leader, it is my job to lead people to safe ground and I had to make a decision. Listen to me leaders – a disloyal, rebellious person is an emergency and you must make a decision. As an African once told me, the best place to kill a snake is when it is an egg. I was aware if I did not take this chance to deal with this situation, it would grow and become harder to deal with.
I know people who have had the chance to enter the ministry and did not take it, and it gets harder to then make that decision. They sit down next to me at conferences and say “I was called to plant a church in such and such a year”, I say “that’s awesome, how is the church doing”, oh I never did it. Why not? They could not make a decision. Pastor, your church can grow if you make good decisions!
2010 was not the best time for me to start a church, it wasn’t convenient, I was on a great rise on my career, earning good money, but I made a decision. If I hadn’t started Tree of Life when I did, I would have missed so many opportunities. I certainly could not have started it today if I had not done it then. Make a decision, do what God calls you to do. Break that satanic confusion and reach out in faith!
If you are the leader, take the wheel! Pray, fast, study, listen to godly mentors, then make a decision. Do not be double minded.
The last time I tried to do an honest talks with pastors series, I was tarred and feathered from the first post. I dared suggest to pastors not to instantly promote someone in their church just because they have been to Bible College. Most Bible College graduates have a great knowledge of the Word, but they do not know how to serve and function in local church – especially if they have not even been to local church while at college. Well that through the cat among the pigeons, I can tell you. I ended up deleting the post rather than offend our weak brothers in the faith. Maybe I will return to that thought soon enough, but the last two weeks I have had three conversations about dealing with the situation in churches when someone is not healed. One conversation was regarding a pastor who lost over half his church because someone is not healed. We have see people die of sickness at the Tree, but we haven’t lost people when it happened – we are a growing church.
Now I am talking pastor to pastor here, I don’t mind if an elder is reading this, or a new-born Christian, or a teacher or prophet or evangelist, I love the whole body of Christ and all the ministries, in the next month I have two teachers speaking to my people, two evangelists and one prophet, so I love the fivefold. However, pastoring is not the same. The average Bible teacher or evangelist can go to church A, pray for twenty people, and maybe let’s say they are batting a good average, and ten are healed. That’s a good service! So the most dramatic two or three testimonies are written down and put in the folder. The next week the Bible teacher is in a new church, let’s say getting the same results. Within a month he has a dozen great healing testimonies that will bless anyone.
Meanwhile, back in church A, the pastor is getting grief because “why is that person healed and this person not healed?” Those questions are asked. We have to, by the nature of our ministry, get up in front of the same people over and over again, and we have to get involved with those people, we cannot be deaf to that question. So how do we answer it?
I am going to assume – before I give you five keys that will help you answer this – that you know that Jesus bore our sicknesses and carried our diseases (Matt. 8.17), and that by the stripes of Jesus we are healed (1 Peter 2.24). I am not about to start telling you to tell people God did it, that God is behind it. We know that we have a reception problem not a transmission problem!
But in the light of that truth that healing is for all, what do we say when someone is not healed? When what we read in the Word does not manifest. It might be a long term ailment, it might be someone actually dies of a sickness before their time. What do you say and do?
Point Our That Although We Have Lost a Battle We Have not Lost the War
If someone dies of sickness before the age of 70 or 80, they have lost a battle. They have somehow not believed the Word and not received the healing that was freely theirs at the cross. That is the truth of God’s Word. Now, I do not think it is wrong for us to admit that we have lost a battle. I wouldn’t put the responsibility on the person who died, even if I knew their declarations, their expectations and their actions were all doubt and unbelief.
There was a man in unbelief in Jesus’ day (Matthew 17) and the discples could not heal his son. Jesus healed the son, so we know what God’s will was – healing. God’s will is always healing. When the disciples asked the Lord why they couldn’t bring healing to the boy, Jesus said it was because of the disciples’ unbelief. When someone in our church dies of sickness, that is not the time to point the finger at the individual, it is time to realize we are all together in this. It is our corporate unbelief that has let this happen. And we all need to shoulder responsibility, not to be condemned, not be beat up – but to refocus on the Word. Maybe this shows you as a church you need to study some more, do some more studies on healing, hold a healing conference. Get that Bible teacher in for a few days.
We all share in the victories, we all need to share in the defeats too. And realize we need to all continue to deal with unbelief to create a culture and atmosphere where healings are common place.
Lean Into the Problem Not Away from It
Do not hide from the issue or sweep it under the carpet, that is no way to run a church, and will always lead to problems. Things in the dark get worse not better. Hold everything up to the light. If you are ignorant as to why that person died, admit it. Tell the people you do not know. Tell the people what you do know – you know God is good, you know God is the healer, you know God never breaks His Word. You know the reason no miracles happen is unbelief, and you know we never condemn people, we train them, we speak life over them, we love.
But do not ignore the problem. Be the shepherd and lead your people into green pastures and still waters. Still waters are clear waters. Make things clear to people.
I am not saying expose someone’s nakedness – if you know someone did not have faith for healing, don’t tell everyone the issues. Tell your leaders what you know if you need to – but just keep reminding the people that God is good.
If someone has died, preach on heaven. Let them know that person is with Jesus and happier than they have ever been. We might have lost a battle and lost a precious friend and relative twenty years before we should have, but in a billion years from now, no one will care, it will be so minor compared to the eternity we will share with Jesus.
But do not ignore the problem, get up and face it head on. If you need to, and if there is a ground swell of confusion in your church, if people are saying “well it must be God’s will that person is sick or died”, you need to get your leadership team together, make sure they all know what the Bible teaches on healing, and make sure if they are asked, they are all singing the same song.
Do Not Let People Compare
Someone will blame you, and they will compare you to another minister. Nearly always a travelling minister, because they just have never considered the dynamics of travelling ministry. I already said above why it is different for pastors, and that is just it – pastoring has the greatest cost and greatest reward of all the fivefold ministries. Someone will mention a big healing conference, but they probably in that conference by statistics have a lower percentage of healings than you in the local church. They will mention another pastor who never buried a church member while pastoring, and fail to mention his church was only 10 people and he only pastored for a few years.
You are a pastor, and do not let people compare. A lot of what happens to a pastor is what I call “uncle syndrome”. Children love their uncles, they want to ride in Uncle’s car, they get excited when Uncle gives them a bar of chocolate or a fiver. But dad loves those children, cares for them, looks after them, gives them everything they have, but they go crazy for uncle. Christians love their travelling ministries and conference speakers, and often – especially when things go wrong – they will start to praise their uncles and ignore their fathers. I always say “they buy you the CDs of the speakers they wished you sounded like and the shirts of the speakers they wished you looked like” – and if you haven’t encountered this yet, pastor, it’s only a matter of time!
So, there is a time for teaching on the role of a pastor and why local church is so important, but maybe during a time of mourning it isn’t the right time, but store it up for later, but at the moment you might want to remind your people that “We love (Bible teacher), we love (guest evangelist), we love (other pastor), we love (that bloke off the telly) but God, for better, or for worse, has put us together as family, and we need to support each other right now, rather than get someone else in”. Don’t be afraid to ask people to help you – “hey, can you just help encourage people that God is still good, and still loves us all, even though we clearly lost this one”.
Speak the Truth in Love
The truth is clear – God’s Word promises all who believe healing. We are healed by grace through faith. We also know when someone fails to receive their healing the “by grace” is never in question, the “by faith” is. Maybe someone never accepted their healing was complete, maybe their imagination never got in on the faith and they never saw themselves healed, maybe their faith never had corresponding actions. But how we communicate that is paramount. We must speak the truth in love.
What does the truth in love look like in situations like these? There are three elements:
It is kind, as kind as it needs to be but still communicate its messages. Say it gently, softly, with open arms and an open heart.
It is patient. It takes its time and speaks at the right time. You get that kind of patience from fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit and being led by His peace.
Finally, it is human. Don’t do this over WhatsApp or from the pulpit, sit down with people face to face and tell them the truth.
Play the Long Game
As a pastor you are there for the long-term. The pastor who continually moves to bigger churches and plays the denominational game is not a pastor, they are a hireling. You are going to be with these people for a long term. Resist the urge to sweep this under the carpet, mumble something about the mystery of God’s will and tell your people that you never know what God will do. Make sure that in all your kindness, love and pastoral care, people know that healing is always turned on and always there for anyone.
We have seen situations where someone has died, but because we did not compromise the Word, within weeks or months someone is healed of the same condition. We did not let unbelief have a voice, and we did not make excuses. That way when satan attacked again, we could stand and having done all stand.
Be the good shepherd, lay down your life for the sheep. One of the ways you will do that is give up your right to be understood all the time, to be the nice guy all the time. You have to lead your people forward and into truth, and we are in a world of war, and sometimes we have casualties. We need to mourn with those who mourn and at the same time stand on the Word. No other minister has to do both like pastors do, but it can be done.
A bishop then must… have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1 Tim. 3.2, 7, KJV)
Today I want to look at a verse that a lot of us know, but I want to offer a slightly different understanding on it, that to me harmonizes better with Scripture, with Biblical Greek and with real life leadership:
I have traditionally been taught, and taught, that this verse means that if you are as a pastor about to appoint an elder that the elder should have a good report from the world. That the person’s boss, employees, family, last church, last mosque, community should have glowing reports about their attendance, character, chastity, capabilities and kindness. However, that has never sat well with me because at the end of the day, you cannot control what people outside the church say about you. You could have an employer who hates you because you are born again and go to church, you could have an employee who thinks you are a terrible boss because you make them accountable. My wife, Amanda, once met once of my former students in a social setting who told her I was the worst teacher they had ever had – the reason, I made them do work and told them off when they didn’t!
We live in a world where people are routinely falsely accused, where mob justice rules and people get cancelled for not agreeing with abortion and a homosexual lifestyle or whatever, it will eventually become impossible to find anyone “without” who has a good word to say anything about a genuine disciple of Christ.
Now, when I studied New Testament at Masters level, we did a lot of work on the genitive case in Greek (the case of possesion, normally marked and translated in English as “of”, for example “the armour of God”, “the faith of God”, “the fruit of the spirit”. It shows ownership. Now the genitive in Greek can often be read both ways, and we use our common sense to work out that is more likely that God owns armour than armour owns God! But in this case, we have a sentence that could mean:
A bishop must have a good report FROM them which are without. In other words, people outside the church should be giving him a good report and saying good things about him.
A bishop must have a good report ABOUT those which are without. In other words, the potential elder should be giving a good report about those who are without the church.
So which one do we choose? Firstly, the church has historically chosen the first one, which makes sense – if you have a traditional job interview you get references, and you use those references to decide if the person should get the job, so it makes sense you should do the same for a potential elder in the church. But the kingdom of God is upside down, and so let’s explore that it might be the other way around, that an elder must be the one giving the good report.
Firstly, this is something the potential elder has control over. They cannot control what is coming out of the mouths of others about them, they can definitely influence it by their behaviour, and I am not saying we shouldn’t be a good witness, but ultimately the report FROM those outside is outside of our control whether it is good or not. However, we can control whether we speak a good report or not, so that is something that we can be accountable for. Having worked in recruitment for a season, we soon find out references from others are often worthless due to bias and dishonesty, but finding out what someone says about their last place of employment – that can be enlightening!
Secondly, as Christians are not called to get a good report, we should in fact not be surprised when the world hates us (1 John 3.13) and Jesus said we are blessed when we are insulted and people say false things about us (Matthew 5.11). Not only is a good report from those without guaranteed for someone who is living for Jesus, getting a few bad ones is pretty much guaranteed.
Thirdly, when I read “good report”, I immediately am drawn to the account of Caleb and Joshua when they spied on the promised land. Moses was not concerned about what the Canaanites said about Caleb and Joshua, he didn’t find out if they were the best spies that had ever spied in the nation. He was looking for a good report from their mouth – we can take the land, we can win, we can overcome. Moses got an evil report (Numbers 14.37) from the other spies – they are giants, we can’t make it, we cannot win, we are going to lose, we will never walk in God’s promises. But Caleb and Joshua had a good report – we can take the land, there is so much fruit there, there is victory there.
As a pastor you need to be very concerned about two groups of people. Firstly, those who the world loves. Jesus said in Luke 6.26 that “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” We actually need to be very careful of people in our churches who have never had grief or persecution from the world, that can be a clue they are not actually living for Christ!
You also need to be concerned about people who have a bad report of their “outside”. The person who says “my work is terrible, my booss is awful, my last pastor was horrid to me, my husband hates me” is a person with a bad report about those without. You give a person that negative and that faithless a small group of people to disciple, I guarantee after the first meeting they will be telling you what is wrong with the people in the group, their mindset is negative, they are what the Scripture calls “fault finders”. These people fall into the condemnation of the devil – they end up becoming accusers of the brethren as well as accusers of those on the outside. You don’t need elders who do satan’s job for them!
No, you want to appoint elders who are Calebs and Joshuas, you want elders who give good reports – “I am doing great at work, there are no problems I cannot overcome, no people I cannot love, no situations I cannot prosper in”, “my last church? Well, I loved it and I served it, but I felt God wanted me to be in a church that teaches the complete work like you do, and I left well and decently”, “my family? We are doing well, I love my wife and children, we work out problems together, and we are walking forward together”. Those are the people you want as elders.
Pastors, when you are appointing elders – indeed in any situation where you are appointing leaders – yes, listen a little to what others say about them, but listen a lot more to what they say about others, that is the true key to discerning potential leaders.
Jesus once told the Pharisees that “every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand” (Matt. 12.25). I have seen more churches and ministries fail due to disunity more than anything else. For every venture to extend the kingdom of God on earth – a new church, a new evangelistic crusade, a new ministry, a new media to share the Word – there has to be unity. That unity should be this: we all want the same goal, and we will work together, loving each other, following one commander, walking in step.
Any army that is not in unity will never win a battle. Every church where the assistant pastor is trying to get his agenda sneaked in, and the congregation are pulling in ten different ways will never work successfully. The unity of the team and the loyalty of the church are essential for us to win battles.
One of the strongest armies in the world in terms of raw force was the Wehrmacht, but thank God they did not understand unity, and that helped the Allies win WWII. Jesus knows about unity too and prayed for it – “I pray for everyone who shall believe on me through their word (that’s you and me) that they all may be one as you, the Father are in me, and I am in you, that they may be one in us” (John 17.20). Jesus prayed for unity – so it must be important.
Every church needs to be in unity, the battle is too hard out there, the opposition to our faith, our hopes, our dreams is too big for us to have a church with infighting in it. You need unity because we are just one body – and our hearts should be as inseperable as one body. People do not act like they believe the church is a body, they leave offended, they leave upset, they walk off in the middle of something – with no revelation they are tearing a body apart. Separation from a local church is ripping a part of a body off – it is something that should never ever be done lightly. The casualness with which some people change churches is beyond me.
How easy would it be for you to walk out your church? As easy as someone removing your kidney? I am not saying it couldn’t be done, just that it should be done very very slowly, carefully, with a lot of planning. It is a difficult and complicated process. We have had pastors leave by email, elders just disappear and stop coming – and it has impacted the entire body of Christ. And heaven knows how it has affected and injured their souls. We must stay connected! We must develop connections with the essential people that God has given us – the kindred spirits we need to fulfil our ministry – and to enjoy our life. That is unity.
We all know Hitler started the Second World War, but if you look at the disunity in his army it was huge. His own people tried to assassinate him 42 times. I think they might be a record! That meant Hitler needed thousands of soldiers just to protect him, while Winston only had 2 bodyguards. Think about the wasted resources dealing with the disunity. The most famous plot against Hitler was in 1944, where they got a bomb and set it off. Hitler’s field marshal following the unsuccessful attempt committed suicide. The disunity impacted the armies ability to fight. Now when it is Nazis, we are glad they only managed to war for six years, but when we realize most new church plants do not last more than five years, that is a tragedy. Do you want to last six years or sixty years? Then learn to build unity into your church!
I don’t really want to teach on unity, just provoke you to believe for it and seek it and go and learn it, but I will give you two keys:
If you want faithful people in your church, you have to be faithful to the people in the church. Unity starts at the head, with you being faithful to the church. Pastors suddenly feel called to the US of A, when they realize how much more money there is in the ministry there, and when the people think their pastor has itchy feet, it affects the whole body. You commit to your people, let them know you are here until death do you part or until Gabriel himself turns up with new orders, and that seed of unity will reap a harvest. In some denominational churches, people who have been in the church even just ten years have had 6 or 7 pastors, they don’t need to be told be faithful, they need to know that you are faithful to them.
Be like Paul told the Philippians in 2.4, do not just look to your own interests, but the interests of others. This also starts with the head, don’t be like Saul and keep those marching for you from the honey. Learn to share the honey, learn to promote those working for you!
I know how to be abased and I know how to abound… I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me (Php. 4.12-13)
Paul was a flexible man – if he had nothing, he learned to extend the kingdom with nothing, if he had loads, he learned to use that loads to extend the kingdom. When you are adaptable, your enemy struggles to defeat you. Every problem he gives you, you adapt and give him a new problem.
Right now two huge things are happening in the UK – there is a pandemic, and there is a lockdown. People’s responses have been varied:
Some people have just froze, and are waiting for things to change back to normal. They are not extending the kingdom right now because they have not adapted.
Other people are angry, they are just going on social media and ranting about the government, furious at things they cannot change. They are not extending the kingdom right now because they have not adapted.
Other people are trying to add it all up and getting very confused, sharing all sorts of bizarre and foolish conspiracy theories and imagined cures and government plots. They are not extending the kingdom right now because they have not adapted.
Other people are accepting what they cannot change with serenity, and working out how to use modern technology to communicate, to share the good news, to creatively preach, to engage with people, taking the time to learn new skills, invest in themselves and adapt. They are extending the kingdom of God because they have adapted.
If you want to win a battle you have to learn to be adaptable. It’s that simple, we do not live in a perfect world, so to change it and reach people, we have to learn to adapt, to be flexible, to be able to handle new environments, to be able to fight in different circumstances. Otherwise all the devil has to do is change our circumstances slightly and we are defeated!
Adaptable people keep their jobs when industries change, adaptable people are the most important people to their bosses, adaptable people can handle the fact that our world is always changing. What is precious today is not going to be precious tomorrow – what will work today might not work tomorrow, so we need to be adaptable. If you cannot change quickly, you will one day wake up useless.
The British soldiers were defeated by the Americans in the War for Independence because the British were inflexible and could not adapt to fighting in America, their tactics worked well against the French, but not against the Americans. They lost due to lack of adaptability.
Here are some things I have seen Christians be inflexible over and lose out from discipling nations:
Society has changed so that Sunday morning is no longer church time for people. Churches that only have meetings Sundays at 10am without being flexible no longer help as many people as they could.
Churches that are inflexible with worship styles are not connecting with their communities.
Under 35s have changed – they will not be at your church until they have listened online, been on your website and your Facebook. If you are not there, they will never come. Be flexible and start using social media well!
I have been in meetings where the Holy Spirit wanted to do something but the obsession with the programme meant that it never happened, because the people are inflexible.
There are many other examples, feel free to start a discussion about the need to be adaptable below.
Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14.31, NIV)
All of us have to go to war to get the gospel out to all the nations. In war, often the battle is won or lost on the basis of economics. The American military call this the “economy of force”, you want to have all the power you can have on the battlefield, but you have to be as efficient as possible. You have to exploit the people, the materials, the processes to get as much power on the battlefield for as little money as possible.
War is expensive – and whichever king ran out of money first would lose the battle, and Jesus knew it. That’s why He is telling us in this parable to think of the cost. Making disciples is a war, and it is expensive – it costs money to change the world. And if you do not know how to be efficient in your spending you will not sustain the ministry – you will lose the battle.
Most people have zero idea how expensive it is to plant a church, how expensive evangelism is, how expensive starting a second church is, how expensive going on radio and TV are, how expensive it is to be a missionary. Building a church is like building a supermarket in the middle of a war-torn nation and neither side wants you to open it. Satan is the god of this world, and you are the ambassadors of Christ in this world – and to wage world, you have to defeat satan, and build and extend the kingdom. So, a good king is always thinking about supply lines and how to extend the kingdom and make sure that things are still being paid for and you are making the most of your income to get the most power on the battlefield for your income.
When I started running conferences, I found out why so few churches in the UK are running conferences. It is not because God has not called them to do, it because they cost money. I have a friend ran a conference called Pentecost, and he said he almost renamed it “Plenty-Cost”, and I understand that. We have to stand in faith to believe God for victory every step of the way financially, and make sure we are being efficient with the money too. The conferences we have run in Tree of Life have brought heaven to earth. We have seen the sick healed, we have seen people encounter God, we have seen people transformed. We have seen people get their marriages restored, learn how to flow in the gifts, move in the Spirit, live above the storms around them, get saved, get changed forever. They have been remarkable. But I have had to learn to be efficient with the finances and get the best deals possible to reach the most amount of people possible.
World War I cost a lot of money. It cost a lot in terms of lives of soldiers, the trenches were dug at the cost of human lives for years. The British produced a video saying “Damn the cost, we must win this war”, with over 9 million people dying from the war. That’s over 6000 people every day we were at war. Nearly every family in the UK lost someone in the war, a father, a nephew, an uncle. But some towns and villages lost every single adult male. So those towns suddenly had no carpenters, no plumbers, no builders, no tradesmen at all – and no one to teach them to the younger generation. The infrastructure wiped out many areas.
Another 15 million men came back from the war, but unable to work due to injuries. So that cost was also making an impact to the wider economy. After the war, the economy was in a terrible state. The cost was estimated at nearly 180 billion pounds, and the whole world entered into a global depression as we entered the twenties. Inflation was changing the costs of things day by day, in Germany bread was priced in the billions of marks. Four years of war led to decades of financial hardship. War costs. Whole cities also needed to be rebuilded.
War is expensive, and we need to treat ministry as the same. We need to embrace the principle that Jesus taught us and count the cost – without doing so, you will not be doing ministry for long. I know a number of ministries that have had to close down because they got too expensive to run. You must learn to run your church or ministry as efficiently as possible. I bet you can do everything you are doing right now more efficiently:
Going on TV is expensive, so find the most efficient way to do it
Running a conference is expensive, so find the most efficient way to do it
Planting a new church is expensive, so find the most efficient way to do it
Doing a big crusade is expensive, so find the most efficient way to do it
Going on radio is expensive, so find the most efficient way to do it
Writing a book is expensive, so find the most efficient way to do it
Running a Bible College is expensive, so find the most efficient way to do it
Do you know what will happen if you ignore me and do not make things more efficient in your church or ministry – I will tell you and not charge you a penny. You will end up having to shut down ministries or churches you want to continue – not because you are not anointed or called, but because you are broke!
I have seen it – ministries are planting churches but then stop because planting is expensive. Our nation sends people on two week holidays to paint a building and calls it missionary work – and they donate a Bible or two and call it world mission giving. We need some people who are going to give up their lives to live in other nations, investing everything – but we need to count the cost because we need to pay for it! There is more need for this than every before. There are over 50 million extra people in Africa when David Livingstone went. We have to do this. We have to be efficient – if we send people over who can start farms and generate incomes that is one way. One of the things that impresses me about Christopher Alam is how efficient he is with his crusades, spending far less than some other evangelists, some of whom if they want his longevity need to learn from him.
Ministers who go to India or Africa, or even London, with their five star hotels, and their private jets, their hundred members of staff who travel with them – they do not come back often! It costs too much!
If we learn how to be efficient we can do more for God. Notice I am not saying cheap – we need to beware false economies, and buying cheap things that need replacing, or doing things in a way that is just ugly. But I believe we can all be more efficient, and that will give us longevity in ministry.
If you do not follow this principle, one day your Bible College will close. You might disbelieve that, but I am not a novice, I have seen a lot come and go. You will not be able to write another book, have another conference, travel overseas again, or whatever it is. Fail to learn this principle and you will stop your ministry before it even starts. Don’t be that person!