So, a few months ago I wrote about prayer and about how, when I prayed specifically for a family to be living in our Texas home before the end of 2011, we miraculously had a buyer and a closing date on December 30! I don’t believe in the kind of God that changes the universe because one or more of us pray about what we’d like, yet there’s something very real about getting specific with God in prayer. There is another theological concept that I cannot fit into my understanding of God and the world, but that also seems to have a hold on reality … spiritual warfare.
My theology is grounded in the sovereignty of God, the goodness of creation, and the love of Christ which surpasses even the challenge of death. I understand the inevitable and intrinsic temptation of humanity, the idolatry of self-control, the self-centeredness of greed and more. I have trouble with a super-hero understanding of God as the victor over a force that is somehow outside of God and a real challenge to God’s supremacy. Not to mention, I am not comfortable with militaristic or warlike images. I am an idealist who likes to think of myself as a pacifist … I don’t like to “fight” or “battle” or “wage war.” And yet, I’m about to write a post on Spiritual Warfare … why? Because sometimes in the work of the church, there is no better explanation for the realities we face.
In the work of new church development and congregational transformation, especially, pastors and church leaders are often confronted with battles that seem insurmountable. Church planters face conflicts not only in the church, but at home. Transformational pastors deal with congregational members or staff members who seem to become possessed by “demonic” forces. Yes, I know, this all sounds overly dramatic … but let’s just roll with it for a moment.
A United Methodist colleague at a new church development conference once told me that the realities of Spiritual Warfare in church planting cannot be denied. She told me it didn’t fit with her theological framework either … but suggested I start with the laws of physics. We all learned, didn’t we, that “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction?” She explained that when we work for the establishment of the Kingdom, that there is a huge change or shift in reality … it’s what we’re striving for … and that we should expect there will be a force coming at us that will want to restore the status quo. It’s more than just inertia … which doesn’t want to move … it’s a force, against us, wanting to bring us back to what it had understood to be equilibrium, status quo, or the way we know.
In the work of the kingdom, we should always expect that as we change systems … congregational systems, family systems, political systems, etc. … that we will get “push back.” Sometimes that pushback is more than “a little”. Sometimes, and especially if we’re not ready for it, it swings back at us and knocks us off our feet. Maybe it’s an elder who sabotages a session’s decision, maybe it’s a staff member who fights back against a change in worship, maybe it’s an illness that takes the opportunity of most stress on the pastor to rear its ugly head. After awhile, as we keep moving into God’s desired future … the resistance perseveres.
The best strategy for dealing with this kind of spiritual warfare is to 1) know it’s coming. Be on the lookout for where resistance is most likely to come from … but be ready, too, for it to come in the most unlikely forms. 2) Tell your leaders, as you move forward in mission, to be ready for conflict, for resistance, for a little messiness as we move ahead. Use the time to build community and keep yourselves focussed on your mission and ministry and the promise of the Kingdom. And 3) bathe your church, your leaders, and your own leadership in prayers — prayers for strength, prayers for perseverance, prayers for wisdom, prayers for health.
We know, of course, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and that nothing is impossible with God. During times of great change in a congregation, it’s important to remind ourselves of that, be ready for the resistance, and keep focussed on Christ.