Did you see this headline?
“Barna President Says 1 in 5 Churches May Not Survive COVID, but the Gospel Still Goes Forth.”
It is interesting to me that 100% of the reaction to this article that I’ve seen has been pastors stating that the Barna Group believes 1 in 5 churches will close due to COVID. However, the closing of churches isn’t actually what the article is about. Even the title includes, “but the Gospel Still Goes Forth!” The article actually focuses on innovative ways that churches are reaching their communities in the midst of the COVID shutdown. Here’s a link if you’d like to read it.
It’s possible that you are one of the many pastors who only heard the “bad news” in an article that also offered some promising news of churches impacting communities throughout the country. If you did, you’re certainly not alone. Research continues to reveal the frazzled state of many pastors in the midst of dealing with the difficult times that COVID has created. The steady stream of negative stories as well as the current state of America can lead you to believe that all hope is lost.
In fact, I was recently talking with a pastor who confessed that he wasn’t doing so well. He said that he had begun to experience something that had never happened in his life before now. He described how he had begun to hear whispers in his mind that were telling him how bad of a job he is doing in leading his church and family. Although these whispers weren’t audible, he went on to tell me that they seemed so real that he was being seriously impacted by them.
I wonder if maybe you’ve been experiencing something similar? Has the stress and strain of having to lead through a season that none of us was trained to handle taken its toll on you? It’s important to note that the enemy of our souls doesn’t fight fair. And he certainly will “pile on” whenever the slightest opportunity arises. He knows that he usually can’t take down a spiritual leader with an obvious blatant assault. So he attacks the leader much in the same way he manipulated Adam and Eve.
In Genesis 3:1, we see his subtle way of confusing Eve when he says, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” (NKJV) Satan questioned God’s instruction just enough to diminish the clarity of what He had told her. This is where the problem can arise for you and me as well. Our firm foundation that we’ve stood on for a lifetime can be slowly erased if there isn’t clarity in what we know to be true. Therefore, the subtle whispers of doubt can erode our foundation as we become confused on what we believe God has said to us and about us.
Pastor, let me remind you today that you are here “for such a time as this!” God knew in His great wisdom that COVID would hit while you were leading in ministry. And in His foreknowledge, He chose for you to be one of His servant-leaders in the midst of a global pandemic. With this in mind, I also want to remind you today “that He who began a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus! (Phil. 1:8, NKJV)
What Are You Listening To?
I learned a powerful lesson many years ago about how the power of speaking and believing affects my life. Negative words sown into my heart can take root and produce a negative harvest much in the same way as bad seeds sown into a garden can produce weeds. An apparatus that Satan uses to sow these negative seeds is subtly whispering negative thoughts into your heart for you to dwell on. Yet, his agenda is much more than trying to make us listen to his lies. Much more actually!
Here are a few examples of things he wants you to believe about yourself as you lead through this difficult season:
Whisper #1 – You’re Not Good Enough To Do This.
Have you ever said, “The church would probably better off without me?” I call this the whisper of discouragement. As I’ve often said, “a discouraged pastor will create a discouraged church.”
OVERCOMING ACTION: Reach out for coaching support.
Whisper #2 – You’re Going to Lose Your Marriage.
Has self-doubt caused you to isolate yourself and to pull away from your spouse? Or has the overwhelming nature of this season affected your connection with your spouse, giving the Enemy an easy foothold to whisper this lie? If so, it’s highly likely that you and your spouse have been in a perpetual cycle of trying to guess what each other is thinking instead of talking out the problems. This is the whisper of diminishing love.
OVERCOMING ACTION: Reach out for counseling or marriage support.
Whisper #3 – Your Children Are Going To Turn Out Bad and It’s Your Fault.
The insecurity of questioning your worth and ability as a leader usually has a negative impact in our homes. Left unsettled, the Enemy gets an easy platform to whisper this lie to us each day and build a foundation of fear. No matter their age, our children can sense the difficulties we are working through. If they aren’t allowed to share their fears, insecurity will begin to grip their hearts. Their insecurities will eventually reveal themselves in some way or the other if kept bottled up inside. This is the whisper of lost respect.
OVERCOMING ACTION: Start honest conversations with your family and reach out for family counseling support.
Whisper #4 – Your Health is Going to Fail.
I know this whisper all too well. My unwillingness to follow doctors’ orders and to avoid the doctor altogether eventually resulted in me developing a “widow-maker” heart problem. Way too many pastors die prematurely because they meditate on this whisper secretly. I can tell you firsthand that this will not turn out well for you. Eventually, I would hear the whisper of an early death every day.
OVERCOMING ACTION: Reach out to your doctor by having an annual checkup.
Whisper #5 – You’re Never Going to Make a Difference.
Does it seem to you at times like things in our world (and maybe your church) are too far gone? Well they’re not! And God wants to use you to impact this world and expand His Kingdom. However, if your ministry is stalled out, it may be time to reach out for some help. Remember that continuing to do what you’ve always done will continue to produce the same results. This is where I listened to the whisper of thinking I’d be there by now.
OVERCOMING ACTION: Reach out to someone who can offer the fresh perspective of “outside eyes” such as VisionDay.
It’s highly likely that none of these whispers would have an effect on you in good times. That’s why the enemy begins to double-down on his efforts when times are hard. Honestly, he has never had such an easy season to attack us. Quiet-whispers can become defeating-direction if you allow yourself to believe them.
The global effect of COVID-19 on the Church around the world has all of us fighting the same battle. It’s amazing how quickly any form of negativity spreads like wildfire in this current situation. I believe this is why the attack on our pastors and leaders has been so intense. Satan realizes that this season of setback is only temporary. So he wants to do as much damage as possible while he has the chance.
The Bible teaches us in 2 Corinthians 2:11, “Lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (NKJV) In case you find yourself experiencing an onslaught in the battlefield of your mind, then let’s review how this process works and embrace the simple tool the Lord has given us as a guarantee for success.
A familiar Scripture often used in presenting the Gospel is found in Romans 10:17. It says, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (NKJV) This verse is written in the context of showing how the Gospel was presented to and rejected by Israel in Romans 10. Paul gives us that famous passage in verses 8 – 10, “‘But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart,’ (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
If you’re like me, then I’m sure you’ve shared that faith comes by hearing the Word of God in your salvation emphasis. The thing that is sometimes missed, however, is the simple fact that faith comes by hearing. In this case, faith for salvation correlates with hearing the Word of God. It is also true that having faith for anything in our lives is directly connected to what we hear.
This is why our enemy often attacks us through negative whispers. His goal isn’t simply to speak a negative thought into our hearts. He actually wants us to begin speaking it out loud. He does so knowing that he can defeat us if we will continue to speak negatively about ourselves and our ministries. You may wonder how this works. The answer is quite simple. You and I don’t believe anyone more than we believe ourselves!
I can tell you a thousand times that I believe in you. I can say I know that you are going to have a lasting impact and that you are a great leader. However, you only have to tell yourself one time that you aren’t a great leader and defeat will automatically set in. One negative statement about you from you will have more of a lasting impact than a thousand positive statements from someone else.
What You Say Is As Important As What You Hear
As I bring this article to a close, I’d like to highlight how this process works in our lives for salvation. Faith, for salvation, comes by hearing God’s Word. It becomes even more impactful when you hear yourself speaking God’s Word about your own personal salvation. You and I develop a stronger security in our grasp of salvation as we gain even greater revelation of what the Scriptures say about it. And it becomes a firmly planted belief in us as we continue speaking His Word concerning our personal salvation experience.
Therefore, as you combat the negative whispers of the enemy in this season, take to heart the instruction that God gave Joshua as he faced a daunting challenge. “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe 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.” (NKJV)
The literal definition of meditate in this passage means to speak to yourself in a low tone of voice. Speak what? Speak God’s Word! Because faith comes by hearing and hearing by God’s Word. God clearly tells Joshua that he, Joshua, would make his way prosperous by speaking God’s Word to himself.
My prayer for you is that whenever the enemy quietly whispers defeating direction to you that you completely defeat him by reminding him of what God says through His Word. Satan already knows he’s defeated. It’s time for you and me to remind him on a daily basis that we know he is defeated too. Jesus modeled this for us whenever facing temptation by constantly saying “it is written.”
I know you will experience a new sense of God’s purpose and presence in your life as you continue to speak out loud to yourself what God says about you through His Word. Speaking the Word of God will allow you to overcome the quiet whispers of defeating direction every time.