It’s in my DNA to pick fights. It seems pretty clear in the Scripture that Jesus liked to pick fights, too. “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 NLT) When we are picking the right fights, we are in good company. Whether it was with the Pharisees or anybody else, Jesus also picked the right fights.
In the pastoral ministry we’ve got to have the courage to pick a few fights. Change usually comes on the back of hard-fought battles. But we’ve got to be smart and courageous, not bold and blundering brash. Here are four thoughts about fighting spiritual battles as a church leader.
1. Some hills just aren’t worth dying on. There are a lot of battles that can be won, but you’ll be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Jesus seems to have actually gone out of His way—way out of His way—to offend people. It has a lot to do with why they nailed Him to a cross. That was His mission. That’s not our mission. Don’t rush headlong into every battle. Pray. Seek the leading of God. Assess the situation. Some firefights are lose-lose situations. Before you call out Susie on the truth that the conflict she brought to you is actually rooted in her sinful pride and not the rest of the choir’s bad attitude, make sure that now is the time to fight that battle and that you have your spiritual armor tightly fastened.
2. Some battles would use up too much collateral and leave you, as a pastor, without enough ammunition to fight a more pressing battle. Pastoring is a lot like parenting. It often requires one to prioritize the battles they are going to fight. A rural or small town church in transition from old line traditionalism to a more contemporary model of worship, for example, is going to require a steady hand at the helm. A pastor, who does it too quickly, insisting on winning every skirmish that comes along, may find himself out of ammunition for the really big battles that need to be fought. In our attempts to bring a church into the 21st century, we need to avoid putting it out of commission.
3. Some battles can be won and still lost. You can win the argument and in the process run somebody off from the church. You can stubbornly refuse to do something you believe to be heterodoxy and, in the process, lose the trust and respect of an individual whom you may have otherwise had as an ally in the more important spiritual battles to come in the future. It may even be a serious disagreement, but if it’s not actually a first-order biblical matter, it may not be wise to win a battle but lose an ally in the war. Pastor, just because your mastery of rhetoric and logic may allow you to win an argument, sometimes doing so is a sure way of shooting yourself in the foot. Remember, a lot of battles can be won by submitting.
4. Some battles just aren’t worth fighting. The spiritual and emotional energy exhausted isn’t worth the fight. Things won’t change enough to make it worthwhile. The time wasted on internal church battles is usually better invested elsewhere. The battle over the organ’s use on Sunday may be rooted in a spiritual stronghold. That’s entirely possible. Just remember to sift through the struggle to make sure you aren’t fighting a fleshly battle over details in the church when there are so many obviously spiritual conflicts needing the local churches’ attention outside the walls of our meeting houses.
In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul tells us to put on the whole armor of God so that we can fight the spiritual battles of the Christian life. Church leaders have to be especially mindful of this as leaders of God’s forces in the world. We’ve got to train the troops and lead them into battle wisely. In the preceding chapter, we are told, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15) In the ministry of the Gospel, we are going to fight some battles. To be victorious, we need to face them with courage and wisdom.