A Forgotten Responsibility of the Pastor

Since high school I’ve been working in churches, and the past ten years as a senior pastor. And I believe pastoring is one of the most difficult jobs in the country. For me it was the wearing of the thirty million different hats that made it so difficult. You know how it is—as a pastor, we must be administrators, counselors, wedding planners, funeral directors, chaplains, architects, janitors, teachers, preachers, and the list can go on and on, right? So, the last thing I want to do is add something to your already overwhelming list.

But I want to tell you of a forgotten aspect of pastoring that is absolutely necessary for this time in history we now live. It’s a responsibility that pastors of the past and in other parts of the world today carry-out, but not so much here in America.

In the midst, of all the different hats we wear and activities we do, we’re driven by God-given spiritual tasks that we as pastors seek to accomplish within our congregations. As a pastor, we know we are called to evangelize. In each activity within our ministries, we try to share the Gospel with our flock. We also know we are called to disciple and again in each thing we do, we work to foster spiritual growth within our congregation. We also have been given the spiritual task of equipping our congregation for missions and ministry. These three spiritual tasks are why we plan the events that we plan. These tasks are why we establish the programs in our churches. They permeate every different proverbial hat we wear out within the pastorate.

But one other task needs to be weaved in the mix. Pastors, we have a responsibility to prepare our congregation.

Maybe you know this, but I didn’t. I never looked at one of my pastoral responsibilities being to prepare my congregation to stand firm and hold on to their faith in difficulties now and in the future. The books I read and conferences I attended, encouraged me and helped me assimilate new members, share the Gospel more effectively, train leaders, take members deeper in the Word, and how to structure our church; but, never once did I hear anything about preparing my people.

In the process of preaching through the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, I was captivated by Matthew 24:10 in which Jesus warns that “many will turn away.” Each time after this moment, when I stood in the pulpit and looked out at my congregation, my heart was haunted with the question—have I prepared them enough to not turn away? This verse warns that a majority of those who profess to be Christians will turn away; therefore, if my congregation faces that prophesized time many of them will turn away.

As I was asking myself this question, I realized if you took our “membership roll” you would see that many had already turned away. And for many of those on that list, they had shared with me their story. When I would follow-up on members who were no longer attending our church, the conversion typically went, “Pastor, I used to attend church and was involved in this and that, and then this or that event happened in my life and I just left.” In other words, when faced with difficulty, they turned away. I began to realize that I had these conversations all the time. Usually, the event that caused the turning away was the loss of a family member, a divorce, or hurt feelings within the church.

Not only did I realize this was happening in my neck-of-the-woods, but as I began to write my book, Spiritual Prepper, on the issue, I saw that the statistics pointed to this happening all over the nation. In fact, 42 million professed Christians who once attended church were no longer attending. So, chances are you are hearing the same conversations I was hearing. Like me, I’m sure, you’re frustrated with the lack of commitment and participation you see from your congregation.

Now I don’t know if we are at the prophetic fulfillment of Matthew 24:10 because Jesus was talking about a specific time—the birth pains. But regardless, we are seeing people under our pastoral care leave the church.

Are we preparing our congregations to remain faithful?

Now, there is no doubt that we have taught the truth enough that our congregations should have the ammunition to remain faithful. But have we intentionally prepared them to remain faithful?

Pastor, I believe we need to start.

Of course, since I’m so passionate about this subject I have some suggestions. But more than sharing those thoughts, I hope you become captivated by the need to prepare your congregation as I became captivated.


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8 Realities American Churches Must Be Prepared to Face

If you have read any of my posts or books, or if you have heard me speak, then you have heard me say that as individuals and churches we need to be prepared. And you have heard me say that pastors need to prepare their congregations. So, the question then becomes—in what areas do we prepare?

Good question! So, here are eight realities in which we need to be prepared to face.

 

  1. The personal trials and tribulations we face are a normal part of following Christ.

Depending on your interest level of end-time prophecy this first reality is either disarming or a let-down. I feel strongly that we need to preach, teach, and hear more about the end-times. The Bible supplies so much that we can know. But I don’t know how we can even talk about the perils of the end-time events when we can’t even survive difficult trials today. A prolific biblical point is that followers of Christ will face trails and tribulations on a regular basis. The fact of the Christian facing trials is not a matter of “if”, but a matter of “when”. We see this over and over again in passages like 1 Peter 4:12: 

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.1 Peter 4:12 (NIV84)

Unfortunately, therapeutic and prosperity brands of Christianity has deceived most American Christians into thinking following Christ is just a bed of roses. There will be challenges to the faith, and as American Christians, we don’t know this; and, American pastors aren’t telling us anything different. Therefore, we are sheep headed to the slaughter. Right now, 42 million professed Christians in America have given up on their faith, and most of which did so when faced with a difficult trial. American Christians have to be prepared to face difficulties.

 

 

  1. The Christian persecution seen on the news is a normal part of following Christ.

Along the same lines as the previous point, Christians should expect difficulty. Scripture even goes as far as to teach that we should expect persecution. Listen to what Jesus said in Matthew 10:22-23:

All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted… – Matthew 10:22–23 (NIV84)

Did you catch it said “when” you are persecuted? America, has been an anomaly compared to Christian history and most of the world today. Persecution is the default response from the world to Christians. So, as stories of Christian persecution in the Middle East, Northern Africa, and North Korea shock us in America, we must realize that is the norm. We also need to know that we are called to remain faithful when faced with persecution. American Christians need to know that God has called us to be martyrs and not to deny our faith. And unfortunately, we must know this because at some point towards the end-times there will be universal persecution. If America is around at that point, then one can guarantee Christians in America will be persecuted.

 

  1. The United States will not exist as a world super power forever.

You were probably tracking with me until I put on my tin-foil hat and wrote this, but it is absolutely true. Contrary to what is often said, we are given many clear details of the end-of-this-age. In those details, we can know the nations involved in the empire of the Antichrist and the Battle of Armageddon. Even within the aspects that are debated, it’s clear that America is at best diminished in power before the Antichrist rises to power, which is before the seven-year tribulation. And for America to at the minimum diminish in power, there has to be difficulty in the nation. At the minimum, this would be economic hardship, but could easily range to far more difficult tribulation. And if we’re struggling to remain faithful now in America, we’ll fare even worse in the face of national calamity. We need to prepare to remain faithful when life is difficult.

Now, I don’t pretend to know a time-frame for this. It may not be for another 100 years, but there are some clear signs that point to us being near the end-of-the-age. I write more about that here. But one sign that brings near certainty is the fact that Jews are back home in Israel.

 

  1. The American Church as we know it will change.

This reality that we need to prepare to face, goes hand-in-hand with the previous reality. If America faces tribulation and change so will churches in America. But I believe church as we know it can change far before that point. Under the eight years of Obama, it appeared the freedoms of our churches were headed for fundamental changes. One possibility I have heard mentioned is the possibility of church giving losing its “tax-deductible” status which  threatens to change church as we know it. What happens to Christians in America when there aren’t elaborate children’s ministries? What happens when the cutting-edge music has the plug pulled? What happens when there are not full-time pastors? What happens when big buildings can’t be afforded? Again, if we are struggling to remain faithful in such times of blessings how will we then? Whether that is a way in which things for the church will change who knows? And at that, the loss of giving is probably the least of what could happen to the the American church. 

 

  1. The Rapture may not be pretribulation.

Don’t “x” out yet! Please hear me out! For most American Christians who do have an inkling of care about the end-times, they predominantly believe there will be a rapture before the seven years of tribulation. For one, in the previous points I have argued that tribulation may come to our lives long before the actual seven years. But we need to consider that the rapture might not happen before the tribulation. I have been a long-time pretrib guy, but when I finally studied the passages used to defend that view I realized they are very shaky. And when I approached the Bible with an open-mind about the rapture it actually seems to say the opposite of a pretribulation rapture. Take 2 Thessalonians 2 for an example, the passage clearly says that the Antichrist will come first. But regardless of what view is right, we need to understand that we may have to face the tribulation. We need to realize that the pretribulation rapture view is not solid. Because if we go into the tribulation without being raptured that alone will cause some of us to give up on God because we have taught that to be the truth.

 

  1. The Restoration of Israel is central to the story.

The doctrine of God restoring the nation of Israel at His return is hotly debated, but it shouldn’t be at all. Many teach that the Jews and the promises made to them about their coming kingdom, no longer applies to them, but now apply to Christians. To believe that Gentile Christians have replaced Israel is absolutely erroneous. Believing this is true is to basically discard the entire Old Testament. It is important that we are prepared to see that the whole story of the Bible and salvation history will center back on Jerusalem at the end-of-the-age and the age to come. This is made very clear in Romans 11:25:

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.Romans 11:25 (NIV84)

 

  1. The Empire of the Antichrist may be rising.

As I have spent the past five years of my life diving into the study of the end-times, I have been shocked out how little critical study has been given to the end-times. Many of the prevailing views have extremely shaky biblical support—one of which is the restoration of Israel. The predominant view of replacement theology flies in the face of the bulk of biblical support. This phenomenon is also true when it comes to the location of the empire of the Antichrist. Nearly uncontested since the first century, Christianity has held to the idea that the empire of the Antichrist would be a revised Roman Empire in Rome. But the biblical support for this is very weak, while all the while there is clear evidence in Scripture for a Middle Eastern location of the Antichrist’s empire. It is also clear that empire of the Antichrist will be a revised Ottoman Empire or in other words, an Islamic Caliphate. With this being the case, the present rise of Islam and especially Turkey means that the empire of the Antichrist could be rising.

 

  1. The Millennial Kingdom will be awesome.

The previous seven realities dealt with negative tribulations that we need to be prepared to face. Seven challenges that could cause us to turn away from God. But this final area is a positive that we are not prepared to enjoy. Listen, we do not make Heaven as awesome as it will be. And when we study about Heaven, we see that first there will be a 1,000-year time period in which Jesus will rule on earth from Jerusalem. He will sit on the throne of David and rule His Eternal Kingdom. This is real and tangible. And we will be able to enjoy it. We need to be prepared for the awesomeness of the Millennial Kingdom.

 


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Does the WHOLE Bible Story Guide Your Church Leadership?

What part or books of the Bible do you believe most sermons today are derived from? What about your own sermons? I wish I had a scientific survey, but I don’t. But I do have the fact that I have heard a lot of preaching! And I believe it’s a safe bet to say that most present-day preaching is derived from the Gospels, the Epistles, and occasional blockbuster Old Testament stories. Would you agree? My sermons were. The Gospel of Matthew probably leads the way in my sermon history.

I’m not here to debate what our sermon passage quota should be, but I’m hoping you can visualize how that if most sermons are from the teachings of Jesus and teachings in the Epistles then therefore our churches and Christian practices reflect those sources. And it does, doesn’t it?

In this post, I start with the biblical root of our sermons because that picture is easier to see. If I preach on the instructions Jesus and the apostles gave then my congregation is going to focus on living out those teachings.

But now, think with me, what part of the Bible or Bible book does our philosophies of ministry, mission statements, vision statements, etc. for our churches and ministries derive? What biblical instruction shapes your paradigm for pastoring and church leadership?

Again, I wish I had a scientific study, but I’ve been to a lot of church growth conferences and have read most of the books on the subject. And again, the Gospels and the Epistles lead out with the addition of The Book of Acts. Our church leadership is modeled after the apostles. Our leadership paradigm is motivated by the instruction of the Great Commission. And this is definitely how it should be, for the Great Commission is our mission. I’m not opposed in any way to this foundation for our church leadership practices.

But, I believe we lead our churches without considering the whole story of Scripture and the whole story of salvation history.

Digressing a bit, but at some point, in my elementary career, I was told the easiest way to complete a maze was to begin at the end and work our way out. It’s definitely easier to begin at the end of the maze, right? Do you know this secret? If not, try it!

Now if we only had the knowledge of the ending of the mission of church and ending of salvation history, then we would have the end of the maze of life, right?  We then could lead our churches through the maze much easier. Pastoring would be much easier!

Wait a minute! We do have the end. In Scripture, we know how this age ends. We know what the age-to-come is like. We know how the church age will wrap up. Yet, how many church leadership decisions are we making based off this knowledge? Yes, our mission will always be the Great Commission, but The Book of Revelation and prophecy throughout the Bible provide even greater clarity and motivation for the Great Commission.

Pastor and church leader, we are leading through paradigms that only consider part of the story.

Pastor and church leader, we are leading from the middle of the maze and not the end. When we actually have the end of the maze!

Pastor and church leader, we need to look at the end, and let it show us how to lead now.

And pastor and church leader, looking at the end will give us a leadership paradigm that priorities preparing our congregation to remain faithful—to stand firm.

 

 

Connection: So, if we need to prepare our congregation then what do we need to prepare them to face? Learn here!

 


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15 Ideas to Be a Stand Firm Church

 

  1. Host a Stand Firm Emphasis Sunday.

 Yes, this is self-serving, but experience proves that ministries, issues, and doctrines that are set-aside to be remembered in an emphasis day or some other like event in our churches become important to the church. They become interwoven into the church’s DNA especially when that emphasis day becomes an annual event. Churches that recognize the Sanctity of Life Sunday—become pro-life champions. Churches who remember the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church become churches that know and care about the persecuted church. This is true for missions, family, and any other issue that is set aside in the form of a special day. Regardless, if you choose to let SFM lead your Stand Firm Emphasis Sunday you need to do one. But there is value in bringing in a guest speaker especially for your first Stand Firm Emphasis Day. SFM also is able to provide you with pre-event messages, post-event lessons, and focused experience on the subject.

 

 

  1. Continue Holding Annual Stand Firm Emphasis Sundays.

As mentioned above, Stand Firm Emphasis Sundays are powerful in establishing the importance of commitment, endurance, and perseverance in your church. These truths become part of your church’s DNA when it becomes an annual event. To encourage you to make this an annual day on your church calendar, each year SFM will make available free a message outline, presentation slides, and promotional material for you each year after we partner with you to host your first Stand Firm Emphasis Day.

 

  1. Listen and read our Hold-On Stories.
 
And again, this is self-serving I realize, but we are creating a large library of Hold On Stories written and in podcasts to be available for you to use. Research and experience shows that people are more likely to hold on to their faith when they hear they are not alone with the struggle, and that others have been through the same issues. Our Hold On Stories are available free on www.standfirmministries.com.
 

 

  1. Tell Your Own Hold On Stories.

Stories and testimonies of struggling to hold on to one’s faith are powerful tools to help someone not give up and leave the faith. Yes, we provide stories, but your church would be strengthened if church members shared their own stories at your church from the stage, in videos, in newsletters, etc. Let your people share their struggles to keep the faith and how they held on.

 

 

  1. Talk about Standing Firm & Holding On.

The word “talk” was chosen intentionally. The next idea is to “preach” on standing firm and holding on. As you know, our sermons are quickly forgotten. They are important, but each week we go from subject to subject and passage to passage. The messages that truly takes hold in our congregations are those we “talk” about all the time and in all the things we do. They are the subjects we share when we share our “hearts.” They are what is said in conversations, in song choices, in small group discussions, in newsletters, in social media posts, etc. Make standing firm and holding on just part of the natural flow of your conversations.

 

 

  1. Preach On Standing Firm & Holding On

 Although what we “talk” about becomes more of the DNA of a church than what we “preach,” you need to regularly preach on standing firm and holding on. One of the responsibilities of the pastor is to prepare their congregation. These subjects don’t even have to be the primary focus of every sermon, but you will have opportunity after opportunity to bring out this point in most sermons.

 

  1. Talk & Preach about Persecution.

Since the distinction has been made between “talking” and “preaching” from here on out on this idea list the two will be combined. Persecution has been a regular topic for churches in Christian history and throughout other parts of the world but has not been addressed regularly in our churches in America. One of the most effective ways to inform your congregation, is to celebrate another emphasis day—the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

 

  1. Care about the Persecuted Church.

Again, it’s not enough to just preach or teach on a topic, if you want to bring that issue into the continual conscious of your congregation. Encourage your church to continually care about the persecuted church. This begins with celebrating the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and preaching on persecution. But take it further by incorporating regular updates and sponsorship of ministries like Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors USA, and others. One of the most, helpful tools we utilized in our church was to have a church member become a “church voice” for VOM within your church. Also I highly recommend Author Tom Doyle’s books.

 

  1. Talk & Preach About End-Time Prophecy

As Christians who have the Word of God, we can know a lot about what is coming. We have the TOOL to prepare our church for what lies ahead. We have 25% of our Bible that has prophecy. We just have to TEACH it. Navigating the subject can be tricky but check out our partner ministry www.prophecysimplified.com.

 

  1. Talk & Preach about Heaven.

Not only does the Bible provide us with what is going to happen through end-time prophecy, but we also have the greatest motivation to “hold-on” and “stand firm.” Just as we are given many details of the end-of-the-age, we are told a lot about Heaven and the coming Kingdom. This is our motivation, keep it before your people. Look forward to our soon to release book on Heaven.

 

  1. Talk & Preach about Faith.

No matter how much we talk about endurance and provide the motivation of the eternity to come, ultimately holding on to our faith and standing firm will come down to faith. Continually preach on the need for faith and share stories of faith to build-up the faith of your congregation.

 

  1. Provide Accountability.

We have to talk and preach about the subjects mentioned above, but talking and preaching can only go so far. No matter how much you intentionally preach on these topics and these Scriptures to encourage your congregation to remain faithful—they will turn away. Realize this and build-in programs to help them hold on. Create accountability so that when someone has a weak moment of faith, they can be encouraged and held to the commitments they have made.

 

  1. Keep Track of Attendance & Follow Up.

One on one mentorship is the best method of accountability. Small groups or life groups follow in second. But just simply tracking attendance and actually following up when someone is out of church goes a long way. Not tracking attendance nor following-up tells your congregation that you don’t value their commitment or attendance. There are great software programs and practical methods to keep track.

 

  1. Go After ‘Em.

 Don’t give up on church members who go astray. If you are keeping track of attendance and do follow-up when someone is absent, don’t give up going after them! Show them how important their faith by leaving the ninety-nine and going after that wayward one.

 

  1. Engage Your Church in Something Big.

A few ago, America, saw many young girls leave the freedom of the United States to travel across the world to become young wives of ISIS soldiers. The phenomenon seems absolutely crazy, but ISIS propaganda fed them a message of being part of something big. Churches fail to show the grand scope of our involvement in ministry and mission. We are a part of sharing the greatest message the world can ever know and each one of us is needed—make sure your people know this. Build up their participation and celebrate that participation and volunteerism.


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