The Battle and Two Ditches

2 Timothy 2:3 Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

The Church on earth is the Church Militant. We are soldiers in a battle against sin, the flesh, the worldly systems, and the devil. Pastors are generals in this war and should be preparing their soldiers for battle and leading them into battle. Unfortunately, many ministers fall into one of two ditches:

  1. Putting all their focus on the internal battle. That is pastors put all their work on getting their flock to focus on their own sins. They constantly call their flock to the battle against their own flesh while having no concern to lead their flock to engage the external battle of taking the gospel into the culture. They never lead men in evangelism. They never lead men to the abortion mill for example. They rarely have a prophetic voice to the civil government and the last thing they want to have in their church are people who are concerned with these things because these people can be overzealous and messy. These pastors are very concerned about pastoral care and have great compassion for their sheep. They preach to the conscience. The problem is that all of the internal focus can leave people stunted. They become dependent upon pastors and elders for everything. They forget that all of the internal battle and all of the pastoral care has a purpose. There is a larger mission than just the institutional situation of the church. When the flock in this ditch is encouraged to ministry, it is all internally focused and institutional focused. Service for young men looks primarily like jobs for maintaining the order of worship, the facilities, sound systems, and maybe some charitable work for people in the church. An over attention to the internal battle without emphasis on the external creates a church whose main mission is maintenance of the organization. These churches can grow numerically because the flock loves the care but are they facing persecution and suffering as a good soldier? One other problem is that all of the internal focus can make one weary of outsiders and also create divisions where people feel like they are being handled or manipulated by the pastors.

  2. Putting all their focus on the external battle. At first glance this may seem to be the rarer of the two ditches, but it actually quite common in some respects. Preaching in this church is always focused on the sins outside of the church. There is a constant focus with the culture, with the sins of the world, and the problems of Hollywood and Washington DC. In the rare occasions where there are churches with pastors who lead their churches in evangelism and public ministry, there can be a temptation to see everything in light of these ministries. An imbalance of focus on evangelism can lead to a people who are also stunted in their growth. An imbalance in outward focus can also lead to a people who are self-righteous and hypocritical. They become harsh and unkind. They think they are the only ones in the world who truly love Jesus. There can be a temptation for pastoral care to be focused only on those who are gifted and passionate in these areas. There is a temptation to think that the only way one is being faithful is when they are engaged in these public ministries. Everyday life, their jobs, and even their families can become what they believe to be a distraction from the real battle. An overfocus on the outward battle can leave a foothold for the devil in the inward battle. It is very easy for the church to be prideful. Another temptation I have seen in this ditch, is the temptation to reject authority and see pastors and elders and the Lord’s Day gathering as superfluous at best.

The Church is called to both an inward and outward battle. Pastors must preach to the consciences of those in their pews while not neglecting to build them up in the gospel and equip them for a ministry that is more than just maintenance of the institution. There is to be conviction of the sins of the people who repent and then are engaged in a mission to take all areas of life under the dominion of Jesus Christ. They are kingdom minded while recognizing that the kingdom belongs to the poor in Spirit. A minister who doesn’t lead his church into the external battle and equip the men of the church for that battle but rather focuses solely on “pastoral care” is a good chaplain but is not a faithful captain. A pastor who is always charging into the external battle without a care for the sins of his people, their souls, and comforting the week and needy in his congregation is a good activist but not a faithful shepherd.

It is time for chaplains to become captains and activists to be shepherds. There is a war going on for the souls of men, the health of our nation, and the glory of our God. We need to be willing to suffer as good soldiers.