Pastor – Do You Have The Courage You Need For 2018?

 
Dave Griffith-Jones | January 2nd 2018

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1 v7). 

So wrote the apostle Paul to his young church leader and friend Timothy. His prodigy would never be able to stand for Christ, raise up new leaders, confront false teachers, preach the Word and suffer for the gospel without being strong and courageous.

I’ve found that almost anything that is worth doing is a struggle

Another Timothy, Dr. Keller this time, speaks about the three virtues that pastors most need in his book Center Church: love, wisdom and courage. A lot is written about how to love the people we lead and serve, and even more about the practical wisdom of teaching and leading churches.  But what about courage?  What happens when a pastor lacks courage?

A pastor without courage is an escapist pastor.

Power

Escapist pastors put off difficult challenges.  They can think of dozens of prudent reasons why now is not the time to plant a church.  They fear failure more than they fear displeasing the Lord.  They are the opposite of William Carey: they expect small things from God and attempt small things for God. 

They fear weakness.  If their strength is studying and preaching, they avoid strategy. If their strength is strategy, they avoid visiting.  If their strength is visiting, they avoid mercy ministries, where they feel that congregation members might be better equipped than they are. 

Yet Paul writes that God has given us a Spirit of power.  The same Spirit through whom God created the universe lives in us.  The same Spirit through whom God raised Jesus from the dead strengthens us.  

God’s power works in our weakness, so we don’t need to avoid situations where we are weak.  I heard one pastor put it like this: God has given you the Spirit who empowered Peter to preach at Pentecost – so yes you can lead a time of praise with the church toddler group. 

Love

Escapist pastors fear people.  They put off decisions because they’re guessing how people will react.  They avoid unpopular biblical themes in their preaching, and let sinful behaviour in church go unchallenged.  They spend less time with their flock, and more on the Facebook group where everyone agrees with their theology.

They fear losing their comfort.  They choose posts that don’t push them out of their comfort zone to a different culture, or a neighbourhood with high crime or poor schools.  They daydream about leading an intentional community of disciples where everyone will be committed.

Yet Paul writes that God has given us a Spirit of love.  God pours out his love into our hearts by his Spirit so we can need people less and love them more.  We can do what is best for them rather than what is easiest for ourselves.

Self-discipline

Some escapist pastors take refuge from ministry. They can’t start work without checking emails and Facebook first. They spend more and more time on hobbies where they can see results and finish projects.  They go to bed late because they can’t resist the box set or a stress-relieving bit of porn. They move post every few years because changing their job is easier than changing themselves.

Other escapist pastors take refuge in ministry. In the words of Eugene Peterson, they are busy because they are lazy – too lazy to work out what God has called them to do and to stick at that in the midst of all the pressures to do everything else. They don’t eat healthily or set enough time aside for exercise. They spend more time working because that is easier than dealing with the kids.

Yet Paul writes that God has given us a Spirit of self-discipline. The Spirit gives us the discipline to do the work we need to do now, however difficult or unpleasant or unpopular it is. The Spirit gives us the discipline to do the important things God is calling us to do, rather than the urgent things we feel like we ought to do.

Courage to face 2018 head-on

One of my besetting sins is escapism.  Far too often, I’ve been an escapist pastor, a coward like Timothy. But by God’s grace that’s changing.  The Spirit of power, love and self-discipline has been teaching me courage.  

In my book Escaping Escapism I set out to prove that with God’s help we can all stop putting things off and start taking things on. I’ve found that almost anything that is worth doing is a struggle, almost anything that benefits other people is tough to do and almost anything that makes a difference in this world is hard to see through to the end. If you avoid difficult things but want to change, this book is for you.

Dave Griffith-Jones

Dave is Team Rector in Drypool, east Hull, UK. Before that, he pastored in Toxteth, Liverpool. He is married to Helen and they have four children. Dave is a regular contributor to the Explore daily Bible-reading series.

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