The Right Battle
When pastors reflect upon church leadership, I often hear them repeat the well-worn proverb, “You have to choose your battles – to know which ones are worth fighting, and which ones are not.”
Perhaps these pastors are more right than they ever knew.
One of our gifted and remarkably precocious student pastors told me recently of how he had gone through a major struggle with his rural church a few years ago. The church had made some changes to reach its surrounding community, and, to the shock of some, those changes were actually working: new people had begun attending the church.
Not everybody was happy about the changes, however. Some weren’t even very happy about the new people. One congregation member was especially antagonistic.
My student pastor friend was deeply hurt by the negative, harshly critical response of some of his people to his leadership: it left him feeling down, depressed, and angry.
It was then that this wise young pastor had an epiphany.
He said, “It hit me that this man in the congregation, who had so opposed the good things happening in the church, was not in any way my enemy: he was my brother in Christ. It hit me that I had a far larger enemy that I was dealing with here, an enemy who wanted my brother and me to oppose and demonize one another. I realized that my struggle wasn’t with that congregation member: it was a struggle against the forces of sin and brokenness and maybe even evil that I saw expressing themselves in him, and now even in me.”
“I was fighting the wrong battle.”
In Ephesians 6: 12-13, Pastor Paul writes, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.”
My friend realized that his struggle was not against one congregation member, not against an enemy of flesh and blood, but against the “spiritual” forces of evil that are continually seeking to break communion and to separate God’s children from one another.
As a result, he imagined himself in opposition to those forces rather than in opposition to any one parishioner whom he had been given to love.
This change in perspective allowed the pastor to step back from the situation, and to see his Christian brothers and sisters in a new, more charitable light. He became less defensive, and found it easier to pray for them. He guarded his own heart against bitterness and hatred. He loved his enemies – because they weren’t his true enemies at all.
My friend resolved to put on the whole armor of God, to stand firm, and to laugh at the devil.
"Something happened," he said. Now, the church he serves is growing by leaps and bounds.
I do not want to overplay notions of spiritual warfare and demonic possession within the church: sometimes I think those who think along those lines can go too far.
Having said this, I wonder sometimes if we are opposing the right enemy.
I wonder if, in fighting each other, we have chosen the wrong battle.