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Pastor temptation zones. Zone 1 | Cave in mentality.


There's a line in The Usual Suspects (MGM, 1995) that for some reason seems especially appropriate just now. Verbal Kint, a low-life criminal played by Kevin Spacey says, "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist". So, that's an affirmative, your first impulse that this is nothing new. And, in fact, it is a universal, that is, a fact that is always true. With the church crouching on the back row of world influence, though, it may be a little more true now than in recent history. Guess who's in his sights?

Yes, that's right, let's don't obsess about the evil one or give him more credit than he's due. Just the same, let's not pretend he doesn't exist or forget his most wily prank, his ability to blend into the landscape so we'll not take notice of him or his ways. While we're in such a devil of a mood, there might also be a reality check to remember that he's prowling the populations looking for someone to devour, and a corollary, that someone is often one of Christ's servants, a pastor or spiritual leader. Under that rock is a spiritual truth that was affirmed to me over and over again while serving a few years ago as Director of Pastoral Ministries of the South Carolina Baptist Convention: when a pastor or spiritual leader is attacked, everyone under his leadership is affected.

Pastors and spiritual leaders have unique temptation zones. Some of them are obvious---sexual traps, addictions of every flavor, endurance and stamina needs, isolation, the preparation treadmill, secret sins, family stresses, double-minded living, unhealthy motives, duplicity, and an entire Bible of dreadfully sinful attitudes and activities that slip into a servants and ultimately, if not checked, can destroy his life, ministry, and often an entire church. Some others are more subtle, the unexpected thoughts or practices that double down on the pastor or leader, his family, and those who look to him for leadership. They don't always result in catastrophic endings, church crises, broken families, or exit strategies. No, these temptation zones leave us in place, usually permit us to carry on while we rack up longevity and tenure, but steal the joy right out of our service. He's a thief, you know, and stealing a servant's joy is one of his greatest rewards.

The cave-in mentality is that variety, more muted and under-stated, often internalized, yet equally destructive. Cave-in happens when the pastor or leader yields himself to his situation and surrenders to the realities of his ministry setting. At one time, when the language and metrics of pop psychology invaded the pastor's study, "burn out" was the term, the condition of exhaustion and diminished capacity that robbed driven people in every discipline of their sense of purpose and mission. Even then, it was a difficult diagnosis for pastors and spiritual leaders, and may have missed the mark in depicting the loss of focus for people under a mandate from God. Underneath their frustrations and disappointments they were usually sustained by the belief that nothing is impossible with God, that God is faithful even when they were experiencing the rigors of service. Over and over ministers refused to acknowledge "burn out" in the deep belief that God could keep the inner fires burning regardless of their personal circumstances. There may be some merit to that argument!

Cave-in isn't giving up or quitting, walking away from responsibility, or going through the motions. The individual experiencing cave-in isn't necessarily devoid of spiritual resources, at the end of his or her rope, or going through the motions of a psychological, physical, or spiritual break-down. Instead, they are tempted to go-with-the-flow, to adjust their life and work to the realities of their setting, and to scale back their determination for change. These ministers are keenly aware of their situation and have adjusted their approach to influencing it. When cave-in happens, maintenance replaces growth, change, mission, and other purposes as the prime motivations of serving.

In several ways, cave-in is the antithesis of his claim on our lives.

1. His call is about moving people to God's agenda. This is Henry and Richard Blackaby's definition of a spiritual leader (see Spiritual Leadership, B and H Books, Nashville, revised 2011). This is an active, intentional purpose that cannot be fulfilled if we've chosen to accept things the way they are and not seek to move ourselves or others th what God has ordained.

2. God cares for his people and has promised his resources for those he has chosen to lead. A cave-in mentality rationalizes the reality of the current situation and adjusts the expectation of his supernatural provision downward to the point that the leader can function without them.

3. High octane leaders must often adjust their personal ambition and drive to the context of their ministry setting. This is typically for a season and should not be definitive of our mission assignment in the long run.

4. Cave-in is, in some respects, surrender. In Scripture, the only surrender that his called people are to admit is the one to him. We are aliens and strangers in this world and should always be attempting to establish his kingdom in it, regardless of our ministry setting.

5. When tempted to adopt a cave-in mentality, the core issue is usually one of personal comfort. Yes, he does love and care for his people. But, our personal comfort is never the prime outcome of our service and should not be the most important element of how we serve.

How simple and easy Jesus' earthly ministry would have been if he had caved-in to the spiritual forces that he encountered every day. Read through the Pauline Epistles and count the times when he stood toe to toe with such a wide variety of entrenched positions---the Romans, Greeks, Judaizers, epicurieans, pagans---and the counsel he gave to his proteges about intentionally confronting their culture. This theme that is visible in the great leaders of the Old Testament, the prophets, and in the writing and lives of the Apostles and church pioneers of the New Testament period. They were God's change agents, the one's he called and sent to establish his kingdom on earth as it was in heaven.

The writer of Hebrews, anonymous to us, wrote, "But we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls" (Hebrews 10:39). They resisted cave-in as they advanced the gospel two thousand plus years ago.

As we must resist the temptation of cave-in now.

For we have some to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 3:14

For let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.

1 Thessalonians 5:6


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