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FIRST-PERSON: Preaching under pressure

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP) — As a young pastor embroiled in congregational conflict, I once told my pastoral mentor I was going to resign my church. As our conversation progressed, he identified the motivation behind my planned resignation: I just wanted to preach one Sunday in peace. He warned me, however, that trouble would find me wherever I preached the Bible and lifted the name of Jesus. He encouraged me to stay put, keep preaching and not grow weary in well doing.

I heeded his counsel. And I am glad I did not quit, even though the conflict in my church continued for several more years. I wouldn’t trade anything for what God taught me as I preached under pressure.

On the other side of leadership challenges over the years, I believe you have not really learned to preach until you preach through a storm. Unending sunshine creates shallow pulpits. Preaching through a storm anchors the pulpit to the tried and proven Word of God.

So how do you preach faithfully under the pressure that arises against your leadership, ministry or pulpit?

Preach the Word. During the darkest days of my ministry, I struggled to see my way to the pulpit. I did not feel like studying, praying or preaching. I believe this was the Enemy’s primary strategy. Waves rise from the pews to eject the preacher from the pulpit. The faithful preacher must hold the stern and preach through the storm. But avoid preaching to or about the storm, unless it is necessary. Preach the Word to lead the congregation forward. Preaching through a storm introduced me to consecutive exposition. Series preaching helped me respond to the Holy Spirit’s leadership, rather than reacting to my opponents’ shenanigans.

Pray without ceasing. The Lord does not teach us to pray in a classroom. He teaches us to pray on a battlefield. In the classroom, you may learn the truth about prayer. But it is on the battlefield that you learn the power of prayer. Ministerial battles drive the pastor-soldier to the spiritual dependence needed for effective prayer. So pray when you feel like it. Pray when you don’t feel like. And pray until you feel like it.

Guard your heart against bitterness. As I preached through a storm at my first church, a friend pleaded with me to leave, lest the experience make me bitter. I did not feel free to leave my assignment. But my friend’s concern burdened me to pray unceasingly that God would keep me from becoming bitter. I am grateful that God answered my prayers. Stubborn sheep tend to make cranky shepherds. If you do not guard your heart, church conflict can make the preacher angry, bitter and cynical.

Be a shepherd. I went to hear a pastor who was going through conflict in his church. I knew he was in conflict because that’s what he preached about, giving his side of the story and berating his opposition. After the service, several older women stopped me and said, “Rev. Charles, please know that he was not talking about us. We are not fighting him. We love him.” Be careful not to harm the sheep in the name of fighting the wolves. Be a shepherd. Lead and feed the flock. Those whom you call wolves in sheep’s clothing may be sheep who have gone astray.

Believe what you preach. When I complain about my life or ministry, my wife accuses me of not listening to the sermons in church. She levels this charge knowing I am the one who preaches the sermons at our church. It is a stinging but needed rebuke. Preachers regularly stand in the pulpit and challenge the congregation to trust God no matter what. But pressure-filled seasons of ministry require you to put your faith where your pulpit is and trust God no matter what. It is much easier to preach what you believe than it is to believe what you preach.

Know when not to preach. One Sunday morning, my father — who also was a pastor — was blindsided by news his minister of music had resigned. It was not the resignation that bothered him so much. It was the fact that a key church leader withheld the news from him. My father felt betrayed. And with his sermon manuscript sitting in front of him, he asked one of the associates to preach. “I am too angry,” he said. “The Lord cannot use me this morning.” Watching this taught me more than any sermon he would have preached that day. Sometimes the best way to preach under pressure is to not preach.

Love your enemies. A business executive hires loyal employees. A coach recruits team players. A gang leader runs with ride-or-die partners. But the pastor must shepherd the flock the Lord redeems and places under his care. It is the Lord’s flock. We are under-shepherds who will give account to the chief Shepherd. We must watch over the stubborn sheep, as well as the loyal ones. We must love our enemies, not just our friends. This is not only our pastoral calling, it is our Christian duty.