EDITOR’S NOTE: Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/. Listen to an audio version of this column at http://media1.imbresources.org/files/95/9574/9574-51889.mp3.
RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Jehoshua was one of the most dynamic church leaders in a challenging region of Asia. He was bold, evangelistic, a gifted Bible teacher.
That was before the fall.
He had the kind of charismatic personality “that people naturally fall in love with and follow,” says a Southern Baptist missionary in the region. “In the past, he has been a lover of the Word and taught many groups he himself had led to the Lord and then pastored.
“But he fell into sin and is now hiding from the Lord, sinning all the more.”
Carlos, a friend of Jehoshua’s, also was growing in his faith. But when the missionary who was discipling him left town for a month, “he, too, slipped back into dangerous sin…. He is wanting the Lord, not the sin, but feels trapped by it just as Jehoshua does.”
Missionaries have visited the two repeatedly to encourage them. Each time, “they are open to studying the Word with us and listening to the Lord with us and even have experienced Him deeply each time. But when we leave, they haven’t sought the Lord on their own.”
Other new followers of Christ in the area are watching. They’ve seen Jehoshua and Carlos crash and burn spiritually. Should they keep following their Savior and Lord by faith, despite the difficulty — or take the easy way out and slip back into the old ways, too? You can see the question in their eyes, according to missionaries.
We’ve become sadly familiar with high-profile moral meltdowns among religious leaders in America, where temptations of all kinds abound. Popular preachers, like showbiz celebrities, often begin to believe their own press clippings. Some fall prey to pride, power or the pressures of a fishbowl existence. Others stumble into adultery when they let down their guard.
Church leaders are at least as vulnerable as leaders in other walks of life, probably more so. Nobody blinks an eye when the devil picks off a famous athlete or a movie star. But if he can ruin the ministry of a well-known pastor, disillusion the flock and bring ridicule upon Christ’s church, that’s a good day’s work for the principalities of darkness.
How much more does Satan relish destroying newborn churches in the cradle among peoples who are hearing the Gospel for the first time? It’s the kind of spiritual infanticide that will keep souls in chains for generations to come.
Corrupting the church from within is also more effective than persecuting it. External attack often strengthens believers, forcing them to commit themselves fully to Jesus in order to survive and grow. Willing surrender to sin, on the other hand, poisons the church and sabotages its ministry.
Sometimes we romanticize the lives of Christians in tough places. They must be much stronger spiritually, we reason, since they endure sacrifices and brave dangers we’ve never experienced. Maybe they are stronger. But they’re just as human. They face the same day-to-day temptations: pride, rebellion, lust, discouragement, willful self-deception. They, too, can fall just like the one-time spiritual brothers of the Apostle Paul who rejected a good conscience and “suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19b).
What can we do to prevent such tragedies in the lives of struggling believers around the world? We can pray.
“Prayers for the backslidden” is the title of the appeal missionaries sent on behalf of Jehoshua, Carlos and others in their corner of Asia. Here are some of their prayers, which we can apply to struggling believers worldwide:
— Lord, help them to understand and receive your grace and forgiveness so they will repent of their sin and love You with all their hearts. Make them strong and courageous to stand up for what is right and choose to walk Your paths. Cause them to fall deeply in love with You, Your Word, Your voice, Your presence and power.
— Lord, let them know You as Living Water to their souls, as the Bread of life to satisfy their every need. Purify their hearts. Pick them up from the pit where they’ve chosen to be stuck in mud, and place them in the Water of life where there is cleansing and joy. Show them the way out, and give them courage to head there. All the things they run after are leaving them still unsatisfied, but You, Jesus, can quench every thirst and satisfy every need.
— Lord, we pray also for those who have come to Christ through Jehoshua and Carlos. Don’t let them be led astray by their leaders’ sin. Protect Your lambs, every one of them. Don’t let any of them be lost to the enemy. Raise up the believers to be bold enough, hungry enough, to want to meet together to worship You, read Your Word and follow You all the days of their lives. Build Your church so that believers will have a passion so deep they will love thousands into Your kingdom.
Erich Bridges, IMB global correspondent, co-authored the 2005 book “Lives Given, Not Taken: 21st Century Southern Baptist Martyrs” with Jerry Rankin.