New Testament writers warn us again and again about the reality of spiritual attack. The apostle Paul, a leader extraordinaire, challenged believers to wear the full armor of God (Eph. 6:11), being ever aware of the enemy's schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). The leader of the church at Jerusalem, James, called followers of Christ to resist the devil (Jms. 4:7). Peter, the leader among Jesus' apostles, warned against the adversary who seeks someone to devour like a roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8). It is no wonder, then, Paul reminded the church to choose leaders who are not set up for the devil's traps (1 Tim. 3:6-7).
Based on years of my studying spiritual warfare, here are eight ways I've seen leaders allow themselves to be vulnerable to the enemy's arrows:
1. We focus on others, often to the neglect of ourselves. We are caregivers, rightly recognizing our responsibility to watch over the souls of others (Heb. 13:17). As pastors or lay leaders, we want to love people who re hurting, guide young believers, challenge older believers, and influence our community. Ministry, after all, is about others. When we neglect our own spiritual and physical well being in the process, though, we make ourselves susceptible to the enemy.
2. We replace spiritual disciplines with ministry activity. Church leaders can always find something else to do. There are always others to reach and many to train. Hospitalized church members beckon. Broken marriages need counseling. So many are the ministry hours we put in that we're tempted to remind others of our sacrifice. Too little time is left for personal spiritual disciplines-and the enemy's target is on our back.
3. We do ministry in our own power. Sometimes we go through the motions of ministry. We've been trained. We've read the books. Perhaps we have years of experience. We know how to do ministry, so we just do it with little praying and less dependence-and few people recognize we lack the power of God. In this case, we're not only vulnerable to attack; we're already losing the battle.
4. We think failure will never happen to us. I know few leaders who readily admit their susceptibility to falling. After all, leaders don't become leaders by being weak. They are focused on the vision. They are committed. Their conviction inspires others. As leaders, we should indeed strive for these characteristics. When our confidence overshadows our recognition of the enemy's schemes, though, we may be in trouble.
5. We ignore our "little" sins. I realize, of course, that no sin is inconsequential. Sometimes, however, we give ourselves "professional permission" to cross the line into sin.
"That joke really isn't that bad."
"It's not possible to find a movie without some immorality."
"It's no big deal if I tell a white lie."
When we, in the paraphrased words of Charles Spurgeon, venture into sin where we think the stream is shallow, we soon find ourselves drowning in the enemy's waters.
6. We see people as the enemy. To be honest, church people are often problematic. In fact, they're not unlike believers in the New Testament. They want the best seats in the kingdom. They argue over who has the greatest gifts. Church folks are at times cliquish and divisive. Sometimes, they ignore leaders God has given them. When we see "flesh and blood" as the enemy, though, we open ourselves to the principalities and powers who are the real enemy (Eph. 6:12).
7. We minister in the secret places of others' lives. Ministry is often confessional and personal-intimate, actually. The counseling room is especially private, where sins are admitted and secrets are revealed. Vulnerability abounds there, including ours. We are the representatives of God, often deeply respected and sometimes admired by those to whom we minister. The setting is ripe for the enemy's arrows of pride, immorality, and even more hiddenness.
8. We have few real friends. Leaders of God's church intellectually know the significance of the Body of Christ, but we too seldom build strong friendships within that Body. Unspoken jealousies among leaders hinder personal connections. Fear of embarrassment keeps us from being honest about our own struggles. We become loners even while we preach relationships and unity – and we thus fight spiritual battles alone. That kind of vulnerability can lead to disaster.
If you are a church leader, I challenge you to take this step: forward this blogpost to five believers, and ask them to pray for you. Get real about the enemy, and close the door to his victories.