Many Christians, especially those living under the severe religious restrictions experienced by 75 percent of the world's population, are being persecuted today because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Yet, most pastors are strangely silent about the suffering of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Therefore, it was a bit unusual when a layman opened a morning worship service by praying for persecuted Christians around the world. It is unfortunately not the norm for these brothers and sisters in Christ to be remembered in prayer in an American worship service. Yet it also seemed appropriate. As the service progressed, it became apparent that it is not unusual for this local church to be sensitive to the plight of the persecuted Christians. The pastor, in his pastoral prayer, also prayed for these believers. He was setting the example for his church by bringing the needs of persecuted Christians before the throne of grace.
The American Pastors Network is part of a coalition of individuals and organizations who are highlighting this critical need. It is appropriate for APN to join this effort because the ministry focus of APN is on the pastor. Research done by George Barna of the American Culture & Faith Institute shows that people in our churches are hungry for their pastors to shine the light of God's Word on issues confronting our national and global culture.
That same research indicates that most pastors are reluctant, for a variety of reasons, to proclaim the part of the "whole counsel of God" that includes those issues. These persecuted Christians are a part of us—part of the family of God. Their burden should be our burden. They must be remembered. Pastors must model and lead the church family in joining in deep suffering of our brothers and sisters.
We know from Scripture that the grievous wound of this persecution to the body of Christ is nothing new. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship the image of the King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was offered as a meal to the lions for the same reason. Jeremiah was beaten by Pashsur and put in stocks for being a faithful messenger for God. Later he was thrown into a cistern for the same infraction. Thirty men, using improvised ropes of sheets, were required to lift him from the mud in which he was mired.
Likewise, the book of Acts records numerous times when Christians were persecuted for boldly living out their faith in Christ. One entire chapter, Acts 7, is devoted to Stephen's brilliant defense of his faith and subsequent martyrdom. Hebrews 11 extols heroes of faith who were tortured and refused to accept relief by recanting their faith and presents a horrific picture of their persecution. "They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:37).
How many pastors, who have preached stirring messages about the faith of Abraham, Joseph and Joshua, have really drilled down on the horrific descriptions of these other unnamed heroes of the faith? In some ways, the exercise of their faith was fraught with even greater danger and personal cost than that of those who are named.
We are, of course, aware of these accounts of the persecution of God's people throughout Scripture. But, are we as aware of the continued widespread persecution of Christians today?
Indications are that persecution of Christians is higher today than it has ever been. Every month, approximately 255 Christians are killed, 104 Christians are abducted, 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage, 66 churches are attacked and 160 Christians are detained and imprisoned without trial, according to Open Doors USA. Why are more believers today not aware of these atrocities? How can Christians in our country, where we are not likely to suffer such severe persecution for our faith, be better informed?
The key is the pastor. He must be the one to highlight the plight of our brothers and sisters around the world. He must lead his congregation in bearing the burden with these persecuted Christians. While not the only theme he must trumpet, it is certainly part of "the whole counsel of God" that he is mandated by God to proclaim.
The American Pastors Network is challenging pastors to highlight what APN has called "a slow-motion genocide." Pastors must take the lead in calling their people to prayer and action in response to these atrocities. The pastor's leadership should include the following:
- He must educate himself about the horror these persecuted Christians are facing. Information is readily available at places like the Open Doors World Watch List and Save the Persecuted Christians Coalition.
- He must inform his congregation about the pain and suffering on the part of these brothers and sisters.
- He must lead his congregation in praying regularly for those in the family of God who are suffering throughout the world.
- He must encourage his congregants to take appropriate and available action to encourage our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.
- He must equip his people to stand firm in their own faith. It is possible they will one day face the choice of either human deliverance or torture because they stand for Christ.
The persecution of Christians will continue until all of us as Christians gather around the throne of God in eternity. Until then, these dear men, women and children suffer because they are our spiritual siblings—a part of us. We must support them in their hour of great need.
Pastors, your people will follow you in supporting this cause. Show them the way.