Following months of false rumors and verbal attacks, the deacons and their pastor had arranged to meet with the man whose actions and words were deeply dividing their church. The ensuing discussion was frustrating to everyone involved. After several attempts to uncover and address the man’s core complaints, the pastor finally asked, “What would it take for us to satisfy your concerns and to put an end to this conflict?” Moving within inches of the pastors’ face, the man harshly replied, “I won’t be satisfied until you’re gone!”
Bullies, antagonists, and predators aggressively pursue their own self‑interests in the church, influencing others through various forms of misinformation, manipulation, or intimidation. Left unchecked, an active predator will entangle members and pastors in a never‑ending series of conflicts, leaving behind a trail of wounded souls and a damaged church.
Predators represent an ancient threat to the body of Christ. Speaking to church leaders in the first century, the apostle Paul warned, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore be on the alert. . .” (Acts 20:29-30). How can deacons stay “on the alert,” protecting the church from predators?
Build Strong Fences
Make it tough for potential predators to establish a base of operation within the church. Just as strong fences can hinder or prevent wolves from gaining access to a defenseless herd or flock, wise preventive measures discourage church predators. The more effort you devote now towards constructing “fences” in your church, the less energy you will spend warding off predators in the future. What are those “fences”?
Loving Relationships. When deacons allow the Holy Spirit to produce Christ’s love in them, they will prioritize relationships whenever conflicts threaten the fellowship (Galatians 5:22-23). Although predators thrive in “loveless” churches, they find it difficult to work with people who have learned that loving one another through a disagreement is more important than winning a debate.
Local Mission. Predators maneuver easily in self-absorbed congregations (James 4:1-2). But what is the local, God-given mission of your church? In Jeremiah 29:7, the prophet told God’s people in exile to “pursue the well-being of the city. . . for when it thrives, you will thrive.” Deacons who encourage church members to selflessly “exit the building” in order to bless the people in their local community are helping to build a strong fence against predators.
Individual Ministry. God has given your church all of the people it needs to accomplish its mission (1 Corinthians 12:18). Pastors are called to equip the members to fulfill their call to ministry (Ephesians 4:12). Consequently, deacons should be encouraging every member to become a minister! Predators are drawn to churches where pastors and a handful of members do most of the work. Hungry for control and power, predators will seek out important positions for themselves, or challenge anyone that gets in their way!
Spiritual Maturity. The heart of the Great Commission is to make disciples. A disciple is more than a church attender. A disciple is someone who is being transformed into the likeness of Jesus by following Him in a daily, intimate relationship (Colossians 1:28; Galatians 4:19). Spiritual maturity is seeking to please the Lord in every area of life, especially in relationships with others. In a church where deacons are encouraging people to love and follow Jesus, predators struggle to mask their selfish motives and immature behaviors.
Guiding Documents. If your church has a set of bylaws and policies, observe them carefully, being sure that they adequately and accurately reflect the way your church conducts its business. Predators love to use obsolete or ignored documents to create confusion and to get their way during a church conflict. Updated documents will clarify how decisions are made and who has the right to make them.
Leadership Training. Although most pastors spend years in formal ministry studies, deacons often receive little or no preparation for their work. Contact your pastor, associational missionary, or one of your state convention employees for information concerning training opportunities designed to equip you to handle conflict in the church. Consider starting a study group with other deacons, reading scriptures and discussing books to help you grow as spiritual leaders. When a predator begins to disrupt the church, you will be prepared to respond with biblical truth and practical wisdom.
Stand Against the Predators
What if the “fences” are inadequate to stop the advance of a predator? You need a good guard dog! Used for centuries in Europe and Asia to protect sheep and goats from wolves and bears, “livestock protection dogs” are now being bred for use in the United States. Similarly, the church needs spiritually mature men who will place themselves in the path of a predator. When a predator attacks the church, how can deacons stand with their pastor and guard the flock of God?
Pray Together. Remember that all battles belong to the Lord (1 Samuel 17:47). While the predator might consider you an enemy, you know that the real battle is not with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). Set aside time as leaders to seek the Lord together, trusting Him with your need for wisdom and guidance (1 Peter 5:6-7).
Gather Facts. Predators can control some church leaders through intimidation. But if that fails, they will spread gossip and slander to influence the church’s perception of their leaders. Predators will filter and misrepresent their information in order to provoke negative emotions within church members. To establish the truth, deacons need to concentrate on gathering facts before taking decisive action (Proverbs 25:2).
Challenge the Sinful Behavior. When Paul encountered a deeply troubled and argumentative soul, he suspected the behavior might be due to demonic influence. Consequently, Paul encouraged Timothy to keep “instructing his opponents with gentleness” in the hope that they might repent of their words and actions (2 Timothy 2:24-26). Because predators will interpret gentleness and patience as weakness in a leader, pastors and deacons need to work together to communicate their unity and resolve.
Initiate Church Discipline. When should a deacon body pursue church discipline of a predator who continues to cause turmoil and division? Paul taught church leaders to issue two formal warnings to an individual creating division in a church. If the predator refused to repent and change, Paul directed church leaders to end the discussion and the relationship (Titus 3:10-11; Romans 16:17-18). If your church has adopted a process for church discipline, observe it carefully.
Dealing with church predators is extremely draining. Deacons might fear losing the respect of their family and friends by getting involved in the conflict. However, they are more likely to win their respect by standing against those seeking to undermine the ministry of the church. Paul promised that deacons who serve well will “acquire a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13). Serve well!
For further reading:
Sheffield, Robert, and James E. White. Equipping Deacons to Confront Conflict. Nashville TN: LifeWay Christian Resources, 1986.
(Written to encourage deacons, this article was originally published as “Protecting Your Church from Predators” in the Fall 2017 issue of Deacon Magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)
At 9 p.m. on a Saturday evening, a pastor and a small group of deacons met to ask God for a revival in their church. Their church was struggling. Church members felt spiritually dry and weak. Few people were coming to faith in Christ. Month after month that small group of deacons sought God together every Saturday night, and He began to work powerfully in their lives. One evening the pastor challenged the men concerning unconfessed sin in their lives. Something changed in the atmosphere of the room. In tears, the deacons began to reconcile with one another and the pastor. God was making His presence real to those men as they persisted in praying together.
Five years later in 1971, revival came to the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Saskatoon, Canada, pastored by Bill McLeod and prayed over by that faithful group of deacons. The rapidly growing crowds forced the services to relocate multiple times. Finally settling into the local civic auditorium, the revival meetings continued for seven weeks as over four thousand people gathered together each night. Affecting the entire city, the revival would go on to influence churches throughout western Canada. However, this was not the first time God had used deacons to transform a church and its surrounding community!
Revival and the Forerunners of Deacon Ministry
People were upset. Hurtful words and accusations were exchanged. The church was dividing into two factions, and the community was watching. The very next step would determine whether the church would die or thrive. Sound familiar? Except this story isn’t one of many unfolding weekly across our country, but rather it describes a critical moment in the early church (Acts 6:1-7).
At the direction of the apostles, the church chose seven men to step into the conflict. As the forerunners of deacon ministry, “The Seven” were respected, wise, Spirit‑filled men. Ministering to individual members of the church, they were a catalyst for healing and spiritual growth within the body of Christ. The change was so profound, that the entire community noticed and became extremely receptive to the gospel. New Christ-followers were pouring into the church (Acts 6:7). When the early church experienced their first revival, spiritual awakening soon followed!
Far from being extraordinary, revival and spiritual awakening became normal experiences among the first Christians. Revival usually refers to an experience within the church, while spiritual awakening describes the impact of a revived church on the surrounding community. God never intended that His people would live and accomplish His mission apart from Him. When believers begin to think of the church as a human‑powered institution, rather than a supernatural body with Christ the King as their head, they will miss God’s plan and purpose for them as a church. A church without the presence of God may appear to be doctrinally orthodox and relationally healthy, but in fact, they have abandoned their first love (Rev. 2:2-4).
Revival is a fresh encounter between God and His people. As their hearts begin to align with His heart, individual Christians are renewed in their desire to please Him in everything. Repenting of sinful and selfish pursuits, believers rediscover His beauty and long to enjoy His presence every day. The apostle Peter taught that access to the presence of God was the birthright of every Christian when he said, “. . . repent and turn back. . . that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19-20 CSB). Notice the word “seasons” is plural – referring to more than one experience. God desires that you encounter His presence many times! The church draws her life, her direction, and her power from the presence of Jesus Christ.
Deacons as Instruments of Revival
Does your church need a fresh encounter with the presence of God? What can you do as a deacon to pursue the presence of God in your life and in your church?
Feed on the Scriptures. The church recognized “The Seven” in Acts 6 as men who were full of “wisdom” – their approach to people and their problems stood out from the crowd. Where does wisdom come from? Wisdom comes from God alone. In the wilderness, manna from heaven represented God’s daily provision of nourishment and life for His people. Just as your body needs physical food, Jesus stressed that your spiritual life depends entirely on your intake of God’s Word (Mt. 4:4). Like a hammer, the Bible will shatter and reshape your worldview. As you absorb the truth into your mind, the Holy Spirit will cause you to become wise – a man who is able to “see” God, yourself, and your world from His perspective.
Draw Near to Him in Personal Prayer. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He stressed the importance of being alone with Him (Mt. 6:6). When we draw near to Him, He has promised to draw near to us (Jas. 4:8; Heb. 11:6)! Prayer is your pathway into His presence – a time to love and enjoy the Lord Jesus – and an opportunity to unburden your soul at His feet (1 Pet. 5:7). However, a sustained effort to draw near to Him will expose impurities in your life, forcing you to choose between secret sinful behaviors or a heart-level devotion to Him (Is. 6:1-5). Your continued journey into His presence depends on your readiness to repent of any sin that is blocking your way forward into His presence.
Cultivate a Sensitivity to the Spirit. As one of “The Seven,” Phillip was known for his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. By depending on the Spirit to guide him every day, Phillip knew when it was time to leave a busy ministry assignment to go out in the middle of nowhere, only to discover a man who was ready to receive Jesus as his Savior (Acts 8:26-38). We grieve and quench the work of the Spirit when we ignore His promptings (Eph. 4 :30; 1 Th. 5:19). As we grow in our sensitivity to Him, the Holy Spirit will reproduce the life and ministry of Jesus in us (Gal. 2:20, 4:19).
Pray Together as Deacons. Because Jesus promised His presence to any group of Christians seeking Him together, the early church made prayer a primary activity in all of their gatherings (Mt.18:19-20). Prior to any revival or spiritual awakening, God stirs the hearts of His people, opening their eyes to the need of the church, and drawing them to call on God for a fresh outpouring of His Spirit. In the process, the praying ones often experience His presence long before the larger body of believers. When deacons pray together over time, their faith will grow, their relationships to one another will deepen, and their church will be changed.
Can you imagine being part of a church where – every Sunday for five years – someone was saved or joined the fellowship? Where marriages were being transformed and prodigal children were coming home? Where God was clearly at work every day? I can. I was part of a church like that many years ago.
The church had a vibrant Sunday School and an anointed preacher, but the “secret” to what the church was experiencing did not lie in their quality programming or personnel. What they had were groups of men and women who prayed every day, and the deacons encouraged prayer by their example. In a typical deacons meeting, the men might discuss their “business” for a few minutes, but they would quickly move into a season of prayer. Recording needs on a dry erase board, they would spend the bulk of their meeting time on their knees. Jesus came and took over from there!
Deacons are more than mere participants in revival. They have been God’s chosen instruments of revival in the past. Is your heart being stirred to pray with your pastor and fellow deacons? What you do next will affect the future of your church for years to come.
For further reading:
Blackaby, Henry T., Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King. Fresh Encounter: Experiencing God’s Power for Spiritual Awakening. Nashville, TN: LifeWay, 2009.
Catt, Michael. Power of Surrender. Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2014.
(Written to encourage deacons, this article was originally published as “Deacons, Revival, and Spiritual Awakening” in the Winter 2018 issue of Deacon Magazine, a publication of LifeWay Christian Resources.)
As you read this, there is a pastor near you who is “on call” every day of the week. He pours his heart into his sermon preparation, but no one seems to notice. He visits the sick, but someone is telling him he doesn’t visit enough. Someone else is asking him what he does with all of his “free time” during the week. The church isn’t growing. He feels like he is failing in every area of his work. There’s a deep sadness rising in his soul. The joy is gone, and he thinks frequently about quitting. He is losing the heart of his kids. He rarely gets to spend time with his wife.
Too many pastors are living this story every week. Your pastor is in danger. Here are seven ways you can help protect him.
- Cover your pastor with prayer. When teaching on spiritual warfare, Paul urges us to bathe all we do in prayer, and to intercede for “all the saints” (Eph. 6:18). Everyone needs someone praying for them, and your pastor is no exception. He is a primary target of the enemy, who wants to exploit every weakness and magnify every failure.
Include him in your prayers at home and as the Lord brings him to mind during your day. Call or text him, letting him know when you have lifted him up. Your pastor prays with others almost daily, but how many people stop to place a hand on his shoulder and pray for him? Drop by or schedule a brief visit during the week for the sole purpose of praying for him directly.
- Share with your pastor how God is using him. In addition to the time-consuming activities of visiting, counseling, and planning, your pastor spends countless hours preparing to preach and teach God’s Word each week. As members leave the building on Sunday, it’s easy for him to wonder “is God using me?” Pastors need encouragement.
While it’s true that happy people don’t complain, they should speak up! Let your pastor know how God is using him in your life. Text him at the end of a long Sunday and tell him what you saw God doing through him. Discuss his messages with him, taking time to share what God is teaching you through his preaching. Your specific and personal words of encouragement will be deeply felt and long remembered by your pastor.
- Attempt to meet needs and solve problems before you report them. What do you do when a member comes to you with a ministry need? It would be a mistake to think that you are “helping” your pastor by simply telling him what you have heard. He probably has plenty on his plate already!
Since pastors are called to equip God’s people to do ministry (Eph. 4:11-12), deacons should be the first to model a mature believer’s response to the needs and problems that surface in the church. Relying on the Holy Spirit and drawing on God’s Word, explore how God might use you to take the first steps towards a ministry solution.
- Minimize murmuring to the maximum. Years ago the deacons in our church embraced the task of “minimizing murmuring to the maximum.” The slogan expressed their desire to meet needs and handle complaints in a way that helped the church remain spiritually vibrant and relationally strong.
By routinely correcting misunderstandings, answering questions, and quelling rumors, you can lead members to a deeper willingness to trust the heart of their pastor. When a member remains dissatisfied, offer to accompany him to a meeting with your pastor. Your presence can have a positive and calming effect on the conversation.
- Stand with him when he encounters destructive criticism. When the widows complained to the Apostles in Acts 6 that they were not being treated fairly in the church’s relief ministry, they were not attacking the leadership: they were voicing an unmet need. Understood in this way, complaints can become pathways to the creation of new ministries in the church. Similarly, criticism can be constructive, leading to positive changes and needed improvements. Deacons do not need to fear conflict, but because it is inevitable among sinful human beings, deacons should “go to school” on the biblical process of peacemaking (see the recommended resources at the end of this article).
Not all conflicts are the same. Your pastor is not perfect, he makes mistakes, and he is growing in Christ – just like everyone else in the church. Consequently, if someone wants to find fault in a pastor, he will always be successful! When an individual’s complaints and criticisms turn into personal attacks and hostile accusations, you need to stand with your pastor, providing visible and verbal support. Church bullies cannot be ignored. If you refuse to engage and confront the inappropriate and sinful behavior of an antagonist, the conflict can quickly escalate with catastrophic damage to your pastor, his family, and the church.
- Help him recharge and avoid burnout. When a pastor becomes chronically tired, discouraged, or overwhelmed by the incessant demands of ministry, he can suffer from burnout, losing his motivation and becoming susceptible to intense levels of temptation. Members are usually unaware of the stresses associated with pastoral ministry until it’s too late.
Deacons need to help a pastor protect his use of time and avoid the abuse of his body. How? Don’t expect him to attend every church function. Ask him whether he’s taking a day off. Take an interest in his family, watching for opportunities to affirm and support his efforts to be a good father and husband. Be sure that he schedules and uses his vacation time. Lead the church to bless the pastor and his wife with an evening out (providing a gift card and free babysitting) or a weekend getaway.
- Do ministry together. What is your ministry as a deacon? What is it that God has called the deacons of your church to actually do? In too many churches, the “ministry” of the average deacon has been reduced to sitting through a monthly meeting. God has called you to much more. Like “The Seven” who stepped up to meet the needs of the widows in Acts 6, pray about taking on an area of ministry that would alleviate personal demands on the pastor, while addressing a needed area of ministry in your church.
As an individual deacon, one of the most encouraging things you can do for your pastor is to go with him as he does pastoral visitation, travels to a speaking engagement, or attends a denominational meeting. Together you will have a greater ministry impact on the people you see. Your presence will go a long way towards alleviating boredom, fatigue, and loneliness. Your relationship with one another will deepen, becoming more authentic and genuine.
Great pastors of healthy, growing churches never get “there” by themselves. God always uses a team of men to support, encourage, and protect that pastor. Are you part of a team like that? Are you one of those men?
For further reading:
Sande, Ken. The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004.
Sheffield, Robert, and James E. White. Equipping Deacons to Confront Conflict. Nashville TN: LifeWay Christian Resources, 1986.