Lessons From Listening to Spiritual Leaders

By Tom Gilson Published on April 13, 2019

I just spent two days at a regional leadership meeting for a major conservative Protestant denomination. My purpose there was to listen and hear what they had to say about spiritual readiness. I was encouraged. And I was sobered.

I spoke at length with about a dozen leaders — pastors who lead other pastors. They all agreed emphatically: Christians in America aren’t ready for what’s coming at us.

I heard from one leader about a teenage girl in church who had decided she was a boy. How many churches are prepared to handle that with grace, truth and wisdom? More than one leader mentioned the opioid epidemic. We’re hardly ready for that, either.

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Another leader mentioned widespread pornography use. Same answer again: we’re barely prepared to talk about this, much less lead men to freedom. The conference devoted an entire session to learning how to deal with sexual abuse in the Church. We’re not ready for that, either.

Most sobering of all: the leader who shook his head sadly and said, “Some of the pastors I work with have no clue. They’ve got no idea what’s going on.”

Good News, Sobering News

Meanwhile, though, one pastor told me great news of addicts coming to faith in Christ, and gays and lesbians eagerly seeking truth regarding both sexual morality and life in Christ. You’ll hear more about that next week, by way of an interview he did for The Stream.

It’s not all bad news. God is still God, and He will have the victory. Yet our world is changing. Not everyone sees it, or if he does, he doesn’t recognize the scale of it. One pastor I spoke with predicted some of us will end up jailed for our Christian faith, right here in America. I suspect he’s right. I have no desire to experience that. Still, he and I agreed we’d do whatever it takes to keep on following Jesus Christ.

Revival Needed — of Knowledge

My conversations there reinforced my conviction that Christianity needs revival, especially in one very specific area: knowledge. Of all the many reasons we’re not ready for what’s coming at us, one stands out. We don’t know what we’re doing. Think about it: Do the members of your church — or at least the ushers — have a clear and ready answer for how to greet the pair of men who walk in on Easter morning, holding hands with each other?

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Part of a continuing series on spiritual readiness.

But of course I’m talking about knowledge in multiple dimensions. It starts with knowing the Bible and knowing the Lord, certainly. But we also need to know how to answer specific challenges thrown at us by our changing culture. What’s the best way to help an addict? Or, what’s the best answer to, “Christianity is anti-science?”

Even more to the point, one pastor suggested much of our problem lies in a culture-wide inability to think clearly, to reason well. I pin much of the blame for that on weak public education (a problem with its own roots, which I can’t go into here). Churches ought to be picking up the slack — a counter-cultural move indeed, if we go for it.

Youth May Be the Key

My guess — reinforced by another leader there — is that churches won’t make the counter-cultural changes they need so desperately until they wake up to the way the secular world is carrying their youth away. One speaker there spoke of new research out of Lifeway finding that 66 percent of young people walk away from Christianity when they leave home.

This echoes other findings I’ve seen with numbers ranging from 60 to 80 percent. I don’t see churches acting as if they’ve noticed this high casualty rate. Maybe, God willing, they’ll wake up to it. And start doing something about it.

God is still God, and He will have the victory. Yet our world is changing.

I have hope. I saw it in the eyes of the men and women I met with there. They know that Christ is King, no matter what. 

For despite the challenges, spiritual readiness isn’t out of reach. It takes a serious commitment to pursuing Jesus Christ. It requires real prayer, authentic community, passionate outreach and a renewed commitment to knowing what we need to know.

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