If I were the devil I’d get pastors to build great big churches where they could teach nice things about a nice God. I’d make sure they avoided the dangerous God of the Bible. I’d get them to preach a whole lot about the patience and kindness of God and leave out his holiness and justice. Or I’d get them to preach about the holiness of God to the exclusion of his love and grace. I’d have them preach a one-sided message about a one-sided God instead of the breadth of who He is.
If I were the devil I’d tempt pastors to buy into a distorted gospel of prosperity. I’d convince them to preach a message of “God wants you to be rich” while much of the world dies of starvation. I’d take them deeper into a downward spiral of heresy and greed. Eventually I’d get them to empty the bank accounts of bent, old Bettys and blue collar Bobs to finance their Lexus-driving, $3,000 suit wearing, mansion-dwelling lifestytle of “holy” hedonism. I’d help them cloak their message of greed with a “whatever you donate to this ministry will be multiplied one hundred fold in your own bank account” giving promise.
If I were the devil I’d convince pastors to stay stuck in their old ways. I’d convince them in the power of tradition and tradition alone. I’d challenge them not to think outside the box when it comes to the way they communicate to this generation. I’d motivate them to preach purely theological sermons that were truth heavy and application light. I’d push them to make every week a creedal download with little to no practical application. If this approach didn’t work with pastors, I’d do my best to convince them to trash tradition and preach purely practical sermons with no theology at all. I’d sell them on the lie that it was all about their illustrations, their jokes and their five steps to whatever. I’d challenge them to do this without truly preaching the Word or teaching theology at all. The last thing I’d want them to do is do what St. Peter, St. Paul and St. James did: preach doctrine and application in a balanced way. I would never want these pastors’ congregations to realize how practical and relevant the Word of God is to their everyday lives.
If I were the devil I’d especially attack male pastors through sexual temptation. I’d start “innocently” enough through their thought lives. I’d remind them of that one drop dead gorgeous woman in their congregation who laughs at all his jokes and stares a little too intently when he preaches. I’d then slowly get him to quietly obsess over her and secretly wish that something happened where they could suddenly be together, alone. I’d convince him that it was okay to counsel her in private, that nothing was going to happen. And then I’d do everything in my power to make sure it did. For the pastors who didn’t fall for this more obvious strategy I’d use a secondary strategy of internet pornography. I would create an endless cycle of guilt and quietly seeking forgiveness from God to slowly rob the integrity and dignity from his public preaching and his private soul.
If I were the devil I’d convince pastors that they didn’t need accountability from their closest friends inside the church. I’d persuade them that they needed to keep up the facade and not fess up to their inner struggles. I’d convince them to avoid baring their deepest spiritual battles, hurts and sins to a close, godly friend whom they trust. I’d use scare tactics to accomplish this. Things like, “If word leaked out of your personal struggles you could lose face, influence and, maybe even, your job.” I’d get them to have close friends but not too close. I’d have them buy off on the age-old lie that a pastor cannot have a best friend in their own church. In doing this I’d be helping them to perpetuate a dual life, the fake life they proclaim truth from behind the pulpit and the real life they live when nobody else is watching, listening or applauding. The hypocrisy would make me smile.
If I were the devil I’d convince pastors that they had to do everything. I’d challenge them to lead all the meetings, do all the counseling, oversee all the marrying, do all the burying, to be involved in all the everything of the church. I’d remind them that the former pastor of their church did all these same things. I’d coerce him through the expectations of the old guard in his congregation. I would do everything in my power to get these pastors to avoid Ephesians 4 verses 11 and 12. The last thing I would want them to realize and embrace is that their primary responsibility is to equip God’s people to do the work of the ministry. If they were to read and apply these dangerous verses they could lose their inner sense of self-importance and probably gain ten, twenty or maybe fifty times their spiritual impact on the congregation. That would make me mad if I were the devil.
If I were the devil I’d undermine the typical pastor’s confidence in the Word of God. I’d get them to believe the lie that something so ancient could never truly change a tech savvy generation that is so sophisticated. I’d do this by raising up an army of brilliant philosopher “theologians” who would slowly and subtly undermine the faith of these pastors in the reliability and relevance of Scripture. I’d use these theosophers to communicate fine sounding arguments through cool conversations, hip books and brilliant blogs. I’d use all these tools and more to create doubt about the truth of God’s infallible Word, the relevancy of truth and the power of the message of the cross. Oftentimes I would come at these pastors sideways through another pastor or the youth leader on staff to make pastors feel like they’re preaching an obsolete message to a too-cool-for-school crowd. I’d go beyond getting them to change their methods of communication, I’d convince them that the Scriptures, the gospel and the truth is powerless to deeply and wholly transform a soul. I’d use the vast intellect of my blogging pawns to create anger, confusion, discouragement or distraction in the minds of ministry leaders. I’d unleash a new brand of repackaged gnostic pietism on the body of Christ and label it relevant.
If I were the devil I’d convince pastors not to preach the gospel weekly. I’d try to persuade them that the service schedule was too packed with music, sermon points and announcements to take a few minutes out to present the most important message in the world. I’d soothe them with thoughts like, “The church is for Christians” or “You elude to the gospel enough in the flow of your weekly sermon” or “You present the gospel on those special outreach weekends” or whatever. I’d try to distract them from realizing what the early church embraced, that the gospel was “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes….”
If I were the devil, when these pastors decided to actually share the gospel, I’d have them preach a message that sounds like the gospel but is really no gospel at all. I’d get them to make the sinner “say a prayer” whether he truly understands and embraces the gospel or not. I’d have them challenge those who are unregenerate in their audiences to commit totally, try harder, submit fully, and surrender all. I’d get them to preach anything and everything but faith alone in Christ alone for the salvation of their souls. I’d empty a great word like “repent” of its true meaning and fill it with the filthy rags of good deeds cloaked as the gospel of grace. I’d deceive them into evangelizing with a self-centered gospel that focuses more on what the sinner does than on what Christ has done.
If I were the devil I’d get pastors to tolerate youth leaders who teach more devotionally and less theologically. I’d convince them that it was okay if their teens weren’t learning theology and how relevant it was to the everyday life of the average teenager. I’d challenge them to encourage their youth leaders to give safe talks about safe things, things that teenagers related to, enjoyed and understood. I’d encourage them to avoid complex theology like the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, justification by faith and the like so that they “don’t lose” their teenagers. Instead I’d motivate them to embrace youth leaders who serve McNuggets of truth, deep fried in fun and dipped in sweet sauce so that their kids don’t get bored and their parents (aka “tithers”) don’t get mad and leave the church.
If I were the devil I’d get good churches to do lots of good things. I’d get them to build houses for the needy, give food to the poor and reach out to the hurting. I’d encourage them to do all of these things in the name of Jesus but without ever actually sharing the gospel message to those they serve. I’d motivate them to “hack at the leaves of evil” and feel good about it, not letting them realize that they have left “the root of evil” intact. I’d convince these pastors to convince their churches that preaching the gospel was action and service alone. I’d paint a picture of Jesus that only served the poor’s physical needs and leave out his drive to fulfill their deeper, bigger, spiritual needs. If these pastors insisted on preaching the gospel I’d get them to focus only on the proclamation of the message and convince them that serving the hurting in their community was not important at all.
If I were the devil I’d attack the writer of these words with his own inadequacies. I’d remind him of every time he has messed up and failed. I’d show him his own hypocrisy. I’d convince him that he had no right to write such judgmental words. I’d challenge him to take the kinder, gentler course of typing safe, funny things. If that didn’t work I’d convince him that he is somehow better than any struggling pastor.
But I’m not the devil. Satan is. And he doesn’t need any help. He is already doing a very good job at attacking pastors. Don’t you think?
If you were the devil how would you attack pastors?
*After writing much of this article I realized that Paul Harvey wrote his own version of “If I were the Devil” long before I wrote this one. Shout out to Mr. Harvey. Good day!
Greg Stier is the President and Founder of Dare 2 Share Ministries in Arvada, Colo., where he works with youth leaders and students, equipping them to be effective in sharing the gospel. Dare 2 Share has impacted the lives of more than 300,000 teenagers across the country. With experience as a senior teaching pastor and in youth ministry for almost 20 years, he has a reputation of knowing and relating to today’s teens. Greg is widely viewed as an authority on teen spirituality. He is known for motivating, mobilizing and equipping teens for positive change. For more information on Dare 2 Share Ministries, please visit www.dare2share.org. Or visit his blog at GregStier.org.