By Aaron Earls
The scenes coming out of Washington D.C. seemed unbelievable—a violent mob forcing past overwhelmed police officers and physically commandeering the U.S. Capitol Building.
Yet what made the moment even more troubling was seeing symbols of Christianity and the name of Jesus being waved on banners and posters throughout the chaos, including a man bearing a Christian flag walking through the Senate chamber.
This is yet another weight on pastors trying to faithfully lead their COVID-scattered flock, who said the disunity and division in their church was their biggest pressure point in August.
So how can pastors lead a congregation during such a trying, difficult time?
Yes, it can often come across as trite, but prayer is the most powerful tool for the pastor and the Christian leader in this moment.
Our first instinct is often to say something, anything, but that often comes from our own personal pride. We falsely believe our words of convincing to others will be more powerful than our words of conviction to God. Before we speak to others we should first speak to God.
Work through the Psalms. They cover the width and breadth of human emotions. Read these prayers from five pastors and church leaders directly related to the events at the Capitol.
Take your concerns to God and ask Him to work in the hearts of His people. The Holy Spirit can do more than you or I can.
As we pray, part of that prayer should be one of repentance. People felt comfortable associating the banner of Christ with violence and rage, unfortunately this has been a recurring part of the church’s history.
Christians like to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 about the need for prayer and national revival, but the first act in that verse is to humble ourselves. God’s people must practice humility, which requires repentance.
Followers of Christ should be the first to admit our mistakes and turn to our Father. Too often, however, we believe the way to bear witness to Christ is through maintaining a façade of perfection. Church leaders must offer repentance for themselves and their people.
3. Speak the truth in love
Much of what is spread online immediately after significant events can be misleading or downright false. Be careful with the words you speak in these moments. Value your credibility and your witness.
Spending time in prayer and repentance lessens the chance we will say something rash, but there is still the temptation to use this moment to “score points” against any of those we perceive to be on the other side.
Don’t spread conspiracy theories that have no connection with the truth, but also refrain from attempting to use the truth to hurt instead of heal. The goal should be to move toward reconciliation and restoration.
4. Lead by example
Countless politicians, famous pastors, and influential ministry leaders have brought disgrace on themselves in recent years. The people in the pews are looking for someone to follow and they should be able to find that in their local church pastor.
Work to facilitate peace among those who disagree. Model how to engage on social media. Treat everyone with compassion. Demonstrate what it means to love your neighbor.
Perhaps more than ever, the church needs solid pastors who love Christ, their congregations and communities more than attention and accolades. Pastor, you have a grand, eternal calling before you in your local church. God has raised you up and placed you there for this moment. Rest and act in that truth.
5. Develop a culture of discipleship
The unfortunate reality of this moment is that it did not occur out of thin air. It has been growing and developing for years, as Christians have become discipled less by Scripture and more by social media.
On any given day, an evangelical Christian in the U.S. is twice as likely to open Facebook as their Bible, according to Lifeway Research. That reality has consequences, but it is not irreversible. Just as it took time for our current situation to develop, it will take time to correct it.
Shepherds must smell like their sheep. Pastors need to be on the ground with their people, listening to them to see if there are any danger signs that need to be addressed or hurts that need to be comforted.
So many faithful pastors are working toward this end, but most also recognize there are opportunities for growth. Lifeway Research found 65% of Protestant pastors say they are satisfied with the state of discipleship in their church, yet 78% said there was room for improvement.
If churches can work to deepen discipleship, our congregations will be stronger, and the symbols of our faith will more likely be associated with the sacrificial kingdom of Christ than angry mobs ransacking the U.S. Capitol.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.