A couple of months prior to the opening day of the film American Sniper, I was reading the book version. This autobiography of decorated Navy SEAL Chris Kyle was interesting and gritty. The book was already a bestseller, and popular actor Bradley Cooper’s picture was on the front cover, which added even more anticipation towards the film’s debut.
About halfway through the book, I happened upon a news post which mentioned the untimely death of its author Chris Kyle just two years ago in Texas. What? I was thoroughly confused. I had rightly assumed that this decorated war veteran had survived four tours in Iraq. What I didn’t know was the rest of the story.
Chris and a friend were both shot and killed by a 25-year-old Marine war veteran as they were trying to help him turn his life around.
I was so upset that I could not finish the book. The thought of a Marine veteran killing a Navy veteran who was trying to help him out sounds crazy because it is crazy. America’s most successful sniper in Iraq (and history) was killed at home by another US veteran.
As crazy as that story sounds, how sane is it for a church member to take a verbal shot at their own pastor? Even crazier when the shot comes from another pastor.
Pastors are soldiers in a literal, albeit invisible war. When you consider the collateral damage that results from some of our spiritual feuds, it gives us cause to pause and think before we shoot off our mouths.
I want to suggest a few ways that church leaders can support (instead of shoot) other pastors and church leaders.
Pray for and with each Other
Just a few hours before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, he took time to pray with and for his disciples to live and serve in unity.
May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me … May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me. (John 17:21, 23)
Although those first century Christians would face horrendous persecution, Jesus knew future generations would face an even more subtle enemy—disunity within the family of God.
We can assume that Jesus is still praying for his Bride to be unified (v. 20). Maybe we should join him. Would you take time today to pray for a couple of other pastors and churches in your town? Pray for their success and blessing, and you will personally be blessed, as will our mutual Father.
Celebrate the Success of Another Ministry
What if our Father wants more from his children than merely getting along?
May they be completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me. (v. 23)
Christian love and unity are compelling to our communities and central to our mission, just as disunity is a distraction to our mission. What kind of message would it send to other pastors and churches in your community if you started promoting their events on social media without them asking?
When we celebrate the successes of other churches, I believe we are in a small way living out the answer to Jesus’ prayer for his children to become “completely one.”
I got off the phone with my contemporary at another national ministry. The whole call was spent looking for opportunities for GuideStone and their ministry to serve pastors together, and we spent zero time comparing, competing, or complaining.
Correct Reluctantly and Privately
I am not suggesting that pastors should avoid a noble fight. However, the world and the church deserve better from us than a “sounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” If you believe you must rebuke another pastor or leader, do it “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:16); and with love and in private (Eph. 4:15; Matt. 18:15).
Although there has always been in-fighting within the Christian ranks, there has never been as wide array of weapons to shoot each other with. Social media snipers need to be exposed as the cowardly children that they are, yet not by returning fire with the same worldly weapons. Instead of fighting fire with fire, “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you … Just as you want others to do for you, do the same for them” (Luke 6:28, 31).
Good leaders would rather devote their energies toward fighting against the kingdom of darkness instead of within the kingdom of God. Whether it be with a gun, pen, or tongue—there is no excuse for “friendly-fire” in the family of God.
Help the Wounded Warriors
Many don’t realize that the Marine Corp is a branch of the Navy Department. Although both groups are reluctant to share this fact, they do realize that they are fighting for the same country and the same armed service branch. The sad irony that a Navy veteran was shot by a Marine veteran is a haunting reminder for me of the many dangers of disunity.
Do you know a Christian leader who is under attack? Why not initiate contact with him or her and see how they are doing? Someday you may need them to return the favor when they come under attack.
“Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.” (Rom. 12:21)
Mark Dance was a pastor/planter for 27 years before launching Lifeway Pastors and the Care4Pastors Network. He currently serves as the Director of Pastoral Wellness for Guidestone Financial Resources and is the author of 'Start to Finish.'