By Chris Hefner
A couple of weeks ago, a team from my church in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, traveled to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where we partnered with retired International Mission Board missionaries. These missionaries run a medical clinic and children’s home and oversee pastors and church plants in the country.
According to JoshuaProject.net, Guatemala is a predominately Christian country with more than 95 percent of the population identifying as Christian. While Christians have a strong presence in Guatemala, however, millions of people in the country still lack a clear understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Guatemalan Christians face the threat of prosperity theology. One preacher, in particular, attracts large crowds with his charismatic delivery and claims financial blessings will come to people who give to his ministry.
Syncretistic tendencies also challenge Guatemalan Christians. On our trip, I observed religious institutions combining Catholic rituals with the animistic beliefs of indigenous people.
And Guatemalan Christians are not immune to immorality being practiced within church leadership. Where we were serving, a local ministry member had been found guilty of adultery but remained brazenly unrepentant.
As I taught from 2 Timothy on this trip and listened to the challenges of Guatemalan Christians, I was struck by the universal challenges presented to pastoral leadership and the gospel. Paul addressed many of these challenges in his letters to Timothy. Here are four of them.
Fearing what could happen rather than operating with Spirit-given courage
Timothy struggled with fear. Many who considered themselves Christians had abandoned Paul. Now, Timothy was left to lead and pastor these people.
Fear immobilizes. Preachers of the gospel will be confronted with situations that cause fear. Maybe it has to do with an intimidating church member, the fear of the unknown, or not knowing how the bills will be paid. Perhaps it even involves persecution. Take courage—we’ve been given “a spirit not of fear but of power, love, and sound judgement” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Flirting with damaging vices
Laziness, immorality, lack of integrity, sinful passions, and other such vices have destroyed pastors and damaged ministries. Paul encouraged Timothy to pursue diligence, faithfulness, integrity, righteousness, and hard work.
To avoid destructive vices, intensely pursue the content and call of the gospel of Jesus Christ to “present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
Focusing on fruitless controversies rather than on the Word of God
Quarreling about unimportant details is a distraction from the gospel. Don’t misunderstand Paul in this letter. He was not forbidding Timothy to confront theological error or distortions of the gospel. Rather, he was reminding Timothy that quarrels and controversies are often about minor issues that keep the pastor and the church from focusing on the gospel.
Controversies, vices, and fear can lead to immoral and unethical church leadership. That is why Paul advocated for Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the authority and practicality of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Failing to preach the truth because of the prevalence of error
Listen to the voices that permeate culture—the news, talk radio, life coaches, politicians, and others—and you’ll hear a common refrain. Communicators with a platform often tell their audience what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear (see 2 Timothy 4:3-4).
The message of the gospel is good and ultimately positive news. However, biblical preaching regarding God’s holiness, human sinfulness, and our need for Jesus will never be popular. Whether it makes us popular or not, we’ve been charged to preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2).
Paul did not exhaustively address the challenges pastors will face. But as I’ve witnessed in my ministry and the ministries of pastors across the world, most of the challenges we face are not new.
We may experience a new label on an old temptation. To overcome these challenges, we must receive, learn, preach, and remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
CHRIS HEFNER (@chrishefner) is husband to a beautiful wife and fantastic mommy, Jean Hefner, daddy of two little boys, William and Nathan, and senior pastor at Wilkesboro Baptist Church in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. He’s also professor of Western Civilization and Apologetics at Fruitland Baptist Bible College and Ph.D. graduate from the Billy Graham School of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.