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keeping watch part 3: a series for leaders

Updated: May 30

Editor's Note: This is part 3 of a 4-part series, designed to help anyone in a position of leadership navigate these times faithfully and Biblically. Specifically, ministry staff these days need training, teamwork and support from church elders in order to faithfully equip God's people for works of service. Click to read PART TWO, PART ONE

In the previous article, I talked about some of the issues facing our churches as we move into the future. In this article I would like to offer a few helpful things for leaders to think through as we shepherd people in a post-Christian era.

guard the gospel

New times are demanding that we approach leadership in new ways.  Not long ago, to bring up concerns of doctrine was seen as a bit alarmist or old and crusty.  Leading too heavily with doctrine was understood to be antithetical to relationship and experience, and I for one do not want to be a church that overemphasizes doctrinal purity to the detriment of relationships! 


On the other hand, paying attention to doctrine (the content of what is taught) is commanded in scripture.  Further, the leaders in the church (especially the elders) are expected to evaluate the message of church doctrine to see if it is trustworthy and correct, and if not, refute those who teach it (Titus 1:9). 


In this same passage, Titus is told that holding to sound doctrine “encourages others” in the church. There is a peace and comfort in knowing where your church stands in relation to the world.  When members believe their leaders are doing their best to uphold sound doctrine and present a gospel to people that is biblical, they feel led, encouraged, and taken care of. 


In my opinion, now is not the time for leaders to ignore crucial topics like progressive theology, but should engage them.  Elders and shepherds must do more than meet with spiritually weak people and teach about marriage and family.  Now more than ever, we need our leaders to have a good (not perfect) grasp on what constitutes correct theology.  Let’s remember what Paul told Timothy about sound doctrine:


“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

2 Timothy 4:3-5 (NIV)


To guard the gospel (2 Tim. 1:13-14), we need to have a good handle on sound doctrine, to understand the prevailing conversations within society, and take care to have conversations around social issues that are impactful and biblical.  We should understand how human nature tends to work; how it often causes people to search for messages that align with their desires.  When those desires contradict sound teaching, we must be kind with people, gently correcting their errors in love (2 Tim. 2:25).  However, if repentance is needed, we can’t shy away.  Those who do unfortunately create bigger problems that will not just magically disappear, but simply leave the heavy lifting of confrontation to the ministry staff. 


This is not easy; it’s incredibly challenging for all of us.  However, armed with the Spirit of God and his truth, we can be confident in good biblical leadership.  Paul reminds Timothy that the Spirit residing in him does not produce fear or timidity, but power, love and self-discipline (2 Tim. 1:7) – the kinds of qualities that undergird good and faithful leadership.


Before I leave this section, I want to make a personal appeal for leaders in the churches on all levels.  Progressive theology, combined with all the various passionate social and political topics church members want to engage with, have created a pressure cooker for ministers.  I say this as a minister and leader in the church for a long time.  The challenges of secular ideas and faulty theology are not only eroding the truth of God’s word (the foundation of the entire house), but also the confidence of our leaders.  If the ministers or staff in a church feel responsible to manage all of the complexities involved in body life, it can be overwhelming.


What will help your ministers thrive and endure? 


First, praying for them regularly, lifting them, their family and their work up to the savior in prayer puts this entire calling into God’s safe hands.  Believe me, the power of prayer is tangible, it makes a difference. 


Second, keep an eye on their mental and spiritual health.  We have learned a whole lot these days about the effects of stress, not just on ministers, but on all helping professionals.  Vicarious trauma is something those in the helping profession (counselors, clergy, first responders, those working with victims) deal with regularly.  It is trauma that comes through consistent exposure to the traumatic experiences of others day after day.  Over time, it can really cause adverse mental health issues, and is the top reason for minster fatigue or burnout.  It was not something we understood as much 15-20 years ago, but we now know it can have debilitating effects on people, marriages and family.  My time working on the Ministers Health Committee in our fellowship of churches helped me better understand how much pain so many of our minsters are experiencing.  Help them get the rest they need. 


Finally, work hard to increase the number of reliable men and women that can engage the issues we’ve been discussing.  A team approach is best for the family of God.


put god before people

Christianity is a relational endeavor, illustrated first by the relationships present in the triune God.  His divinity is expressed in relationship to the Son, who appeared in the flesh on our behalf, and the Spirit, who continues to help us walk with God as weak and limited humans.  Relationship in community is woven throughout the biblical narrative.  The very act of living within a church body, devoted together to taking the gospel message to a lost world, is embedded in relationship and unity.  If you think about it, relational harmony has been the goal ever since we stubbornly walked away from God back in the garden.


So, I have no idea how agonizing it must have felt for Paul to see Hymanaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:20) shipwreck their faith and leave the church.  Paul must have felt deep pain when he suggested that “everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me," making a point to name Phygelus and Hermogenes by name (2 Tim. 1:15), and noting that Hymanaeus and Philetus wandered away from the truth (2 Tim. 1:17-18).  There is no way that Paul didn’t feel the sting of them leaving, or struggled mightily in discussions with them before they left.  It hurts to see people struggle.  It really hurts to see them walk away. 


If people, or the church, push members away for no good reason, or based on a bad process, that is a different scenario.  It happens, and that needs to be dealt with biblically and carefully.  Having said that, when biblical principles are being compromised by bad teachings, people cannot be elevated higher than God’s word. 


People wander away from the truth for a lot of reasons.  Many of us know someone who has changed or altered their theology based on personal struggles, the alternative journey of a friend or child, or traumatic events in the world.  In those cases, the relationships need to be preserved and attended to, but not at the cost of the spiritual or doctrinal health of the church.  Biblical friends love deeply, but put the health of the overall church above their own individual interests. 


get help

If you are a leader in the church, this can all seem pretty overwhelming.  There is a lot to pay attention to, and so much of it is changing at a rapid pace!  So how can we do it all?  We can’t.  When we run into limitations, or find ourselves not understanding how to approach a certain topic, I would encourage all of us to ask for help.  Get advice about what kinds of books to read and resources to tap into. 


Many people have expertise in all kinds of issues discussed in this book.  Seek their help, encourage them to visit your church for some training time with leaders or specialized workshops.  We are probably approaching a time where a good chunk of a church budget might need to be allotted to finding people to come in and help equip the Christians in each church for greater works of service.  In everything, be patient, show each other a lot of grace, and trust that God will guide the way.

In the next article, I will discuss what a professional Christian therapist says in relation to how this all affects the mental health of Christians.

Daren Overstreet

Daren Overstreet is a Senior Leader at

Anchor Point Church in Tampa, Florida.  He has been in ministry for nearly 30 years, and holds a Master’s Degree in Missional Theology

You can contact him at


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