Context Clues for Remembering the War

Article by: Bridgehaven Team

Perhaps we have forgotten that pastoral ministry is war and that you will never live successfully in the pastorate if you live with a peacetime mentality. (Paul David Tripp in Dangerous Calling, p. 98).

Forgetting where you are at can make life awkward, difficult, and frustrating. The importance of understanding the dynamics of the place where you are located is something we often times take for granted. But our setting provides enormous insight as to how we are to understand ourselves, and how to function within a particular context.

In elementary school, language arts classes emphasize the importance of context clues. The concept is simple. Readers use information from the narrative to give us a clearer picture as to the meaning of the story. Over the years, our skill in collecting and analyzing data while reading becomes virtually automatic.

This is incredibly helpful when reading novels and watching movies, while the stakes are relatively low. But driving and ministry strategy require much more awareness in order to be effective. There are too many moving parts. Consider driving a car, while on the interstate at night, using cruise control is a good option because there is minimal traffic and the pathway is generally a straight direction. However, cruise control is not very effective for bumper-to-bumper traffic at rush hour while driving around a city.

The problem arises when we become overly dependent upon the brain’s automaticity, and become ignorant or lazy in evaluating the settings of our lives intentionally. We can become lulled to sleep by familiarity, routine, and tradition. This does not mean repetition is bad or wrong, but calls for increased intentional vigilance during high-risk, complex situations.

Tripp applies this logic regarding ministry. We often forget or neglect that we are involved in spiritual warfare. We become complacent from the familiarity of sin, death, and suffering. The pain loses its sting, and we somehow automate a logical response to brokenness in a way that omits the spiritual, emotional, and social implications. We are disconnected from the reality of the struggle. This becomes a pattern, and eventually a rut. The problem with a one-dimensional interpretation of reality is without the full picture; we develop assumptions and expectations that are inaccurate. This inaccurate portrayal of reality produces the awkwardness, difficulty, and frustration with ministry. We begin to devalue people, rely on our own strength, and doubt God’s relevance, which leads to cynicism and apathy. Without understanding our setting, we miss the purpose, and are ineffective in strategy and tactic.

So how do we remember that we are in a war?

It is vital for ministry leaders to look at the profile of Jesus’ life, and utilize the full scope of the canon. When we honestly look at the patterns and themes throughout the Scripture, there is clear emphasis on endurance through suffering for the people of God. Locating our lives in the larger story of redemptive history is essential for an accurate assessment.

Another element to remembering is delineating boundaries for rest and recreation. It is a pervasive trend in our culture to blend work and play to the point where we enjoy neither. Do not make the same mistake in ministry. Allocate time for refreshment and enjoyment, where you are not engaged in specialized ministry. In war zones, soldiers have designated shifts for standing guard, and scheduled furloughs. To sleep while on watch could be fatal. While the war, does not stop while we rest, we have been given orders by our General to share turns on watch and to take furloughs. This is obedience to Him, and an exercise in faith, remembering that Christ is our fortress.

Finally, developing the army. As leaders in ministry, we must follow the battle tactic and strategy designed by our General. Reconciliation is the strategy, and discipleship is the tactic. When we are immersed in discipleship relationships, giving and receiving, we are immersed in Gospel rich community, where we can flourish. Community reinforces our identity in Christ, and sharpens our purpose in mission. We long for the day reconciliation will be complete, and we persevere in discipleship growing in unity. This provides a fuller, clearer perspective and aids us in remembering the war, while we hope in the day all things are made new.