Today is Halloween.
Five years ago on Halloween … 1826 days ago … my wife and I were attacked by the devil.
I’ve never experienced such powerful spiritual warfare in all my life.
Not every Christian … or Christian leader … believes that Satan is alive and doing his best to negate the advance of God’s kingdom.
But put me down as a true believer.
Jesus believed in Satan. He told Peter, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31).
Peter believed in Satan, calling him “your enemy” and comparing him to “a roaring lion.” His aim is to look for “someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
John believed in Satan. He states that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” and that “the Son of God appeared … to destroy the devil’s work” (I John 5:19; 3:8).
Paul believed in Satan. He told the Corinthians that Satan might try to “outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11) and that “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).
Jesus … Peter … John … Paul. When it comes to spiritual authority, it doesn’t get any better than that.
Not only did the Son of God and three of his apostles believe in Satan … each one had met the enemy themselves.
Some days fade with time. But October 31, 2009 will always remain in my consciousness because of what happened spiritually that day.
That Saturday morning, I consulted with two church experts … met with the church board briefly … met with my wife … watched in horror as she was spiritually attacked … called a friend to assist me in praying for my wife … called the paramedics for assistance … called family members for encouragement and prayer … tried to arrange for a special speaker the next day … met with my daughter … then plunged into an emotional abyss.
All on Halloween … the night of our biggest outreach event of the year … normally led by my wife … who was prevented from attending.
A wise Christian leader told me that he receives more calls concerning church conflict in September and October than any other time of the year.
Is this because churches are making financial plans for the next year … or because Satan’s henchmen are turned loose around Halloween?
Let me share with you three ways that Satan attacked my wife and me during our 50-day conflict:
First, Satan sent fear like we had never experienced it before.
We jumped when the phone rang … when we received an email … when there was a knock at the door … and when we opened the mail.
We even felt afraid inside our own house.
The fear was irrational. We tried praying it away … commanding it away … running away from it by leaving the house … but the fear remained.
Why were we afraid?
Because some people we thought were our friends had turned against us, and we didn’t know who was in what camp.
In most cases, we still don’t.
I know mentally that Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, and that he has only a “short time.” But all my theology was put to the test during that time span.
The fear was so great that both my wife and I just wanted to vanish. In a very real way, we had been “negated.”
And I suppose the worst part of all is that we became afraid to have any contact with the people who attacked us … people who had once been our friends.
Fear creates distance … makes you want to flee … harms your psyche … and stabs your heart.
God is not the author of confusion or fear, but those are both Satan’s specialties.
The fear was real but not of God.
Second, Satan incessantly and falsely accused us of offenses we had not committed.
Pastoring has its challenges, but I think being lied about is the worst thing I’ve experienced in ministry.
All my life, I’ve been careful with money … with women … with the truth … and with power. While I’ve been tempted to do wrong … just as Jesus was … I’m thankful that I’ve resisted the wrongdoing that leads to scandal.
Then suddenly, some people started making allegations about me. Each one hurt. And each one was false.
But I didn’t know who was making them … I didn’t have any forum for answering them … and the longer I waited to respond, the more people believed them.
And when the lies reach critical mass, you’re toast, even if you’re innocent of every single charge.
This is a huge flaw inside Christian churches. When a pastor is accused of various offenses, he has no fair and just process … or forum … to dispel the charges.
And Satan knows this all too well.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus labeled the devil “a liar and the father of lies.” Jesus said that “when he lies, he speaks his native language” (John 8:44).
Whenever a pastor who is under attack contacts me, I ask him to tell me about the lies. They’re always present.
After my wife and I left the church, a torrent of accusations circulated about us, and many people believed them because we weren’t around to defend ourselves.
I’m sure we only heard a few of the charges, but the ones I heard were deeply troubling, and completely malicious.
And nobody had the courage to ask us about those accusations to our faces.
The only way Satan can get rid of a godly, competent, effective pastor is to lie about him. When the lies are repeated over and over again, people believe them.
And the evil one is behind it all.
Third, Satan sent the conflict in an attempt to destroy our church.
When Jesus speaks to the seven churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2,3, He mentions Satan by name when speaking to four of the churches. Satan was working in those fellowships even when believers weren’t aware of his presence.
If you had asked me several weeks before our conflict surfaced if Satan was circulating throughout our congregation, I would have said, “Probably not.”
But I was wrong.
Our church was located in one of the most unchurched parts of the United States. Our church was the largest Protestant church by far in a city of 75,000 people … and the most we averaged in a single year was 466.
Slowly but surely, the other churches in town had been attacked, and one by one, they either imploded or folded.
In 2009, I suppose it was our turn to be attacked.
But Satan didn’t choose to attack us through city government, or the planning department, or the neighborhood.
No, he chose to attack us from within.
I may be wrong, but I don’t believe that anyone inside the church wanted to ruin my ministry career. They just wanted me to leave and never return.
But Satan did want to end my career, and because of my age, that’s precisely what happened.
I’ve written this several times before, but I need to say it again:
When professing Christians attack their pastor, they are attacking their church at the same time.
Aim to destroy (not lovingly confront) the pastor, and you will destroy your church.
Good people will leave. Donations will shrink. Outreach will stop. Morale will plunge. New believers will get hurt.
It will take years to rebuild your church. Is that what you really want?
A pastor friend who reads this blog told me that he was ousted for no good reason from a church he had served for many years.
Five years later, the church folded.
Who won … Satan or God?
There are two practical keys to defeating Satan’s influence in your church:
First, always tell the truth about spiritual leaders, including your pastor.
Never overreact. Never exaggerate what you’ve heard. Never believe information that can’t be verified.
Stay calm. Be accurate. Remain skeptical.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”
During a major conflict, truth becomes a casualty. Only the naïve believe the first thing they hear.
Second, never aim to destroy your pastor or your church.
Don’t hold secret meetings. Don’t join a mob. Don’t harm the pastor’s reputation. Don’t “run him out of the church.”
Watch that righteous anger. Hang around godly people. Listen to all sides of the issues.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 are still in The Book: “Don’t you know that you yourselves [the church] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple [the church], God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple.”
Destroy God’s church, and God will destroy you. I didn’t say it … I’m just pointing it out.
My wife and I have not been defeated. We are still serving God, though not in church ministry.
Because I did not want Satan’s lies to get the last word, I wrote a book about our last church experience called Church Coup.
I stand behind every word that I wrote. No one has contacted me to challenge anything in the book.
And God has called me to expose Satan’s strategy which can be summarized in 11 words:
Satan seeks to destroy churches by using deception to destroy pastors.
Please … do not let him win in your church.