Lecture 4 – The Courageous Captain: A Man with a Banner

Christian leaders face many difficult, daunting, demanding, and, sometimes, dangerous situations – both outside the church and inside the church. That’s why the military model of leadership is used so commonly in Scripture. It also addresses the perennial issue of cowardice in the church.

I. The Power of Fear

Question: Why is fear such a problem for Christian leaders?
The vast majority of people are cowards. We avoid danger. We walk away from conflict. We prefer comfort and ease to sacrifice and pain.
Christians especially may have a tendency towards timidity rather than bravery. Fear comes more naturally than faith. Why is this? There are seven reasons:
1. Spiritual Sensitivity
The Holy Spirit has wrought a new tenderness and sensitivity in the Christian’s heart. The sanctified Christian feels things more deeply. He used to watch war films with cold and steely hardness. Now the loss of precious life pains him to the core of his being and moves him to tears. Suffering and death impact him much more than before.
2. Imbalance
There is often a rather unbalanced teaching emphasis on Christian humility, patience, love, and peacemaking. This tends to produce weak, timid Christian leaders that are characterized by retreat, hesitancy, and indecision.
3. Money
Pastors are dependent on the voluntary givings of their congregations. Unlike CEO’s or civil leaders, they have no financial or judicial levers of power to pull. They cannot sack or jail disobedient or problematic members! When they tried to address problems before, the person or family (and their money) just moved to the church next door.
4. Unpopularity
When we take a public stand on a moral issue, it often results in misrepresentation and a backlash of opposition on the local or even national level, perhaps even in the media. This embarrasses the more nominal members in our churches, and, arguably, hinders evangelism and outreach.
5. Loneliness
We often have to take decisions alone. Even when there is a plurality of elders, or a husband-and-wife team in a family, the buck often stops with the pastor or the husband and father. It is much harder to be brave alone! Even with a plurality of elders, it is usually down to the teaching elder to initiate programs, begin reformation, execute the elders’ decisions, and so on.
6. Persecution
In some contexts, there is a very real possibility of persecution, of suffering loss if we are faithful to the cross of Christ. Sometimes we may be willing to face this, but our wife may not be.
7. Compromise
Every Christian still has a sinful nature that usually prefers easy compromise rather than courageous confrontation.


II. Calls to Courage

Question: What does God do to “en-courage” us?
1. God calls us to courage in the Bible
These tendencies explain why we need the more aggressive and offensive (as in going on the offensive) model of the courageous captain, and why the military metaphor is so common in Scripture. It is used in the Old Testament (Josh. 1:6,9,18) and in the New Testament (1 Cor. 9:26; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 1:7; 2:3-4). And, of course Christ Himself is called the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10).
2. God calls us to courage in real life
Captain implies authority, bravery, and a proven track record. In ministry, these take a while to develop. The office or role does not bestow it on a man automatically. He has to earn his stripes. And he does so not by keeping his powder dry for major battles of his choosing, but by courageously marching into the small battles that God sends his way in the early days of his service. As these battles are faced and won, we will grow in stature and gain the respect of others. Our spiritual authority will also grow as they see us more and more like Christ in character, word, and action.


III. Examples of Courage

Question: Where can I find examples of courage to learn from and imitate?

1. Biblical history

Various Old and New Testament believers are set forth as examples of courageous believing, speaking, and doing: Moses before Pharaoh, Joshua before the Jordan, Rahab before the soldiers, David before Goliath, Nathan before David, Elijah before the prophets of Baal, John the Baptist before Herod, Paul before his accusers, etc. But of course our supreme example of courage is Christ Himself, and he demonstrated that in many arenas:

  • Courage in evangelism: He came to sinners with an authoritative summons, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.”
  • Courage in preaching: He addressed the most powerful religious leaders of the day as a “generation of vipers” and told them that woe was coming upon them unless they repented.
  • Courage in private dealings: He was not just brave when everyone else was watching but also when no one else was there. Witness his truth-full dealings with Nicodemus at night, and with the Samaritan woman at the well.
  • Courage in dealing with his friends and family: Some men find it easy to be frank and fearless with their enemies, but Christ was frank and fearless with those closest to him as well.
  • Courage in reforming the church: He cleansed the temple of greedy businessmen with a scourge of leather and of greedy Pharisees with the scourge of his tongue.
  • Courage in the public square: Christ was not afraid to raise his voice in public and speak up for the poor and against the abuse of power.
  • Courage in fighting the devil: Christ knew at times that the devil was about to step up his attacks, yet he did not flinch, rather he faced it head on.
  • Courage in crises: Christ continually faced the threat of physical pain and ultimately of death itself, yet “steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:51)

2. Church history

We can also learn from numerous examples of courage in Church History. In Spiritual Leadership, Oswald Sanders describes how Martin Luther was among the most fearless men who ever lived.

When he set out on his journey to Worms to face the questions and the controversies his teaching had created, he said, “You can expect from me everything save fear or recantation. I shall not flee, much less recant.” His friends warned of the dangers; some begged him not to go. But Luther would not hear of it. “Not go to Worms!” he said. “I shall go to Worms though there were as many devils as tiles on the roofs.”

When Luther appeared there before the court of Emperor Charles V, he was shown a stack of his writings and called upon to recant. Luther replied, “Unless I can be instructed and convinced with evidence from the Holy Scriptures or with open, clear, and distinct grounds of reasoning, then I cannot and will not recant because it is neither safe nor wise to act against conscience.” Then he likely added: “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me! Amen.”

A few days before his death, Luther recalled that day. “I was afraid of nothing: God can make one so desperately bold.” [footnote]Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Moody, 2007), 61.[/footnote]


IV. Arenas of Courage

Question: Where should I aim to exercise courage? What are the battlefields I should fight on?

1. Courage in evangelism

The pastor and elders should take the lead in evangelism. This is not something that “should be left to the young people.” One of the most encouraging times in my own ministry was when we started an annual door-to-door delivery of an evangelistic newspaper. We had about 30 volunteers and a good number of them were elders, some of them in their 70’s and 80’s. I thought it gave a great example to everyone in the congregation. It said, “We are not too important to engage in evangelism.”
Elders should not just be willing to go door-to-door, hand out tracts in city centers, preach in the open air, etc. They should take the lead in this.[footnote]Mission Aviation Fellowship, 60 Great Founders, 253[/footnote] And let them take on some of the hardest pastoral cases as well. If there are real skeptics in families or people who follow cults, etc, let the elder be unafraid to visit and engage with them. All this will develop a huge amount of loving respect.[footnote]David Wilkerson, 60 Great Founders, 306[/footnote]

2. Courage in preaching and teaching

Courage in the pulpit or in the classroom does not mean bombastic arrogance that lambasts everyone and everything. Neither does “lectern courage” mean saying things there that you would never say to someone’s face. But it does mean avoiding the posture and attitude of apologetic and apprehensive caution. Preach the truth without apology. Expose and denounce sin. Take on challenging passages. Balance the encouragements with warnings, God’s sovereignty with man’s responsibility, and sermons about heaven with sermons on hell.
See Ligon Duncan’s article on preaching hell to this culture and generation.[footnote]Ligon Duncan, reformation21.org, accessed 5.28.15, http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2011/03/speaking-seriously-and-sensiti.php[/footnote]

3. Courage in private dealings

Paul not only taught the truth publicly but also from house to house (Acts 20:20). Some men find it easy to be brave in the pulpit but wilt when they are one-on-one. People will ask you tough questions; answer them. People need to hear some painful truths about their attitudes or actions; tell them. And don’t avoid your critics. You will gain their respect and often even silence them if you visit them and listen to their concerns.

4. Courage in dealing with friends and family

People will be on the lookout to see if you are prejudiced against certain people or show favoritism to others. They will look to see if you are consistent in dealing with your own family, and to see if you are as straight and honest with those closest to you in the congregation. Are you willing to oppose them if they are wrong?

5. Courage in reforming the church

You will have to attend church courts locally, and probably on a wider level as well. You are going to be tempted to avoid these meetings, especially if there are controversial issues and cases to be considered. God’s people will be watching you here too. You are in these courts as their representative and they are looking to you to do your duty according to the Word of God.
Never vote for a friend’s proposal because he is a friend, and never vote against an opponent because he is your opponent. Do not keep silent for the sake of popularity. Don’t put peace above the truth. Don’t ignore issues or procrastinate in dealing with them.

6. Courage in the public square

Although we want to avoid becoming a political commentator, responding to every latest twist and turn in national politics, neither should we be afraid of speaking up on matters of public morals and religion.
From time to time a pastor or Christian leader may have opportunity to interact with the media (I’m thinking especially here of the “old” media – TV, radio, and newspaper journalists). Unfortunately, these opportunities will usually have a negative context: questions about church controversies and scandals, interviews about moral decline and medical ethics, etc. The temptation of most pastors is to ignore such media interest or to run away from it as fast as possible. And that’s understandable. After all, it seems that most journalists are hostile to Christianity: “they’re just out to trip us up,” or “they’ll just twist anything I say.”
However, despite the usually negative context of media interest, despite their general hostility towards us, and despite their frequent misrepresentation of us, I’d like to encourage pastors and elders (and other well-educated Christians) to engage more with the media, as opportunity arises. I’m afraid that if sane Christian voices remain silent, there’s no shortage of “Christian” ego-maniacs to fill the journalistic void.
One of the most useful days I spent in Seminary was a day of “media training” at a studio in Edinburgh, where a BBC TV journalist put a group of us students through the media wringer. After a tutorial from him, we did mock-up TV and radio interviews, followed by a debate, and practice runs at a 3-minute “Thought for the day” slots. Well, it was a bruising day, with some students reduced to tears and others to quivering wrecks. Most of us concluded that the journalist must have been trained by the Gestapo! However, as my own contact with the media increased over the years, I realized more and more that he was the norm, and he was just preparing us for reality.
Many a day I thanked God for the verbal and psychological brutality of that experience. Because for one reason or another I ended up doing a number of newspaper, radio, and TV interviews over the years. As I’d like to see more Christians venturing into this intimidating arena, I’ve listed a few tips I’ve learned along the way, most of them through making painful mistakes myself.

Media Tip 1: Pick your targets

Don’t shoot at every issue but save your bullets for the most important ones. Because so few Christians are willing to speak to the media, those who are willing tend to get contacted quite frequently. Journalists don’t want to have to make ten phone calls when they can make one! The temptation is to speak every time. However, you will rarely have the requisite expertise on every issue, and you may also become known as a “Christian rent-a-quote.”

Media Tip 2: Ask for time

I rarely did an interview right away, but usually asked for at least 30 minutes to get prepared. I often asked for an indication of the kind of questions that were likely to be asked, and then spent some time organizing my thoughts, composing myself, and praying for help to be clear in thought and expression.
That BBC Rottweiller from our media training day told us that we should prepare three points to get across in every interview and try to get them across no matter what questions are asked! Although that’s exactly what politicians do, and I’ve tried to do it sometimes in a limited way, I think we have to be careful that we don’t become “spin-doctors.” But as long as we do answer the question, we can feel free to add some of our own main points too.

Media Tip 3: Keep your target in view

Some journalists will try to draw you into secondary issues that complicate and confuse. Keep the main issue in view and keep returning to it. If you feel that a journalist is simply trying to trip you up, ask him if he’s really interested in providing his hearers or viewers with helpful information or if he’s just in the business of humiliation.

Media Tip 4: Get your facts right

Say nothing that you cannot back up with Scripture or other reliable sources. It can be very tempting to overstate your case, or to just say something that gets you out of a tight corner, especially if you know the interviewer is not able to check what you say there and then. That will almost always backfire, and you’ll lose credibility and future opportunity. If you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it rather than trying to waffle.

Media Tip 5: Be respectful

One of the best ways to lose an argument, especially on TV, is to lose your temper. Some journalists are expert at provoking this. However, on the other hand, if you can maintain a calm and gentle demeanor in the face of hostility or scorn, many listeners and viewers will sympathize with you and give you a better hearing. It’s very easy to get frustrated with journalists. There are some that you may eventually decide are simply too biased to work with. There was one newspaper journalist who I tried to work with, despite the numerous times he misrepresented me. Eventually I started emailing him my answers thinking, “Well, he can’t misquote me with that.” When he still did it, I told him that I could not trust him again. On the other hand, if a journalist gives you fair treatment, follow that up with a note of appreciation.

Media Tip 6: Listen carefully to the question

When you are nervous, you can easily lose concentration. This is especially true if there’s a camera in your face, and a lighting guy and an audio specialist in the background. In these circumstances, it can be very easy to miss or misunderstand the question. Work at shutting out all distractions and really listening to the question. If you miss it ask for it to be repeated. It looks very bad when a journalist says, “Well you didn’t answer my question.”

Media Tip 7: Keep your most important answers short

In fact, keep everything as short as possible. However much we detest the soundbite culture, if you want your words reported you have to work really hard at simplifying and summarizing your thoughts into short sentences. Whatever you say will be edited down and news editors will almost always go with the shorter answers. So whatever is your most important point, keep it short or it will not be broadcast. And the more you speak, the more likely it becomes that secondary material will be broadcast or printed instead of your main point. Most TV interviews I did were about 5-7 minutes long in the filming. But usually only 20-30 seconds were broadcast! Radio interviews usually give more time.

Media Tip 8: Don’t insist on the last word

Some Christians seem to think that unless they get the last word, they’ve lost the argument. However, if you’ve stated your case well, you don’t need to have the last word. In a debate setting, don’t interrupt people or make faces as other people are speaking. And be careful what you say when cameras and mics are around. There’s no such thing as “off-camera” today.

Media Tip 9: Learn from your mistakes

As I said before, most of these tips were learned the hard way. Especially at the beginning, you are going to make some verbal blunders. However, as with everything, you will grow in ability and confidence if you persevere. I sometimes asked journalists for a critique afterward – what went well or what could I do or say better. And we have to trust the Lord to use our feeble efforts. Just as the Lord uses less than perfect preaching, so He is also pleased to use our stumbling interviews.

Media Tip 10: Love the journalist

Although they may be enemies of Christ and His people, journalists are also lost sinners who need to hear the Gospel and be saved. Although it’s unlikely to be reported, do try to get the Gospel into your interview. At least the journalist will hear it. Ask if you can send them a book or a sermon. And show an interest in them as people. They are not used to people asking them questions about their job, or their family. In fact they are used to people ignoring them or treating them quite badly. Why not contact some local journalists and ask to meet them. Take the initiative and indicate your willingness to speak or write on certain issues.
One of the greatest benefits of giving media interviews is that the Lord’s people are usually greatly encouraged when they hear a pastor doing his best to speak God’s Word in the public arena. They will pray for you and appreciate your efforts to stand up for truth in a day when lies and falsehood abound. Courage is contagious.
PS. O yes, and smile more than normal on TV, and talk faster than usual on the radio!

7. Courage in fighting the devil

This is not a public courage; it’s more of an internal and spiritual battle. However, it is at the heart of every other battle and is the ground of our confidence in fighting every other battle. If we lose here, then there is no point in fighting elsewhere. We are holed below the water-line. Get to know your adversary and fight him with spiritual weapons.

8. Courage in crises

You will probably have to suffer some pain or loss or difficulty in your family. Your congregation will want to see how you react to that. Will you crumble or will you practice what you preach?

9. Courage in failure

This of course is one arena that the Lord did not have to fight in. He never failed. But we do and will. We will make mistakes, take wrong turns, say something we regret, make a wrong call. Failure is inevitable. It’s what we do in response that really matters. Will we run and hide? Will we try to cover up and obfuscate? Or will we be open and public about our blunders? Honestly admit them, take responsibility, refuse to make excuses, humbly ask for forgiveness, and learn from your mistakes. That is true courage.


V. Building Courage

Question: How do I develop and grow in courage?
So far I’ve pointed to biblical commands and biblical examples of courage. That sets the bar high but doesn’t really provide help in reaching it.  So, although I feel I have more expertise in cowardice than courage, here are a few things I’ve found useful in times when I have been enabled to put my head above the parapet.
1. Memorize scripture
When I studied at Glasgow University, I did a bit of open-air preaching with some other young guys. Most of us did so with ghost-white faces and jelly-knees. We also published and distributed a Christian newspaper for students. I remember handing it out to 300 students at the door of my moral philosophy class, and then entering the lecture auditorium to find 598 angry eyes staring at me (there was one Christian in the class). I must admit that I used to have sleepless nights before such baby-steps of Christian witness. However, I still remember the spiritual power I enjoyed when I tried to memorize Scripture before venturing forth on these mornings. I used to look for two verses: one to remind me of God’s greatness (e.g. Isa 40:12) , and one to remind me of human smallness (e.g. Isa. 40:6).
2. Ponder the potential
When faced with challenges, I have a tendency to focus on all the possible negative outcomes: he will laugh/shout at me, they will leave the congregation, she will slam the door in my face, they will assault me, etc. I have to battle to think and keep thinking about the possible positive outcomes. I especially want to remind myself of the potential of my pathetic witness being used to save a precious soul to the glory of God. “Come on, David, think of what one verse of Scripture can do with God’s blessing….This tract could transform a family…This young man may become a missionary to the Jews…This young Christian woman could be rescued from a miserable marriage to a worldly man…Jesus might be loved by one more person.”
3. Seek the Encourager
The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter, which can also be translated “the Encourager,” the one who comes alongside us to prompt, motivate, and move us forward. The most Spirit-filled people I’ve known have been marked by a gentle courage. And that’s quite different to a rude, aggressive, and abrasive spirit that has more to do with nature than with grace.
4. Take baby-steps
Military cadets are not thrown straight into front-line battle. They are broken in gradually; trained and pushed further and further until they are battle-ready. Some Christians let the “small” battles pass them by; they’re waiting for the big test; but that never comes. Meanwhile they are softened and weakened more and more by their refusal to fight the “little” fights God brings their way – until they are useless for anything. (Although they are usually fantastic armchair generals). So, don’t view the little fights as beneath you, but as sent by God to train you and gradually build you up for more vicious battles ahead.
5. Serve in the shadow of Calvary
Above all, maintain a daily awareness that, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior.” Let the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ em-power and en-courage you. There is a strange and mysterious energy in grace. It changes “ought-to’s” into “want-to’s,” and conscription into consecration.
6. Trust the Lord with your future
The Lord may ask us to take action that risks our future ministries. We may have to take a stand against powerful people, even Christian leaders, who might not hesitate to use their influence to destroy us and our congregations. Everything is saying, “If you do this, or say that, then your ministry will be terminated, your character will be blackened, you will be put out of the church, your past will be dredged for skeletons, etc.” But we must trust the Lord, not just for our salvation but for our providence. Providential faith is often harder to exercise than saving faith. I once had to do something which I was sure would end my ministry. I’ve never had such a momentous struggle with my conscience. I had to come to the point where I said, “This is my duty. This is the right thing to do. If I lose my character or my ministry, then the will of the Lord be done. If He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.”
7. Hold on to the promises
The Lord has promised that He will honor those who honor Him (1 Sam. 2:30). How many Christian men and women have held on to that promise in the heat of battle. How many have found it to be so abundantly true, no matter how much dishonor may be heaped upon them for a time.
8. Maintain a clear conscience
Always tell the truth; No matter the cost or consequences. Nothing weakens a person like an accusing conscience. I’ve seen good men retreat from spiritual battles because of something in their past: “How can I take this action, speak this truth, if I’ve done this or that myself?” The Devil uses these weaknesses: “Who are you to take a stand when you’re no better yourself…” Why was Paul so courageous? Because he exercised himself to have a conscience void of offence before God and man (Acts 24:16).
9. Decide decisively
It’s good to deliberate, think, pray, consult, etc. but there comes a time when you have to decide, and when you do, you should do it decisively.
Michael Hyatt describes three scenarios in which you should make a decision right now:[footnote]Micahel Hyatt, “The One Essential Habit of Every Effective Leader,” michaelhyatt.com, accessed 5.28.14,  http://michaelhyatt.com/the-one-essential-habit-of-every-effective-leader.html[/footnote]

  1. You don’t need more information. You have everything you need to know to make the right decision. Sure, more information could make itself available if you wait, but if you’re honest, you don’t need it. You have the essentials, and nothing monumental would change that.
  2. More information won’t come. Sometimes, you’re just stalling. In fact, most of the time, this is the case. We’re afraid of consequences, criticism, or failure. So we hesitate. But really, this is just wasting time.
  3. Something will suffer if you wait. More information might present itself, but the cost of waiting is greater than the cost of acting now and paying the consequences later. Your hesitation may be distracting you or keeping you from other work or simply frustrating your colleagues.

10. Remember the final judgment
We may have to suffer loss for a few years here on earth. We may see the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. We may even see good people defend the wicked and oppress the righteous. However, we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account for the deeds done in the body. However many unjust judgments are passed upon us here, we may appeal to the final judgment, lay our case there, and wait for the verdict that will both bring forth our judgment like the noon day sun (Ps. 37:6) and also cut down the wicked, no matter how strong their tree may appear (Ps. 37:35-36).


VI. Conclusion

We must beware of making the courageous leader model our only model. Dane Ortlund highlighted the danger of this when he identified four ways masculinity is expressed by Christian men today; three wrong, one right:

1. Soft exterior, soft interior. Effeminate inside and out, top to bottom. Yuck.

2. Hard exterior, soft interior. Posers. Macho. Insecure, covering it with how much they can bench.

3. Hard exterior, hard interior. Genuinely strong, willing to lay down their life for Jesus and family, but earnest to make sure everyone knows that about them. Not only wants to be strong in actuality but needs to be strong in image. Stiff not only in conviction but in demeanor.

4. Soft exterior, hard interior. Rock solid, responsible, risk-taking, calls heresy heresy, calls error error, willing to take shots for the good of the team, able to stick his neck out in elder meetings when the pastor is being maligned by fellow-elder-golfing-buddies–but all soaked in a gentle demeanor, seasoned with grace, someone the guy struggling with homosexuality would confide in.

The answer to the first two is not the third but the fourth.

Paul said ‘Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men’ (1 Cor 16:13) and he said repeatedly to do all things with gentleness (Gal 5:23; Eph 4:2; 2 Tim 2:25).[footnote]Dane Ortlund, “Gospel Men,” accessed 5.28.14, http://dogmadoxa.blogspot.com/2011/08/gospel-men.html[/footnote]

Se also Mike Pohlman’s article which warns against the danger of seeing pastoral ministry only as warfare.[footnote]Mike Pohlman, “Pastoral Ministry and Wartime Thinking,” http://michaelpohlman.wordpress.com/, accessed 5.28.14, http://michaelpohlman.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/pastoral-ministry-and-wartime-thinking/[/footnote] Be of good courage, and He will strengthen your heart (Ps. 27:14).