SNARES IN MINISTRY
There are five little-spoken-of snares for anyone called of God:
- The obsession with numbers – “numbering the people. (1 Samuel 24:10) The kingdom work is “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.” If you only have 5, preach like it was 5,000. Stop head counting, it is a trap. “And the Lord added to the churches daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47) There will be many saints with great rewards whose churches never reached the mega dream, but they labored without ceasing in obedience no matter what the numbers.
- Corporate ambition. We rarely admit it, but we lust and envy after those with the big thing, the media attention, the best-selling book, the 24/7 church bookings. We must crucify what our flesh longs to sanctify and justify. Be content with where God has placed you and what He has given you to do. Be faithful in the little, and deal cruelly with the breaking of the commandment to not covet your neighbor’s things. (Exodus 20:17)
- The quest for financial success.
I am not against money or prosperity, But the quest for it in ministry a dangerous thing. Paul said he had learned how to be abased and abound, but in all things to be content. You will face times of material blessing and times of difficulty. It can never be the point of the work or the center of the message, and it is so easy to justify our cravings for the material by using certain scriptures. Tread lightly, friend. Paul declared the whole counsel of God. Read the last part of Hebrews 11, not just the first part of it. “He chooses our inheritance for us.”
- Power over people. Friend, you handle the Word of God, and that is a sobering thing. Anyone who gets up in front of anyone – especially these days – with even a little bit of persuasive ability or charisma, has the ability to convince and sway people with their words. When you are in ministry, you may have both the persuasive charisma AND the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This should make you tremble in fear. For we will be accountable for every word that comes out of our mouths, and most believers are trusting, innocent and for the most part unskilled in the Word. (That is why discipleship is so crucial.) Those in youth ministry need to be especially careful because there is an added vulnerability in our young sheep that requires you to understand that EVERY.SINGLE.WORD. is heard, and mostly respected, and in many cases, remembered for life – especially the words we speak in a personal or “out of the raised platform” setting – just in every day fellowship and conversation. Remember that life and death are in the power of the tongue.
It is possible to get a taste of power when you see people responding to your word, and/or His Word. I have known people who became spiritual dictators and monsters because they forgot where they stopped and God began, and began to think anything they said or did was okay. They wrecked many lives, because the lust for spiritual power is even more dangerous than the lust for political or social power, because we can so easily spiritually justify it. Don’t do it. Tell yourself every day and many times a day, “I am a foot washer, I am a servant. I am not here to be served.” Always remember, as Paul said, that “we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7) Better you never enter a platform again than to think it is your talents, your abilities or your power with words that got you there.
- The power of prestige.
Few will talk about it, but in modern evangelical ministry, it’s not about what you know, but WHO you know. As a young minister years ago, it was like that as well. I watched in Christian church, media and music circles as people climbed over people to get in the “inner circle” of those who could promote them or their ministries, and often give them bragging rights to name-drop at other Christian gatherings. I saw it as I began to “rise to the top of the Christian dog heap,” realized it was no different from the Hollywood world I knew about from growing up in Southern California, and asked God to drop me down to the bottom of the ladder if necessary rather than get my walk ruined by lusting after “being with the big boys and girls.” It is the height of spiritual idolatry. Crucify it.
Gene Edwards said, “Many pray for the power of God. More every year. Those prayers sound powerful, sincere, godly, and without ulterior motive. Hidden under such prayer and fervor, however, are ambition, a craving for fame, the desire to be considered a spiritual giant. The person who prays such a prayer may not even know it, but dark motives and desires are in his heart…in your heart.”
I have given in to each of the above traps at one time or another in my time in ministry, and God mercifully, and is still mercifully delivering me from each one. It takes guts to examine your heart and ask Him to show you what’s really there. You may not like it. You may turn out much better than I did in terms of not having these snares. And you may also not even be willing to recognize them in yourself. I pray that is not the case. God needs men and women of faith that will rise above base motives and the “spiritual” snares and become true humble servants of Jesus that have no hidden motive in their calling and desire to fulfill His will.
God bless you all and keep you under the shadow of His wing,
A number of years ago, I was engaged in a sustained and difficult battle across this nation to deal with what was, at the time, a near epidemic outbreak of occult crimes and crimes against children. We spent nearly twenty years tracking down criminal occult and pedophile groups, advocating for abused children, and extracting young people out of the occult, witchcraft and Satanism. In that time, I saw things that no human should have to see. While doing that, we were also educating churches on the dangers of the occult. At that time, occult themes and symbols were permeating the media, especially movies and cartoons. There was a deliberate effort to desensitize an entire generation to the occult. It succeeded very well indeed.
Still, we did what we were called to. If the Bible was so clear about staying away from witchcraft, sorcery, divination, reincarnation, necromancy, etc., then it was incumbent upon us to show believers how these things were infiltrating nearly everything their kids were seeing on Saturday morning and at the movies. Our success was limited. Still, it was important to let them know how the devil was sneaking into our houses in “innocent” disguises. When Pokèmon first came into the culture back in January 9, 1999 produced by Wizards of the West Coast, we had a whole other fight. (Side note – Wizards of the West Coast also produced Dungeons and Dragons, and later, Magic: The Gathering. Dungeons and Dragons was a game that at the time not only embroiled a generation in occult themes, but was tied to the suicides of several young people. Playing it led to the murder of two young people I was involved with trying to locate as missing kids. They were part of a D&D group that was actually a satanic coven using D&D to lure these two teens into their world which led to their deaths.)
Pokèmon, at first, was a seemingly harmless game that actually contained a number of occult images and themes, particularly sorcery, reincarnation, levitation, psychic powers, etc. It quickly became an obsession for children and teens. We did what we could to educate believers on this. It certainly wasn’t the Ouija board, but it contained enough occultism to be a slow poison and make kids immune to more dangerous forms of the occult later.
That quickly escalated with the next game, Yu Gi Oh, which was much more sophisticated in its occult content. So we tried to fight that battle, too. And frankly, by then, I was getting quite frustrated with Christians who played around with these things and parents who saw no harm in it, because both as a survivor of the occult world and someone who gave the best years of my life to trying to stop the scourge of real occult crime and harm to children, it was unbelievable to me that Christians treated all of it so lightly.
Soon, most of the video games were filled with occult symbols, from pentagrams and pentacles to Egyptian black magick, to Crowleyan and Church of Satan imagery and themes.
But the real devastator was Harry Potter. It succeeded in blowing a spiritual hole into an entire generation in a way that I never could have imagined. All the books – all the themes – all the concepts, morality and lessons – were straight out of a pagan worldview, and worse, much of the actual spellwork and “props” in the books were based on real-world, little-known, and very workable ritual magick. How JK Rowling knew this is anyone’s guess. But since she got the Potter idea when “Harry” kind of “appeared” to her, (“Harry just sort of strolled into my head, on a train journey. He arrived very fully formed. It was as though I was meeting him for the first time.” – From Scholastic.com interview) I don’t think it’s a stretch to say she had “help” and that help was not from God.
The consequences were that it transformed an entire generation of youth and parents into occult-conditioned vessels of a worldview and philosophy and lifestyle that is Luciferian at its very core. Man is his own god. The powers of nature are there to use. And God? Nowhere to be seen. An entire generation had been hijacked, and they didn’t even know it. It’s not that everyone went out and became wizards. They simply discarded the “archaic” faith in Jesus Christ and the Word of God. Potter was the foundational document of the new post-Christian era.
We lost that battle badly. I knew that when the majority of people defending Potter were church-going parents and “believers”, that this wasn’t the same spiritual environment I was saved into and put my all into for the sake of Jesus. This was Christianity lite. This “new church” paradigm was almost all structure with little scriptural substance left.
It wasn’t until I became youth pastor several years ago and realized that almost all of the youth were reading romance books like Twilight that were about love relationships between human teens and vampires and werewolves that I realized what the devil’s real agenda was. He wasn’t trying to turn a bunch of church kids (or Christian kids) into vampires, devil worshippers or wizards. He simply wanted to render an entire generation of church youth utterly powerless and useless to fight real spiritual warfare.
You see, there is a real war. The scriptures are very clear on this. We are in the midst of the most serious spiritual battle the church has ever known, according to Matthew 24 and significant portions of the New Testament. And you cannot fight a spiritual war unless you are trained by prayer, the Word of God and true discernment to do so.
And what I saw was an entire generation being set up to be powerless, useless and a laughingstock to the enemy in this war. If he could get them all locked down in occult books, games and activities, then they would be like helpless little lambs in the face of the giant wolf that now confronts the church of Jesus Christ. Because you CANNOT fight the devil with his toys in your back pocket. He will simply laugh at you, as he did the 7 sons of Sceva, and say, “Paul I know, and Jesus I know, but who are you?”
All of this was followed by a “new way of doing youth ministry,” which has largely consisted of lots of games, lots of fun activities and a little soft devotional or “Jesus snack” at the end. I could write volumes about how that has damaged our future potential to fight in this war, but I will save that for another time. Just know that it all has progressed, built and developed into the perfect storm which youth (and most of their parents) are unprepared to stand against.
Thank God, there are exceptions. There are small youth groups and unknown youth pastors all over this land that are not playing the Reindeer games and have decided, cost what it may, to give their kids the straight up Word of God. Games are fine. It gets rid of some of the distracting energy so kids are ready to listen. But it cannot be the center. Our DNA should be Word, Worship and Prayer. An altar call should be central. This is how lives are changed by Jesus. It is Biblical. and this is how by God’s grace we will be able to raise up true spiritual warriors for Jesus in this hour.
However, the majority of youth groups now are following the easy road, the fun road, the comfortable path. And the storm is upon us.
Who would have dreamed that I would be forced to RE-FIGHT the Pokèmon battle in this hour? With the advent of the interactive “enhanced reality” game Pokè Go, it’s come back full-force, but in a different form with a different purpose. I won’t attempt to tackle all the occult issues. I had already done that, and frankly, trying to get people who are already occult-seduced to see the danger there is not going to be productive. Frankly, if you are of those who understand what the Bible says about the occult and that God forbids it all and you are still allowing it in your “gaming world” or entertainment life, then you won’t be likely to receive any of this.
But this time, I have some other concerns. I will try to briefly give them here:
- Pokè Go, while perhaps a temporary craze, is already setting up dangerous scenarios in which those that want to rob or hurt someone can easily find a “Pokè Go” character or “training center” and lie in wait for someone to victimize.
- Pokè Go is the PERFECT game for pedophiles all across the world. Finding a game kids like and hanging out where kids hang out have always been two of the basic tools predators use to find and access kids. Even some of my youth reported some very questionable men in their 50’s and 60’s playing Pokè Go in the local park and engaging kids in conversation. Do I have to draw you a picture? Parents, if you insist all this is harmless, then for heaven’s sake, don’t let your kids go play this by themselves! Even in a group of kids, this could potentially be a dangerous game. But alone, never!
- My biggest frustration is that churches are now setting up Pokè Go stations and actively inviting players to come to their church sites, starting with Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church. It is supposedly an “evangelism” tool. I know what I am going to say will be called extreme, but just as Halloween became “Trunk or Treat” – and it was a flat out compromise with a night that was wholly formed in and dedicated to darkness – now it is seemingly ok to sanction hosting an occult game and character or characters in your church parking lot so you can “reach the unchurched.”
Pastor – youth pastor – please think about this. At what point did any of the apostles use the implements of the pagan gods to evangelize? And please don’t tell me Paul used the memorial “to the unknown god” to do so. That was on the devil’s territory and he was simply pointing out their error, not inviting them to bring their pagan gods into the house of God!
Do you believe God meant what He said in Deuteronomy 18:9-12? “When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.”
Is there anything in that which is unclear?
To put it bluntly, you are enabling a lost generation to pursue an occult game in the hopes of inviting them to church. Isn’t it a bit like ancient Israel offering a Baal-fire waystation so Baal worshippers can get a little “fire to go” in hopes of telling them about the God of Israel?
Extreme? Maybe. But friends, if it’s doubtful, it’s dirty. We would not even be having these discussions in the early church. The early church burned all their occult tools, they didn’t let people set up shop in church parking lots just so they could lure the lost. It’s incredulous, and it’s wrong. And pastor – youth pastor – if you don’t have the guts to set the standard, how do you expect your people to not pursue the ways and tools of the occult and paganism?
The Real Concern
My last and gravest concern has nothing to do with the occult. It has to do with the dismal state of youth ministry and youth in terms of preparing them for the times that are upon us. Think about it – Isis is beheading children and believers around the world, terrorism is striking inside our borders, drugs are being legalized, Satanists are hijacking prayer invocations in public places, sexual immorality is now without boundaries, STD’s are at an all-time high, and God is being mocked in every segment of our media from movies to television, music to video games.
And what are we feeding our youth? Pablum. Baby food. And now, Pokè Go.
Folks, I have been in youth ministry my whole life, and I pray to die in the saddle of this most noble calling. There has never been an hour where we have needed to raise up solid, Word-grounded and Holy Spirit filled youth more. But this is an hour in which every young person I know – and probably that YOU know – is fighting hard to even get 5 or 10 minutes a day to spend with Jesus in His Word and in prayer. You know I am right! And establishing a strong Word and prayer and fellowship life are the most important things we can instill in youth to ensure not just their spiritual survival, but their victorious walk and calling in Jesus.
We are in a time when the struggle to do so has never been stronger, and whatever time that might possibly have been available for those absolutely critical war-training activities, has simply been taken away by an obsessive pursuit of fake monsters and a world of illusion. And if you don’t understand how the enemy delights in that little coup, then you don’t know what we are fighting at all.
What is the answer? We need to get on our knees and cry out for a generation that will surely be lost unless God raises up youth warriors to take that kingdom of darkness by force and bring out the lost into eternal life. We need to stop playing Church Lite and acting as if all our kids need is entertainment, fun and a little nice Jesus lesson (which they will forget as soon as they hit their next Pokè stop). We need to set the standard, say no to allowing your church or youth group to be a “Pokè Stop (you can request that your church be removed if someone has “tagged” you). We need to stop being an entertainment center. Worldly entertainment will always be more “exciting” to the flesh than Kingdom things because it appeals to our flesh. But we aren’t called to entertain or excite: we are called to do proclaim the mighty Name and message of Jesus, and if you do that God’s way, believe me, there will be plenty of real excitement that grows souls and changes lives forever.
We need to stop treating youth like “they can’t handle the heavy stuff.” They will have to, whether you want them to or not. Already they are facing things in their schools and with their friends that are overwhelmingly evil and spiritually devastating. It’s time to stop babysitting them and start boot camping them to face this wicked age, and prevail in Jesus.
What you do with all of this is between you and God. Many will discard this as extreme. My prayer is that some of you will wake up, grab hold of the truth, truly turn your churches and youth groups into War Rooms and get this generation ready for the battle of the ages.
More is dependent on your godly and immediate response than you will know this side of eternity.
Gregory R Reid