Ten Enemy Attacks on Leaders

For more than 15 years, I have studied the biblical reality of spiritual warfare. Many of my writings (e.g., Discipled Warriors, Putting on the Armor) address this topic evangelicals have often neglected. I regret that evangelicals have been afraid of this topic, because the Enemy is nevertheless real.

Recently, a church leader asked me what tactics I’ve seen the Enemy most use against leaders. In no particular order, here are the ten most common strategies I’ve seen.

  1. Encouraging leaders to live in self-reliance. Most leaders are in leadership positions because they can lead. I realize that statement sounds obvious, but it’s strikingly important when thinking about spiritual warfare. Because most leaders can lead, they are always susceptible to leading in their own ingenuity and strength. Creativity and strategizing trump prayerful dependence on God . . . and the Enemy relaxes in glee.
  2. Distracting leaders from their devotional life. Regardless of a leader’s position (whether church-based or secular), the Christian leader must lead from his knees. What the leader does when no one is looking – when he or she is alone with God in Bible study and prayer – matters much. At the same time, though, leadership demands focusing energy toward organizational plans and results. Who has time left for God?
  3. Destroying the leader’s family.  Leaders tend to be task-driven more than people-driven. Rewards and recognition come from accomplishments rather than relationships. In fact, relationships are private and intimate, often uncomfortable for people who excel in the public arena. Leaders who lead their organizations while neglecting their families are not inviting spiritual warfare; they are already losing the battle.
  4. Enticing leaders into email relationships. The Internet is a marvelous tool for leaders, but it’s also dangerous. It’s easier to talk about intimate issues across cyberspace, and flirting seems less risky. After all, “we’re not even together,” I’ve heard leaders say. The affairs that often develop, though, are no less damaging.
  5. Drawing leaders into sexual sin. Needless to say, this strategy is at times related to the fourth one above – though not always. Leaders are by nature hard workers, and they at times wear themselves down physically and emotionally. Relationships are home are sometimes strained by workaholic tendencies.  That attentive person at work suddenly looks more attractive, and the Enemy’s trap is set.
  6. Focusing leaders on their kingdom.  After all, leaders deserve attention and recognition, they think. They would not be in their positions were it not for their abilities and intelligence. If the organization they lead is not large enough, or if their name is not recognized quickly enough, it must be time to start looking for the proverbial “greener grass on the other side.” The distracted focus then weakens the leader in his or her current setting.
  7. Isolating leaders in loneliness.  It happens all the time. The leader who looks so relational, so “together,” so popular is actually secluded and isolated. Those who long to walk in his shoes don’t realize his footsteps are lonely ones. By nature, though, leaders often choose not to reveal their weaknesses, and they remain alone. Men and women who fight battles on their own are destined for defeat in spiritual warfare.
  8. Diverting a leader’s attention away from evangelism. It might seem that this strategy relates only to church leaders, but I don’t think so. All believers, regardless of their position, are to be Great Commission Christians. Leaders, in fact, may have as much opportunity as anyone to influence others with gospel truth. The Enemy is not alarmed when leaders focus more on their own goals than on the spiritual needs of others.
  9. Encouraging leaders to live by comparison. Christian leaders have one person to emulate: Jesus Christ. It is the Enemy who directs a leader’s eyes to somebody else’s popularity, opportunities, and recognition. “I don’t understand why he gets all the attention,” the leader thinks, even if he never states that opinion publicly. “I know I could do better if I just had the opportunity.” The Enemy delights when somebody else’s fame becomes another leader’s idol.
  10. Convincing a leader that failure won’t happen to him. It’s not hard to do, actually. Leaders are often leaders because they don’t accept failure and defeat. Others may give in, but not a true leader. Here’s what I’ve learned through the years: no leader expects to fail, and few recognize their own dangerous steps in the wrong direction. They come to their senses only after failure has cost them much.

Leaders, how have you seen the Enemy attack? If you’re a church leader, how might your church family help you to fight these battles effectively? Tell us how we can help leaders win.


  • Lyle King says:

    As a pastor, I would make a distinction with point #2 for other pastors. I believe that it is important for pastors to have a devotional life in the word that is separate from sermon and teaching preparation. When we come to God’s Word only to glean material for our “job”, our spiritual walk can suffer greatly. I have experienced that it is an easy trap to fall in to. I am convinced that God loves us for who we are, and not what we do. Our time in the Word should reflect that as well. I have found that coming to my times with the Lord to hear what He is saying to me(not my congregation) is very life giving.

    • Karla Akins says:

      This is such a very, very good point.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Thanks, Lyle. Here’s an additional word I would give: if the word we speak to our congregation does NOT get filtered through our lives in a devotional way, that word from us can lose some authenticity. I would argue that the devotional/preparation question is not an either/or issue; it’s a both/and issue. Thanks again!

  • Steve S says:

    Thanks Dr. Lawless for this article.

    From my experience, #9 is often encouraged by the church members. Whether that is filling the old roles of a previous pastor or being compared to great gifts to the faith. Some expect that we preach like Chuck Swindoll, be a church historian like Gregory Wills, the apologist like William L. Craig, etc since you get the picture. Even more practically, pastors are often expected to fill the old pastors shoes. The pastor before me was a very gifted PhD student and probably able to do twice as much as I am able.

    But I have to remind myself, it is God who called me. I did not call myself or by my abilities. He saw fit to place me where I am and I ought to rest in that. Furthermore, my work at the church is not to fill the last pastors shoes; I should fill my own. I bring my own gifts and abilities allocated by God; I have to bring and wear my own shoes.

  • Karla Akins says:

    For our family it’s been the affect it’s had on our children. One of our children was so deeply hurt as a pastor’s kid that it was used as an excuse for his addictions. (Our kids are adults now.) And the devil knows very well that to get to me, he hurts my kids. We were attentive parents, but there is something else that goes on in the isolation of a pastor’s family, I think, that makes the kids feel lonely, too. None of this was intentional at all. We were attentive parents, or so we thought. I think leaders need to be very careful about how their children perceive them and the ministry because with kids (well, with everyone) their perception is their reality. Pastors need to do some checking up on those perceptions. I wish I’d have known to when they were small but I didn’t. I did, however, finally develop the attitude toward church folks that my children were not church property and were not to be discussed at board meetings. But that still didn’t matter to my kids who knew nothing of that. Listen to your kids, your wife. Figure out their perceptions so that you can have a positive influence on them. Your perception isn’t theirs. Don’t be so arrogant as to not learn from them, what they’re experiencing and what they’re feeling. They’ll never forget how you and the church made them feel.

  • SLIMJIM says:

    Every pastor in America needs to be reminded of this list

  • Margaret says:

    Our oldest daughter spiraled down into a lifestyle that was far, far from that which she was raised. She was living in her car with her boyfriend, doing drugs and out of control when she tried to take her own life. She ended up in the psychiatric ward for ten days. During that time we found out that she had been raped by a former church member. We never knew. Looking back at the time it occurred, it was during a time of intense spiritual warfare at our church. We had 3 families actively trying to find accusation against my husband with nothing to stand on. All 3 families left the church, but not without injuring our family and our children with their words. Be on high alert for your family, Pastors, especially in times of spiritual warfare. Our daughter is now whole. After eight months of Christian counseling and spending time allowing her to be 14 again, she is now attending Bible college and studying for the ministry. She is truly redeemed.

    • Thom Rainer says:

      Wow. What a testimony of heartbreak and victory. Thank you for blessing us by sharing. I have prayed for all of you.

      • audrey burkett says:


  • Ron Satrape says:

    Excellent points! In my experience sermons should never replace devotions but rather flow out of and reflect them.
    Have you considered doing a diagnostic questionnaire where score might reflect areas of weakness?
    Another area that you didn’t address directly is the impact of co-dependency upon ministry. Pastors and leaders can very often be led by their need for acceptance and significance. As John Maxwell said so well “if you need them, you can’t lead them”. He also said “pastors don’t need to be needed, they need to be succeeded.”
    Co-dependents are drawn to the caring areas in ministry and medicine. They don’t realize they are being directed selfishly by their needs for acceptance and significance until they don’t get it. The ministry can be one of the worst places to find acceptance and value. Both of which are found in Christ.

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