When a friend like Tom, with 42 years in the ministry, says that he has come across something new, I stop and listen. As our meeting was breaking up, I asked him how I could pray for his church. He paused and sat back down.
"I've never encountered this before," he said. "Five of our people have come to me recently without knowledge of each other to report that for the last year there seems to be a terrible heaviness in their spirits whenever they enter the church. One described it as a dark cloud descending on her. It was even mentioned once by visitors who didn't return. Could this be an enemy attack?"
As I walked to my car later, Tom's question remained with me. I thought about times when an undefined mood had enveloped me and others around me in ministry. I realized that these moments came at spiritually critical times in the church's life.
I began to recall hearing from other churches in crisis situations: "It's like a blanket of suspicion settled down over us, and we couldn't understand why suddenly no one trusted each other." Or, "There just seems to be an atmosphere of despair. Our church has always been up for anything, but now we're starting to hear, 'Nothing will work.'"
Some common threads appeared. A vague and indefinable mood would begin to affect an individual involved in significant ministry. Sometimes it affected multiple people, who would comment on it independently. Commonly you'd hear, "I have never felt this way before" or "He just doesn't seem like himself!"
Frequently, no cause could be found for what was being felt. But it would halt ministry. Strong Christians found themselves behaving ...