I’ve written quite a bit about leadership lately, and I don’t want to give the wrong impression.
Our problem, as I’ve spelled out in some recent posts, is that we’ve come to accept flesh-and-blood leaders as “the guiding heads” (the dictionary definition of “leader”) of projects and organizations within the Body, while in God’s design this place rightfully belongs to Christ alone.
Please don’t read into my statement that I advocate anarchy, indecision, formlessness, or consensus-based governance in the Body. That is definitely not the case. Rather, I fully embrace the notion of God’s people following bold, decisive, visionary men and women who are appointed by Him, for a specific reason and season, to inspire and supervise our efforts. It’s just that these people need to be fully submitted to God, and their authority must be spiritual and not positional.
God often uses authoritarian individuals to serve as His instruments for planning, organizing, influencing and coordinating the activities of groups in the Body. The Bible is full of examples of people who played this role in a God-pleasing way, like Moses and Joshua, the Old Testament judges, and the New Testament apostles.
God worked through them accomplish His divine projects. When they did it right, they knew He was the Head, they did just what He said, and they succeeded. When they went beyond His leading, did things their own way, and/or sought to hold onto power beyond God’s intended term, all sorts of bad things happened.
Just like I’ve wrestled with use of the word “church,” I have trouble using the word “leader” anymore, and I am struggling to come up with the right label for this role. Paul spoke of “apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.” Properly understood these titles say it all. But I’m afraid that, in the state of The Body today – where we’ve virtually all subscribed to worldly ideas of leadership and decision-making – the generally-accepted meanings behind these titles has changed too much from God’s original intent.
The best I can come up with is “point man,” “chief steward,” or “God’s agent.” These seem to fit. Moses was most definitely NOT a “leader” by today’s definition. Instead, he was God’s designated “point man” among the Israelites. He was the “chief steward” of God’s vision for His people. And, he was “God’s agent” in the project to move the Chosen People from Egypt to the Promised Land.
Proper guidance of Kingdom projects is invariably through a God-called “point man.” It is to this person that God gives His vision, standards, instructions, and authority for any given project. It is obvious in the Bible that God often favors strong, resolute people in this role. To managing volunteers (as we all are, ultimately) in a faith-based initiative can be like herding cats. A firm hand is often needed, and I can’t find any example in the Bible of successful guidance of a Kingdom project being nebulous, weak, or consensus based.
We miss the mark on this big-time in churchianity today, in two different ways. Either we invest all power in a strong leader, whose authority is mainly positional and permanent, or we undermine the potential for a strong “point man” to emerge by embracing the worldly idea of “democracy.” I don’t know which one of these is worse.
Democracy is a great form of civil government but a terribly non-biblical way of running a “church” or ministry. Try as I might, I cannot find one good example of it in the Bible. The five prominent examples I can find of “democratic” decision making – to throw Joseph in the pit, to make the golden calf idol, not to enter the Promised Land the first time, to crucify Jesus and to stone Stephen – don’t paint a very good picture of this leadership model. When the original apostles wanted to replace Judas, they specifically did not want to vote on it, so they cast lots. They knew the dangers of politics and preferred seemingly random chance over the “democratic process” in ministry leadership.
When a project or organization within the Body is led by a committee – “church” council, board of directors, board of elders, whatever you call it – it is not following any Biblical example I can find.
Christian “point men” are supposed to answer to God and not man. My experience with “democratic” organizations is that, despite the words they use, the opposite is generally true. Boards and committees vote – and politics is almost always involved, whether they admit it or not – and the “leaders” follow their orders. This gives a false sense of comfort to each one: the committee can blame the “leaders” if things go wrong and take credit when they go right, and vice-versa.
Name the great men of the Bible. I’ll throw out a few: Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Jesus, Paul. Not one of these men answered to a committee or board of directors. They received guidance directly from God and stewarded their projects accordingly. And – imagine this – their followers followed them, respectful of the fact their “point man” was appointed by God. Yes, these men sought wise counsel. Yes, they held themselves accountable. But the buck stopped with them.
“What about elders in the early Church?” you may ask. Fact is, they were appointed by the presiding apostle and could be removed by him, and nobody could vote to override his decisions! They were not in a position of governance in the way modern “church” councils are, and had zero authority to tell their shepherd what to do.
In The Way, apostles are accepted as God’s “point men.” They serve that role faithfully, under God’s authority, and democracy is never a part of the mix. At least this how they did it in Acts, and look what they accomplished!
Yes, in an organization where the headship of Christ is not understood, in a culture where the rhema of God is not accepted or discerned, where The Way has been lost, I guess democracy is better than the alternative, because a fully-empowered leader in a faith-based organization who is not under the step-by-step direction of the Holy Spirit is a very dangerous thing.
But why settle for less than what God desires? He does not desire leaders (as we define them) OR democracy in “church” organizations! Instead, God wants to call the shots Himself, through the men and women He calls to serve as “chief stewards.”
In a properly-functioning, discerning, submitted Body, under God’s model of governance “voting” has no place.
As long as we demand to have a vote, or submit to committee rule, or accept a “leader” over us, we will never be able achieve the full potential God has in store for His sons and daughters.
Our Father’s long-established model is to work through “point men”— faithful, seasoned, discerning and strong – to steward our efforts along The Way.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Folks who know me know I’m a solutions-oriented guy. I don’t think much of bomb-throwers who do nothing but point out flaws and problems but never offer solutions. I agree with Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic who counts.
Yes, there’s absolutely a time and place to dig into what we’re doing wrong, but the point isn’t to find fault, lay blame or simply complain. Rather, the point is to uncover exactly where and how we’re missing the mark so we can take the appropriate corrective action. Constructive criticism offers a better way forward. Everything else, as I see it, is pointless and destructive.
Some who have kept up with my recent string of posts regarding my issues with modern churchianity have accused me of pointing out problems without offering solutions.
I would beg to differ. I believe I have presented the fundamental solution all along, but I can see why some folks have missed it. The misunderstanding lies in the fact they aren’t looking deep enough at the problems. Because underneath it all, there is just one fundamental problem plaguing the modern system we call “church” – and there is only one real solution. It’s really quite simple.
Yes, there’s a problem with what we call Sunday “church services.” But the solution isn’t to re-jigger the format or theme of our Sunday morning gatherings.
Yes, there is a problem with who we designate as “leaders,” and the organizational structures we build beneath them. But the solution isn’t a new way of choosing and elevating leadership, or re-mapping the organizational chart.
Yes, there are problems with how we raise and spend money and build useless buildings to house our Christian clubs. But the solution isn’t a new budgeting strategy or building design.
There are problems with what we consider “evangelism” and how we go about it, what we call the “gospel” and how we preach it, the traditions we follow, the teachings we embrace (and reject), and a whole host of other aspects of what we call “church” today. But to address these on the surface, and offer a “new way” of doing them, is nothing more than treating the symptoms without addressing the disease. It is all just re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.
If that’s what you’ve been looking for from me, I can certainly see how you’ve been disappointed, and how you may think I’m just lobbing bombs. I hope you’ll let me take you a little deeper.
Unless we’re just completely blind or clueless, we all see problems with churchianity. Many of us disregard these by saying, “well, you’ll never find a perfect church,” and so they settle for far less than the best, just seeking to make the most of it. These are the folks that get offended by the slightest fault-finding with the status quo, and discount any criticism that doesn’t come with a superficial “quick fix.”
Others of us just don’t buy that cop-out; we believe perfect Church definitely is possible, here and now. The Bible says Christ is waiting for His spotless Bride to arise, and that someday she will make herself ready. He modeled for us a perfect expression of Church, and that is exactly what He is calling us back to. Our Father has not called us to fail in this endeavor. Yes, a perfect expression of Church is definitely possible, it is God’s will, and I, for one, will not rest until I find it.
Our human nature demands a “plan.” We want quick fixes. We want to have a firm handle on the present and the future. We want a roadmap we can wrap our minds around that spells out exactly how we are supposed to get from Point A to Point B. We would never think of starting a building project without a blueprint. Those who expect me or other critics to offer such a roadmap or blueprint for “fixing” things need to understand that this is exactly the element of human nature that has caused all these problems to begin with!
Here’s the fundamental problem with churchianity: We have taken control of things. In doing so, we have built our “churches” on own understanding, conformed to the patterns of this world – which is the precise Biblical recipe for remaining outside of God’s will. We have – with the best of intentions – done our best to build “churches” for God. This is the opposite of God’s desire, and it is the underlying disease – the malignant cancer – that is causing all the symptoms I’ve written about.
There is only one cure, one fix, one path to a perfect Church, and it’s is really quite simple. It is to remove this mindset from the Body, and return to the day-by-day, step-by-step leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Theological defenders of man-made churchianity for generations have misinterpreted one of the most important portions of Scripture, creating a false, two-sided debate in which both sides are flat wrong. In this passage, Christ clearly spells out the true foundation on which He desires to build His perfect Church. Here it is (Matthew 16:13-18):
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Here’s the $64,000 Question: What is the rock on which Jesus desires to build His Church?
For countless generations, Catholics have interpreted this passage to say that Peter, the man, is the original rock of the “church.” This understanding is the foundational stem cell of their entire institution, and explains virtually everything they do. It is a structure built on positional authority, and on the traditions and leadership of men. This is a dangerous thing!
Contrary to this, most Protestants since the Reformation have interpreted this passage to say that the rock is the words Peter spoke, “Surely you are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter’s statement is indeed true, and the heart of our faith. The belief that this statement alone is the intended foundation of Christ’s Church is the Protestant stem cell. This reliance on a static statement led to the principle of Sola Scripture (by the written Word alone), and explains virtually everything Protestants do. It is a structure built on the goal of having people believe and follow the written word alone (or at least their interpretation of it). This is not enough!
For hundreds of years this debate has raged, with both sides missing the mark. The current state of churchianity in the world today is the fruit of these two faulty interpretations. We’ve tried both, to an absurd extreme, and both have failed.
There is third option!
Here’s what that passage really says, and what we’ve missed all along: God doesn’t desire to build His Kingdom on a mortal man, or on the words spoken by a mortal man. Rather, Jesus was saying that it is the underlying truth of what had just happened – “This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” – that He desires to serve as the foundation of His Church.
What made Jesus so excited, and prompted Him to speak this vital statement, was that Peter had just received and responded to the simple prompting of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was saying, “Yes! Somebody finally got it! He didn’t tell me what he thought, he just listened to the Father and obeyed. I can work with that!”
The key to the Kingdom is simple obedience to the Holy Spirit, the step-by-step leading of God.
Simple obedience is how Moses led the Israelites out of bondage, and how Joshua led them to conquer the Promised Land. When they relied on men, or the statements of men, they failed. When they followed the continual revelation of their Father in heaven, they succeeded.
This is what made David a man after God’s own heart. It is how every single servant of God recorded in Scripture lived, including Christ Himself. They let God call the shots – day by day, step by step – into the great unknown.
Jesus said we must be born of water and the Spirit to see and enter the Kingdom. Paul said that the true sons and daughters of God are those who are led by the Spirit. He also said that we are to grow – individually and corporately – into Christ the Head, who desires to call the shots.
Throughout the Bible it says we are not to lean on our own understanding … we are not to worry about material things, or about tomorrow … we are not to conform to the patterns of this world. When we do, we cannot know God’s will, and we are not on His path. Anything called “church” that is built this way – on our own roadmaps and blueprints – is built on the wrong rock. And the cure for what ails us will never be found in another man-made plan.
Instead, the solution, the way forward, is to simply cease from our works! It is to be still and know that He is God. It is to enter into His rest, take on His easy load, and let Him lead the way. It is to do nothing at all without His specific, personal prompting – and then to simply obey what He tells us to do, step-by-step, day-by-day.
He doesn’t care what we do “in His name” – because there is nothing worthwhile that we can do for Him. Our best works are like filthy rags! Rather, He just wants to know us, to have a real relationship. He wants to be the true center, the true Head, of our lives and our fellowships.
Yes, to abandon our understanding, to scrap our plans, to throw away our roadmaps and blueprints, will be a great adventure. When we do this, He will lead us to forge into the unknown and do things beyond our understanding, as He unveils our plan for us, one day at a time.
This is the walk of faith! This is the path to true, perfect Church. It is The Way modeled by Christ and recorded in Scripture.
Is this disappointing for you? Do you still want a man to give you a plan? I’m sorry, I can’t help you there.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
A note to my friends and blog followers:
This is my first post in a few weeks. I apologize for the long gap. My family has been tied up in a huge spiritual battle and period of unexpected hardship. Our local newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, wrote a story about our situation and ran it on their front page two days ago. If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s a link to the article. I appreciate your patience and prayers. – M.A.
I find it amazing how so many Christians simply cannot properly take – or assign – responsibility for the foul fruit of human failings.
It’s like they think, “So long as we don’t outright kill anyone or steal anything, or get caught breaking any of the other commandments, then everything else we do is irrelevant to the outcome of our actions.”
I’ve seen long-time ministers, who are indeed gifted at teaching the Word, live the most slothful lives and make the most foolish decisions – and then blame God (and/or the “immature” believers around them, who “don’t give enough”) for their poverty. Now, they wouldn’t outright say “it’s God’s fault” in so many words — rather, they seem to believe God is perpetually holding them in a “dry season” to “teach” them something – but it’s the same thing. Yes, God is trying to teach them something, like get off your butt and actually do something productive! The dry season they’re facing is not God’s fault; it’s the inevitable endpoint of the path they’ve chosen.
I’ve seen other long-time ministers form committees, councils, boards or teams of people who are incompetent, shallow, immature, conflicted and/or otherwise not trustworthy – and because they are “good Christians,” the organizer holds to an irrational belief that everything that happens will be “God’s will.” So when the group’s resulting action (or inaction) makes no sense or goes the wrong direction, the minister just follows merrily along, the blind following the blind, with God’s name stenciled on the mess.
The Lord gave me a vision onetime of a Christian farmer in a farmhouse, praying earnestly for a bumper crop of corn. This farmer has the most fertile bottomland in the county, the best equipment in his barn, it’s a wet year, and there is nothing standing between him and a record harvest. But a few weeks after planting time, this farmer’s field is still brown, while his unbelieving neighbor’s field is sporting healthy sprouts.
So the farmer gets on his knees and prays even more. He fasts, digs deeper into the Word, activates the prayer chain at “church,” and resolutely declares the “word of faith” that God is definitely going to give him a huge harvest this year. And yet another month later, when the neighbor’s crop is “knee-high by the Fourth of July” and growing, this farmer’s field is still desolate.
So our farmer pours out his heart to God. He puts a bigger check in the offering plate. The elders of his “church” pour oil on his head and pray over him. His touchy-feely, super-“spiritual” friend helps him dig into his childhood and analyze all the bad things that ever happened to him, seeking the “root of his troubles.” His holy-roller pastor waves his arms and flaps his tongue in a wild prayer of deliverance. But a number of weeks later, while his neighbor rolls out the combine and brings in a bumper crop, our friend’s field yields nothing but weeds and dust.
Finally the Christian farmer, at wits end, lays face down before the Lord, humble and broken. “Why, Lord? Why is it your will that I suffer, while my unbelieving neighbor gets rich?”
The Lord, with grace, yet a touch of frustration, replies, “My son, I gave you the best bottomland in the county, the best farm equipment there is, plenty of rain, and everything you needed to produce a bumper crop. But you didn’t do your part! All you needed to do was plant the seeds I gave you, and I would have made them grow….”
This scenario is more common than we may realize. Even as I write this, I am once again convicted of my own guilt in blaming God for the failures and lack in my own life. It is not His fault! He has given me more than I need, and I alone am to blame for the consequences of my own poor decisions. I pray God helps me see clearly where I’ve mis-stepped, because I know that taking responsibility is a pre-requisite for learning and doing better in the future. When I blame Him or anyone else for my mistakes, I am doomed to repeat them.
Here’s the truth: God gave us the authority and mandate to establish dominion over the world. He freely offers Wisdom and Revelation to guide our steps. He promises provision and direction when we seek and obey His will. And He also gives us free will to do it His way, or not.
We must realize that He didn’t give all this to us so that we may have a free pass on the principles of His creation. Believers are not exempt from reality! Instead, the opposite is true: God established the fundamental principles of creation – scientific, economic, political, business, etc. – and gives us access to His very mind, so that we may master them. He wants his sons and daughters to rise up and take dominion over these things, not cede them to the unbelievers through our own foolishness, ignorance and inaction!
This truth applies to us, wherever we find ourselves. I see everyday believers “blame” God for their unemployment, yet they don’t hustle to find work, don’t present themselves well in interviews, and never took the time to master the skills necessary to be successful in their given field. No, their unemployment is not God’s fault! It is a result of their own bad habits and poorly-chosen path.
I see believers who actually believe their broken marriage is God’s will. Of course, it must be God’s will, and certainly has nothing to do with the fact that they’re lazy, self-centered, worldly, and didn’t put Christ at the center of their relationship!
I see Christian business owners “blame” God for hardship and failure, yet they continually ignore wise counsel, make stupid decision, and do not put a professional face on their endeavors. How is it God’s fault when they go out of business? Just because they’re a “Christian” business doesn’t mean they don’t have to compete in the marketplace!
Sure, there are legitimate “dry spells” and hardships in life. God teaches us through trials and fires. We’re not here to live it up in the here and now, and material outcomes are not necessarily any measure of Godly success. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the times that we miss out on God’s desired outcome through our own ignorance, stubbornness, foolishness, laziness, and bad habits – and then, instead of facing the truth, we chalk our failure up to God. I believe this is more widespread than any of us may care to admit.
Where this grips me the most is in “church.” Pews and pulpits today seem filled with folks like the Christian farmer in my little story. We are failing in our God-given mandate to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, and we are becoming increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world. At the same time, frauds and phonies are reaping a bumper crop, leading multitudes down the path to destruction.
How can we honestly believe this has nothing to do with the fact that even the most “contemporary” of our “churches” today – compared to The Way modeled in Scripture – are legalistic, ritualistic, materialistic, tradition-bound, shallow, inbred and downright goofy?
Instead of facing the facts and returning to The Way, what is our answer? Redesign the bulletin. Rejigger the order of “service.” Play more modern music. Wear flip-flops on Sunday. That, or double-down on the archaic traditions of our denomination’s founders.
Fact is, we reap what we sow, and we don’t reap what we don’t sow. It’s time we step up and accept responsibility! Churchianity is failing, and yet our “church” leaders continue to inflict us with failing methods – and then blame God for the outcome.
As if claiming that our failure is somehow His fault were not bad enough, now we’ve come up with a pop theology to justify it all. The ultimate insult to our Lord and King, and the pinnacle of the “blame God” mindset, is the modern teaching that global dominion of the Body is not really inevitable, after all, and the best thing we can do is just wait to be rescued. The only one glorified by modern “end times” teaching about the inevitable rise of the antichrist is the antichrist himself! This is not Biblical in the least. Holy cop-out, Batman!
It’s time to grow up, stop blaming God, beg for wisdom, follow His lead, take responsibility for our failings, learn from our mistakes, plant the right seeds, and set our faces like flint towards finally establishing dominion over the world He created for us.
This is His will, and He continually gives us everything we need to do it. If we continue to miss out, it’s not His fault.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Back in the late 1960s, three US servicemen commandeered a massive piece of very expensive government equipment and took it for a joyride. After only a few minutes, they had succeeded in destroying the majority of it. Even so, they successfully made it away from the heavily-guarded compound and outside the reach of authorities.
Eight days later, after a massive effort to track their location, when government agents finally caught up with the three, they had utterly ruined the last bit of equipment and had to be rescued by the US Navy. Nothing was left to show for their big adventure but a nearly $2 Billion bill to the US government (in today’s dollars), a few bits of unusable equipment strewn in their path, and far-out stories of a wild ride.
Sounds like the plotline for the next “Hangover” movie, doesn’t it? What do you think happened to these three thrill seekers?
Would you be surprised if I told you they ended up lionized as some of the greatest heroes of all time, and their adventure inspired a generation?
That might make sense if I gave you two more bits of information: The equipment they destroyed was a Saturn V rocket, and their joyride was the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
There’s a vital spiritual lesson here.
Before the launch, these three men were sitting on top and in control of the world’s most sophisticated asset, built at a cost of millions of man hours and billions of dollars. They had worked tirelessly and played their cards right for their entire careers to get to this point, where they were respected as the elite of the elite and in the center of international media attention.
And then came the moment when they had to make the conscious choice to push the launch button. They knew that single decision would destroy the rocket that carried them, use up every last drop of their fuel, put their very lives in jeopardy and – if they survived – inevitably leave them stranded and helpless in the middle of a vast ocean. All to plant a flag on a far-away rock.
When God calls us to do something, this is what He is asking, and it is a conscious choice we must make. For the astronauts, they had the full support of the US government behind them and they understood the Big Picture purpose of it all, so I’m sure they didn’t hesitate to launch when it was time. For us, all we have behind us is an invisible God and promises of eternity, and we often lose sight of the Big Picture. As a result, I’m ashamed to admit, we often don’t push the launch button when called upon.
Have you ever noticed that it’s the young, relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs who seem to hit all the home runs in business? Why is this?
I’m beginning to see that there’s a negative, worldly version of “wisdom” that can hold back the most capable of us.
When a young person sees a vision, he sees nothing but the potential, whereas older ones often see nothing but risk.
Sadly, the folks who have been around the block a few times – the ones who have learned the most, and in theory are the most capable – often fail to answer the door when opportunity knocks. We can let our own idea of “wisdom” – we may call it “experience,” “due diligence,” or “caution” – drown out the call of God. Now, there’s nothing wrong with real wisdom, but fact is this thought process is often really a cloak for, “I’m wounded, jaded, tired, prideful, afraid, and/or I have too much to lose.” When this happens, we are allowing all the good aspects of our life experiences to be negated by the bad ones. I admit, I’ve fallen into this trap.
Imagine how Moses must have felt after his first encounter with Pharoah after returning from the wilderness. “Let my people go,” he’d said. Pharoah’s response was not only “heck no,” but he harshly added to the forced labor of the Israelites, who of course loudly complained to Moses.
So here’s this 80-year old man who had once again failed. I’m sure there was a part of him screaming to himself, “I knew it! Last time I tried to help these people, I lost my place in the palace and ended up spending forty years in the wilderness. Now I’ve screwed it up again!”
And then guess what God did? He told Moses to go back to Pharaoh and try again. When that failed, He did it again … and again … and again … and again. Nine times in a row, God called Moses to failure, and each and every time it made matters worse for himself and his people.
Thank God Moses didn’t refuse to hit the launch button the tenth time. Had he let his “wisdom” get in the way … well, who knows how many more generations of Israelites would have lived in slavery?
The early apostles didn’t hesitate to lay down their nets and follow Christ, and they eventually lost everything as a result. Think they’d do it again if they had the chance? Or, do you think their “due diligence” would lead them to make another choice? (“This fishing business isn’t so bad after all! We should just make a lot of money and give it to the ones on the front lines…”)
Paul was influential and upwardly mobile in the Jewish hierarchy when Christ called him. He could have refused the call, and may well have ended up as High Priest. Instead, he didn’t let his “wisdom” hold him back.
Think of all the towns where he ended up beaten or imprisoned, only to launch off to the next town and start over again, and again, and again. He could have given up at any time and retired to Tarsus as a successful tentmaker. But he lived all-in, and never looked back.
Paul knew that the things we build on this earth will all burn someday, and he knew that the trials we face exist to build our character and faith, and so – despite all the times he was broken and hurt – he was not afraid of being broke or hurt again.
The only things we can take from this world to the next are the character, people and relationships that we build in Christ. God gives us everything else – wealth, fame, followers, facilities, reputation, etc. – for this one purpose: To serve as our own Saturn V rocket, to launch us to new places to plant the flag of His Kingdom.
So you’re one of the elite. So you’re at the top of it all, and the whole world is watching. Guess what? You can’t take it with you!
You have a choice, and if you’re afraid to push the button, and put it all on the line, every time God calls, He will eventually pry you from the command module and put in a new crew who will use it for His purposes.
God wants to plant His flag somewhere new. He’s calling you to do it.
Are you willing? Or, like the rich young ruler, will you refuse?
I’m not telling you to abandon wisdom. Instead, I’m imploring you to reject the false “wisdom” of the world that keeps able men and women bound up in the prison of “risk aversion.” I’m encouraging you not to lean on your own understanding. Don’t let the fear of trouble or persecution or failure, or the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches, hold you back from hearing the Lord’s call and pushing the launch button when it’s time.
Yes, God tells us to count the cost, and that’s like a “due diligence” of sorts. But He also tells us not to worry about tomorrow, or what we will eat, drink or wear. As Christ said it, such worry is the opposite of seeking the Kingdom. “Counting the cost,” as He means it, is simply being conscious of the quantity of poker chips you have, and then pushing them all-in to the center of the table anyway.
You know what? He may have another lesson for you at the end of this assignment, and it may be one that He knows is best learned by abject failure. Do you trust Him? Are you willing? You have a choice.
Whether you have a lot or a little to your name, fact is you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, because God is still real and His promises are still true — the same as when you were young and reckless, and the world was yours for the taking. He doesn’t change. Have you let the world change you?
It may be a relationship, or a business venture, or taking your ministry in a radical new direction. Whatever it is the Lord is calling you to do, the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt ring true: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
(And fear by any other name is just as bad.)
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Holding you, I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I the king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say, you know I might have changed it all
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance
— From “The Dance” by Garth Brooks
Don’t let the fear of pain keep you on the sidelines when God calls you back to the dance floor.
My heart aches for the multitudes of strong, capable, faithful people who limp along, bound up in traditions, believing that’s the only way we can walk.
It reminds me a portion of the movie Forrest Gump. As a child, young Forrest’s mother was told he had a spine ailment, and that wearing metal leg braces – “magic shoes” – would correct his condition. The boy grew up resigned to accepting the hindrances of the clunky, unnatural superstructure. The prosthetics held him back from so much, forced him to adopt all kinds of odd habits to get through his day, and caused him to be an outcast.
Like young Forrest, the enemy, the patterns of this world, our traditions, and our own insecurity tell us the Body needs a man-made support structure to function. Our prescribed “magic shoes” include “church” buildings, pyramid-shaped organizational charts, central coordinating committees, designated clergy, pre-set “service” times and formats, one-size-fits-all orations that pass for real teaching, pre-fab “programs,” and all the other things we generally think of today when we say “church.”
None of these things were practiced or implemented by Christ or the early apostles. They knew the health, strength and growth of the Body, as God intends, is only hindered by such things. Jesus spoke vehemently against them, and they were anathema to the Apostle Paul.
Yet somehow, over time, we have bought into the diagnosis that we are crippled and incapable of functioning without these unnecessary, man-made prostheses – to the extent that we think real life as the Body of Christ is impossible without them.
And, like Forrest, as a result, we have resigned to accepting the hindrances of the clunky, unnatural superstructure we call “church” – even though it holds us back from so much, forces us to adopt all kind of odd habits to function, and causes us to be increasingly outcast from the very people we are supposed to be serving.
A moving scene in the movie is when Forrest is walking home from school with his friend, Jennie, and a group of bullies begins mocking and throwing stuff at him. It is clear they wish to beat him up, so Jenny shouts, “Run, Forrest, run!” – and he takes off down the dirt road, waddling awkwardly in his brackets, chased by the bike-riding bullies. As they get close to overtaking him, the brackets fall off his legs, and Forrest is finally able to outrun his pursuers.
“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but I could run like the wind blows,” says the older Forrest, narrating the story. “And from that day on, if I was going somewhere, I was running.”
I just watched that movie clip online to research for this message, and found myself moved to tears in two different places. At the beginning, they were tears of sadness, because having seen the movie before, I knew the true capabilities that Forrest possessed. Beneath his unwittingly self-inflicted shackles, he was strong and able. He just didn’t know it – and so he just accepted the handicap and bullying as par for the course. It didn’t have to be that way!
These are the same tears I, with Christ, shed for our brothers and sisters who are so bound up and blinded by churchianity that they cannot accept any other way of functioning. I don’t care how big and popular their “church” is – compared to the glory and magnitude of the Kingdom Come, every single one of them has resigned to marginalization and mediocrity, and they don’t even know it. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Because, like Forrest, the true strength of the Body of Christ is far beyond anything we can comprehend. We are called to conquer, not merely endure. We are called to manifest the full stature of Christ – the King of Kings and name above all names – on earth as it is in Heaven. We are called to establish true dominion over every aspect of this world, through the powerful attraction of the peace and love that exude from the Body of Christ when it functions properly.
The second point I cried in the clip, it was tears of joy when the braces fell off Forrest’s legs and he took off down the road like a bullet, leaving the enemies in the dust. These are the tears I, with Christ, long to cry for all our brothers and sisters who are bound up in the unwittingly self-inflicted shackles we call “church.”
Some generation, someday, will throw these braces off the Body, and when they do, we will run like the wind blows. From that day on, whenever we go anywhere, we’ll be running. Victory is our destiny!
The question is, how bad will it have to get? How much more persecution, marginalization and mocking – and “church” politics, division, conflict, woundedness and waste – will we have to put up with before we finally break from the shackles and run free in the full potential God has given us?
Let’s make this the generation! Run, my brothers and sisters, run!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I’ve written a fair amount lately about two issues that plague our current way of practicing “churchianity.” Today’s revelation brings the two together.
One issue is that, contrary to clear Biblical example, we build and solidify organizational structures around our ministry efforts. Most people can’t seem to separate the ideas of “church” or “ministry” from the ideas of “organizational structure,” “administration” and “facilities.” In fact, in the eyes of most, a “church” or “ministry” simply cannot exist separate from these things; it is the organizational structure, administration and facilities that make the church or ministry.
Contrary to this notion, the Biblical example of God-pleasing leadership was modeled by the Old Testament judges and New Testament apostles. Yes, they did great things and big works. But they did not seek to build an earthly entity around their work. Instead, 100% of their focus was on building faith, character and relationships in the people around them. When God called them elsewhere, all they left behind was edified people and a growing Body of Christ – and no organizational charts, bylaws or buildings.
The other issue that I’ve written some about lately is that those within churchianity today are not prone to accept those who hold true Spiritual authority. The “church” culture generally only accepts the “authority” of those who have been to seminary, and/or who are “ordained,” and/or who hold titles such as “pastor” or “bishop.” Authority is given to these people regardless of whether they possess any true Spiritual seasoning.
In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul made very clear God’s desired authority structure in the Body, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”
Just yesterday I discussed this with the president of a church board. “So, who provides apostolic and prophetic covering over your congregation?” I asked. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and then pointed out that 1) In the King James Version the word “administrations” is translated as “governments” – and that in his opinion the ranking of these positions is irrelevant. So, they choose to put the “government” on top. And 2) They choose to bypass the apostolic and prophetic covering and “connect (their) church government directly to God.”
What he articulated, in so many words, is precisely the heart of the issue: They value their organizational structure and bylaws over true Spiritual authority. In fact, true Spiritual authority is a threat to their enterprise. This is understandable, but it’s not right.
The office of apostle or prophet is not one that is conferred by a college degree, man-made “ordination,” committee decision or popular vote. It is not a position in an organizational chart, and it is unrelated to administrative ability. Instead, it is a difficult calling and lifetime pursuit, and comes at an exceptionally high personal price. True Spiritual authority comes through passionate pursuit of Biblical knowledge, combined with equal amounts of personal revelation and front-lines experience in selfless service, spiritual warfare and authentic miracles. Those who have grown in true Spiritual authority walk in close fellowship with the Almighty, and have abundant fruit – and scars – to show for it.
And, they don’t fit in well in most “churches.” Here’s why:
Say a man feels called to start a Holy work. It could be any form of “ministry” but for the sake of this example let’s just call it a local “church.” So, this fellow works hard to knock on doors, meet people, hold Sunday “services” and other “church” activities, etc. Over time, he assembles a congregation. He sows into their lives, and at the same time he works to solidify the organization by establishing a legal entity, bylaws, board of directors, budget, etc. This “church” grows and eventually builds a building, hires a staff, and establishes various committees and programs. Sound familiar? (You could take this to another level and say that this entity eventually launches other affiliate “churches,” and maybe even grows into a denomination, but we won’t go there.)
This man may well be a great fellow. He may well know the Word, have a seminary degree and be ordained. And no doubt, he’s a great “leader” and administrator. He is the top of the organizational chart, and regardless of whatever lip service he pays to it being “God’s house,” fact is the responsibility for the guidance of the “flock” and the enterprise they’ve built lies squarely on his shoulders. The buck stops with him. The reality is, however, that this authority is positional; he may well not have any true Spiritual authority – the only kind God recognizes, and desires in His leaders.
Now, say a man comes along who is a true apostle or prophet of God. And say this man with true Spiritual authority is assigned by God to speak a word that contradicts the “vision” of this pastor, or that seems to undermine his positional authority, or (heaven forbid) rebukes him. Would this man be considered an ally or a threat? A uniter or divider? If you sincerely believe that he’d be embraced as a uniting ally by the pastor, “church” government or rank-and-file congregant, you’re smoking bath salts.
This rejection of true Spiritual authority becomes even worse when the person holding the positional authority is several steps removed from the original workman. As in, the founder retires and the “church” selects his replacement. I’ve seen this countless times – it’s de-facto in churchianity – and it’s generally done through either popular vote or behind-the-scenes politics. Charm, public speaking ability and administrative skills – of course, with a seminary diploma and ordination certificate – are the universal standards by which candidates are judged.
Whether he is the founder or one who inherited the position, the holder of positional authority is generally most concerned with the preservation and growth of the enterprise, his paycheck, and his positional authority. He will by necessity feel threatened by someone who walks in true Spiritual authority – who is no respecter of man-made institutions, or of any “positional authority” in the “church.”
And he will seek, ultimately, to crucify the man who comes and says, “Tear down this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.” Because in the eyes of the pastor, that’s a threat to his enterprise and livelihood. But in the eyes of the apostle, it’s a statement that the building and organizational structure is worthless, and the real edifice behind it – that is, the spiritual maturity of the people – is so lacking that it could indeed be recreated in three days. The gulf between these two is too wide, and seemingly too threatening, for most pastors to cross.
This is why we have a churchianity culture that, by and large, rejects the notion of true Spiritual authority, and that fails to recognize the offices of apostle and prophet today. And it is why our faith is increasingly marginalized and mocked today: We just don’t get it.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I just got back from running a summer camp for our youth group. My wife and I took a co-ed group of 14 teens on a week-long wilderness adventure, kayaking down a long stretch of the remote Pecos River in West Texas, sleeping under the stars, and living off the land. We had a great time.
After 10 years of running near about 40 camp sessions, this was my first time to do it through an “established” summer camp outfit that provides a turn-key experience. Most groups simply turn their kids over to the camp staff for the week. I was the rare group leader who told the staff that I intended to be in charge of the spiritual aspects of the trip, and they “let” me do it, considering my background in youth ministry.
Our assigned summer-staff counselor was a 21-year-old seminary student. He’d already been in charge of several sessions this year, and expressed no small amount of dismay that he was not going to be allowed to run the “teachings” which, as for all the other groups, would have been a generic curriculum, handed down by the camp managers, with the same lessons taught on the same pre-set schedule.
Now, I didn’t tell the young man that I’d been leading teen groups since before he was born, or that many of my past campers are now much older than he is. But I did politely tell him that maybe he could learn something, if he had a desire to. Sadly, it became apparent that he didn’t, as he checked out of the spiritual aspects after three days, in what seemed a rather aloof way.
I knew there would be issues when, on the first day, I asked the campers to weigh their own spiritual maturity considering three factors: 1) Bible knowledge, 2) authentic relationship with God, and 3) real-world experience. After we finished that exercise, he expressed to me that “many of the campers were very discouraged by the exercise.”
I guess he didn’t realize the depth of relationship I have with these kids. I asked each and every one what their hope was for spiritual growth at camp, and each of them communicated great expectations. A few expressed they were definitely confronted by the reality of their own lack of spiritual maturity, yet said this was not discouraging but motivating. I am left to conclude the young counselor was the only one discouraged by the exercise.
Next I taught about what a real relationship with God looks like, and how it includes two-way communication with Him – not just book-reading and one-way petitions. I broke down the Scriptures, including a brief Greek language study on the word translated as “word” in the Bible. And I recounted a few real-world encounters I’ve had with the Living God. Many of the youth communicated their own experiences.
And then our young counselor spoke up. In what seemed to me to be a rather defensive tone, he stated his belief that God doesn’t necessarily communicate to His children any more other than through the written Word. Of course, he had no written Word to back up that assertion! Instead, he could only reference things told to him by his seminary professors.
No wonder he was discouraged. He grew up in the “church” and is an upperclassman at an established Baptist college. To be around a group of teenagers, many of whom have a closer authentic relationship with their Father, and who have experienced the reality of our Living God in more tangible ways, must have been a shocker – especially after having been thrust into a position of “spiritual authority” for most of the summer.
The next day, I spoke on the Gospel of the Kingdom – including our identity as offspring of the King with a destiny to conquer the world and rule in eternity – and after that our young friend completely checked out. He didn’t participate in one more lesson or discussion.
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the Word of God meaningless. My first-hand experiences, and thus my teachings, don’t fit into his traditions. Going forward, half of me suspects our young counselor will outright reject any overtures the Holy Spirit was making in his heart, write me off as some hack, and lament the lost opportunity to teach our kids some Bible trivia.
The other half of me is not going to give up hope. He was a fine young man with a good mind and deep love for God. Jesus said the seed we’re supposed to plant is the truth of God’s Kingdom. My prayer is that he listened enough to get some of that seed into his heart, and that it will eventually grow and take over.
The battle for his mind will be intense.
I don’t have a seminary degree and I am not ordained. There’s no way I would be accepted as credible by his seminary professors, and much of what they teach stands against what I have personally experienced and received from God. I don’t teach from a pre-set, handed-down curriculum. I don’t seek to give folks a spiritual “sugar high,” or to simply fill their heads with Bible trivia. I don’t tell them they have to sit in a pew on Sunday, or submit to a man called “pastor,” or put their money in the offering plate.
Instead, my goal is to personally introduce folks to the Living God and let Him take it from there. I ask tough questions and encourage them to dig. I teach about their royal identity, purpose and destiny in Christ, and about the true meaning and usefulness of spiritual authority. I tell them my own stories of hearing from God, miracles I’ve witnessed, and how He’s used a damaged vessel like me to do mighty things for His glory. And then I send them out to go and pursue the same experiences.
I don’t claim to be anything special. The Bible instructs us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and I take this injunction seriously. I adamantly teach that the things I’ve experienced in Christ are available to anyone who has a heart to learn and a willingness to count the cost. I hope and believe the people to whom I minister will go and do far beyond me.
At the same time, I refuse to diminish the gifts God has given me and the price I’ve paid to receive them. Over many years, God has taken me to multiple continents to meet a wide range of people and to see His work first-hand. I’ve been blessed with many remarkable experiences in Him and relationships in His Body. He has given me some remarkable mentors and a front-row seat to incredible works of the Spirit. I’m not the top of the heap, but dang it, I have quite a few battle scars, reams of revelation, and bushels of fruit to show after more than a decade in full time ministry.
And that brings us to a big problem with churchianity. If a man twice my age, with exponentially more experience in front-line Kingdom service, brought a group of kids to my camp, I’d be eager to sit at his feet and learn. That’s honor. That’s wisdom.
That poor kid. The “church” system has put him through a few years of “official” training, handed him a pre-set curriculum and given him a title. To them, that counts as “authority.” (It must count as authority to them, because that’s all their system has to offer!) He admits he’s never heard the voice of God or witnessed a miraculous healing, and I suspect he’d mess his pants if he ever met a demon face to face.
And yet somehow, in his world I’m the bad guy for not bowing to his “authority.”
Come to think of it … isn’t this why the “church” leaders of the day crucified Jesus?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
The Bible says the Body of Christ is supposed to function under His headship, and be knit together by what every ligament supplies. It says we all have a role to play, and that it won’t work right until we do. It says it’s the saints’ job, in general, to do the work of ministry, and the leaders’ jobs to equip them, and not the other way around. It says God is giving to the Church “first the apostle, then the prophet.” That said …
What if the prophet of God is artsy, has long hair, and talks with a stutter? The one God has given the gift of clear Spiritual sight, and to whom He reveals the plans of heaven, has been beaten down emotionally all his life because he’s “odd” and so can’t bring himself to speak up during the organized, orderly Sunday Morning ceremony, and has never been invited to participate in “church” leadership?
What if the one called and gifted as an apostle has an MBA and left the organized “church” years ago because his gifts were unwelcome? Apostles, in the model God intends – the ones He says should be first in the Kingdom lineup – simply don’t fit well in the stiff, pyramid structures of todays “churches.” Just a little too passionate to sit quietly and play “nice” in the face of stubborn ignorance, I guess.
What if the smartest person in the congregation is a geek? The one with the gift of healing is a shut in? The one with faith that can move mountains smells bad because she has 100 cats? The deliverance warrior who can face demons head-on never sat through “membership” class because he finds the Sunday “sermons” to be like watching Barney reruns?
What if God gives a revelatory word to a child, or a divine vision to a newly recovering alcoholic?
What if God is calling a body of believers to do something the IRS would consider “for profit” (like make tents, or own a fishing company, as early apostles did), and so the “church council” is aghast at the very idea? (The infamous BTK serial killer was a respected member his “church council,” remember.)
What if we as a body defined our “religious service” as a ceremony we conduct on Sunday mornings, instead of as God does – and that is, rolling up our sleeves, working up a sweat, and giving sacrificially to help those in need?
What if we defined “worship” as singing? What if we thought “church” was a building, or a defined organizational structure, or a set time of meeting? (If you’ve sat for years during “worship service” in the same row with a person, and you don’t know the most intimate details of their life, you don’t know their true giftedness, and you’re not sowing into each other’s lives on a regular basis, then you can call that place a lot of things, but don’t call it a Church, because God sure doesn’t.)
What if the founder of our denomination or congregation was indeed called by God for a reason and a season, but because of our way of doing things, he went further and solidified his position for the long term through a formal legal, organizational or theological structure? What if the person wielding his positional authority today was selected by an appointed or elected committee, for who-knows-what real reasons?
What if the guy with a “seminary” degree and “ordination” certificate went that route because he was a failure at everything else, or because his fiancée wanted to be a “pastor’s wife”? They’re out there, I know them personally (you probably do, too, unawares), and today they’re good little “pastors” at nice little “churches.” (Not surprisingly, they’re often the first ones to claim that God stopped calling apostles and prophets 2,000 years ago … and the sheep just follow along out of empty, dangerous tradition, because “pastor said so, and he’s ordained.”)
Seriously, what if the nice, charming guy who is decent at administration and who is a great public speaker and fundraiser is really not the one God wants calling the shots? Those are gifts of a politician, not a shepherd. Yet our model of “churchianity” has thrust them to the top.
What if there is a growing body of passionate, faithful, mature brothers and sisters who are truly led by the Spirit, and who regularly gather with other believers to serve each other and advance the Kingdom, yet … they sleep in on Sunday mornings (to obey God’s command to take a real day of rest each week) … they don’t ever enter a steeple-topped building … they can’t stomach listening to the weekly McSermon … they don’t recognize the Spiritual authority of a man who claims it simply because he holds a man-made title and “ordination,” and … they don’t belong to one of the Christian country clubs that man calls “church”? (Darn back-door losses! What is this world coming to?)
I don’t have to ask “what if” for any of these questions, because this is the reality we live in today.
No wonder Christ is increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world. Look what we consider to be His “body” today!
No wonder we’ve lost our influence in the culture. We can’t even influence our own selves to clearly discern and be obedient to His Word, because “the old wine tastes better.”
No wonder we have to fake out folks with a Sunday morning rock concert and stirring motivational speech just to get them to join our “church.” We don’t offer them much else anymore.
No wonder youth ministry today is typically little more than cheap, worldly, “cool,” entertainment with the name of Jesus occasionally slipped in when it’s not too creepy. We simply don’t understand the fact that their deepest desire is to be real, because we ourselves don’t know what real is.
No wonder the most popular “pastors” are either tradition-bound, toothless types who don’t want to shake things up, or prosperity hustlers who encourage their flock to live it up in the here and now. Give ‘em what they want, because what they really need might make them uncomfortable.
No wonder the general consensus among Christians today is that our best hope is for Jesus to come back soon and take us home, in some heretical idea of a sudden “rapture.” Kingdom victory is why we’re here. It’s our God-given assignment and destiny. But with today’s churchianity model, it’s simply not going to be possible.
“It is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” Ephesians 5:14-17
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
If you keep up with my blog, you know that lately God has been doing some serious re-wiring of my mind, especially in the area of “leadership.” I’ve come to realize that the modern idea of a leader – by definition “the guiding head of an organization” – is not a role any person is called to play. Instead, God desires that we come under the headship of Christ and allow Him to call the shots, through His Holy Spirit. God certainly does call coordinators, instigators, administrators and agitators from time to time, but every Biblical example of this shows these people are to serve for a reason and a season, under step-by-step direction from God, and they are not to solidify their authority or seek to hold onto it beyond the term of their specific project.
This is 180 degrees contrary to the way we have built “churchianity” today. As a Body (or, rather, as a widely fragmented assortment of “church bodies”), we have chosen a “leadership” model which is nothing like what God desires, where we designate a flesh-and-blood man to serve as the “head” of our congregation, most often under the authority of a voting board of directors.
When the Israelites, in rebellion against God, demanded an earthly king, their stated reasons for wanting one were: 1) so they could be like all the other nations, 2) to judge them, 3) to go out before (represent and guide) them, and 4) to fight their battles for them. If you get to the heart of it, this is exactly why we subscribe to the traditional “churchianity” leadership structure today – and we do it unashamedly.
Sadly, for the vast majority of Christians, this man-made, not-God-pleasing organizational structure is the very definition of “church” – even though it has absolutely nothing with that word as God defines it! For them, anything else simply is not “church.”
Along with my posts I have recently had several good conversations on this topic, some with folks who are staunch defenders of the status quo. Often, when they run out of Biblical legs to stand on (because there IS nothing in the Bible that justifies the status quo) they turn to the practical and ask, “so…what do you propose as an alternative?”
My answer is this: It’s something we haven’t seen on this earth in more than 1700 years, and it’s so far outside our frame of reference that a lot of folks will throw stones and say, “that’s not church!” (Remember, Jesus said, “the old wine tastes better.”) At the same time, I believe God will lean forward on His throne with a smile and, looking down, say, “Aaaah, finally someone is starting to get it again!”
True ekklesia/koinoneia (the Greek words we translate as “church”) is nothing more than a deep, intimate fellowship of those who are called out by God to advance His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It was called The Way by the earliest Christians, and it is a “religion” without ceremony, or professional clergy, or dedicated assets, or a specific meeting time, or a mailing address. Instead, it is a bottom-up, inside-out, Spirit-led movement with the power to transform individuals, families and whole communities.
It is a growing family of people who have a personal relationship with God through the Holy Spirit, who frequently gather in each other’s homes to praise Him and report on His daily interactions with them, who bond together to serve each other so that nobody in the family lacks anything, and who freely pool all their earthly resources to truly serve those in need.
True Church, as God intends it, is fully under the headship of Christ. What I mean by this is that each and every member has a personal connection with His Holy Spirit, and receives their direction from Him alone. They each recognize their God-given giftedness, and give it fully to each other, so that the Body is infinitely stronger than the sum of its parts. (Yes, administration – as in, serving the Body by coordinating efforts – is a lesser spiritual gift, but that does not justify building all our “church” structure around this single function, as we have.)
And so, when I’m talking with folks who have asked this question, this is where they tend to jump in and say, “You can’t really believe that, can you? That sounds like utter chaos to me! People most definitely DO need an earthly leader … otherwise, what’s to keep them all from going different directions?” (Very similar to the Israelite reasons Nos. 2 and 3 for demanding a king, wouldn’t you say?)
Bingo! This is where the heart of the issue lies. It’s all about trusting God! You see, I, for one, have never seen the Spirit of God contradict Himself. If He gives me a direction, and He wants us to work together, then He’s going to give you the same direction. God is not the author of confusion!
If we are doing our job, and helping our brothers and sisters grow closer to Him and discern His Living Word – and if we truly have a real relationship with God ourselves – then we simply must trust that He knows what He’s doing. “His sheep know His voice,” by the way, and “whoever is led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” This is what we’re supposed to be all about!
The next issue that comes up is, “well, how are we going to pay for all that, anyway? If everyone is off doing what they think God wants them to do, it’d be very expensive!” Are you kidding me? You really asked that? So 1) you DON’T think people should do what God directs them to do because it might be beyond the “church” budget, and 2) if they do seek to be obedient to His calling, you question God’s ability to pay for it all? Last I checked, it was Jesus Himself who told us to seek first His Kingdom and righteousness, and that if we do, God will provide everything we need and then some. I, for one, believe that His Word is true!
I hate to say it but it’s inescapable: For someone to throw out these issues as reasons not to pursue The Way of true Spirit-led fellowship makes me question whether they truly know the leading of the Spirit themselves. If they truly knew His personal voice, trusted His profound promises, and experienced His divine provision, then they would passionately want others to experience this Way of life for themselves, and would not be afraid that “it won’t work.”
Sadly, these objections have come to me mainly from those who have a vested interested in preserving the status quo. I’d chuckle at the irony, but it’s really not that ironic when you think about it. Makes perfect sense, really.
As for resources, why should a “church” settle for trying to squeeze 10% (with the average being much less than that) out of its members? When the early Church followed The Way, they literally received 100% from those who were involved – they sold all they had and pooled it to keep advancing His Kingdom! And the Lord added to their number daily!
If we want Book of Acts results in our world today, we need to do it The Way they did back then. God’s been waiting a long time for us to get it. What are WE waiting for?
Yes, it’ll be a big adventure. Yes, we’ll be forging into the great unknown. But I, for one, trust our Guide. Do you?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note: This is a follow-up to my last post called “Leaders Leave.” Hey, I’m mindful of the fact that this is just a blog, and that I can be longwinded. Sometimes I just throw out a main thought, and leave a lot of rabbit trails unaddressed, to keep it brief, and with hopes that it’ll get folks thinking and spark a dialogue. It sure worked with this one!
My last post, “Leaders Leave,” has sparked some good dialogue and soul-searching in a number of folks who have contacted me, and I think some of that is worth sharing.
My point was quite simple, yet paradigm-shattering: Leadership, as we define it today, is an entirely man-made thing, and is contrary to the will of God.
The definition of leader, according to Dictionary.com, is: “A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.”
There is only room for one Head in the Body of Christ, and it’s the role that Christ alone can and should fulfill.
Our desire to be drawn into the construct of human leadership and followership is a pattern of this world and a manifestation of our sinful, flesh nature. On one side, those of us who are prone to be “leaders” are lured by the authority, esteem and other perks of being the “leader.” On the other side, those prone to being “followers” desire to outsource responsibility to someone who acts like he knows best.
Against God’s will, the Israelites begged for a king, “that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:20) Elsewhere in Scripture, the people tried to make Jesus their earthly king, and to make Paul and Barnabas into gods. Thankfully, these Godly men fled from this temptation. They knew that there is no room for earthly “leadership” (as we define and practice that term) in God’s Kingdom
Search the words “leader,” “leaders,” and “leadership” in the Bible and you may be shocked at how few times and the context in which they appear, considering the universal emphasis we put today on training and equipping people for this man-made role.
If you are in a position of influence over anyone, the only place that God desires for you to lead them is into His presence, through His Son, and then let Him take it from there. Paul said that, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) Our job here, as it pertains to others, is to help expand God’s family; to bring them under the headship of Christ, and then serve them. When we are all led by His Spirit, there is no room or need for human headship in the Body. God is more than ready, willing and able to call the shots, if we’ll just let Him!
God’s model is to raise up influencers, organizers and agitators for a reason and a season, and then have them return home, without solidifying their position or building any permanent “leadership” structure. God modeled this through the Old Testament judges and the New Testament apostles; they “led” and then left! It’s how Christ Himself functioned. He came to serve and not be served. He came to introduce people to the Father through the Son, and then He left them to it, with the Holy Spirit calling the shots.
Gideon, one of God’s Old Testament judges, perfectly reflected the heart of a true servant. After God had used him for a reason and a season, he went to return home. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon, said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23)
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Bible doesn’t call for disorganization or anarchy. We are certainly supposed to coordinate our efforts, and function as an organized, well-trained Body, with the Head calling the shots.
There is certainly a need for administration and management in the Body. In fact, in 1 Corinthians, Paul talked about a Spiritual “gift of administration.” It is important to understand the big difference between administration or management, and “leadership” as we define it. The Greek word for “administration” here is actually a Latin-derived word meaning pilot or nagivator, contextually meaning one who helps give direction to a ship. The navigator is not in charge of the ship, nor does he choose the direction; that is the job of the captain. Note that Paul did not use the word for captain in this reference, as he knew there was only one captain of the Church, and that is Jesus Christ. Yes, in any group activity we need servants who help coordinate activities and keep folks focused, but this is not the same as serving as the “head” of the group.
When navigating the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land, Joshua learned the hard way not to step into the role of captain. God carefully called the shots for each and every engagement, and when Joshua followed His plan (even if it seemed crazy!), they were victorious. Only when Joshua stepped from navigator to captain did they lose a battle. Yes, God used Joshua as a point-man to coordinate activities, but he played this role as a servant of servants. God simple does not want any man to call the shots, only to pull the trigger.
Search the Scripture and you will simply not be able to deduce anything to the contrary. A friend of mine thought he had when we found this Bible reference: “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1)
This verse illustrates just how far off the mark we’ve built this thing we call “church” over the centuries. When reading Scripture in English, we must be mindful of the fact that we are two steps removed from the real meaning of the words. First, the translators were influenced by their frame of reference when choosing what words to use, and then second, we are similarly influenced by a different, modern frame of reference in our efforts to interpret it all. That’s how we can come to do all the wrong things for all the right reasons.
Today, when you say “bishop” you generally think of one of two things: either a chess piece, or a high ranking “church” official. There is nothing else I know of in our culture today that this word means. So when we read that verse, since it’s clearly not referencing a chess piece, we think, “if anyone desires to be a high ranking church official….” And yet, that is very far from the original intent!
The translators who chose to stick the word “bishop” there originally were working under the authority of the English king, in an era of totalitarian churchianity, and on the heels of intense persecution by the “church” hierarchy. They had no frame of reference to compel them to buck the system; it was all they knew.
As a result, in way too many instances, their English word choices reflect inductive reasoning. This means they started with their understanding of the world, and then forced the Bible into it, even when the text, in context, is saying something completely different. The insertion of the words “pastor” in Ephesians 4:10 and “bishop” here are examples of this.
The translators were by default apologists for the monarchy and the “high church” bureaucracy, whether they knew it or not. There were a lot of important people, members of the translating team included, who held these titles. Unable or unwilling to think beyond this, they jimmied these man-made titles into text. Fact is, there are no “pastors” in the Bible! (See my blog post from a couple weeks ago.)
To the point, the Greek word here translated “bishop” literally means “inspector,” and connotes one who looks into things. In a functioning, organic, non-hierarchical Body, as was the context at the time, this would have implied one who digs into meanings and/or one who helps settle disputes, like a counselor. It was not a “church”-specific, narrowly-defined title, as the word “bishop” is today, and the Greek word would have conjured a very different mental picture for the original readers of the epistle. In light of the literal definition of “ministry,” which means menial servant – and the Scriptural examples of judges and apostles who led by leaving – there is no way we can apply this to the exalted, man-made position of “bishop” that we see today.
The Spirit-led headship of God through Christ is available to each and every believer. It is not something we can outsource, nor should we. God desires to direct our paths, steer the ship, and call the shots. He desires to be the Head of the Body, and there is only room for one. When we all follow the beat of the same Drummer, we will finally find the true unity of the Spirit that God desires for us, and our final victory will be at hand.
Yes, it is good for a person to desire to be used by God as a judge, or apostle, or “inspector.” It is not good for a man to desire to be “the guiding or directing head” of any organization, or to accept that role when people seek to thrust it upon them, as they by nature will.
Sadly, we’ve created “church” bodies that are built entirely on the sinful, man-made ideas of “leaders” and “followers.” Any group that follows the codified teachings of a man, or the active “leadership” of anyone, is misguided and factional at best. Denominations which teach that only the man at the top can truly hear from God are blasphemous.
We certainly have freedom to build organizations that go by the name “church” and that claim to serve God, but if they’re under the headship of a person, then how can we say they are truly a part of the Body of Christ?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!