Just like any other counterfeit the enemy offers, the Christian “religion” can be an addictive drug. Like licking your lips on a windy day – which provides temporary relief but only makes the problem worse before long – participating in “religious” activities can give us a burst of euphoria. Problem is, this quick fix is no fix at all.
When we fall into this trap, we see our only course as doing more of the same. Drug addicts look to take more and more of their drug of choice. “Religion” addicts seek to sit closer to the front, sing louder, put more money in the plate, get involved in a “church” committee, etc.
I’ve known people who even went to seminary and/or into full time “ministry” for this very reason. Needless to say, they generally end up hitting a brick wall before long. Because no matter how much you pursue an addiction, you’ll never find what you’re looking for. As Solomon said, it’s like chasing the wind.
Those who are responsible for feeding others can take one of two general approaches. They can aim to truly edify (the Greek word for this means to build up or construct, as in a building) by serving a balanced, nutritional diet. Or they can seek to give their charges a sugar high – a quick burst of spiritual fervor that quickly fades to black. “Minsters” who do the latter – who are all, I’m sure, well intentioned, but trapped in tradition – are little more than drug pushers. They offer a counterfeit “religion” in place of a true, functional relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of “church” activities today are geared towards giving folks nothing more than sugar highs. Our entire churchianity system is built accordingly. “Religion” addiction is job security for “clergy,” because druggies need a pusher, and kids who are addicted to sugar need a candyman. Otherwise, if folks were to connect directly to The Source — operating, individually, under the Headship of Christ — then the whole basis for our ”church” buildings and institutions would crumble.
If you’re in ministry, you’re no doubt familiar with the yo-yo effect. Folks come to an event, “church service,” concert, rally, conference, camp, retreat, etc., and get full of “the Spirit” – and then soon after, they’re back where they began, if not worse off. This manifests itself in many ways, including folks repeatedly answering altar calls, or appearing as Sunday-only (or Easter and Christmas only) Christians, or in backdoor losses, or even in suicide attempts. They “get it” during the activity, and then quickly lose it when they walk out the door.
It is this phenomenon that made Billy Graham’s best “retention rate” no more than five percent. He could get crowds into a “spiritual” sugar high, and lure multitudes to raise their hand and walk to the front of the assembly, but when it all came down to it, fewer than five out of one hundred of them really got it. Makes for great fame and fundraising, but where’s the fruit?
I’ve dealt for decades with ministries and ministers, and am sad to say that way too many are unwitting facilitators of this phenomenon. The paradigm for most formal Christian activities these days is how people were “moved” by the event. So we play the music and dim the lights just right, bring a moving message, put on a multimedia show, stage skits, facilitate “deep” thought, load folks up on Bible trivia, “move in the Spirit,” etc., all to make an “impact.” But like giving crack to an addict or candy to a kid, it’s often all just a temporary high.
The alternative, of course, is true edification – The Way Christ and the early apostles modeled it. That is, building up each person, one at a time, through deep, personal, long-term relationship. Growing them over time through providing proper spiritual nutrition, from milk to red meat.
In The Way, we don’t seek to give folks a sugar high; instead, we introduce them to the Living Water and Bread of Life. In The Way, there aren’t quick bursts of “spiritual” euphoria that quickly fade to black; instead, there’s a constant connection to the Spirit that gives us true peace and contentment in every situation, every day, and that only grows deeper with time.
Folks who are used to sugar highs can think this Way boring. They’d rather go from high to high, and if you’re not providing it, they’ll go to the “church” down the road that puts on a better Sunday morning show. They’re chasing the wind.
“Ministers” who are trained pushers of the Christian “religion” can’t relate, either, as The Way doesn’t fit into our “church services,” or fill the plates, or pack the pews. You see, “ministers” who are raised in the sugar high culture need their own high, too – but for them, it’s become the “amens,” or raised hands at the end of the “service,” or growing membership, or bigger buildings, etc., that give them their fix. Like any addict, they believe they need more of these counterfeit “results” to keep going. They, too, are chasing the wind.
The Way builds on The Rock, it doesn’t chase the wind. The Way chooses edify over sugar high, every time.
No, The Way is not sexy. But it is the only way we can bring God’s Kingdom to earth as it is in Heaven.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I worked as a plumber’s assistant for about a year back when I was 20. I loved the work, as it always involved intelligence, creative problem solving, and the wisdom that comes from experience. My boss was, rightly, quite proud of his chosen profession, and considered plumbers to be the elite among tradesmen. I’ll never forget his statement: “Give a person a saw and hammer, and he’ll call himself a carpenter. But give any old person a pipe wrench, and he wouldn’t dare call himself a plumber.” He was well aware that most people realize working on water and gas pipes is a great responsibility, and there’s more to the profession than just having the right tools.
The profession itself recognizes the practical skills and seasoning necessary to be a plumber, and so has established the progression from Apprentice to Journeyman to Master Plumber. These are meaningful titles, based on years of experience as well as proven accomplishment. You can’t go to college to be a Master Plumber; you must roll up your sleeves and put in many years of hands-on labor. As I recall my boss telling me, a person must have eight years of experience before they can even apply for a Master’s license. This is as it should be. A simple water leak can ruin a house, and a gas leak can do even worse.
Man, I wish Christians had the same respect for ministers of the Word. Fact is, false or immature spiritual teaching, counseling, etc., can cause much more damage than any plumbing mistake. Yet, as a Body, we’re foolish in how we appoint our spiritual authorities.
My experience is that the Body gives credibility to people based on just about every single factor BUT spiritual maturity and hands-on, front-line, Kingdom experience. A guy has a big “church”? Expert. He’s on TV or radio? Expert. Talks smooth from the pulpit, smiles and calls us “friend”? Expert. Went to seminary? Is “ordained”? Has the title of “pastor”? He must know his stuff. Puts a lot of money in the plate? Can play “church” politics well? Ditto and ditto.
Even worse is this: There appears to be two classes of “expert.” There’s “those who are exalted” (the “clergy” class — see above list), and then there’s everyone else.
Like my old boss said about carpentry, in the ranks of “laymen” it seems that if you give any old person a Bible they consider themselves to be a theologian, and they do not generally recognize the authority of any fellow “layman.” You could have 20 years mission experience, have led to Christ, baptized and discipled hundreds, witnessed countless miracles, and defeated demonic powers in frontline spiritual combat, but if a disagreement arises in a Bible study, the perennial pewsitter will think he’s got just as much right to his “opinion” as you have. And then, of course, when the “pastor” speaks – even if he’s done nothing in his spiritual life but go to seminary and preach sermons – he’s considered the ultimate authority, and Heaven forbid you disagree with him!
If you have a clear picture in your head of who the Apostle Paul really was, and how he must have appeared in person, you must realize that, were he to walk into the vast majority of “churches” today, he’d would certainly not be provided a platform. He’d at best be considered a threat, if not a freak. Heck, if anyone calling himself an apostle were to walk into most “churches” today, he’d be cast out.
What have we come to, when we anoint our leaders based on superficial, meaningless measures, while failing to honor the ones among us who have a genuine, seasoned, proven connection to the Holy Spirit? It’s a sad state of affairs. The blind are leading the blind.
– 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!
What do the statements “God wants us to ‘go to church’” and “Jesus was gay” have in common? Both were true long ago, when the words “church” and “gay” meant something different. And neither is true today.
Words are important to God. The Bible says Jesus was “the Word made flesh,” and that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So yes, words are important.
That said, a word in and of itself is just a noise or string of letters. What does “skopeta” mean? I don’t know, I just typed in random characters. But if I declare skopeta is the new word for “muddy shoe,” and this gains common acceptance, then all of a sudden those random characters have value. Take off your skopetas before you come in, please!
Here’s the point: It is the shared meaning behind a word that gives it usefulness and power. Fifty years ago the word internet would have been nonsensical. Now that we all know what it means, that string of letters is a meaningful word.
God’s Words give life. They are multifaceted, living and active. But it is not the syllables spoken or the letters on the page that contain this power. The words we attribute to Him are meaningless if they are not backed by the truth of His intended meaning.
Satan knows this and is very clever at manipulating the shared meanings behind words to suit his purposes. If we’re not diligent, we can obediently follow a “word,” but in reality be doing all the wrong things.
Let me give you an example: Those of us my age or older remember when the word “gay” meant happy and joyful. Back before the 1970s that was the only meaning of the word. There were no negative connotations at all. I frequently read my children old books, and when I come across this word I find myself changing it to “happy” so they don’t get the wrong idea. Tell a man today he looks gay and he may well be offended, where 40 years ago he would have thanked you!
Now imagine you are a young, new Christian who is eager to serve the Lord. You’re in a used bookstore and find a first-edition, 40-year-old book written by one of our recent heroes of the faith, like Billy Graham, and you buy it so you can learn how to better serve the Lord. In it, suppose there’s a section that says “Jesus was gay and taught his disciples to be gay, too – and He desires the same for each of us.” Fifty years ago that would have been absolutely true; He was indeed a joyful man, and He wants that for everyone.
If you’re too young to know the history of the word “gay,” you’d have no way to know that what you take it to mean is not what the author meant. You could certainly be confused, if not led astray. I trust Billy Graham’s reputation, and I want to serve God, so no matter how strange it sounds, I guess I need to give it a shot… Sure, that example may be a little silly, but it makes the point: Knowing the original intent behind the words we use is vital.
If we are serious about our faith, we must realize the original, inspired words of the Bible were written thousands of years ago, in obscure languages, by and for people in a world radically different than the one we know today. Even if we could be assured of accurate translation of the words, fact is that scores of generations, mind-boggling technological advancement, radical cultural shifts, and countless other factors have changed many of the understood meanings behind the written words.
Unfortunately, we can’t even safely rely on the accuracy of our modern translations.
The King James 1611 “Authorized Version” is revered as infallible by many. Even those who prefer more modern translations nearly universally respect it as a masterwork of artistry and accuracy, and it is pretty much the touchstone for virtually all modern translations. Yet as I’ve pursued the truth and dug into the original languages of the Bible, I’ve become painfully aware of the cultural bias of King James’ translation team, and how badly this has hurt us today.
This bias is especially profound in how it’s shaped our understanding of “church.” Heck, just using the English word “church” – which conjures very specific pictures in the minds of readers – to represent Greek ekklesia is profoundly misleading. There’s a long list of equally charged words they stuck into “God’s Word,” not least of which are the titles of bishop, pastor and deacon. I believe the Apostle Paul would be spitting mad if he knew these misguided, man-made concepts were inserted into his divinely-inspired epistles.
Let me give you an example. The word bishop today is a title reserved exclusively for high ranking “church” officials. So when we read 1 Timothy 3:1, our minds see: “If a man desires a career as a high ranking ‘church’ official, he desires a good work.” Yet this is very far from the original intent!
The Greek word translated as “bishop” literally means “inspector,” and connotes one who looks into things. In a functioning, organic, non-heirarchical Body, as was the context at the time Paul wrote it, this would have implied one who digs into meanings, visits people, and/or helps settle disputes. It was not a “church”-specific, narrowly-defined title, nor was it a paid position, as the word “bishop” means today. The paid, high-ranking “church” officials of the day were the ones who crucified Christ!
We must step back and look at God’s Word objectively, and not get defensive when the real meaning challenges our status quo. Here is the cold, hard truth: The translators who chose to stick the word “bishop” (and all the other churchy terms) there originally were working under the authority of the English king, in an era of totalitarian churchianity, and on the heels of intense persecution. They also made their livings from the established “church” structure, and many held the title of “bishop,” so seeing outside this stained glass box would have been very difficult for them. If that weren’t enough to warp their worldview, history shows that King James himself commanded the translators to be sure that their translation supported the High Church traditions and structure!
Regardless of how much they may have known better (assuming some did), they were not going to buck the High Church system. Many of their peers, in their very recent past, had been burned at the stake for such “heresy.”
If we are going to seek the truth, we must accept the fact that King James’ translators – who brought us the Bible as we know it today – were apologists for the monarchy and the High Church bureaucracy. Unable or unwilling to think beyond their own, limited worldview, they inserted these concepts and titles into the text. In doing so, they paved over God’s divine design for His Body, and built their human-made structure on top of it. There are no bishops, pastors or deacons – or “churches,” or “sermons,” or “Sunday services” – in the original, inspired text of Bible, at least how we define those terms today.
The Bible says we are to find out what pleases God. To do so we must dig deep into Scripture, with an open and inquisitive mind. Blindly obeying words at face value – when we know full well how meanings can change over time, and how translators are bound to be influenced by their worldview – does not make God gay … uh, I mean, happy.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Regardless of our individual theological views on legalism, Christians today by-an-large seem to still value the Ten Commandments, and seek to obey them as clear-cut rules for Godly living.
Of course, we seem to pick and choose our favorites. I don’t know anyone who endorses murder or stealing, for example. We’d never think about breaking those Commandments. Also, as a rule, we still tend to frown upon lying and committing adultery, although in general it appears we’ve gotten a bit more tolerant of slips in those areas. Most Christians, I’d say, don’t endorse taking the Lord’s name in vain, and wouldn’t intentionally put another god before the real One, yet we don’t frown upon those quite as much as we do the “big ones” like murder. As for not honoring our father and mother and the two about not coveting … well, while we can quote those when convenient, I question how many folks really take those as ironclad, guiding principles.
Of these mentioned, even the ones we don’t seem to take so seriously, we at least seem to understand what they mean, and know deep inside that we’re doing wrong when we violate them.
There’s one more Commandment, however, that belongs in a class by itself. It’s one that even the least legalistic of us tend to beat ourselves and others over the head with, even if subconsciously, and yet it’s the one that virtually nobody properly understands. Our generally-held interpretation of this Commandment is so backwards and wrong that our attempts to be “obedient” to it can actually cause us to violate it!
When I quote it here, I want you to take a moment and pause. Think about the first thing that pops into your head when you read it. Think about what your Sunday School teacher told you it means. Think about how it’s been used in your life, and what it’s driven you to do. I suspect that your experience with this Commandment is identical to that of the vast majority of Christians around the world.
Here it is: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)
Ok … so what does that Commandment mean to you?
I’ve been to a few “Cowboy Churches” over the years, and there’s a commonly-displayed poster that has the “Cowboy Ten Commandments.” The creator of this “translated” the Ten Commandments, reverently yet colorfully, into colloquial “cowboy” dialect, capturing the essence of the generally-accepted meanings. I suspect your understanding lines up with this quite well. It says, “Git yourself to Sunday meetin’.”
That sums up the modern understanding of this Commandment. “Remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy” is interpreted to mean we’re supposed to go to “church” on Sunday, pure and simple.
Of course, since we’re supposed to “go to church,” then by default we need a “church” to go to, right? And since we are commanded to go there on a particular day, this requires a set meeting time, doesn’t it? And so this Commandment, as it’s nearly universally interpreted and applied today, is used as a logical foundation to support the whole modern “churchianity-industrial complex.” (A new term I just made up. )
Since obediently “gittin’ ourselves to Sunday meetin’” requires a designated meeting time and location, then this logically supports building buildings called “churches,” having “pastors” to officiate our meetings, having seminaries to train our “pastors,” and on and on. We’re just trying to obey God, and we can’t do it without all this, right?
Therein lies the problem. You see, this Commandment means something entirely different! Taking out the poorly-translated religious jargon and breaking the verse down in the original Hebrew language, you get this: Remember a day of rest, and keep it set apart.
On the seventh day of creation, God rested. We are called to enter into Christ’s rest, and to cease from our own works. God instructs us to “be still” and know that He is God. Every major good-guy character in the Bible that I’ve studied took time on a regular basis to relax and connect with God. The concept of resting, of being still, of getting some good down-time on a regular basis, is an important Biblical concept. So important, in fact, that God made it one of the Ten Commandments!
Of course, our human nature wants to codify things. Over time the Israelites made the Sabbath into a very legalistic thing, with detailed instructions on how to avoid work on that day. These laws were so convoluted, and the punishments meted out so strict, that I’d bet most of the Jews of Jesus’ day were pretty darn uptight on the Sabbath, which was contrary to God’s desire for the day.
In the same way, we’ve taken that verse and made it something very different than what God desires. Whether you’re in front of the pulpit or behind it, the whole idea of “Sunday meetin’” is anything but restful. Behind the pulpit, there’s an incredible amount of preparation and performance for the Big Show. Pastors, worship leaders, Sunday School teachers, ushers, etc., are “clocked in” on Sundays, no two ways about it.
And as an attendee, well, if you’ve ever had kids and tried to get them to “meetin’” on time, you have an idea how the whole thing can be anything but restful. And even if the kids do happen to get up on time and have no difficulty getting dressed and in the car, the traffic isn’t too bad, and our designated pew spot is not occupied by some ignorant visitor, there’s still all the stand-up, sit-down, sing this, sit quietly, act like you’re paying attention to the sermon, etc., etc., that goes along with the Sunday ritual we call a “church service.”
You can argue with me all you want, and tell me how uplifted you are by the music, how meaningful the “message” is for you, how every minute of it is always pure joy, etc., etc., but I’m sorry, it’s still not taking a day of rest and keeping it set apart as God instructs. It’s not being still and ceasing from our works as modeled and commanded in the Bible.
Something I learned a long time ago is this: If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. If he can’t get you to consciously turn away from God, he’ll get you so tied up in doing things that you can’t hear God’s voice. To me, that’s just as bad, if not worse. Worse, because when we’re busily doing things “for” God that we think are “right,” we tend to stubbornly cling to them, and it’s that much harder for Him to get through to us. And when we get caught up in a herd of other well-intentioned but misguided, busy brethren, the social stigma of doing things differently can keep us in bondage on the wrong path.
Yes, we are not supposed to forsake gathering with other believers. This is not related at all to the Sabbath commandment. And, the way they modeled “gathering with other believers” in the New Testament was nothing like the way we do “church” today. It was organic, unstructured, unscripted, fun, personal, deep, not presided over by “clergy,” not at a pre-set time or location, not stressful, not “religious,” the kids didn’t have to sit quietly, and everyone participated in a meaningful way. They met in homes, in public locations, in shops. They ate meals together, worked together, served together, shared their daily experiences with the Living God together, and pooled all their resources to make sure everyone had enough.
They did this throughout the week. And then, they each took a day of rest, to be still, to fellowship with God, to get the “busy” out of their system.
Boy, we’ve sure got this one wrong, haven’t we?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
Note: I wrote this last spring before I began this blog. Stumbled across it today and thought it’d be a good one to throw out here. Nothing like the slaughter of a sacred cow to start a meaningful dialogue …
In 1959, the greatest Christian salvation machine ever conceived by man invaded Australia, as a Billy Graham Crusade swept over the continent, from shore to shore. Leading an ecumenical effort that included a vast and varied union of denominations and congregations, blasting through all forms of mass media, and speaking in the largest venues in the land, Billy faithfully shared a clear, direct and inviting presentation of the Gospel of Salvation to more than 3,300,000 people in person, and countless millions more through radio, television, newspapers and closed-circuit broadcasts.
This was in the early days of Billy’s remarkable, life-long outreach efforts, and his organization’s scope and scale continued to grow for decades. He returned to Australia with similar Crusades in 1969, 1979 and 1989. Several associate evangelists of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) visited throughout this period as well. In 1996, Billy’s son Franklin, now the president of the BGEA, led a full-fledged crusade that touched the largest cities on the continent.
It is beyond argument that the majority of the population of Australia, for at least two generations, have heard the straight-up Gospel of Salvation, clearly communicated by the most sincere, faithful, capable, organized, and well-funded mass-market evangelists of modern times.
Yesterday I saw a news item from the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197). The lead paragraph says, “A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.” Using a proven statistical model applied to a vast amount of census data, the researchers found “that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.” Top of their list? Australia.
What’s gone wrong? The Bible says the truth will set us free, but this truth is a hard one to swallow.
Is the Christian faith fated to dwindle into oblivion?
Is the Bible outdated and meaningless for today? Is it even, really, the true word of God?
Are the hearts of the people in Australia simply hardened, and they are doomed as a nation to spend eternity in Hell?
Is the rise of the Antichrist inevitable, and so he’s conquering that continent against the best efforts of the Body of Christ?
If you, like me, reject these notions, then what is it?
Did these leaders lack faith, integrity or competence? Of course not! That’d be the easy way out – to claim these Crusades, and all others like them, have failed because the men weren’t righteous. It’s easier to abandon men than methods. But that’s wrong! I believe these men, and others like them, are incredible, faithful, sincere and highly-capable men of God. They are not the problem. Instead, I believe the facts prove that mass market, salvation-based evangelism is not the way to win the world for Christ.
Jesus and Paul modeled for us a different method: Personal discipleship.
They also taught a different message: The Gospel of the Kingdom. This, according to Christ, is the seed we’re supposed to plant. He said the message of salvation is just the first step; that you must be born again just to see the Kingdom. The Kingdom message tells us we are His sons and daughters, with a victorious identity and destiny, and a mandate to establish dominion over all creation. With the “born again” message alone, we view the cross as a means of salvation, a way out of here. (And how’s that message working for us?) With Christ’s message of the Kingdom, we view the cross as God sees it, as a means of invasion. Through Christ, we now have full access to the power, provision and direction of God Himself, to seek first and establish His Kingdom!
It pains me to say it, but the facts are the facts: The methods, models and messages that the Body of Christ have dogmatically revered, embraced and funded for generations have been measured, and they are a massive failure.
But our faith is NOT fated for failure. Victory is our destiny!
The Bible IS the word of God, and it is more relevant and needed today than ever before!
Hearts around the world are parched and hungry for the reality of the Living God, ready to embrace Him when they meet Him!
“The Antichrist” is the one whose days are numbered; the Kingdom WILL come on earth as it is in Heaven, just as Jesus prayed! We are more than conquerors!
We just need to plant the right seed and use the right cultivation methods, returning to the ways of Christ and the early apostles. This truth WILL set us free – free to bring the victory and seize God’s eternal inheritance that is stored up only for those who conquer the world for Him.
It is time for an UPRISING. It’s time for Christians to stop waiting and start winning!
– 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!
You have to know when to go.
I have to warn you: This is another of those Romans 12:2 messages. You know, the “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” verse. If you think you’ve got life and leadership figured out, please don’t read this, as it’ll mess with your mind.
Lately, God has blessed me with time to “be still.” It’s been hard but good. As a child, I recall offering my life to God to do with as He saw fit, and I’ve endeavored to walk out that commitment as an adult. He is my passion, purpose, provider and guide. Even so, I find that I’ve been conformed to the patterns of this world more than I ever realized.
I think we all are. We are born into this world, and its patterns are pounded into our minds from the moment we take our first breath. In many ways, our life’s journey is an ongoing process of de-coupling ourselves from this world. We are being made perfect; that’s the point of this life. Just like trees have seasons of apparent death in the fall that bring forth the fruitfulness of new life in the spring, so too God leads us through “still” seasons, during which time, if we let Him, He can prune away the patterns of this world and bring new clarity and life to our renewed minds.
As long as I can remember, I’ve been called a leader and, probably as a result, I’ve felt drawn to study leadership. It’s been a buzzword in youth programs and education for generations. All kinds of schools, camps, curriculums, ministries – as well as private foundations and government grants – are focused on training leaders. And it doesn’t stop with youth. Countless bestselling books are written on the subject, and famous leadership consultants, coaches and seminar speakers command big bucks. My own personal leadership journey led me to a top executive MBA program with an emphasis on strategic leadership. There’s no doubt, the world values leaders, today’s Christian ministry world included.
Lately, however, God has “rattled my cage,” shaking some of my longest-held understandings. Personally, I’ve found that when God rattles our cage, it’s because we’re not supposed to be in a cage to begin with. Remember, it is for freedom that we’ve been set free! And so, I’ve grown to appreciate such times, even though they can be very humbling. Looking back at all the things we’ve done according to our own understanding and the patterns of this world can be painful. Thank God, His grace is sufficient for me, and I can grow forward without regret. Today is a new day, and tomorrow will be another.
Seeking God’s mind on the subject of leaders and leadership, I recently made the “mistake” of looking it up in the Bible. Did you know that, in the New Testament (NKJV), the word “leader” is not used one time? The word “leaders” is used three times, referring to the Jewish authorities, and two of those times as an insult. The word “leadership” is not used one time in the Bible. (In contrast, the word “servant” is used 86 times, and “servants” 53.)
Could it be that the very ideas of “leaders” and “leadership” are completely man-made and conformed to the patterns of this world?
To get a better handle on this, I looked it up on Dictionary.com. Here’s the simple definition of leader: “A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up. A leader is one who has followers who follow him. Leaders provide direction to their followers, and in turn are given authority and esteem (plus money and power, in most instances) from their followers. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Here’s what I’m stuck asking: Does God intend for the Body of Christ to be a multi-headed monster? From the Bible we know that Christ occupies the position of Head of the Body. Does He need help with this? Is there room for others heads? The more I study, pray, and let the Spirit renew my mind, the more I am convinced that the answer to these questions is a resounding NO.
I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it, too: “Come on, you’re kidding, right? Of course there are leaders in the Bible, and of course leadership is a good thing!” Before you throw these stones at me, ask yourself, are you really so sure of that?
Or, could it be that it is a manifestation of our sinful nature to desire positions of leadership, or conversely for many, to desire to come under the headship of another human?
Let’s look at examples in Scripture. In the Old Testament, when God’s chosen people were obedient to His ways, they had no king. In their place, and only when it was required, God raised up men and women He called judges, and used them for a reason and a season — as organizers and instigators, and occasionally as agitators. But here’s the key: When their assignment was done, they did not seek to hold onto any of the perks of power; instead, they returned back to being just regular people. Even as He used these people, it was according to His headship, and not theirs. (When they did things their own way, they failed.)
Yet the people kept whining for an earthly king, even though God told them it was not best for them. 1 Samuel 8:19-20 “Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of (the prophet) Samuel; and they said, ‘No, but we will have a king over us, 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.’” In their disobedience, they longed for a man to call the shots and rally the troops … and also because it was a pattern of the world, and they wanted to be just like all the other nations.
And so God gave them what they asked for. As with all things, God redeemed that to an extent, as there are a handful of examples of righteous kings of Israel. But on the main, the kings were a nasty, godless, self-serving lot, and ended up leading to the death of the nation – just as God had warned.
This same exact lesson is repeated throughout the New Testament. Thankfully, Jesus modeled the right way. Jesus came to be King of kings and Lord of lords. He wanted earthly influence, right? Yet, tucked away in between feeding the five thousand and walking on water is this simple, oft-overlooked verse: John 6:15 “Therefore when Jesus perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, He departed again to the mountain by Himself alone.”
You see, Jesus knew that there’s only room for one Head, and that is God Almighty. Jesus Himself lived under the direct Headship of God, and He called His followers to live the same way. And, just like an Old Testament judge, after He finished the assignment, He left and went home. He did not seek to build a building, or an organizational structure, or to institutionalize His power in any way. He came to connect people to the headship of God through the Holy Spirit, and then He stepped out of the way.
Jesus led by leaving, and trusted God with the outcome. John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”
Through Jesus Christ, God sends the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things. That message is for each of us, individually, today. It is not for a select, ordained few, to whom the rest of us are to outsource our Heavenly connection. Each of us is to be led by the Headship of Christ, period. Going back to the definition of leader (“A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.”), we must realize and embrace the fact that there is only room for one leader in the Kingdom of God, and that leader is God Himself.
No other form of leadership is Biblical. Matt 20:25-28 “Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’”
Plenty of leadership scholars today say that Jesus modeled “servant leadership.” No, I don’t see that. That’s inductive reasoning at its most stark. Instead, Jesus modeled servant servantship, and that’s all. Jesus knew the job of a spiritual father is to raise up more spiritual fathers, rather than a big following of spiritual children. The words for ministry and minister in the original Greek mean “menial servant,” and that’s all. When they came to make Him king, He ran away. Jesus led by leaving.
His servant the Apostle Paul did, too. He would go into a town, serve a handful of former pagans, connect them to the Holy Spirit-led headship of God through Jesus Christ, model it for them, and then leave them to it! When a leader like Timothy rose to a position of prominence in a community, Paul would yank him out of there and assign him elsewhere. He knew that earthly leadership, as we define it, is a manifestation of our sinful nature.
Yes, Paul desired to be influential for God. Yet when given the opportunity for earthly lordship, he, like Jesus, ran away. Acts 14: 11-16 “Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!’ And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out and saying, ‘Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God….’”
The world is the same as it was then. Our sinful natures are the same. Just like the Israelites, we want to look to a flesh-and-blood man to call the shots and lead us in battle. We want to be just like everyone else, with professional “clergy” and exalted “ministry” leaders. And, for those thrust into those positions, the trappings of leadership are sure quite tempting. It’s just that, when you look God’s original intent, ministry leader as we define it today is a contradictory term, like “jumbo shrimp.”
“Ministry leadership” – following the headship of a person who is called by God to be a menial servant – is not from God. That’s because, as God knows, the natural offshoot of all earthly leadership is factions, which work counter to God’s will. 1 Corinthians 1: 10-13 (NIV) “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
“I follow Martin Luther,” “I follow John Calvin,” “I follow John Hagee,” “I follow Joel Osteen,” “I follow (put your pastor’s or bishop’s name here),” or “I follow the Pope…” These may be good, Godly men. But so long as they accept this role of “leader,” and allow their adherents to be “followers,” they are conformed to the patterns of this world and working counter to the will of God. Please hear my heart here – I’m not pointing fingers! For years, I accepted the role of leader and did not bat an eye when grown men would stand up and say, “I follow Mike Arnold.” I don’t have regrets – God doesn’t give us a spirit of regret — but I do repent, and Lord help me, I won’t walk that way again!
Like the Godly judges and mighty Apostles of old, a leader has to know when to go. The only way we should lead our fellow man is to the throne room of God through the only doorway, which is Jesus Christ. After that, we need to step out of the way. He is more than equipped to take it from there.
Ephesians 4:11-16 “And He Himself is giving some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.