The spirit of control and the nightmare of dysfunctional churches.
I'll lead with the solution. A culture of prayer is the prescription not only for controlling, manipulative and dysfunctional churches, but also for every “normal, healthy” church. It's the call for all. I've written extensively on this and I am more convinced than ever that programs and politics must be set aside in favor of developing a night and day, all-encompassing, deeply saturating and strikingly potent culture of intercession in the church.
I hear often from people who have become jaded by controlling or even abusive pastors. I am also well aware of the resistance and manipulation that manifest through the people. The demands to fashion a golden calf are loudly sounded when the leader heads into inconvenient, costly and uncharted territory.
We don't only have one puppet master pulling the strings. The other side is pulling back and this wicked, internal battle is threatening the advance of God's kingdom.
THE PURPOSE OF CHURCH SERVICES
Prayer meetings. Intercession. A well developed culture that breathes and burns with the call to contend in prayer is the primary purpose of every church, and this means our church services should be driven by fiery, authoritative intercession.
We don't need another professional organization that gets more intoxicated every time new flesh, or, rather, a new visitor, walks through the door. We don't need humanistic vision, goals or projects to complete.
I'd encourage you to read my book Pharaoh in the Church. In it I call pastors to quit forcing people to make bricks so their personal kingdoms can be built. There is no need for bricks where they are called to go. The tent in the wilderness where the cloud and fire reside needs worshipers, not slaves.
A worship lyric by Brian Ming sums it up best:
God forgive us for building kingdoms of man on doctrines of demons in your name.
17 And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” 18 And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. Mark 11:17-18 (ESV)
The spirit of control and manipulation that we see in so many churches today is a manifestation of the spirit of religion. In the above well-known Bible passage, it's clear that Jesus will have nothing to do with churches that are driven by personal ambition. The people were using the house of prayer for their own benefit, to financially profit. Of course, financial strength isn't inherently wrong. But, when motives are tainted by impurities, we have a problem.
It's another Tower of Babel, a massive project developed with heaven as the focal point…and self-exaltation as the goal.
4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:4 (ESV)
THE SPIRIT OF RELIGION
We see that in play with the thieves in the Temple and we see it in play in churches today. Pastors often fall into the trap of using the church as a vehicle to fulfill their personal missions and dreams. The people are well familiar with the consumer society we live in, and all too often they are consumers in the church as well. They want what they want and they won't make it easy for the pastor if they don't get it.
Again, the answer is developing a prayer culture that is so predominant and foundational that it drives the entire church. The services are more like prayer meetings than TED Talks, filled with cries and groans of intercession and the manifestation of holy love that results. It's very hard if not impossible to hate or despise or even to fight against those you are weeping over, contending in prayer for.
Pastors need to lay their expectations down and simply lead the people into the glory of God. Yes, challenge them. No, don't shrink back. But don't make the experience about busyness, projects or fulfilling a personal dream.
The people need to understand the leader is called to lead them into an uncharted place. They should let go of the demands and simply follow, pray and battle as holy soldiers.
DUELING PUPPET MASTERS
The dueling puppet masters need to stand down and eliminate the competition, the pressure and the strife from the camp. No more tug-of-war. No more control. We need the inappropriate expectations to cease.
Understand, I'm not campaigning for some sort of organic, casual, careless or passive church experience. Not at all. I believe our call into the Ekklesia, into God's governmental service, is one that will cost us everything. The price is high and it's not for the apathetic, self-indulgent person. The battle is extreme and it demands we are at our very best, equipped, prayerful and dressed for war.
Yes, our apostolic leaders must boldly call us into action. Yes, the body must be in position. They must lift up the arms of their leaders, strengthening them in the fight.
What we don't need for even one more Sunday service is pastors who are trading their prophetic mantle for that of salesmanship, attempting to convince the people buy what they are selling so they can be personally enriched, their reputation enhanced and their lust for success satisfied. No more spiritualizing personal endeavors and expecting the people to supply the need.
We also don't need a casual people who are passive-aggressive, who manipulate and control the leadership in order to coerce them to change the direction of the church or to meet their selfish demands.
We need bold, selfless leaders who are willing to lay down their lives for the sheep.
We need consecrated, surrendered people who are dying daily and enlisted as soldiers.
The innumerable projects, promotions, groups, functions and busyness in today's church really need to come to an end. Trade it all for prayer meetings. Gather the people together and run the race of intercession together. Equip the saints, preach on fire, pray without ceasing and head out into the wilderness of encounter. That, my friend, is church.
If God promotes you, you better be ready for what’s coming your way.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)
One of the most common prophetic words in the various prophetic streams (whether real or fabricated) has to be, “Your promotion is coming!” It’s probably as popular as, “This is your season of open doors!”
I believe God does plan promotion for all who are truly humble and surrendered. Yet, the promotion may not be what a particular human heart desires. There are many who crave promotion onto the platform while God’s assignment is promotion into the prayer room. Others desire promotion unto notoriety. God may desire to promote them unto obscurity as part of a nameless, faceless generation.
It’s critical we handle spiritual advance with wisdom and care. Promotion is all about God’s will for our lives and not our own.
I’d like to do two things regarding your passion for promotion in the spirit:
- Encourage you
- Caution you
Several years ago I was in an exciting and very active season of ministry in the Detroit area. I had planted a prophetic and prayer focused ministry there and I was contending for revival corporately and also for personal growth so I could be ready and equipped to lead with strength.
Whenever I have an opportunity to step away from the pulpit and get refreshed at a conference or another church service, I typically like to find a place in the back to let God minister to me during worship and the teaching. Some friends from my church and I decided to check out The River, a church led by Marlin Reid, a revival minded pastor in the region. He was hosting Jeff Jansen, whom I had never had the opportunity to see minister.
As I sat on the floor in the back of the conference center at the Southfield Westin Hotel, God and I had an interesting dialogue. He had impressed on my heart that promotion was coming, and I probed him with questions about just how something like that happens. What was my responsibility? How should I prepare? Was I doing anything wrong? What was the timing? What exactly is the purpose of a promotion anyway? As I sat there enjoying both the service and the conversation the Lord and I were having, God spoke very simply, yet very clearly: I am going to show you how easy and how quickly promotion will come. I was intrigued.
At the end of the service, several hundred people were stirring around and I headed for the door to go home. Pastor Marlin, whom I had met only briefly at the beginning of the service, called out to me before I could leave the building. He wanted to introduce me to Jeff Jansen before I left. Leaving three or four hundred people behind, Marlin led me into the hallway and then into an elevator. Next in was Jeff Jansen and two others. Pastor Marlin said his goodbyes and returned to the conference room as the four of us shot up to the top floor of the Westin. We entered Jeff’s suite where there was a chef and a spread of food ready for us.
We sat at the table and Jeff immediately started prophesying over me. His accuracy was stunning as he saw me writing books and ministering powerfully through articles and other writings. Remember, we had never met and he had no idea I had written several books. He then took some heavy gem stones out of his pocket and put them into my hands. He revealed that they were the stones that famously and miraculously manifested as the glory of God came down during some previous meetings.
Suddenly, in the midst of this remarkable setting, God spoke to me. He reminded me that he told me mere minutes ago that he was going to show just how easy and quick promotion can come.
Just moments ago, I was about to walk into the parking lot to drive home. I was suddenly diverted and out of at least a few hundred people, I was chosen along with two others to meet with the man of God. I was “promoted” to the top floor of the hotel in mere seconds, was seated at an exclusive table and had my ministry confirmed in powerful ways. That encounter was a real life object lesson that God used to encourage me. When it’s time for promotion, it will come.
Since then, I’ve written over two hundred articles for Charisma Media, have written a total of ten books and continue to see doors open like the Elijah List and other media outlets. Favor truly follows this ministry, and I’m humbled.
Of course, the promotion is not simply a natural one. It’s spiritual. I’ve watched God work wonders in our ministry and I’m eager to continue to be available as a vessel. Our God is amazing and we have barely begun to see what he has prepared for us!
8 When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, they went up in full force to search for him… 1 Chronicles 14:8 (NIV)
The moment you are anointed, promoted into your next position in the spirit, the enemy is sure to be alerted. The purpose of this segment on using caution is not to instill fear in you, but rather to cause you to soberly understand the weight of what comes with promotion. It’s laughable to think that pastors and leaders have an easy, favored life on the platform. The assaults that come with promotion and leadership in the church are beyond the scope of what most could understand.
If pastors and leaders were honest, many would admit to being hunted and haunted by a very real demonic hoard. Many experience emotional disturbances, mental disorientation and spiritual desperation. Curses are strategically directed at them both by the world and the church. The arrows that stick in their backs are sharp and difficult to remove, yet they power on, devoted to the call that God has on their lives.
Your passion for promotion very well may have been deposited into your spirit by God, and if it was, you can be sure that the Holy Spirit will lead you and guide you, even though the journey will often be very painful and lonely. You absolutely must use caution in the process. Getting ahead of God or lingering behind would be bad ideas.
Those who are simply enamored by the supposed glamor and glory of ministry, pursuing promotion is absolutely a bad idea. You have no clue what you are asking for. It would be much better for you to step back, seek the Lord and learn to enjoy the position he has assigned you to. Leadership in God’s Kingdom comes with an extreme price, and unless you are truly called of God to assume that position, you will be assaulted by an otherworldly fury that you cannot defend.
If you are assigned by God, get ready. You must use great wisdom as you navigate the battleground God is leading you into. Above I shared the first part of 1 Chronicles 14:8. There’s a little more to that verse, and in it we see the spirit of a warrior:
8 When the Philistines heard that David had been anointed king over all Israel, they went up in full force to search for him, but David heard about it and went out to meet them. 1 Chronicles 14:8 (NIV)
David heard about it and went out to meet his enemies. He was ready and full of faith. This is where we can first see a differentiation between those who are truly called and the pretenders. Those who crave promotion but are not called will not be anointed or empowered by God to advance against the enemy. Fear will keep them away while God’s promoted and anointed leaders will run to the battle! David is quite famous for this.
48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 1 Samuel 17:48 (NIV)
Now, it’s important, again, that caution is heeded. When we as leaders advance, we can’t be presumptive or casual. We must continually seek God for direction, wisdom, revelation and clarity. David did just this.
9 Now the Philistines had come and raided the Valley of Rephaim; 10 so David inquired of God: “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you hand them over to me?” The LORD answered him, “Go, I will hand them over to you.” 1 Chronicles 14:9-10 (NIV)
David inquired of the Lord and received an affirmative response. Yes, it’s time to advance. His obedience in both hearing God and in responding rightly resulted in victory.
11 So David and his men went up to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them. He said, “As waters break out, God has broken out against my enemies by my hand.” So that place was called Baal Perazim. 12 The Philistines had abandoned their gods there, and David gave orders to burn them in the fire. 1 Chronicles 14:11-12 (NIV)
Yet, we see God’s answer is different at the next provocation of the enemy.
13 Once more the Philistines raided the valley; 14 so David inquired of God again, and God answered him, “Do not go straight up, but circle around them and attack them in front of the balsam trees. 15 As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, move out to battle, because that will mean God has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” 16 So David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army, all the way from Gibeon to Gezer. 1 Chronicles 14:13-16 (NIV)
This time God had different and more precise commands. David responded rightly, and another promotion came.
17 So David's fame spread throughout every land, and the LORD made all the nations fear him. 1 Chronicles 14:17 (NIV)
TRUST GOD’S PLAN FOR YOUR LIFE
Promotion like we see in David is a very serious thing indeed. We can’t casually, lightly pray for promotion to come. When we do, demons will catch the scent and will pursue you with vengeance. If God is with you, and you are responding to his directives, you will still have to fight, and the war will be intense, but the victory will be yours. If your promotion results from selfish ambition, look out. It’s not God who has elevated you, but you yourself have propped yourself up—perfectly in line of sight of the enemy. I’d duck if I were you.
Run from the enemy and miss out on the dramatic, victorious promise God has in store for you!
We are in a generation of runners. At the point of crisis, God’s children tend to run from the battle instead of defeating the very enemy that has them fleeing.
People run from church to church, hoping to leave their past behind them. That never works. Their undefeated enemy, whether it’s a spirit of rejection or anger or outright rebellion, shows up the very first day they visit their new church.
Someone visited Revival Church in Detroit a couple of years ago. One of the first things this child of God said to me was, “I’ve been kicked out of every church I’ve been in. I’m determined that this won’t happen here too!”
That was a great plan, but, unfortunately, she was unwilling to battle the demons of old. Sadly, she didn’t last more than several weeks with us.
We so crave freedom from whatever bondage we are experiencing that we often demand an immediate yet premature resolution to our captivity.
In Portland, Oregon, a man was scheduled for release from prison in less than a week after 272 days behind bars. He couldn’t wait. He escaped with six days left on his sentence!
He was caught just hours later.
Sometimes the quickest route to freedom is not the most direct, or the easiest, or the most obvious. In fact, sometimes it’s to back up and entice our enemy to pursue us!
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. 3 For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ 4 And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD.” And they did so. Exodus 14:1-4 (ESV)
They were already on the borders of the desert, and a short march would have placed them beyond the reach of pursuit, as the chariots of Egypt could have made little progress over dry and yielding sand. ~Jamieson-Fausset-Brown
The Israelites could have continued in the direction they were heading, and they would have been out of the reach of Pharaoh should he decide to summon his armies and chariots to pursue them.
It surely seemed to be madness for Moses to direct the people to turn back!
Freedom was to be had! It was right in front of them! But, their mandate was to turn back and to face the enemy they fled from.
I propose we embrace leaders like Moses today—those who aren’t trying to lead us into the Land of Promise while avoiding the challenges, struggles and pursuing armies that God desires for us to defeat. We need leaders who lead into trouble for the sake of victory!
It is a valid question: Why would God cause freedom to be delayed? Why would he put people he loves in grave danger? Two simple reasons:
- God will get glory.
- They shall know God is the Lord.
God is interested in our freedom. He’s also interested in his glory.
6 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, 7 to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. 8 I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:6-8 (ESV)
This is such an important lesson for all of us. God’s primary motivation is not to make our lives easier, nor to give us immediate satisfaction as we pursue freedom. As it always has been, and always will be, God is focused on his name being known for the sake of the generations.
We must trust God’s wisdom, his truth, if we desire to experience freedom. His truth will very often violate our own wisdom or common sense:
31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32 (ESV)
Note how 250 years later Gideon had an important point of reference as he dealt with his own issue of captivity:
And Gideon said to him, “Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.” Judges 6:13 (ESV)
Gideon heard of the of Moses and the Hebrews. That story would not have been the same if God hadn’t caused them to turn back and face a fierce enemy.
13 And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” Exodus 14:13-14 (ESV)
Instead of taking matters into their own hands, devising plans and strategies and moving according to their own wisdom, God was instructing them to stay put and be silent. How hard this must have been for them! What a lesson in faith this was!
15 The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 17 And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” Exodus 14:15-18 (ESV)
Quit crying and follow my instructions! Now it was time to advance, in the direction God revealed—right into an impossible sea. What kind of God was leading them? It sure seemed he was a monster, bent on their sure demise. How could any God presume to love anybody if he is pushing people to the limits of their sanity by toying with them as pawns on a great, seemingly demented game board. No wonder they would end up demanding to return to Egypt!
What they needed to understand, and ultimately would, is that freedom isn’t found at the place of safety. It’s found in God’s presence. Where he is there is freedom, even if that means turning back to face the enemy:
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 (ESV)
19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, 20 coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. And there was the cloud and the darkness. And it lit up the night without one coming near the other all night. Exodus 14:19-20 (ESV)
The cloud that was moving before them moved to the back. It wasn’t simply a cloud, however. It was a mighty angel of the Lord!
We must learn to trust God’s wisdom as he leads us into threatening, deadly situations. There are angels. There is a Holy Spirit. There is a pillar of cloud and of fire that will go before us and guard behind us.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued and went in after them into the midst of the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. 24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, 25 clogging their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily. And the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from before Israel, for the LORD fights for them against the Egyptians.” Exodus 14:21-25 (ESV)
There it is!
The Egyptians acknowledged the Lord! That was one of God’s goals. It took a fearless heart on behalf of Moses and the Hebrews. It took radical obedience. It required a resistance to temptation to make a jailbreak prematurely. Faith was key. God’s name was made great among the Egyptians and the generations to come.
You and I will be much stronger, more free and God’s name will be glorified in our lives if we don’t run from the enemy. We must defeat the demons, the Goliath’s, the Egyptians, our fears, our rebellion, our rejection. Turn back and fight!
A young man named Gideon would pull on this amazing, ancient story at the foot of the Red Sea as God, again, encouraged someone to advance in obedience and in the power of God.
And the LORD turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” Judges 6:14 (ESV)
Go in this might of yours and watch God receive the glory as you advance into supernatural freedom!
SPIRITUAL WARFARE THREE PART SERIES
When we understand our authority, and when we understand that the battle is in the invisible realm, we can have great impact. The enemy will bring the fight to us whether we want to go to war or not. Our only option is to know who we are in Christ, and who Christ is in us and then to enforce the victory of the cross! You will find yourself encouraged, equipped and joyful as you finally hit the enemy with a supernatural power that will send him fleeing!
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SPIRITUAL WARFARE THREE PART SERIES BY JOHN BURTON
When we understand our authority, and when we understand that the battle is in the invisible realm, we can have great impact.
The enemy will bring the fight to us whether we want to go to war or not. Our only option is to know who we are in Christ, and who Christ is in us and then to enforce the victory of the cross!
You will find yourself encouraged, equipped and joyful as you finally hit the enemy with a supernatural power that will send him fleeing!