Church Leadership: Can we stay unified when there are core doctrinal differences in the church?
I originally shared this with my Revival Church senior staff. I’ve communicated what I’m about to share with my various ministries throughout the years, and it’s been incredibly helpful to keep us on track toward revival.
I then realized that this would benefit not only my senior staff, but the greater body of Believers. This will help senior leaders and also those in the body who might may struggle with differing doctrines and focuses.
For example, IHOP and Bethel have some foundational theological differences, mostly surrounding eschatology, yet they remain great and close friends in the mission of Kingdom advance. We should all have the same heart and spirit within us.
Bill Johnson mentioned a key difference between prior church generations and what God’s doing now. We used to gather around doctrines. Movements launched around people adhering to same Christian theologies. Now, movements are launching as people gather around fathers and apostolic leaders who have a bold Kingdom vision and a mission. That is right on. Brilliant.
Here’s what I sent to my second tier of leaders at Revival Church last week:
I shared this with the senior leadership team recently and wanted to also get it in front of the rest of our amazing team! This will help you navigate through challenges with differences of vision and doctrine that arise as you meet and lead people in the church.
I've always shared this at various times in my ministries, but this is the first time I've done so at Revival Church:
- As our church grows, we will see MANY differing doctrines in our camp. I've been around this mountain more times that I can count.
- I've had Calvinists demand I study with them and change the official position of the church in favor of their doctrine.
- I've had strong grace doctrine folks want us to change our position.
- I had a guy hand me a huge manuscript he wrote that details why apostolic ministry is no longer for today and didn't approve of my focus on it in the church.
- I've had anti-spiritual warfare people share their positions. Anti-manifestation people shared theirs. Others don't believe Christians can be demonized. Others are pre-trib, others post-trib, others KJV only, etc.
- Others have shared their critiques regarding our vision, ministry emphasis, over-emphasis on one thing, under-emphasis on another, and on and on and on.
The emails I've received over the last 21 years could fill a book!
In every one of the above situations I listened openly and honored them in their personal pursuits, but I did not allow them to distract my primary focus. I did not allow them to compromise the mission we were on. They may not have realized it, but I had already processed through the positions they hold to and had made my doctrinal and ministry decision long ago.
I love this principle:
Someone once said, “I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.”
We as leaders have to use great caution and wisdom in the way we handle such matters. Confusion, distraction, division and disunity can creep in overnight if we aren't careful.
“In Essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.”
This is a key principle for us. The essentials, or the absolutes of scripture, are the classic, foundational Christian doctrines that cannot be violated. If one were to not adhere to an essential, an absolute, then that person would not be a Christian. For example, it’s mandatory for salvation that we agree that Jesus is God. However it’s not mandatory for salvation that we agree in the pre-tribulation rapture of the church. One is an absolute, or an essential, and one is not.
- Have clarity on what the doctrinal positions of Revival Church are and always commit to unity regarding them.
- While it's expected that leaders will hold to differing positions at times (non-absolutes), those positions must not be communicated to others in the church. A good way to handle this situation is: If someone asks you what your opinion on the end times is, for example, you could respond, “The church's position on this is Apostolic Premillennialism and I support them fully.” Now, I also value your personal processing through such situations. It's healthy to do so. If you want to discuss your position with me one-on-one, I'd love to do that at any time.
- Don't ever teach on a topic that is contrary to the position of the church.
- Always have the heart of a protector over senior leadership and the doctrines and vision of the church by voicing support and unity even if your personal doctrines/vision differ.
- If you want to discuss differing viewpoints, always approach me first, and then leave it to me to invite other leaders/people into the discussion if I feel led.
You'll notice that I rarely request feedback among leaders on doctrinal opinions, especially in a group or public setting. That's intentional for the sake of unity. I already know that we'll differ doctrinally. I often tell people, “The debate between Calvinism and Arminanism (for example) is not a new one. I don't have time to recreate that wheel of debate. Research the debated positions online yourself. I adhere to the Arminian position.” I don't let that distraction derail me.
Titus 3:9- But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.
Let's commit to this so we don't have splinter movements within the body.
It’s better to be unified yet disagreed on non-absolutes of scripture than it is to be divided in our search of affirmation of our biblical positions.
John 17:20-21 (ESV) 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Philippians 2:1-3 (ESV) 1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Ephesians 2:19 (ESV) 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,
UNITY OF VISION
While we can all hold to differing non-absolutes of scripture, this doesn’t mean that we won’t be running in a specific direction on a specific track here at Revival Church. We honor those who have differing positions, but we also honor the clear vision and mandate that God has given us as a body. That vision and mandate does include a specific doctrinal focus and position.
For example, we are a church that openly encourages the practice of praying in tongues. We love and honor those who don’t pray in tongues, yet we aren’t going to eliminate our focus on the gifts for their sake. We know we will run with a certain tribe of people, and that’s OK. That vision is worth protecting.
Please always approach me with any teaching topics that you'd like to present in the church before you teach them. With new people coming in it can be easy for new leaders to presume I'm in agreement with something when I actually am not. A simple bulleted outline is all I need, and I trust you have clarity on the vision of the church and won’t teach in opposition to that.
There's no single stream that I'm 100% in agreement with (that would be weird!)… some of IHOP I agree with, some I don't. Some of Bethel I agree with, some I don't. Some of the Word of Faith I agree with, some I don't. Some Baptist doctrine I agree with, some I don't. And on and on!
Here's a great article on how to differentiate between absolutes and non-absolutes of scripture. I gleaned it from Ted Haggard in his book Primary Purpose:
When discussing ministry doctrines, styles and focuses, it’s important that we identify exactly where the particular topic rests within the whole spectrum. Let me explain. I believe there are several different levels in which we can examine structure or style of ministry. Most church bickering and splits would be eliminated if we understood this. Unity would thrive and the Great Commission would be more quickly achievable. Watch the progression from Absolutes of scripture to Interpretations and beyond:
- ‘Absolutes’– Every Christian church must agree on the absolutes. If a church doesn’t accept an absolute, it would certainly not be considered Christian. Absolutes include the fact that Jesus is God, he rose from the dead, salvation only comes through him, there is one true God, Jesus is coming again, sin separates us from eternal life, etc. We can never sacrifice an absolute. We must never waiver from our position here. Churches that accept the absolutes can get together for prayer, fellowship, etc. In Colorado Springs we had the nations largest National Day of Prayer event. Thousands got together to pray for our city in a downtown park. We all agreed on the absolutes.Example of a violation of an absolute: An Arlington, Virginia, minister said, “We have closed our minds to such trivial considerations as the question of the resurrection of Christ. If you fundamentalists wish to believe that nonsense, we have no objections, but we have more important things to preach than the presence or absence of an empty tomb 20 centuries old.”
- ‘Interpretations’– Next on the list, resting on the foundation of absolutes, are interpretations. These are scriptures, that we form opinions or sometimes even doctrines on. They are always taken within the context of the passage. They are fairly focused ideas, but since they are interpretations, there can sometimes be disagreement. The problem is when we allow this disagreement divide the church. Examples of interpretations can be- everybody is meant to speak in tongues, pre-trib rapture, etc. Since these aren’t absolutes, it’s ok to disagree. It’s tragic when people deem certain movements and people as ‘false’ because they disagree with them over interpretation.
- ‘Deductions’– Deductions are broader and more general than interpretations. You can arrive at a deduction when you read a larger portion of several passages of scripture. Doctrines should never be made on deduction alone, but there is much liberty to allow your ministry to include deductions as long as they agree with and enhance the absolutes. As with interpretations, it’s certainly negative to identify deductions as un-biblical when they in fact don’t contradict an absolute.
- ‘Subjective Opinions’– Broader still, subjective opinions are arrived at by individuals that experience certain insight when searching the scriptures coupled with living out what they find. Of course, subjective opinions must always agree with absolutes and must not contradict scripture or they must be thrown out. Subjective opinions my include teaching that hymns are more effective than contemporary worship or that we should dress like the culture that we are trying to minister and relate to them on their level. This is where ministry style can have a lot of freedom to experiment by trial and error. Discovering what works best in your situation at this level should never be accepted as absolute truth, or even as a deduction.
- ‘Personal Preferences’– Personal preferences may have less to do with controversial scriptural matters and more to do with personality, likes and dislikes. For example, a minister may prefer to have a robed choir every Sunday while another may prefer a single barefoot guitar playing worship leader straight out of the 70’s. Another example would be to take tithes and offerings by passing a plate rather than having the congregation bring the tithe to the front of the sanctuary and lay it on the altar. The Bible is usually silent on such preferences.
- ‘Feelings’– Feelings would include simply what we like and don’t like. Can you believe there have been church splits on this level??! What color the carpet, or whether to use hymnals or a video projector has more to do with atmosphere than with anything else.
- ‘Cultural Norms’– This simply has to do with the style and system of a particular culture. For example, you may find loud ‘Amen’s!’ in an Afro-American church while it may be more subdued in another style of church. You will also find a lot of cultural difference between different denominations and different socio-economic classes. If every church were a hooting and hollering roller coaster ride, then there would be a large segment of society that would not be reached, and vice versa.
Sometimes scripture doesn’t demand something be done a certain way. If we all focus on the absolutes and resist creating divisions based on lower levels, we will certainly have a powerful army ready and equipped to accomplish the Great Commission. Someone once said, “I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.”
Understand, I am all for discussion. Iron sharpens iron. But sometimes, the scripture remains silent or vague. As long as we do everything we can to create healthy churches, we have a lot of freedom to work it many different ways.
Are you ready to be a part of what many believe will be a world impacting center of ministry in Detroit?
I had no idea what I was getting into when God moved us from Kansas City to Detroit. Sure, I knew it was about revival. I also understood that the coming outpouring would impact this region and even well beyond. But, I was nowhere near being able to comprehend what would actually come to pass.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 (ESV) 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.
The Spirit searches the deep things of God, and then reveals and imparts those things to those he loves. Man, that absolutely wrecks me!
I am convinced that the coming revival in Detroit will bring the shock and awe of the mysteries of God that mankind has never imagined.
IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME
I do my best to avoid cheesy movie quotes in prophecy. However, I just couldn’t deny that God was talking to me.
God had been highlighting a vision of a massive movement and center of prophetic and revival focused ministry. I saw a regional center of reformation, revival and equipping very much like The Ramp in Hamilton, Alabama being established in Detroit. Keep in mind that I didn’t know much about The Ramp, which is led by Karen Wheaton, as God was speaking that name into my spirit. I wasn’t out to copy another ministry that was enjoying success. There was something else to this. God was calling me to plant a large center of revival that would draw thousands of people into God’s holy fire.
During prayer before a service at Revival Church approximately a year ago the Lord spoke that famous movie quote to me, “John, if you build it, they will come.”
It was a very heavy and exciting word. Well, things got very interesting as the service got started that night. Someone wandered in late and stood up in the service to get my attention. He looked at me and said, “John, God wants you to know that if you build it, they will come.”
The trembling commenced. He had no idea what happened in the prayer room, and he had no clue that I had a mandate to launch a new ministry. God had my attention.
I started connecting more with The Ramp online just to catch a glimpse of their flavor and focuses, as well as checking out the practical nuts and bolts of launching and running a ministry like that.
The vision we have here in Detroit is certainly unique as we focus on the groans of intercession, preparing for revival on a city and then international level and raising up carriers of fire who will take the burnings of God to the nations.
However, there are many overlapping circles of vision that are undeniable, and the driving force (the Holy Spirit) is the same. God is looking for reformers who will rock the nations.
At one of the events at The Ramp, Dutch Sheets said:
“You crave His presence, but you loathe the average church service. You are part of the reforming generation.”
WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE
- The Culture: If you read my book 20 Elements of Revival, you will have a good idea of what we’re going after. The culture in this emerging ministry is one of extreme fire, burnings and groanings of intercession, going after manifestations of healing and deliverance and the development of leaders who will impart this to the nations of the Earth.
- The School: Of course, theLab is blowing everybody’s mind right now! This school of burning was dramatically prophesied over us by Jeff Jansen just before launch. He said I’d be writing books and we’d be launching schools (plural!) of the Spirit. We’d be taking people into the place of encounter and into heavenly experiences. It’s been prophesied that we’d take caravans of revival into the cities of the Earth. This is a huge part of this mission, and I envision a large campus with hundreds of students being equipped and released.
- The Events: An attention grabbing series of prophetic words has us focused on praying in a huge property. People that we meet keep prophesying that they see theLab and huge events in stadiums. One person said it will take a stadium to hold the events and the school at theLab. You’d be stunned if you knew how many times I’ve heard this. We desire to bring in people like Dutch Sheets, Bill Johnson, Rick Pino, Catherine Mullins, Brian Simmons, Cindy Jacobs, Heidi Baker and others who share our heart for revival. I’m praying for a 2000+ seat auditorium plus a campus with classrooms for schools of worship, prayer, etc. that will house our daily activities—and then favor with stadiums when we hold regular (monthly?) events.
- The Nations: theLab will be sending teams to cities to establish schools and hold revival focused events.
HOW YOU CAN JUMP IN
- Gather your family, friends and everybody you can on Sunday nights at Revival Church. As a regional center, we are thrilled when other pastors and people join with us when their church isn’t holding a service. At Revival Church you will gain the traction necessary to see the vision and see how you can lock in with this revival movement.
- Pray with us every Friday night from 10pm-midnight as we travel the Detroit region. This is the anchor of the ministry and you will immediately catch a powerful glimpse of our passion.
- Give financially. We are literally looking for extreme miracles of millions of dollars to get this ministry center developed. Additionally, there’s big plans to develop the school further, to launch into other cities and to continue writing materials. You can give online at www.detroitrevivalchurch.com/donate, or if you want to discuss a broader financial partnership, just contact me at [email protected].
So, get ready! The harvest is coming. That means hundreds of thousands or more people are coming to Detroit! Are we ready to receive them?
We at Revival Church and theLab are doing our part!
Love you all!
FIRST—Tonight at Revival Church we’re gathering together with people hungry for a move of God in Detroit. If you aren’t pursuing revival corporately tonight, by all means come on out and contend with us!
ALSO—Be sure to REGISTER for the upcoming Michele Perry event at Revival Church! www.detroitrevivalchurch.com/events
I sometimes wonder if we truly understand the severity of the crisis we are experiencing in the church.
Rick Joyner reports that today only 5% of people who make a decision for Christ actually end up in church.
Billy Graham’s on stats reveal that only 2% of people who make a decision for Christ at his crusades end up in church.
We are in the midst of a crisis that every day is resulting in people who were incorrectly secure in their position in Christ dying and entering into Hell. Does this mean that everybody that doesn’t ‘go to church’ is out of relationship with Christ? No, but it is at least an indicator of a possible problem.
The church is a corporate entity. We love, serve, worship, pray and contend together on a very regular basis. In Acts we see that they were in the temple daily and in prayer and other activities corporately. To remove oneself from that fundamental New Testament structure is at least an indicator of several potential issues.
I’m teaching part two of “The Spirit of Pilate in the Church” tonight at Revival Church. We are seeing a serious problem of affirmation of the people who have rejoiced at the arrival of Jesus in their lives (Palm Sunday) but who have refused the cross as the answer (Good Friday). When there was hope of personal gain (Hosanna) the people gathered, but when there was risk of personal loss (the cross) the people scattered.
The big show, the rejoicing and worship of the Palm Sunday crowd must be interpreted carefully. Churches are growing through the affirmation of the Palm Sunday believer, when, in fact, those people may not have embraced the cross of Christ.
Churches that are birthed and developed from the Palm Sunday style crowd are making a tragic mistake. The emphasis is on what the church can offer the people. On Palm Sunday that’s what happened. They were yelling, “Hosanna!” which means, “save us” or “deliver now.”
With so many people craving their needs and desires to be met it’s quite easy to attempt to satisfy those demands. What results, however, is a culture of diminished focus on the cross, and a body of believers who aren’t schooled in the call to pour out, to minister and to give and serve with no demand for anything in return.
Simply, it results in a lazy church.
When I started traveling to Detroit to minister, and God was exploding in power in the services, I began to experience a strong and urgent concern constantly with me.
There are a lot of hungry, desperate people here in Detroit. The opportunity for revival is huge in this region.
However, the concern that has only intensified within me is this: Many are taking a wait and see approach. They are hungry, but they simply move from Sunday to Sunday and special event to special event hoping that God pours out that day.
On the surface that sounds great. People are hungry and want God to move. However, if we’re not careful we’ll easily embrace the Palm Sunday strategy.
We can’t simply express our desire for “Hosanna”, for saving, for deliverance and then kick back and wait for it to arrive.
In Acts 1, the disciples had a similar mindset. They asked Jesus when he was going to establish his Kingdom. They wanted Jesus to kick back into action an do the work. Jesus then said something that changed the face of history. He told them that he was leaving, and they must now do the work themselves! They were to initiate revival, to expand the Kingdom. They had a lot of serious work to do!
They transitioned from disciples to apostles (sent ones) on that day.
This is what the entire church of Detroit (and the nation, and the world) must do! It’s our responsibility to initiate and facilitate revival, the establishment of the Kingdom. It’s our job to heal and deliver. We also have a lot of serious work to do!
We CANNOT take a ‘wait and see’ approach!
If you are in the church in the Detroit region, ask yourself, “What am I doing strategically and intentionally every day and every week to initiate revival and to advance the Kingdom?”
We need everybody zealously contending individually and corporately. The churches should be packed Sunday morning, Sunday evening and many nights through the week!
The church needs every believer in position as the 24/7 church is being restored.
Let’s not just ‘hope’ and wait… but, let’s aggressively release revival in this city. Let’s do the work necessary.
As Bill Johnson says, “Nothing in the Kingdom comes outside of declaration.”
If you don’t have a service TONIGHT to attend, don’t miss the chance to contend in the presence of God with us at Revival Church! www.detroitrevivalchurch.com