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.
Watch a BRAND NEW XPmedia video on spiritual abuse and why NOT to leave a church!
If you’d like to book me for a COHESION EVENT where I teach on the content of this video, go here: www.johnburton.net/booking.
I often hear people use the term ‘spiritual abuse’ when sharing about challenges in their church. It seems to lend a clearly valid reason to leave a church, right? Not necessarily.
Watch a direct and fast paced teaching on Spiritual Abuse & 5 Reasons NOT to Leave the Church on XPmedia here: http://www.xpmedia.com/TMTb7qXAstev
I do understand that there are some horrible, selfish, mean spirited, controlling pastors—and congregants—out there. My heart is broken over situations like that. However, actual abuse is quite rare.
I recently had a conversation with someone regarding spiritual abuse, and here’s my response when it was argued that spiritual abuse is rampant in the church:
I think it's tragic when rejection causes people to flee the church when it was rejection that caused Jesus to die for the church. Jesus was abused, hated, physically destroyed… yet he served the church. He forgave.
We have people today who are leaving churches because of the most ridiculous reasons. When they don't get what they want, they accuse the pastor of control. Whenever accusation is in the mix we know someone has embraced a demonic anointing. He is the accuser of the brethren… and we should not be.
I also believe that abuse of people towards leaders is extremely rare. My wife and I have been in ministry 21 years… and we've experienced some very difficult things. Very cruel people… gossip, division, mistreatment, etc. But we've never been close to being abused.
I used to work for a 10/40 Window ministry. I've met Christian leaders in those nations who have been imprisoned in horrific conditions… stories of abuse like having a shotgun put in someone’s mouth because they didn't renounce Christ… they pulled the trigger and she lived. I could go on and on… pastors murdered in front of their congregation… another stripped naked and abused as he preached. I've seen piles of burning Christian bodies that were killed and torched by terrorists.
So, no, I haven't seen abuse much at all. I've seen bad stuff. Tough stuff. Inconvenient stuff. Emotionally difficult stuff. Unfair stuff. My heart goes out to those who have been treated poorly by pastors. And my heart goes out to pastors who have been treated poorly by people. But, I won't call it abuse if it's simply a very bad trial.
Here’s the content from the original article that resulted in this video:
People are leaving or changing churches at a record pace—when should we NOT leave a church?
Unity is so powerful that Satan used it as his primary weapon to build his kingdom on the Earth:
Genesis 11:4-8 (ESV) 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.” 5 And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the LORD dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.
The unity driven plan, as impossible as it seemed, was on track to succeed—so God dealt a blow to what? Unity. It worked. The people scattered.
Now, in an attempt to turn the tables on God as he is building his Kingdom through unified people, Satan is attempting to scatter the church. It’s working. The church is at risk.
A spirit of independence is convincing Christians that it’s time to take control of their lives and forsake the call to gather under leaders within the structure of the church. We must repent, and we must return to position and get ready to move as the alarm sounds.
While there are (rare) times to move from one church to another, I want to share five reasons NOT to leave.
5 REASONS NOT TO LEAVE A CHURCH
When you don’t fit in. My three sons and one daughter would never leave the Burton family if they struggled to fit in, if they were misunderstood or if they were having a bad season of life. My wife wouldn’t either, nor would I. If we see the church as a part of the service industry like McDonald’s or Wal-Mart we will end up leaving if we don’t feel welcomed or served. However, God plants us in a covenant family, not a shopping center.
What most people really mean when they say, “I don’t fit in at this church,” is that they aren’t enjoying themselves. Possibly, they feel rejected. I find it disturbing when rejection causes people to leave a church when rejection is what propelled Jesus to die and launch the church. Remember, the church isn’t to be there for us as much as we are to be there for the church. The mission of the church is demanding and not always enjoyable and we must be in position ready to work. I guarantee anybody who approaches leadership and offers to serve in the nursery or by cleaning the church would absolutely fit in. Their serving heart makes a place for them.
Acts 4:11 (ESV) 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.
Luke 17:25 (ESV) 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
When its easier for you to connect with God elsewhere. I know this may be a shock, but the primary purpose of the church isn’t to make it easy for you to connect with God. If we understand this, a million arguments against staying at your church will instantly disappear. It’s our job, individually, to develop intimacy with Jesus. If we are dependent on a pastor, worship leader or others to nurture our relationship with Jesus, we’re in big trouble.
We should never arrive at church empty. We should be full of God and ready to pour out. If its easier for us to encounter God in our home or with a small group of friends, then great! That’s the way it should be! Then, take fire that you’ve cultivated to the critical corporate gathering and burn hot. Serve well. Get into position, lock arms, serve the leaders and advance the mission.
If we focus on personal edification and connecting with God as the primary purpose of the church, we can quickly forget the many additional needs that we have: Discipleship, challenge, discipline, accountability, maturing, giving, serving, and on and on.
Remember, you are not the church. You can’t leave the corporate gathering and be a part of the church. The church only exists when we gather under the call of leadership. Read this article: You are NOT the church
Acts 14:21-22 (ESV) 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
The leaders aren’t doing things the way most people think they should. Many people believe leaders should make it easy for people to follow them. I disagree. Church leaders are mandated to lead people into some of the most challenging, risky and costly missions the world has ever known. People should actually make it easy for church leaders to lead them.
People made it hard for Moses to lead them into the Promised Land and they died. They made it easy for Joshua to do the same, and they dominated.
The demand of the people can be so strong sometimes that pastors and leaders forsake their mission. They end up pleasing the people instead of God.
Check this out. Jesus had just identified Peter as the church and made it clear that the gates of Hell would not prevail.
Matthew 16:18 (ESV) 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Then immediately after this, Peter, the church, unwittingly renounced the cross. He removed the cost, the surrender, the sacrifice. Watch what Jesus did:
Matthew 16:21-23 (ESV) 21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Peter (the church) was mindful of the things of man, not the things of God. Wow. The pressure of the people to steer the church in a certain direction can result in heeding their demands instead of the inconvenient and extreme mandate of the mission. Don’t be one of those people.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV) 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
When another church has better programs for you and your family. We should never choose a church based on what we can get out of it. We are actually assigned by God himself to serve and build it.
My definition of religion is: Man’s attempt to use God to get what he wants.
When we expect to gain from the church ahead of sacrifice, we are embracing the same spirit that killed Jesus. The spirit of religion wanted to use Jesus for personal gain.
Consider the money changers. Right after the crowds were ‘worshiping’ Jesus by shouting Hosanna (which actually means, “save us now,”) Jesus dealt with that spirit. The crowds wanted Jesus to save them, to focus on them, to give them what they demanded. Then, the money changers, driven by the same spirit of religion attempted to use the church for personal gain.
Matthew 21:12-13 (ESV) 12 And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
The sin of the money changers? They expected to leave the temple (the church) with more than they entered with. The used the temple for personal gain. We see this same spirit in churches around the world. The expectation is to leave the temple with less than we enter with. We bring a sacrifice. An offering. We serve. We give. We place no demands on the place of sacrifice, but instead honor God through the sacrifice of intercession for the nations. Prayer is the primary purpose of the church, and the church needs you to join in that mission.
When God tells you to. OK, I’m sure you are awake now! Have you ever played the God card? As a leader I’ve heard many times, usually through the grapevine, that, “God told so and so to move to another church.” Really? That’s odd. I was entrusted as their leader, which is a very serious position, and God just forgot to tell me about this? He left me out of the loop? Maybe Hebrews 13:17 isn’t what we think it is? The church I’m leading isn’t important enough for people to honor the mission?
I hope you are getting the point.
We are called to submit to authority—even ungodly authority like judges, elected officials and our bosses at work. Certainly it makes sense that God would include our godly authority in a decision making process as important as leaving one family and one mission for another.
The point is this—God wouldn’t just tell you to leave without your leader being involved in the process. In fact, can I just be blunt? It’s extremely disrespectful, presumptuous, rude and self-serving to abdicate your responsibility in your current church by leaving without honoring the authority in your life. Your pastor has every right to participate with you in your process.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 (ESV) 12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.