Leaders, stop trying to control everything!

In the Old Testament, God's Spirit was given only to select leaders. In the New Testament, however, it is clear that the Spirit of God has been given to all of God's people. On the Day of Pentecost, the Spirit was outpoured:


17 “‘In the last days, God says, 
   I will pour out my Spirit on all people
Your sons and daughters will prophesy, 
   your young men will see visions, 
   your old men will dream dreams. 
18 Even on my servants, both men and women, 
   I will pour out my Spirit in those days, 
   and they will prophesy.

There are four main New Testament passages on spiritual gifts from which typical definitions and understandings of spiritual gifts come (Rom. 12:1-21, 1 Cor 12:1-31, Eph 4:7-16, and 1 Pet 4:7-11); what unites these passages is the term “gifts.” There are

 several points to be made from these passages. First, spiritual gifts are from God and bring grace into every believer’s life (Eph 4:7) for they are apportioned to “each of us” by Christ, chosen and allotted by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:11), and activated by God (1 Cor 12:6).  Second, the use of spiritual gifts in a Christian community demonstrates Christ’s conquering of evil (Eph 4:8-10). Third, spiritual gifts are to be used in service to others (1 Pet 4:1).


The problem, however, is that far too many church leaders ignore that God's Spirit lives inside of all believers. In the book, Mission in Acts, Eddie Gibbs writes a chapter saying the following:

"In my study on the mobilizing of God's people for ministry, the difficulty is not so much a lack of teaching on the subject of spiritual gifts, but rather a reluctance by leaders to empower people to exercise their God-given ministries. Where there is a heavy emphasis on control, the ministry of God's people is inhibited."


It is arrogant to think that we know exactly what is going on in people's individual's lives, or in all of the church's small groups, and think that we can sit in an office and dictate a one size fits all approach, telling individuals and leaders exactly how they must do things, what time and place, etc.


I am all for leading people in a direction. However, this ought to be done by building relationships with people and sharing vision with them. To coerce people goes against the non-authoritarian nature of Christian leadership (Mk. 10:42-44). As leaders, we should encourage people to go in a certain direction. Many people will be receptive to this and follow. Missional leaders should be constantly meeting with people, sharing an outward vision with them, and serving them, which opens them up to our leading. But to try to force people to do things is not the way to go. 


Christianity, unlike other religions, is a religion of choice, not coercion. And frankly, many times people know better than others what they need in their lives. (Many times, they don't, but they often do.) To tell someone, for instance, who is grieving that they can't meet in a grief recovery group on a Wednesday night because it violates the master church plan, is wrong-headed. Ministries and structures are there to help people spiritually. They are not an end goal.


So if you are a Christian leader, encourage, share vision, and serve others--but don't seek to dictate and control everything.


Why do we tend towards controlling others? What fears or motivations drive this?

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Comment by Timothy Tien on April 6, 2011 at 1:37pm

The world likes to think it is in control.  Like other biases, this leadership tendency can bleed into the church without thought.  Delegating is much harder, as it requires trust, letting go, and most importantly, having developed and identified (usually it is just 'identified', without much investment, but that is another post) the deacons to whom you can pass the ball, and then stand shoulder-to-shoulder when something organic unintentionally hits the fan.  At our annual elder strategic offsite last weekend, I was just exhorting us to push decision-making down through the leaders of organization, because the temptation is to do the opposite (and the elders seem maxed out, anyways).


Interestingly, some of the most influential models are all about enabling delegation.  Google and Facebook come to mind.  Thought provoking post, thanks!

Comment by James Nored on April 4, 2011 at 5:31pm
Bill, I hope that it does not take the death of all elders (or other leaders) to change this thinking! Thomas Kuhn, however, in his book on the nature of paradigm shifts, does indicate that for a shift to truly take place, the old generation of adherents must die out.
Comment by Bill Bowman on April 4, 2011 at 4:33pm

I grew up in a church where some of the elders were against giving the members much freedom without telling them the details.  Certain conclusions were drawn about certain issues such as

being led by the Holy Spirit.  You either accepted their conclusions or were put on their list to not

be allowed any public display.


The tight rein on the members and leaders made it possible to have a church that "thought and taught the right way."  Not much diversity allowed.  That was the motivation behind it.


Now that the elders have died that thought that way, the church has done a flip-flop and just

about all that was thought of to be tight-controlled is now allowed.



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