Western churches have often been besieged by a problem that I call the ‘curse of autonomy’. It is the sense of unhealthy independence that opposes healthy interdependence. It is about ‘me’ and what ‘I’ am doing, even what ‘I’ do for God. Serving God, of course, is never about an individual person, minister or church firing ahead in what they want to do if this ends up being in isolation from the pack. We function best when we align to a corporate church-based vision, whether we are leading other people in that vision, or submitting our own plans to a broader vision led by someone else.
And that is the issue. Submission in churches is not just for the followers, but for all Christians. Self-styled ministries have no business driving their own agenda without being fully submitted to a local church, since the church – with all its imperfections and shortcomings – is what Jesus has given as the vehicle for changing the world. Led by a collective of ministries working in partnership and not in a dog-eat-dog kind of self-sufficiency, it identifies those called to vocational leadership by God and it doesn’t simply authorise the leadership of competent people.
In a world which wants to believe the adage ‘me and God are a majority’, we need a return to voluntary submission to God who works through those He places in authority over our lives. To escape that is not a sign of maturity, but immaturity. To yield, without anyone forcing the issue, is to undertake a deep discipleship which says that the Kingdom which God came to build must be a partnership of people whose own interests and agenda are of secondary importance to the needs and growth of the ‘Body of Christ’ (as revealed in 1 Corinthians 14). When God speaks to people, too, this is never in isolation to what He has already spoken in Scripture.
Even ministers would logically yield to those in authority over them – to God, yes, but also to denominational leaders, apostles, eldership boards and so on. They also yield in certain areas to the superior giftings of others who they lead, such as prophets or teachers. Yet so many smaller churches, let alone larger ones, have a false sense of security and strength when they preside over property, assets, finances or long-term Christians without an awareness of the blind-spots that can be overcome by allowing others in the broader Christian church to speak in to their overall health. A health check is therefore a reality check and sometimes health only comes with a new reality.
Just as an ember from the fireplace dies out when it is removed from the blaze, so too people, churches and leaders who are reluctant or unwilling to have others speak directly into their lives are sure to cool down and see their best days behind them. It is just a matter of time…