posted September 30, 2011 by Viral Jesus
We can own a car, or a house or a piece of land. What we can’t own, outside of slavery, is people. Yet, if we look at the behavior of much of Christianity nowadays, one would think that owning people is part and parcel of how Christianity works.
Let me explain ownership. When we own something, it is under our control. No one else dare use it unless they have our permission. This applies to cars and houses as well as people. So when we treat other Christians as if they are under our control (usually we use the euphemism “leadership”) we are acting as if we own them. We even usually end up thoughtlessly using the vocabulary of slavery; he’s under our authority, she’s one of ours, they belong to X (usually a name of a church, ministry or leader).
This idea of ownership is actually quite common in the church today. I’ve noticed it in my own ministry when I, as an organic church practitioner, end up beginning to do ministry with someone who is already a part of a traditional church. Let me give you three examples.
1.) If I win someone to Christ, and they are introduced by their friends to a traditional church, it is almost inevitable that they will sooner or later be told that they now “belong” to this church and should therefore only attend their services and be “under the leadership” of their pastor. In my entire organic ministry, I’ve never once told someone that they shouldn’t attend a traditional church. Why, because I don’t own the person who has come to Christ. They belong to Jesus. I was just His instrument to introduce a person to Him. But, I’ve watched time after time as new disciples become church attendees instead of disciples of Christ. Inevitably they no longer do organic ministry or frankly much ministry at all.
2.) If I end up in contact with someone who is interested in organic ministry, who asks me to teach them how to plant organic churches, yet they are part of a traditional church, I pretty much know what is going to happen. I will begin to disciples them. I will tell them that I have no power over them but they are to only follow Christ. They will begin to grow. After that they will tell someone in their traditional church what they are doing. Next, they will be told something like “organic church is bad or questionable” and “you belong to this church.” And, as this logic continues, since they “belong” to the church, they should not do any work outside of ministry that is under the leadership (often expressed “authority”) of the leadership of the church. Further, any ministry they do should benefit the goals of “their church.” On average this takes about two weeks.
3.) I will begin to disciples someone whose spiritual life has been nurtured in traditional churches. They will view me as a leader instead of as merely a more experienced person. They will assume that I have power over them. They will be leery of this perceived power, or conversely they will expect to put themselves completely under my control. Either way they are not really fit to be discipled. On the one hand they struggle to get past the fear that I will dominate them. On the other hand they will become passive and fail to follow Christ; assuming that Christ’s directives somehow come through me. It rarely seems to matter how much I tell them I don’t have power over them or how much I keep trying to direct them to Christ. The fear will paralyze the relationship (or end it). The passivity is almost impossible to eradicate. Sadly both states, fear and passivity, keep people from actually following Christ himself.
So, what’s the solution? The long term solution, in my opinion, is to keep winning people to Christ and pray that they don’t have any Christian friends until they become followers of Christ himself. Should I completely avoid ministry with traditional Christians? No, hopefully I can say something that will move them closer to Christ. And, occasionally I find someone who is tired of the power game that is so predominant in the Church today. Such a person is ready to try to find out how to follow Jesus himself. These people are worth their weight in gold. In such a case, a more experienced organic disciple can train them in the skills of following Jesus himself. They can point them to others who have specific experience that might be of use to them. And the more experienced organic Christian can begin to watch as Jesus comes to life in their soul. This, in turn means that the relationship becomes mutual, each learning to follow Jesus from the other.
Do you think equating the traditional form of Church leadership to slavery is overstating the case? Why and how?
Can you see how traditional leadership tends to isolate people from Christ rather than direct them to Him?
What would you do in the three stated scenarios?
Have you ever struggled getting a traditional Christian to actually follow Jesus instead of other people? Have you found ways of effectively connecting them to Christ without controlling them?
 I never recruit anyone, precisely because they don’t belong to me, they belong to Christ. I only try to disciple people in organic church planting who ask me to do so.