Church Politics, Powerplays and Pouting
‘Fighting For Our Rights or Getting It Right’
Pastor Freddie Steel
The story of Life Church of Chicagoland is miraculous. Borne unintentionally, prospered extravagently, it would have never realized all that it has since its birth in 2000 without the right environment. Just as important as it is to plant trees, shrubs, ornamental plants in the right climate, soil and environment, it is also desperately important that a church be planted according the same conscious care and tending.
Denominational vs Independent
Though I have not tried to keep abrest of what is being said concerning the state of denominational church plants, I can certainly attest to the sound wisdom of being a part of a covering that offers accountability as well as liberty for individual expression. Life Church of Chicagoland enjoys liberty in its local expression while belonging to the Church of God (TN), a Pentecostal movement affecting the world since 1896.
Life Church operated and functioned as an independent, Pentecostal new church plant for three years although I retained credentials with the Church of God and participated in the corporate life of our region. The three years allowed me the time to be certain about making our alignment with the Church of God official (like a marriage – no room for divorce) and it allowed our congregation time to get acquainted with their new fellowship. During that time our regional bishop was visible in many of our functions and fellowship and I pushed my leaders to get to know him and the regional leadership personally.
Establishing Trust via Vulnerability
It was very important to me that my leaders get acquainted with and comfortable with the regional and general leaders and their ecclesiastical covering. From the beginning, while we were still having home Bible studies before our launch, I promoted something called ‘H.O.T.’ communication: Honest; Open; Transparent. I wanted to inventory every area that was vulnerable to the enemy’s attack and be certain to shore it up, in advance, so that I could be, and the flock could be, comfortable and restful even during challenging times.
As time went by, I compromised a good bit so that I could establish an environment of quiet strength and flexibility that would be important as new leaders came along and who would, more than likely, have sesaons where they had to stumble through tests and trials on their way to confident leadership. I made sure we comforted the risk takers and celebrated the brave.
Old School and Old Wineskins
It is probably surmised by leaders from my previous church assignment that I came to Chicago for another purpose than planting a new church. I would have had to have agreed before the year 2000. However, as best I can determine, I was brought to Chicago to be a candidate to lead a venerated Pentecostal church following the retirement of the senior pastor who hired me. As the months went by following his retirement, I became acquainted with new kinds of church politics, new levels of church politics, and saw how once mighty moves of the Spirit can become captive to serving institution rather than servicing the Kingdom. Had I stayed in that environment, I am certain that what Father God has accomplished in these few short years at Life Church would have never been possible. The size and number of the ‘sacred cows’ were too great and too costly to vision, inspiration and leadership endurance to have enabled as many successes as we have enjoyed.
As my previous Chicago church assignment, we spent the better part of a year attempting to get a guest center in the foyer remodeled and renovated. The leadership atmosphere was so strident and, at times, hostile, that I began to wear flack jackets to the staff meetings. I rarely, if ever, remember some of the staff laughing and was even told on three occasions, ‘we’ll get that song out of your heart’ as I walked the halls whisteling or singing.
Not too long ago we got a totally unexpected call from Josh McDowell’s office telling us that they had a last-minute cancellation due to an emergency at the host church and they wondered if we were open to hosting him at the last minute. Common sense, which is what I have seen drive many church operations, would have dictated that it would not be wise. Actually, it is a little embarassing to take on a last-minute endeavor like this one because it would make us appear to our constituents or on-lookers as being simple or unwise and not calculating enough.
In this situaiton, we heartily accepted the date for Josh McDowell and went to work getting the word out. As it turned out, Josh came, was a great blessing to our church (duhh) and we had a full house also. Another, similar opportunity presented itself recently.
For weeks, I had a young church planter sheculed to come and tell his story, share his vision, and give us an opportunity to sow an offering into their efforts. I had already re-scheduled him once and the date he gave us was the last one available before he launched his services and would not be able to attend at a later date. A couple of weeks before his visit, we were given the opportunity to host Brigadier General Dick Abel who would be in town on business that same weekend. What an opportunity this was. However, it wouldn’t be good judgment or wise to host both on the same weekend except that I felt that both men of God should be with us that weekend.
Saturday night the light of inspiration came on in my thinking and I saw how powerful a morning it would be as these two men shared vision, mission and dreams, one from the start of their journey and the other having completed many of the very same. As it turned out, the two melded together, complimented one another wonderfully, and was a great blessing to all.
I am very aware that many church structures will not allow for that kind of spontinaeity and wonder how many God-timed monents and opportunities are then lost.
No Ministry Without Love
It is hard to minister to someone, to something, if you don’t have love or a value and respect for that someone or something. I have friends who are in travelling ministry and are very critical of the church, and the condition that they say the church is in, so that nearly every conversation is filled with their rough critique and disdain for the church, a certain church, pastors, or specific pastors. Interestinly, I agree with a lot of their assessments but I do not agree with the venom that springs from their wells.
Stereotypes and Hillbillies
I am from West Virginia and remain terribly proud of my home state and heritage. West Virginians carry a stigma, being painted as uneducated, struggling hillbillies. I haven’t been inclined to correct that because people who have been there or know us know better. Neither am I offended I hear the prejudice because of the same. However, somone may have a dislike for West Virginia but know West Virginians whom they care for, like or love. It would be a shame to let the dislike for West Virginia, as an example, to be cast over the relationships held with individuals. However, that is what happens when someone dislikes denominations, some church structures, pastors, etc. while, at the same time, liking or loving individual believers. I may have a dislike for some components of a church structure but my dislike for philosophy doesn’t even register because a church or denominaiton is defined, for me, by the people comprising the same. And, I love people.
You cannot effectively minister to the church, to pastors, to the body, in a truly anointed way if you do not love the same. Whenever someone approaches ministry with the mindset that they are going to go to ‘fix’ what they see wrong, they are ministering from and drawing from the wrong well.
You Are Not Called To ‘Fix’ It
You will approach ministry, life and relationships as a mechanic or a gardener. When you are dealing with something that is living and pulsating, for the most part, you cannot come as a mechanic, you must come as a gardener with the same patience and gentleness that would be used in tending roses, seedlings, sapplings, etc. What springs from the gardener is nurture and care. What springs from a mechanic is the end result that takes preeminence over the handling of the same. The mechanic’s touch is absent of care and nurture that a shepherd would have for a sheep.
Rather than being critical of what is perceived as being wrong, love for the one you are ministering to will empower your efforts and all hard, harsh assessments will be nowhere to be found. Compassion, marked by tenderness and gentleness, will carry the word or action of ministry deep into the soul of the one receiving ministry, whether it is a church, a pastor, or a person.
I am reminded of the dispute that Solomon had to settle between the two women who claimed to be the mother of an infant child. Both women passionately declared that they were the mother. Solomon had to make a decision. Wisely, he said that the child should be cut in half and divided between the two women. The real mother was repulsed and backed away giving the child to the woman who was claiming to be her baby’s mother. Solomon knew that his contrived judgment would bring the real mother to the surface out of her love for her baby. The same is true when you are ministering to the imperfect, multi-faceted and unique needs of the church. It is not perfect, but it is still the Lord’s and I love it.
Having said that, my article is not to insult the church but to strongly suggest that an outdated, out-modeed system, structure, and form of politics is being replaced by the Government of God and its order, structure, and rule.
It’s All About the Gates
I’m not talking about the likes of Bill Gates but about something that clarifies the role of the church as clearly as anything that I know of.
About 300 AD a militaristic and political spirit crept into the structure and the nature of the church during the times of Constantine. The church opened its borders to a ruling power that came in and superimposed its nature over top of the organic, body-like structure and organism that had previously given it definition and function. The church translated from being organism to organization and with that the militaristic and political reins of Rome. The communal, familial, covenant living was stripped away and the church started to resemble a fallen, literal community / state rather than continuing as an expression of the family of God on Earth, the Kingdom, God’s government and rule in the affairs of man.
Politics and Self Interest
I am aware that politics cannot work in a church setting for many reasons. Let me share a few.
Politics involves the promotion of self-interests. Politics are the environment where individual rights, agendas, power, and control are contrived. These are the very elements that run contrary to the Kingdom of God.
Politics keep us from trusting God. When one isn’t able to see the outcome of the political interests, one sets about to influence, maneuver, motivate, manipulate, and labor to bring the events around to their view or preference. Politics involves the behind-the-scenes efforts of campaigning to present the issues from a particular angle and will, at times, resort to doing damage or harm to the opposing view or side.
Politics are employed when relationships aren’t present. Whenever relationships are wanting or are ineffectual because the familial tendencies of goodness, honor, respect, trust, confidence, submission, transparency, etc. are present the recourse is to lean toward a mechanical-like embodiment. Politics do not speak of unity, harmony, synchronization, etc. which is what a living organism possesses. However, the church is, first, an organism and then it has organization.
What rights does a believer possess? It is my opinion that ‘rights’ are seen, held, or reflected in church structure through the Five-fold Ascension Ministry Gifts by way of ‘responsibility’ as opposed to rights. Rights would say, ‘I want my interests to be recognized and safe-guarded,’ while responsibility would say ‘I am bearing a load of kingdom interests and give myself willingly and sacrificially to their fulfillment.’ The picture and the illustration of this is seen in the cross that every believer is called upon to submit to.
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
What can you do with a dead man? When one recognizes that they have been crucified with Christ and are living a new life in Christ, that they are in this world but they are not of this world, some things become obvious. You can’t worry a dead man about his future. You can’t worry a dead man about his reputation. You can’t worry a dead man. You can’t incite devotion from a dead man. The rights of one who is now dead no longer exists.
Positions and Promotion
Two things that politics are concerned with are ‘position’ and ‘promotion.’ Whenever one asserts themselves for roles or positions in the church, the spiritual structure of Heaven’s delegated representatives and authority are subverted. You cannot superimpose a weak, frail, human order of this world atop the Kingdom structure and think that it will function and work. God’s order tells us that we are not to seek position except to take the more lowly position and by submitting and by going down, He is able to promote us and lift us whenever He desire. This weak-looking, submissive, passive posture smacks in the face of American’s independent, self-asserting culture. Let’s look more closely at this concept by looking at the Chief Example, Christ.
Have the Attitude of Christ
2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress (campaign or manipulate)[i] others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.
4 Don’t look out only for your own interests (campaigning), but take an interest in others, too (servant, slave-like role).
5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
6 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. (Jesus surrendered any ‘rights’ to position to man and the Father)
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges (a benefit or advantage not shared by others); he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form (He trusted Father God to handle His role and position),
8 he humbled himself (the opposite of political maneuvering) in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
9 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, . . .”
Shine Brightly for Christ
12 Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.
14 Do everything without complaining and arguing,
15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.” Philippians 2: 2-15
Empire vs Kingdom
I have remarked for quite some time that at the surface level there appears to be no difference between a kingdom and an empire but such is not the case, there is a difference between the two.
The message of John and Jesus was ‘kingdom.’ The message had relevance then and the message has relevance now.
By definition, a kingdom is a government or country headed by a queen or a king. Additionally, a kingdom has a realm, rights, and rule with subjects. A kingdom is a principality with one of the highest rank presiding. The right to rule comes by inheritance or by conquest.
An empire closely resembles a kingdom except for one thing: An empire is self-serving and a kingdom thinks beyond itself and on to longevity and the privilege to influence.
I believe that some insight into the existence of the Sea of Galilee and the Red Sea can help illustrate.
Galilee and the Red Sea are birthed at Mount Hermon, a three-peak mountain with the middle peak being the tallest. The dew begins and gives way to the Jordan River and it flows until it reaches, creates, and supplies the Sea of Galilee. The waters and the Sea cause an oasis to be born that transforms the region extensively. The interesting point is that the same water that births Galilee and transforms the desert is the very same water that births the Dead Sea. So, why would the one give life and the other be incapable of giving or sustaining life? Simple, Galilee acts like a kingdom and gives out everything that is poured into it while the Red Sea acts like an empire and strives to hold onto its supply.
Rights and Our Stubborn Nature
We are called sheep for a reason, not the least which for the behavior of possessing a great dislike for change. Sheep are creatures of habit and are quite skittish. Sheep can become terribly unsettled when they begin to fear that their familiar surroundings are becoming insecure. This sheep-like nature that we possess is one thing that causes us to create and become so attached to traditions and, a lot of times, attached just for tradition’s sake. On the other end, however, I am not for instigating changes in traditions that no longer have life flowing in them if no positive thing is served by the change.
Unique Spiritual DNA
I had the wonderful privilege of being raised in the conservative home of a Pentecostal pastor / evangelist. Dad was born in 1906 and passed along to me a Pentecostal heritage that was powerful and had the fire of holiness fueling its bright light.
In addition to this special, authentic Pentecostal heritage and influence, you could probably say that I was discipled during the Charismatic renewal / revival. These two streams have been prominent influences in my evangelistic, youth, and pastoral ministry.
One thing that my years of evangelistic work taught me was to draw upon both of these influences picking the best out of both to define and shape my work for the Lord. I saw firsthand the strengths and the weaknesses of both streams and the similarities that the two shared. It seemed easy for me to be devoted to both and to understand that with regard to their substance, it did not have to be an ‘all or nothing’ commitment for me to support both. Therefore, it was never necessary for me to criticize or find fault with either of these streams and speak of each in a critical manner from the pulpit. I gravitated toward being a bridge builder and help one another to concentrate on our commonalities since God could do so much through us if we would walk together in unity and mutual respect. On many occasions, while evangelizing, I have shook my head, chuckled, groaned, and laughed at issues that were defended with firey zeal but that I felt were out-moded or out-dated. One of those issues related to church government, governance, and church politics.
Don’t Try To Fix Everything
One of the best bits of advice given me was from a lifelong friend, Reverend Yvonne Pack. About thirty years ago I criticized a certain church and her reply was ‘God doesn’t want you to fix everything that you perceive to be wrong.’ I wasn’t offended at all but, instead, I was enlightened and relieved to find out I could resign from being one of God’s counselors.
We have said for years that God is ‘doing a new thing.’ I have preached this topic many times and have heard it preached many times. It sounds good coming from the pulpit but it is a completely different story when this begins to happen in our familiar surroundings.
The ‘new thing’ I am addressing here is the sovereign transition the Lord is making in His church moving us out of the familiar church politics and into Kingdom authority and government. For me, and because of my exposure to and experience with both traditions, I learned that our corporate structure was long due for an overhaul, and I began to see that the Church of God had the structure that best reflected the structure of the early church.
Proud To Be Protestant?
I’m not too sure that we should brag about being protestants, especially when you refer to the definition of the word.
‘Protestant’ refers to a person who makes a declaration or an avowal. Protestant comes from the word ‘protest’ and was initially used in 1529 when the princes of free states declared their dissent from the decision of the Diet of Speyer.[ii]
In America, we have learned how to protest and we will protest almost anything. The virus of vindication and preservation of rights, (especially in the areas where ‘for the benefit of all,’ some rights need not be pursued) is the poster child of the humanistic spirit filling this nation. That same cultural trend filters into the church and everyone seems to have an opinion, sometimes a strong opinion, about almost everything happening in the church. I believe this is akin to the very same mindset the Jews had before Jesus was crucified. During Jesus ministry on the earth, the Jews wanted vengeance upon their enemies and they believed that Jesus was going to make Rome pay for the oppression. Such was not the case, at least in the way Jesus brought about a reformation.
Instead of addressing the injustice and settling the accounts, Jesus seemed to do the very opposite and give in to the trends and the enemies. Jesus took on what appeared to be a compromising, weak posture that the Jews knew would never be able to stand up to the might and power of Rome. To the Jews, Jesus’ strategy just did not make sense, he was being passive and a passive attitude would not remove the heavy yoke of Rome from off of the back of Israel: a strong, powerful assault was needed as far as the Jews were concerned.
No Adults in the Kingdom
Children have wonderful and unique qualities, not the least of which is their open-faced innocence. The pretense is missing and their innocence is such that it caused Jesus to use children to describe the composition of His Kingdom.
1 About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” 2 Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. 3 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. 4 So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. 5 “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. Matthew 18: 1-5 NLT
As you read these verses, did you notice whom Jesus identified with and who worthy to represent and reflect Him? Children. Something else that is also quite interesting is the inquiry he makes into who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Who has the power and who has the influence were questions needing answers. Jesus provided the answer and used a child to illustrate greatness and influence in His Kingdom.
Children do not have a reputation to worry about so they aren’t engaged in self-promoting. The are so ‘powerless’ that they carry no weight that is needed to impress or convince. Jesus’ standards would appear to be quite ridiculous and outmoded today especially so because they include attitudes that the world looks on with contempt, ie. compassion, transparency, weakness, etc.
Manipulation and Influence
Do not think that the use of manipulation and influence is only used in secular settings. Manipulation and influence are also alive and well in the church.
I was told the story of a pastoral family who had accepted the pastorate of a good church in a small town in the east. Evidently the pastor was not what the congregation had in mind (although he was a statesman-like, revered man of God). One day the teenage son of the pastor heard some of the board members speaking ill of his father and overheard them say, ‘well we can withhold our tithes and starve them out.’ Not only was the son devastated, but it left a lifelong mark on this pastoral family.
Jesus addressed the political haranguing of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 23.
2 “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. 3 So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach. 4 They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.”
Jesus was not going to influence the politics of Rome or the Jews. Jesus was not going to debate, argue, and strive for prominence and preeminence. He left the details alone and trusted His Father with the outcome.
I remind our church quite regularly of the words of Apostle Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:14, 23-25. Paul’s instructions also seems to be passive, compromising, and even, perhaps, ‘un-manly.’
“Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them. 23 Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights. 24 A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. 25 Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.”
Did God intend for us to follow Roberts Rules Of Order so no one could hijack or pervert God’s plan for His church, or did God intend for us to follow the sound, inspired instruction, such as we see above between Timothy and Paul,
Organization and Organism
Take note of this excerpt from Aristotle’s Affairs Of State. "Politicks is the science of good sense, applied to public affairs, and, as those are forever changing, what is wisdom to-day would be folly and perhaps, ruin to-morrow. Politicks is not a science so properly as a business. It cannot have fixed principles, from which a wise man would never swerve, unless the inconstancy of men's view of interest and the capriciousness of the tempers could be fixed." [Fisher Ames (1758–1808)]
According to Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary 1996, he defines a politician as ‘one primarily devoted to his own advancement in public office, or to the success of a political party; -- a schemer; an intriguer.’
When Did We Lose Our Way?
The history of the medieval church divides roughly into three periods - dissemination, domination, and disintegration.
In the initial period, which lasted from about the fifth through the eleventh centuries, Roman Catholic Christianity spread throughout the West. The advent of feudalism in the tenth century hindered the development of the church’s administrative structure dominated by the papacy; but late in the eleventh century, the curch, directed by strong popes, became the most powerful institution in the West.
The period of the papacy’s greatest power - the twelfth and thirteenth centuries - reached its height with the pontificate of Innocent III, who exerted his influence over kings and princes without challenge. The church then seemed unassailable in its prestige, dignity, and power. Yet that strength soon came under new attack, and during the next two centuries the processes of disintegration were to gain in influence.
Papal power was threatened by the growth of nation-states, which challenged the church’s temporal power and authority. Joined by some of the local clergy, rulers opposed papal interference in state matters and favored the establishment of general church councils to limit papal power.
In addition, the papacy was criticized by reformers, who had seen earlier reform movements and the crusades transformed from their original high-minded purposes to suit the ambitions of the popes, and by the bourgeoisie, whose realistic outlook was fostering growing skepticism, national patriotism, and religious self-reliance.
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries these challenges to papal authority were effective, and papal influence rapidly declined.
Being Pentecostal, we enjoy the power and presence of God. We use as one of the capstones Acts 1:21 that promises us power to witness after the Holy Spirit has come upon us. God does promise us and He did deliver on that promise that we would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon us. The power, however, was not intended for display or for overcoming our enemies but Father God was providing a power that would enable to be His witnesses, but not witnesses in the obvious way. The greek word for ‘witness’ does not mean that we would tell the story but, instead, that Greek word ‘martyr’ would give us power to become a martyr for the Kingdom and help us to lay down our lives.
For several reasons I choose to not find fault with any Bible-believing Church that is preaching Jesus, Jesus crucified, risen and absolute Lord. I refuse to be a source for inciting offenses and aggravated debate.
Is the church a place for politics. Is there such a genuine thing blest in scripture called church politics? Did God create and bless something called church politics?
I can certainly tell you some stories about church politics that would be like telling you about nightmares, etc. To say that church politics has hindered the spread of the Gospel is an understatement. To say that church politics is ugly is an even greater understatement. To say that souls have missed heaven because of church politics is still an even greater understatement. Then why have church politics, right?
We have politics in the local church for a few reasons: tradition; tradition; tradition. ‘It’s the way it has always been done.’ We also have politics in church because we can’t imagine having church without politics. Lastly, we have politics in church because we are sheep (can you say ‘baaaaahhhh’?) and therefore become devoted to the routine and the familiar.
Andrew Odom shares that “There is no nice way to say it. It is a phrase that causes the young to run, the old to cringe, pastors to wince and everyone in between to simply guffaw. It’s a universal phrase that is whispered from pew-to-pew across this nation. It’s two unlovely words, that, when connected can wreak havoc in the church. It’s the phrase, “church politics.”
No other expression in the western world can conger up such thoughts of backstabbing, gossiping, manipulation and misguided power quite like it. It can be compared to a high school clique—meeting in dark corridors for called business meetings and ad-hock information sessions. It is the gathering of the holy elite: be they Sunday school teachers, deacons, elders, choir members or pastoral staff. The idea of church politics is so universal that it need not even be defined—it’s known by all. It’s also known for what it can do to a gathering community of Christians.”[iii]
Taken from dictionary.com
Andrew Odom at www.drewandbritt.org