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Refuse to try to control others among the church

Posted by on Jun 11, 2012 in discipleship | 48 comments

Refuse to try to control others among the church

“So, Alan, when you gather with the church, how do you do X?”

I’m often asked that question. Sometimes, my friends who are part of more institutional churches ask me questions like that. Sometimes, my friends who are part of more organic churches ask me questions like that.

Invariably, regardless of whether the questioner prefers more organization or less organization, he or she will find something that we do (or don’t do) with which to disagree. Then, I’m asked the following question, “Well, why do you do that, when Scripture clearly says such-and-such?”

Or, even more exciting, occasionally someone will determine that we do things in a different way than what I’ve written about here. Then, I’ll here or read a statement such as this: “Well, why do you do that, when you’ve written that you believe such-and-such is better or more scriptural?”

Both answers make an invalid assumption. The answers assume that I control the church in such a way that we always do (or don’t do) exactly what I think we should do (or not do).

Believe it or not, I do not control the brothers and sisters with whom I meet regularly. In fact, I do not even WANT to try to control them – even when they decide to do something that I disagree with.

We cannot disciple one another – helping one another follow Jesus Christ – via control, even if we are right. (Of course, we will never know with certainty that we are right… but that’s beside the point.)

Instead, we help one another follow Jesus Christ through teaching, example, and patience, trusting that God will help all of us learn to follow together.

In the meantime, we all still live with one another in Jesus Christ, even as we are maturing (but not yet perfected). If we are maturing (but not yet perfected), then we will follow imperfectly (all of us, both individually and corporately). We will not always make the best decisions individually, and we will not always make the best decisions corporately.

So, we only have a few choices: 1) We try to control others and make them do what we think is best. 2) We separate from those who refuse to do what we think is best. 3) We live with one another in our imperfections continuing to help one another follow Jesus Christ and mature in him.

I decided long ago that I am not in control and that I will not attempt to control others, even when someone (or some group) decides to do something that I do not think is best. I’ve also decided that I will stick with my brothers and sisters even when they make decisions with which I disagree.

(By the way, God has surrounded me with some wonderful people. You know, when I disagree with the decisions we make together as a church, I am often the one who is wrong…)


48 Comments

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  1. 6-11-2012

    Control is a major issue in and for churches…and moreso I think in the traditional church. That seems to be perhaps because those who are trying to control did not do the original organizing. Organic churches are generally frist generation whereas traditional have been going for a number of years and the original “organics” are long gone. Traditional churches are not reaching people because they are too busy trying to run what is there and have forgotton the mission that drove the original “organicizers” to start the church in the first place.
    I called these non-organics “entrenched” and their favorite expression is what amounts to the 7 last words of many churches “We ain’t never done it that way”
    The entrenched control because they are afraid of the unknown and in many cases they have no control in their personal lives. They use their tithe to maintain their position and everyone else is scared to death of losing that cash…

  2. 6-11-2012

    Alan i like, this is exposing truth of ones flesh
    So, we only have a few choices: 1) We try to control others and make them do what we think is best. 2) We separate from those who refuse to do what we think is best.

    Number 3 exposes The Spirit of God. Yet I have had in my experience, where this could not continue, for when it is between you and another and one is usurping the other, choices have to be made after trying for a long time to bring it together. And one has no choice as Paul said to the Corithians put that one out in the fire and hopefully that one will come to te faith. Do not know if you have had this experience, but the bad apple needs to be put out in some cases.

    3) We live with one another in our imperfections continuing to help one another follow Jesus Christ and mature in him.

    AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE BE AT PEACE WITH ALL.
    thanks Howard

  3. 6-11-2012

    I posted something about busybodies on Facebook this morning, and here you talk about others who want to control this person or that. No coincidence, as I see it.

    Control freaks bug me to death anymore. I’m sure the Church has always had such people, but lately I can’t seem to escape those well-meaning folks who are compelled to tell you everything you are doing wrong, even as the skeletons in their own closets rattle and shake.

    Don’t people have enough of their own problems to attend to? Why insert themselves into other people’s troubles, especially unsolicited?

    And whatever happened to simply being available? No talk, no advice, just a willing person who can lend a hand if needed? Isn’t that more of the essence of the Gospel?

    Anyway, I’m losing patience with “nice” people who can’t keep their opinions to themselves about the tough choices I must make in my own household daily. They simply don’t have enough data to talk, yet they are somehow experts on what goes on inside the four walls of my house.

    Seriously, is the Church in the West doing anything right?

  4. 6-11-2012

    Some Churches in the west are doing things right because some churches are truly connected to Acts 1:8.
    Prior to moving where we live now, we were in a church that grew from 15 members in 2007 to 700 in 2011 – and not by killing other churches – they are still baptizing over 100 per year…
    Several things you can observe in this church:
    Strong Bible preaching by a man who has no fear.
    Loving people who make you feel welcome.
    A spirit-filled worship service that honors God
    Elders who are not afraid of new ground
    But even though the church has been around for quite some time, it has become very organic by being willing to be led by a pastor with a clear vision.

  5. 6-11-2012

    We have been given self control by the spirit of God who dwells in us through our faith in Jesus. Before being in Christ we didn’t have it. We use to function out of our sense of shame and fear that we are incomplete and something else will make us better, and more secure.
    When we realize that we have all security and acceptance in Christ, and our brothers in Christ do too, there is no fear in love. There is no need to strive, manipulate, control, with our agendas or ideas so that we would feel it is the ‘right way’ that would make us feel secure. We can rest in Christ’s lordship for us as individuals and as a body of fellowship. We aren’t entangled in bondages of codependency, but have a freedom and gift of self control as one of the riches given us from Christ.
    Self control is the opposite of being controlled by others or controlling others. All men are without self control unless they have been given it by God who freely gives His Spirit to us. It is a divine fruit, not a natural fruit.

  6. 6-11-2012

    The #1 problem I have encountered is setting people free to allow the Holy Spirit to control them. Religion has so deeply rooted the stronghold of clergy vs laity that setting people free to naturally minister as the Holy Spirit moves them has proven a daunting task. Frankly, we may never arrive.

    I am always asking our elders (the mature – the aged) if there is anything being done that creates an environment by which people would assume that their gift and purpose in the assembly might nto be openly permitted

  7. 6-11-2012

    Jon,

    Interestingly, my friends among the “organic church” side of things are often very surprised if we (as a church) don’t do things “the right way.” Sometimes, they even ask me about it, as if they want me to control what other people decide or do. Control and manipulation can raise it’s ugly head at any time among any group of people.

    Howard,

    Yes, it is my desire to follow the Spirit and allow others the freedom to follow him as well. It is easy, though, to turn to my own devices and attempt to control others into doing “the right thing.”

    Dan,

    Yes, you’ve brought up another difficult issue when it comes to attempting to “control” others. It is often difficult to walk that fine line between “being there and offering advice” and control/manipulation. For those of us who are seen as leaders, I think we have to be especially careful not to control/manipulate others.

    Dori,

    Yes, control is built into our society. Those of us who are in Christ must carefully ensure that we are helping people walk in the Spirit without being controlling or manipulative.

    Doug,

    I like that you are actively asking others if you are doing anything that can be misinterpreted as being controlling. We need to be open and honest with people, and allow them to be honest with us. It is difficult to lead without being controlling, but that’s the way that God has called us to live in Christ.

    -Alan

  8. 6-11-2012

    Control is an awesome issue, and I commend you for addressing it so well. I follow the same approach and have done so for years. The only one who is supposed to be in control is the Lord Jesus Christ. Control freaks do not realize that they are usurping His place as Lord in the lives of everyone concerned, when they seize the reins.

  9. 6-11-2012

    I agree it is in society. My main point is that we recognize it is part of all of our nature and not God’s, but he gives us his nature to receive and walk in as His new creation. Our minds need to be transformed to what we have and are in Christ so we can walk out a life of one anothering with out controlling. The fruit of self control is widely misunderstood in the body (society)of Christ.

  10. 6-11-2012

    If you had written nothing else on your blog, this alone is enough, including Doug’s comment and your response, “It is difficult to lead without being controlling, but that’s the way that God has called us to live in Christ.”

    It is also difficult to serve others where Diotrephes, who believes it is his place to have pre-eminence among the saints, takes the lead by control. For many, many saints, this is their plight.

  11. 6-11-2012

    What to do when you are willing to live by 3 but others are not? I hope that I am willing to live with differences but when you find yourself in a situation where others are not willing to do the same, it becomes more problematic.

  12. 6-11-2012

    Over and over, I read in Scripture not to let others disqualify me and to stand firm in the faith (such as Colossians 2). I thought my legs were shaky, but discovered it was the faulty foundation upon which I chose to perch simply because others perched there and seemed happy. I thought I lost direction of the truth yet dared not lift my eyes, but found I was tightly shielding my face from every gusty wind of doctrine that swept up the dust of tradition around me. O church leader! That thou wouldst be my servant and wash thy feet, and knock loose the caked mud of suppression from the wings thereof, lest I fly, lighter than joy, and boast of Him who lifts me up, and seats me with Him in the heavenly realms. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

  13. 6-11-2012

    amen! this sounds like what we have been discussing as a parenting team… and also in our church.

    we are not perfect so our church relations, way of doing things as a church, even knowledge about church and knowledge that we have as a church will all have imperfections in it. ouch! We much accept that and expect nothing different! We must surrender our desire for perfection. surrender our expectations – especially when those expectations are an idol. and as you’ve said – surrender our desire for control. and as far as I’m concerned….. I’m getting rid of the word “should” in my vocabulary.

    (and yet there’s a balance in everything — so like I’ve said in previous comments — we must discipline ourselves, there is work on our part, we can ‘control’ some things in our own lives, put forth our best efforts – but ultimately the discipline is in the surrender. the discipline must stir us toward Christ and help our love for Him and others grow — otherwise it needs to be surrendered to)

    thanks for these reminders!! :)

  14. 6-11-2012

    P.S. it does seem in my generation in particular – we believe too often things are disposable.

    don’t like the way __ does things? – don’t hang around them.
    in an imperfect marriage/friendship/situation/job? – abandon ship and try something new.
    what your trying takes work and doesn’t feel like you have God’s favor with all open doors?? – give up and try something new.
    don’t like others or don’t like the way they do things? – find new relationships.

    etc.
    etc.

    we have an all or nothing mentality for too many things….. and it isn’t doing us any good!

    sometimes “good enough” is good enough. :)

  15. 6-11-2012

    James,

    Yes, Jesus is the only one in control. We help each other best not when we tell them what to do, but when we help them follow what Jesus is telling them to do.

    Dori,

    Yes, absolutely! And, as long as we are living in the transformed mind – walking in the Spirit – then we will not seek to control others. However, when we stray, control and manipulation come so easily.

    Art,

    Yes, control and manipulation is the plight of many. I’ve been surprised at how many who say that are against “control,” are then disappointed that I’m not trying to control others. :)

    Arthur,

    If others refuse to accept us, in the Spirit we can only respond in grace and love.

    Dwight,

    Yes, freedom is Christ is an awesome thing. And, a person who is truly free in Christ is willing to give up his/her “rights” for the benefit of others.

    Randi,

    Don’t get rid of the word “should”… it’s used in Scripture very often. Just recognize the difference and the relationship between “should” and acceptance in Christ. :)

    -Alan

  16. 6-11-2012

    “…a person who is truly free in Christ is willing to give up his/her “rights” for the benefit of others.”

    Amen! Otherwise, insisting on my “rights” might cause a brother or sister to stumble. (Let that be heard clearly by those who lead!) Rather, let us welcome him/her, just as we should welcome those who are weak in faith. Let each one be fully convinced in his/her own mind about days and diets, for example, while we pray that we are all transformed by the renewing of our minds, coming to the knowledge of the truth and fullness of Him who loved us first.

    The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. (Romans 14:22)

  17. 6-11-2012

    understood :)

  18. 6-11-2012

    I particularly don’t like all my “should”s I use that occur when looking back on things.

    we should have.
    i should have.

    I need to learn to let the should be a positive should — something we have learned – a revelation GOd has shown us to change something for the better.

    vs.

    a negative should – a condemning “still not good enough”…a see there’s another mistake, see we’re still not getting type should

    :)

  19. 6-11-2012

    Amen Dori, very well put
    Howard

  20. 6-11-2012

    Art Amen as well
    Howard

  21. 6-11-2012

    Arthur, yeap, and there are the tares amongst the wheat and let them be until the harvest and all will be made manifest
    Howard

  22. 6-11-2012

    Dwight, and a wow, wow and a wopw again, well said
    Howard

  23. 6-11-2012

    Dwight,

    I agree, especially the part about welcoming/accepting people just as they are. But, I wasn’t sure what you meant by this: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.”

    Randi,

    I love that idea of keeping our “should” in the present/future and not dwelling on the “should” that we missed in the past. In fact, the only way that “should” is even possible is if we are following Jesus and walking in the Spirit. So, our focus is on following Jesus today (and tomorrow) and submitting to him so that our “should” become reality in him. Of course, we also give others the same grace.

    -Alan

  24. 6-11-2012

    Randi, yes it is surrender unto belief and that alone one enters rest his rest that he has for you, me and all that believe. Hebrews 3:18, 3:12, 4:6, 4:10, 4:3, 4:11, 4:16. so many passages about rest, giving up our works to rest in God’s WOW!!!!

  25. 6-11-2012

    Yes Randi, tooooo many people adding to the simplicity of the gospel, causing doubt, that can’t be it, too simple just to trust god to do all the work in and through you. I am thankful and estatic over this, not using it for a fleshly gain. What why should we?, for all our needs accordingly per God are supplied. Yet the world throws in what you said in your ps statement. So you will not trust god and start worry, anger, frustration, control of others and on and on
    Howard

  26. 6-11-2012

    Dwight, lots of depth there, yes, yes and yes again
    Howard

  27. 6-11-2012

    the definition of should is an expectation, I should (expect. We can define should differantly, and most of us define english words differantly. Yet I should puts a demand on you the person to perform, and not always gets out of the way of ones flesh. As a matter of fact it really does not. Anything you are told you should do atarts a war to some degree or another in ones flesh. For all sin takes occassion by the commandment. Should is a commandment to ones subconscious
    Howard

  28. 6-11-2012

    Alan: I wasn’t sure what you meant by this: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.”

    That was a direct quote from scripture, the first part of Romans 14:22. In the context of judging others, I take it to simply mean to be patient while others learn: show them love and they will in turn be motivated by love. Don’t make it a ‘requirement’ for them to behave a certain way if they don’t understand why. Let them come to that conclusion themselves. Unless, of course, it becomes a major distraction to believers and unbelievers alike as in the church in Corinth. Fortunately, no church I ever attended was quite that unruly and chaotic. But sometimes, I think I would’ve preferred that over a proud and all-powerful pastor.

    Howard: Thank you so much! Thank you very much! And may the Lord bless you more abundantly than you can think or imagine! Thanks for bringing up the separation of grains and the weeds in the harvest. Excellent point!

  29. 6-11-2012

    Howard,

    We’ve been through all of this before. If you have problems with “should”, then you need to take it up with Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the other authors in Scripture. They often wrote or said, “Should” to those who were in Christ and walking in the Spirit.

    Dwight,

    Thank you for clearing it up! “I take it to simply mean to be patient while others learn…” Yes, exactly, and God could even show us that we’re the ones who need to learn while we are waiting on others.

    -Alan

  30. 6-11-2012

    Mr. Mealer mentioned Diotrephes…our former pastor could have borne that name. I have seen, first hand, the negative effects which a controlling leader can have. For example, my wife and I were “called to the carpet” because we had a young woman stay in our home without going to the pastor about it first. Yeah, that’s a story, but not for now.

    Is it improper to “take control”, however, should something be leaning toward sin? This would not be a matter of being in control, so much as taking control, using the authority of scripture. Am I at all correct in this?

  31. 6-11-2012

    John,

    I do not think we can force anyway or any group out of sin. Even if we stop the action, the motivation behind the action remains. However, in all of this, I think that discipling, teaching, and encouraging continues, without being controlling.

    -Alan

  32. 6-11-2012

    Thanks…I see your point more clearly now. Rather than, “taking control”, maybe make something a “teaching moment”, instructing rather than attempting to force people into certain behavior. I believe in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, this was the format. He did not tell them so much to behave a certain way as he was reminding them of who/what they once were and Whose they had become and the persons God wanted them to be…fair assessment?

    As I mentioned, I was in a church under a controller. Most everything was about behavior modification and legalism, so much so that a person could actually fake their way simply by certain behavior.

    Kinda leaves the Spirit right out of the equation.

  33. 6-12-2012

    Thanks back to yuo Dwight am glad to help in edification and you all have edified me as well

  34. 6-12-2012

    Thanks Dwight

  35. 6-12-2012

    Alan, I have taken this up with Jesus, the Father and the Holy Ghost and I am told that any commandment puts one in danger. For sin takes ocassion by the commandment. So All I am doing is putting out there, here what I have experienced to be true as well as told is.
    The problem is the interpretation of words from the english language.
    Sorry you have a problem with what I see as truth and I am not trying to force it on anyone. But I tell you the truth their are others out there that are going through this as was mentioned by another here looking for the freedom in Christ.
    Now if you are free in him you will do what is right in him, but not by a command or I should. The freedom to do what you call a command or I should comes from I give up and submit to God by my free will that God gave us all. It is all God and none of me. Whenever I should I get in the way, and so does anyone else for they are back working at their salvation, not realizing it. trying to mix oil and water again
    Love you Alan, and thanks for your opinion as well.
    Howard

  36. 6-12-2012

    John, you know and your wife know your reasoning and most of all God knows you alls heart. You do not need anyone over you to tell you to do this or that, for God said you as a believer no longer need anyone to teach you for God himself is your teacher. Hebrews7:1013
    Howard

  37. 6-12-2012

    that is Hebrews 7:10-13

  38. 6-12-2012

    Yes, Howard…He has written His law in our hearts.

    Now, it is not a violation of scripture nor I am not opposed to being corrected or being shown by someone if I am in sin (I may not like it, but essentially not opposed). I need this from my brethren. From that point, however, it is up to me to get before the Lord and make things right. No amount of behavior modification will do this – this brings us right back to a works mentality. If this is what we reduce ourselves to, Jesus’ death was a huge, wasted effort.

    On the other end of the spectrum people take grace and turn it into a sin free-for-all. I believe Paul pointed this one out when he ended his point with, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? May it never be!” It seems that on either side, people miss the balance.

    In either case, leadership ‘control’ is not the answer. The One who has the perfect right to exercise full control has chosen not to and has instead given us the ability to control ourselves. It is sad when man thinks he should do something that God Himself has chosen not to do.

  39. 6-12-2012

    John,

    Yes. Exactly. Instruction is important, especially instruction by example.

    Howard,

    Jesus told his first disciples that those who love him will keep (obey) his word. There’s no reason for me to think that he has changed his mind. Of course, only those who are in Christ and who are submitting to the Spirit are able to obey him.

    But, this is getting off the subject again. In this comment thread, I’d prefer to remain on the subject of not attempting to control others.

    -Alan

  40. 6-12-2012

    John I concur
    Alan I think i am on the context of the thread, I am talking about not taking control, for it is not semantics, the word should, and command are used for control purpose. If this is off the subject I apologize. I have been led under the impression, that we are to speak ones mind about helping each other, into the freedom of Christ. I have no other agenda than to hear and listen, yet be able to speak as well.
    Howard

  41. 6-12-2012

    Howard,

    Thank you for explaining the connection.

    -Alan

  42. 6-12-2012

    Alan thank you back for being a brother and not allowing your old dead flesh to get in the way.
    Howard

  43. 8-10-2012

    If it’s a job, people have opinions but are less quick to share. If it’s ministry, people come with scripture and theology.

    Control comes out of fear. Dealing with the fear in their lives will help them relinquish control.

    Great article here. I’ve seen this a lot in ministry.

  44. 8-11-2012

    Samuel,

    Thanks for the comment. I haven’t thought much about the connection between fear and a desire to control others.

    -Alan

  45. 8-11-2012

    Just wanted to let you all know that God used this post (again) in my life this weekend. I was JUST writing in my journal about control. and I came on to my email and saw a new comment on this post and I just felt God’s hands all over my heart!!!!!!!

    I often as a young parent to 3 young children go through a lot of anxiety when I feel I have NO CONTROL over them. I think shouldn’t I have control!? yet it isn’t about CONTROL is it? ohhh God is sooo faithful when I am grasping & striving for any semblance of control of somebody to give me NONE —- right down to my youngest baby who all of a sudden will refuse to nap when I want hehe :) it’s amazing how He has been doing that. Really – there’s a theme going on and I am realizing more and more how He is asking me to SURRENDER my own plans, control issues & just go with it. Right the wave, trying my best to plan – but knowing HE is ultimately in control of ALL moments of my day – and I just gotta ride the wave.

    the reminder that CONTROL often has to do with FEAR was a great reminder for me. I do fear not doing well in parenting. I FEAR my children being out of control and being totally off path and it being all my fault. I FEAR not doing enough to get them to be thriving obedient children.

    but God continues to remind me in my parenting (and in relationships within the Church) that it is NOT about control. that beautiful word of SHEPHERDING is such a better picture isn’t it?

    the LORD is my Shepherd. HE tends His flock like a shepherd: HE gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; HE GENTLY LEADS THOSE THAT HAVE YOUNG. Isaiah 40:11

    completely applicable to me as a mom of 3 children…… and completely applicable to all of us in relationships with young believers.

  46. 8-13-2012

    Randi,

    Once again you have written a comment better than the original post. Thank you for making it personal and real.

    -Alan

  47. 8-13-2012

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    If only I would re-check my comments before I published I would see all the typos & grammatical error! :)

  48. 8-14-2012

    Randi,

    I was going to correct all of your typos and grammatical errors, but that seemed kinda controlling. :)

    Seriously, I usually have typos and errors in my posts as well.

    -Alan