Do you have that Jezebel spirit,
It's the dirty word. Many recent sermons have emphasized submission to the leaders of the church. Preachers rave about "covering," and complain of the Jezebel spirit in their church.
I remember a similar submission teaching in the 70's. It sounded well and good. People left shallow self-serving lives for an exciting community effort. Members stretched themselves and realized amazing successes.
Slowly, believers gave up their own responsibility of discerning truth, sifting God's word, and taking the spiritual authority we were given. The lack of caution in this area wreaked havoc on many lives. Earnest believers lost contact with God.
It wasn't the concept of submission that was the problem; it was how thickly the truth was applied.
More recently, respected ministers have shredded their flocks right from the televised pulpit. They were upset about individuals who challenged their leadership's decisions. They accused people of putting a curse on the church, and dividing it, without offering an opportunity for explanation.
Admitted, some individuals overreacted to issues they disagreed with. We all do that. It's a sort of panic reaction we get when something's amiss. Many contenders simply tried to keep the church on the track of truth and love, but were quickly ostracized. I figure, if you are attending a church, you generally will have good intentions toward it. Likewise, leaders will have good intentions.
What is the Way of God?
God is the ultimate archetype of leadership. If you're going to be a good leader, follow His example, not just an amalgam of the books on your shelves. If you're not sure if your leader is off base, compare the image of the Creator.
I will discuss a handful of scriptural examples, but nothing beats doing your own search for God's actual message. My own accuracy is not the issue; your wellness is. Look up anything you question.
Experienced preachers easily stumble into a habit of interpreting one verse based on another verse based on another verse. You might also hear examples of how a biblical hero handled a situation. Do you remember how the hero David treated Uriah? How Job's religious friends treated him? Sometimes the scriptures just tell the story, without commenting on errors. If a teacher uses a person's actions as an example of how to obey authority, look further into the story.
The Word has a beautiful way of backing itself up. For many statements, you will find a balancing statement somewhere else. If God said it clearly, hold fast to it. If He balanced it with conditions or alter-opinions, study the differences.
It helps to compare a few versions of the Bible (RSV, KJV, TLB, NIV, ASB, JB, NEB...) to make sure the wording wasn't based on theology of the time of translation. Look also at the broad picture. How does God tend to operate?
Many people leave churches with an overactive authority. The leadership writes these individuals off as contentious and under-spiritual. Is that really what is going on, or has God planted them as prophets within the church to protect it?
Recently I heard that the old temple Torah readings were assigned to individuals who would provide their own commentaries and even debate the meaning of scriptures. If this is so, then we should have the right to disagree within our churches. Agree to disagree. God gave His Word with a little mystery so we could apply it to various situations, so no one would have the corner on truth? No fair.
First, let's look at a few heroes in the Bible.
1. Moses left Egypt, and God directly asked him to return to Egypt and lead people out of oppression. The oppressor was the leadership. Moses' father-in-law was the local priest, but God spoke directly to Moses. Moses challenged the authority he grew up with, the pharaoh's decrees, in order to help God to set things right for roughly a million people.
2. Adam was the first mention of how people should live, if you're going to follow first scriptures mentioned as having more authority. Adam and Eve walked with God.
3. Jonah…we all know what happened to Jonah when he disobeyed God's instructions to speak against Ninevah. God's priority was rescuing people from destruction, not being civil to the leaders. The king stepped down and put on sackcloth and ashes, and the city was spared.
4. Jeremiah was asked to prophesy against his own country; he argued with God that he was too young. God replied, “I have made you impervious to their attacks…all the kings of Judah and its officers and priests and people will not be able to prevail against you.” Hey wait--he argued with God?
5. Amos tended flocks, but God told him that his country would have an earthquake. But…but…God only speaks directly to the leaders, right?
6. Jesus threw money-changers out of the temple, called himself God in front of the priests, wandered away from his parent on an out-of-town trip and didn't apologize. This was the same Jesus who said to give to Caesar what was Caesar's. He had a keen sense of justice and a desire for truth. He also respected the needs of leaders around him: you as a citizen pay taxes because you're using the roads; the government pays for police to protect you; the government sets up food programs for people who need to eat.
There are Leaders…
If you look through the Bible for yourself, you will see it full of heroes who were rebels and Robin Hoods. God's righteous anger falls on leaders who mistreat the ones in their care, on individuals who cheat and oppress the weak, on people so caught up in themselves, that they lead others into corruption and greed. God wants us to flow together into a happy community.
…And Then There are Leaders
Moses set up the order of the priesthood and community codes. People needed to fall under these, participate in the festivals because the rules led to a healthy, respecting community. God gave these instructions once, to carry on over all generations.
Paul asked wives to submit to their husbands as their husbands treated them with protective kindness--as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for them. Who knows, maybe submitting to the spouse protects us from following obsessed leaders and provides a sense of balance, of comfort in who you are, who your family is.
Christ sacrificed a lot for his people. Remember the term “public servant.”
Submit to Which Leader?
First, there's a parent or two. Then there are teachers and principals, scout leaders and coaches. Then there are bosses and spouses and ministers and governors and police and presidents. That's a heck of a lot of submitting to do.
Pro-submission teachers use the example of Joseph. The boy left his home town, driven out by his brothers. Sold into slavery, God raised him up through the ranks. After Joseph was loyal to the king, he became the most important person in one of the most powerful empires of history.
Joseph got into the depths of the Pharoah's personhood, interpreting his dreams. He respected the leadership and worked with them, giving advice about change. “Joseph's suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his assistants” Gen. 41:37 TLB. But was he obedient to his pastor? He married the daughter of the sun god's priest, and God still gave him success. This is not an endorsement for a faith-divided household. It's just an example.
Respecting the Position
If you were a leader, and maybe you are, what plan could bring members into their best and fullest life? An organization can in fact flow smoothly and bless those in contact with it.
Ideally, the people would support their leader. The leader would support the people. Individuals would contribute their skills, and let the coordinator oversee how their skills can apply to those that need these strengths.
The leadership would act as the visionary / overseer / implementer / organizer of the broad picture. One person can only do so much.
Fear Drives the Message
Some leaders are afraid of mistakes. How do they know that the Sunday School teacher isn't a devil-worshipper? Does the head of the decorating committee have any taste? That's the risk they need to accept. If members aim to be effective, they'll have to be trusted. They'll need room to make mistakes and grow.
In a corporate setting, micromanaging throws everyone off. Businesses know this. You hire a scientist to research, an engineer to develop products further, you hire a marketing specialist to promote, you even hire a PR person to say things so you don't have to trip up. The leaders make decisions on the global level. But the peons know the detailed facts.
Learn from History
The Bible is full of history. It's okay to learn from history.
History tells us that blind submission leads to oppression. Hitler asked people to give their lives to the cause, and they did. Nebuchadnezzar fried people for not bowing to a statue. Cult leaders asked their followers to drink poison. Don't we instinctively know where to draw the line?
Let crowd mentality give you a caution light. It's nice to belong, but you can belong to the friends and family around you, you can belong to your God and the specific call He has placed on your life. Put yourself in a safe place by reading what God has to say. Read it for yourself, to know God's fervent protection over your heart. Talk to him yourself.
Hear from God
If someone tells you that God told them you are called to do something, check it out in as many ways as you can, and ask God for clarity. He'll let you know.
Support your leaders as people who have a job to do. You have a job, they have a job. People become leaders because their personality naturally leads them into that role. They are not always wiser, or more spiritual, or love God more. They do the work of the leader.
You have a valuable role in the organization. God places you where your tendencies and gifts have great impact. We can't survive without encouragers, greeters, people who honestly pray for others, teachers, mentors, coordinators. I'm not just saying that to make you feel better. You are yourself for a reason.
If you truly lived your fullest for God, you could support each person you came across. A word would leave your mouth that kept a person from suicide, your delivered meal would keep a family from despair, you would protect that person from leaving God over a conflict among believers.
Acting on the Matters
This caution over submission doesn't need to be a visible shaking up. You don't need to rally the troops and gang up on leadership. God defends his people like a mother lion. He will do the shaking.
Pray for those who persecute you. Pray for your leaders. If you don't agree with them, pray fervently. God hears our prayers. Get together with others who have the same concern on their hearts, and approach this conflict not as a crisis, but a daily challenge.
We all like security. If things change, it takes effort to adjust. Don't let the change stress you out. Don't put too much weight in the security of your situation. Let your security be internal, between you and God.
If you feel the impulse to write a letter or speak with leadership, remember the place they are in. Are you willing to face condescension, rejection, a lower reputation for the sake of truth? That's what the prophets had to face. Will the leadership hear you out?
God will know what place they're at, so the best bet is to ask God for wisdom on every specific of your confrontation. They could react just you did when your mother nagged you to put your shoes in the porch. You heard, but grumbled back. After the power struggle wasn't the issue, you could act on common sense.
Talking Through the Pain
There's an exhortation to avoid gossip. But you feel the need to discuss things to sort out truth from opinion. How do you balance this?
An inner “halt” will probably arise when you start to complain, so keep your discussions on the pursuit of truth and justice for all. Your leaders are basically good people who are overworked, or have their own overseers telling them to submit. If they weren't, you wouldn't have chosen them for your leaders.
You might hear talk about curses. If you think curses might be real, don't put one on someone else. Declare yourself exempt from others' curses. Do it now. Jesus took on the curse of the law of sin and death, so you are set free. Unequivocally.
If your impressions about corruption are right, you are not the only one feeling it. This might be a time where you can help others sort out their feelings by talking. Every human needs unconditional support in a stressful situation. You are in this place for a reason.
God gives clarity of mind to people outside the leadership circle. He gives wisdom to everyone who asks. Don't underestimate what you are feeling. It could be the Holy Spirit.
Those of you who have submitted to good authority know there's a nice flow, a respect for each others' strengths, a pride in accomplishment, a real love for each other and the organization. That's what is about.
When the American settlers established their own churches in the colonies, the “home” church sent missionaries to America to straighten them out. You know where to draw the line in your situation.
Position the Accountability
Many pastors of independent churches allow other pastors to be their spiritual authority. This is fine; they have chosen that path. Every person needs support and a place to run for solutions. Leaders need a presence of stability, unswerving in public by emotions and opinions.
At the same time, look at the leaders who are the authority. Do they have the love and respect of their own organization? Are they fostering growth in their own members? If you are a leader, don't give in just because a powerful people declared themselves your authority. The law of leadership gravity applies: junk trickles down.
CEO's of corporations report to their shareholders. Stockbrokers are accountable to their investors. If a teacher accidentally slips and says the sun is a planet, a student should be able to keep the truth alive. It's okay to be vulnerable in front of your herd.
Is the leader financially accountable to anyone? Does the leader get advice from people skilled in appropriate areas? They should solicit advice from contractors before renovating advice, lawyers over legal matters, accountants before spending large amounts, and negotiate with the town over zoning and building decisions.
One person cannot do everything. The current role of the minister is a "jack of no trades and master of all" --managing the office, visiting the bereaved, researching for sermons, leading small groups, generating teams, counseling and negotiating and calming...and never resting.
No wonder they get upset when someone suggests a change in the flow. They are juggling too many plates, and can't afford to have one tipped. The solution might not be to get rid of the disrupters, but to spread the responsibilities of the juggler.
God's Written Support
They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety and no one will make them afraid. Ezekiel 34:28 NIV
I will pity those who are “not pitied,” and I will say to those who are “not my people,” “now you are my people”…
Who is going to harm you when you are eager to do good?
The good man wins his case by careful argument; the evil-minded only wants to fight.
If I am without love, I am nothing.
There's so much more. Keep reading. Keep hearing God's intentions, knowing His heart. Get inside his mind.
Text and graphics ©2004 Josiah Publishing. All rights reserved.