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Suppose the Holy Spirit starts calling you to serve Him in some very specific way. Of course there are other people on the planet who have already launched similar ministries, but none of them are doing things quite like you feel He wants them to be done. So you strike out on your own, and the next thing you know your pastor is coming down hard on you for trying to set up a ministry without the approval of the church.
Or suppose you do find some ministry organization that is doing what you feel strongly called to do. You eagerly sign up, but the problem is that you’re a renegade Christian who isn’t currently attending any church. So when they require that your pastor write them a letter of recommendation before they will consider allowing you to join their staff, it’s another stonewall.
Or suppose God leads you to some independent ministry that He is really speaking to you through. This group is cranking out material that is changing your life and the lives of your friends, and causing you all to feel super on fire for God. You’re dying to share what you’ve found with people at your church, but when your pastor finds out this ministry is not affiliated with any church organization, he condemns it as invalid and shuts you down anytime you try to talk about it.
Or suppose you are a pastor and one of your parishioners has become infatuated with some self-titled preacher or prophet on the internet. Now in every bible study and small group, this stranger’s opinions are being quoted like some Gospel authority and you feel like they are gaining too much influence over your flock.
In all four of these situations, the result is going to be frustration. Frustration can quickly lead to anger, which then leads to hostility, division, and backbiting. That’s not the road you want to go down, so before things get out of hand, we need to get some perspective on this concept of renegade ministries.
FOR THE LAYPERSON…
Q: Is it wrong for me to pursue help/instruction/advice from ministries that aren’t affiliated with any church or Christian organization?
You are a sheep in God’s flock. What do good sheep do? They follow their shepherd. Your Shepherd in life is the Holy Spirit and you need to follow the sound of His Voice. As God, the Holy Spirit is a wild and unpredictable Being who likes to speak through a wide range of instruments. If God is speaking to you through some particular channel, why would you close your ears to what He is saying? It’s not your place to tell God that He can’t talk to you through certain channels. If God wants to make a rock preach a sermon at you, you need to pay close attention to what He is saying, not get hung up on who or what He is speaking through.
Now it takes time to develop good discernment skills. Discernment is about being able to tell the difference between God’s Voice and clever counterfeits. The world is filled with people who will try to use Christian titles, religious buzzwords, Bible quotations, and references to Jesus in order to get you to blindly trust and accept anything that they say. Some of these people are very consciously trying to trip you up, others have convinced themselves that they are speaking for God when in reality they are speaking for Satan. It’s a minefield out there, and God is the ONLY ONE you can trust to lead you safely through it. This is why it is so important that you do not give your devotion to ANY human organization. Your devotion belongs to God. Certainly it’s appropriate to get excited when you hear God speaking to you through some particular channel. But when HE is speaking, should mere mortals be getting the glory? Certainly not. We give glory to God alone. We only follow a particular ministry group as long as we hear HIM speaking through them. When He stops speaking through them, we move on.
You cannot view ANY human organization as a stand-in for God. If your soul is feeling inspired about your walk with God by reading or listening to some group’s material, then it is GOD who you need to be giving the credit to, not them. People have no wisdom on their own. Can a faucet take credit for the water that is flowing through it? Certainly not. Nothing about the metal fixture causes life sustaining liquid to appear. In the same way, human beings are incapable of manufacturing Divine insights on their own. Anyone who tries to take credit for producing such things is delusional and has already started down the road of destruction. You should expect the messages of such people to be corrupted at best. As soon as we start taking the bows for what God is doing through us, He starts withdrawing from our midst and withholding His wisdom.
Navigating through ministry organizations in this world is like following the Holy Spirit through a vast fruit orchard. The trees around you have a variety of fruits on them. They all look alright to you, but God knows that some fruits will be good for you and others will harm you. Since you know His wisdom is much better than your own, you stay by His side until He pauses and points out some particular fruit to you. “Pick that one and add it to your basket,” He says, so you do, but the rest you leave alone. When you go surfing through the internet looking for inspirational insights you need to view all of those websites, videos, podcasts, and discussion forums like trees in that orchard. Some of them are only producing rot and poison. Some of them have one or two good fruits on their branches, while others have a lot of good stuff. You need to follow God’s lead in sorting out the mess. You need to look to Him for guidance in EVERY situation. You cannot put your trust in brands, names, URLs, or anything else. No human is immune to corruption and even dedicated Christians can get swept away by their own egos. Human beings cannot be blindly trusted, but that’s alright because you have God to guide you. When you already have Perfection, what do you need with imperfection? Put all of your trust in the Holy Spirit and don’t accept anything as truth until you receive His direct confirmation. But once He does confirm something to you, don’t let anyone take it away from you.
Q: My pastor is upset with me for following a ministry that he disapproves of. How should I respond?
In this world, there are good shepherds and there are bad ones. Bad shepherds don’t really care about the well-being of your soul. Instead, they want to use you to benefit themselves. Bad shepherds are ego driven. They want worship, blind devotion, and financial support. They feel threatened by anyone who disagrees with them, and they will quickly resort to intimidation tactics in order to keep you under their thumb. Bad shepherds try to wedge themselves between you and God. Instead of driving you closer to God, they do anything they can to erode your confidence in relying on God directly. They want you to feel spiritually dependent on them because this will increase their power over you. When you come across bad shepherds, you should not try to reform them. Instead, you need to cut all ties and get far away from them. These are very dangerous people and they are intentionally gunning for the weak and vulnerable in God’s flock. You don’t want to be another one of their victims.
Now good shepherds sincerely care about your spiritual well-being. But good shepherds aren’t perfect, they are human, and all humans are works in progress. Many good shepherds were badly taught by other shepherds and that bad training is now affecting the way they are trying to shepherd you. Instead of trusting God to take care of you, many shepherds feel like God is holding them responsible for your spiritual well-being. Since they have a whole flock to tend to and they have limited resources, they can’t follow up on every ministry their lambs get involved in. So when you come up to them all starry-eyed about some ministry or teacher that they’ve never heard of, it’s only natural that their protective instinct is going to spark. That’s when they’re going to ask you some basic screening questions that they’ve been trained to ask. “What church is it affiliated with?” They’ve got a mental list of safe and dangerous organizations, and they want to make sure you’re dealing with a safe one. But when you then come back with, “This ministry isn’t affiliated with anyone,” well, now the alarm bells are going to sound. It’s been pounded into many shepherds to adamantly reject any solo organization. They’re also taught to see all loner Christians as grave threats to their flock, so when they then jump all over you with grim warnings, they’re really acting out of love. They care about you and they’re trying to protect you. The problem is that their minds are far too closed and they’re not giving God enough room to work. Instead of taking time to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, they’re just falling back on the flawed training and biases that they picked up in seminary. How should you respond to these kinds of shepherds? You need to be gentle with them, while still holding your ground.
Real shepherds care immensely about the flocks in their care, they’re just getting bogged down by their own immaturity. You need to have sympathy for the brainwashing they’ve received and not expect them to morph into icons of maturity overnight. When you feel certain that you’ve found some ministry that is pouring out the wisdom of God, yet it’s obvious that your pastor feels enormously threatened by it, then stop waving the thing in his face. Don’t try to force him to get on your page because this isn’t going to work. He sees you as his vulnerable little sheep and if he feels like he’s losing you to some cultic influence, he’s going to be up at night praying for you and feeling like a failure. What he needs to hear from you is reassurance that you’re still on the straight and narrow road. Say things that will reassure him that you are still dedicated to Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Look for opportunities when you can sincerely compliment him on some insight that God spoke through his lips. “Pastor John, God really spoke to me through your sermon last Sunday about ___ and I was really blessed.” Good shepherds panic over losing their sheep to wolves, and if your pastor sees that you are still respecting him as a trustworthy guide in your life, he will feel a lot better. No pastor is perfect, but the good guys really are sincere and they are going to be a source of blessing in your life. You just can’t let their limitations become yours. You need to take the good that they offer while maintaining the confidence to go your own way. Remember that God is in charge. If He wants this ministry you’ve found to gain influence in your church, He’ll move your anxious pastor out of the way. If He doesn’t, you need to accept that and be content with the fact that God is using the ministry to bless you.
Shepherds have to answer to God for how they guide you in life. They’re not perfect. Sometimes they’ll give you wrong advice. If you’re not confusing them with the Holy Spirit, you’re going to be alright. Remember that it’s not your job to fix your pastor or make him see the light on some issue. You need to stay focused on your own walk. It’s nice to try and share the joy of what God is doing in your life, but if your pastor just can’t see it, be gracious about it and focus on what other good points the man has instead of letting your disagreement about one issue create a permanent rift. Now if your pastor overreacts to the point where he is treating you like an enemy just because you hear God speaking to you through some channel other than him, then you’ll probably need to end up cutting ties. You can give him some time to come around, but you don’t need to stay in an environment where you’re being socially punished for obeying God. That’s rot, and a pastor who remains entrenched in such behavior is clearly not listening to God.
IF IT’S YOUR MINISTRY…
Q: Does the Bible say that all ministries must be under the leadership of a church?
No, it doesn’t. And even if it did, the Bible is not God. The Bible is a collection of historical documents. You can’t just pull some verse willy-nilly out of the Bible and set it up as an unbreakable moral law. To interpret any portion of Scripture correctly, we must seek the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and we need to consider the original context of the passage. We need to ask the following questions:
- Who is speaking? There’s a big difference between Yahweh prophesying through the mouth of Isaiah and the apostle Paul sharing his personal opinions of how the Church should be run. God speaking directly to people cannot be put on the same level as some human being rattling off his own preferences and viewpoints. Go through the records written by Jeremiah (Jeremiah & Lamentations) and you will find a major difference between the messages that Yahweh speaks through the prophet and the prophet’s own ramblings. God’s direct words always trump the words of men.
- Who is being spoken to? The vast majority of instruction in the Bible is being directed at spiritual infants and souls who are willfully rebelling against God. We have very little material directed at those who are earnestly seeking God at more advanced stages of the faith because such souls rarely need prophets to get in their faces and chew them out with lectures about what God’s priorities are. You aren’t going to find advanced instruction in the New Testament epistles. Instead, you’re going to find a bunch of lectures about what not to do and a constant reviewing of the most basic tenants of the faith.
It’s very important for you to understand the difference between how God and men define “the church.” From God’s point of view, there is only one Church on earth. He uses the term “the Church” as a synonym for “all Christians”. Now of course God’s definition of a Christian is a lot narrower than ours. He only considers us to be Christians if we have met all of HIS requirements for salvation, which include reverentially submitting to Jesus as our God and Savior. When we’re referring to God’s definition of the Church on this site, we use a capital C. When we’re referring to man’s definition, we use a lowercase c. When people refer to “church”, they mean some building where people gather together to act religious. The human definition of church is meaningless to God because most of our churches are a mix of real Christians and souls who are willfully rebelling against God.
From God’s perspective, it is utterly absurd for your pastor to tell you that you can’t do ministry apart from the church. If you’re really a Christian, then you are a permanent member of God’s Church. How can you do something apart from the Church when you ARE the Church? Ah, because what your pastor really means is that you can’t start a ministry unless you suck up to some human authorities who want to play God in your life. If your pastor was teaching you correctly, he’d leave the church out of it and tell you that you’d better make sure you have God’s Authorization before you do something in His Name. You are accountable to God in life, not to the clergy. God couldn’t care less what mortal halfwits think you ought to do down here. God is extremely annoyed by pompous humans constantly instructing Him on how He ought to run His own universe. Do we really think our wisdom is higher than His? Yes, we do, because we are idiots. The first step in pleasing God is to realize that you are the servant and He is the Master. Before you even consider setting up yourself as His representative in any way, you’d better make darn sure that you have His explicit permission to do so. You’d better be receiving clear leading from the Holy Spirit in every step you take. If you don’t have these things and you go bumbling on ahead, then you’ll just be joining the throngs of blaspheming morons who are trying to use God’s Name and reputation to get glory and power for themselves on earth. Many of these people are real Christians, and they’ve foolishly decided that they will escape any consequences for their rebellious behavior because they’ve been “saved by grace.” These people are in for a very rude shock in eternity. DON’T MESS WITH GOD’S FLOCK. You want NOTHING to do with ministry unless you have received a clear command from God. And if you HAVE received such a command, then why on earth would you go checking with your pastor? Is your pastor God’s supervisor? Are you going to put the opinion of mortals over the command of God? If God is telling you to do something, then you need to respond with swift obedience. No stalling around. No setting up a bunch of pointless meetings so you can gather the feedback of foolish humans. It doesn’t matter who approves or disapproves of what God is telling you to do. It doesn’t matter how many pastors think you are spewing lies from Satan. You must do what God is telling you to do, and by the time you have a clear command from Him, there is no more time for discussion.
Q: I feel strongly called to start a specific ministry, but God keeps closing the doors. Why would He do that?
The vast majority of ministries that are started by Christians in this world degrade into cesspools of flesh-exalting carnality because their founders refused to wait for God to finish educating them on submission before they got started. You don’t want to follow their bad examples. When God is simultaneously firing you up and slamming doors in your face, it’s submission training. You must learn how to WAIT and stay in step with the Holy Spirit if you’re going to please Him with your ministry efforts. God is a stop-and-go kind of Guy. He does not move in straight lines. Instead, He zigzags all over the place and He is full of contradictory commands and nonsensical orders. You will not survive in ministry unless you complete your submission training. So when you see the clergy rushing to body block every attempt you make to launch your ministry, you need to realize that GOD is the One who is really blocking you. Then you must choose to ACCEPT His timing and SUBMIT to His Authority. Is it maddening? Very. But it is vital training and later on you will reap massive benefits if you stick with it.
Human beings cannot stop God’s will from going forward in this world. He can flick aside all obstacles like so much dust anytime He wants to. Why is He letting the carnal guys thrive while He keeps you pinned to the ground? Because they aren’t listening to Him, so He’s letting them rush out and hang themselves by their own rebellion. Be clear on this: there are ETERNAL consequences for willfully defying God on this earth, even for Christians. You don’t want to get to Heaven and have God be less than thrilled with you. So decide now that you want nothing to do with any ministry that is flesh-driven. God’s approval is ALL that will matter in the end, so that’s what you have to stay focused on.
FOR THE CLERGY…
Q: My parishioner has become enamored with some questionable ministry and now they are asking me to promote it at my church.
As a shepherd of the flock, you need to understand the limits of your calling. Your job is to point the flock to their true Shepherd and equip them with the tools they need to build a strong, personal bond with Him. You can’t teach the flock to depend on you for guidance in life—that’s a sure way to end up overwhelmed and burned out. You can’t babysit their every move because you’re just one person. You need to look to God to choose your priorities for you and act accordingly.
Now as a shepherd, you should be teaching the flock to put their trust in God and GOD ALONE. This means that you cannot promote any brand, name, or organization from the pulpit. This is inappropriate behavior, because too many souls are hanging on your every word. If you say some brand or name or group is trustworthy, they’ll go blindly trusting in that group and you might not be around to warn them when that group starts going corrupt. Rather than telling them to trust in troughs of poisoned water, you need to teach them to how to rely on God directly. Most Christians have no clue how invested God is in guiding them personally. They do not realize He loves them as individuals instead of viewing them as a mass herd. They don’t realize that they have just as much Holy Spirit as you do and that God wants them to look to Him directly in life. It’s your job to teach them all of these things. It’s only when we teach the lambs to rest directly in the arms of their true Shepherd that we can breathe a sigh of relief that they are safe. As long as we’re teaching them to rely on something other than God, we’re leading them along the edge of a cliff. If we can’t even trust ourselves not to go astray, how can we teach them to trust us? God is the ONLY ONE we can point them to with total confidence that He will faithfully protect them from harm. But of course He will only protect them if they LISTEN to Him, and this is not something we can make them do.
When one of your parishioners starts getting enamored with a ministry, you need to remind them of the importance of relying on God directly. Unless you see hardcore evidence of danger, you shouldn’t instantly stomp all over their enthusiasm. Leave room for God to give them practice in exercising their own discernment muscles and encourage them to keep checking all things with the Holy Spirit. Remember that we shepherds are prone to getting too emotionally invested in the well-being of our flock. This causes us to get too controlling and then we start taking it as a personal affront when the flock refuses to respect our authority. The great challenge of shepherds is to balance our intense desire to protect the flock with a willingness to let them choose destruction. We cannot force them to stay in alignment with God. If God Himself gives them the option of rebelling against Him, so must we. If they are going to insist on running over some cliff of delusion, there’s nothing we can do. We can only help the ones who want to be helped, and many of them will choose to leave our care in order to chase after wolves who will tear them apart.
When a parishioner asks to start some sort of ministry effort at your church, “Let me pray about it and I’ll get back to you,” needs to be your response. We need to give time for the Holy Spirit to give us His view on things. God works in mysterious ways and sometimes the vessels He wants to speak through will surprise us. We must be careful not to write someone off because of gender, age, or inexperience. At the same time, we can’t be setting up spiritual infants in positions of leadership, nor should we help egos build kingdoms in our midst just because they come with impressive resumes. All things must be checked with the Holy Spirit.
As shepherds, we are supposed to be modeling how to rely on God in life. We aren’t doing a very good job of that if we’re just going with our guts and regurgitating whatever we were taught in seminary. Any request that comes to us needs to be run past God, and if a soul wants to share their enthusiasm about some new ministry, we need to take the time to listen to what they are actually learning instead of just reacting to a brand. Perhaps we know that the ministry is putting out some flawed teaching, but right now it’s their good points that are attracting our parishioner. This is a good opportunity for us to ask them questions that will help them think critically about what they are being taught instead of just giving them our swift stamp of approval. Teaching the flock to think for themselves is a very important part of our job. Too often souls are taught to act like sponges: blindly sucking up whatever they’re taught from the pulpit. We need to teach them to be critical thinkers, always looking for underlying principles and constantly asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. Our job is to shine a light on the path that will lead them to life, and that means teaching them to depend on God as their only trustworthy Guide in life. Their infatuations with various ministries provide good opportunities for us to teach them how to separate truth from lies and to only keep what is useful.
As shepherds, we must remember that it takes time for souls to mature in the Lord. When we see that someone has an eager desire to please God, we need to trust that He will respond to that desire and lead the soul in the right direction. We must resist the temptation to start badgering souls into doing what we think they ought to do. Unless they are becoming a source of harmful division in our midst, we need to give them room to stumble and bumble around and explore various avenues of growth. Remember that the Holy Spirit has a different teaching agenda for each soul. He isn’t going to instruct them all in the order that we think is best. Instead of insulting Him with constant accusations that He’s letting some soul slip through the cracks, we need to ask Him to help us stay aligned with Him as His shepherds and remember that the responsibility of maturing souls lies with Him, not us.