The enemy within?

I have to write something today that’s a bit difficult to write. It’s  a hard message to all of us who profess the name of Jesus Christ, particularly those in the community in which I live. In the twenty five years my family and I have ministered here we’ve prayed and worked together with the churches of Breathitt County for the cause of the Gospel. (No we’re not leaving) Many in our county have worked and prayed for years to see a move of God that would transform our community. Our county has some of the greatest people I’ve ever known. I count it an honor to serve beside Pastors who truly love the word of God and preach it faithfully. They love the church and the gospel. Within those churches I see some of the greatest saints of God, of all ages seeking to serve him daily. With such a great community of faith you would think the churches would be bursting at the seams. But they’re not. Despite all the revivals, concerts, youth events and food giveaways we just don’t seem to be able to achieve the breakthrough that so many of us have longed for. We pray for revival. Hope for revival. But where is it? It can’t be that God is no longer interested in saving souls. Because He never grows weary. His love for the lost is boundless. Inexhaustible. We can’t blame the people outside the church. They aren’t more lost than other generations. The problem is we have an enemy that undercuts the gospel whenever it starts to go forward in our community. We all know that Satan is the great enemy of the gospel. No surprise there. But friends, here’s the hard part. We have an even more formidable opponent than the devil himself. As the old saying goes, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” I fear that the greatest enemy of the gospel in Breathitt County is not outside the walls of the church, but inside. I say this with sadness because I love Breathitt County and the church, and because I know that I have often been an enemy of the gospel without even knowing it. So I write this to myself as well. Let me be more specific.

First I want to say that the problem on the inside is not so much doctrinal. Our churches are pretty solid in the basics of the faith, even with all the minor differences and nuances. The problem isn’t economic. It doesn’t take more more money or better stuff to bring revival. So what is it that keeps the church in Breathitt County from revival? Simply put the problem is power and control. I’ve noticed, over the years, a pattern. Whenever a church begins to start reaching the lost, it grows and begins to bear fruit, but suddenly it all stops and the church is torn apart. Why? Is it opposition from the outside? No. What consistently happens is an implosion from the inside. This implosion usually occurs for one simple reason. Power and control.

A handful of people in the church, who are used to being in control of things, rise up against whoever is bringing in the lost, whether it be a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, or just a member who loves people. They criticize, accuse and complain until the person who was making a difference leaves and the church is fragmented…again. Your church has either been through this or is going through it now. I’ve seen how ugly this can be first hand. I’ve also seen how ugly I can be when I’m the one so full of his own ambition that I’ve hurt the gospel when I thought I was helping it. You see that’s the thing isn’t it? We can get into a situation where we become so sure of our own ideas, and so committed to holding our own position that we actually think we’re helping the gospel, when all we’re really doing is protecting our turf. This kills churches and it dishonors Christ, who gave himself up for us all.

In my 25 years here, I’ve seen this stronghold of power and control in my own ministry and in the ministries of others in our community. We have to understand that as the churches of a community we are responsible for more than our own congregations, and certainly for more than our own self interests. Too many people in our community have simply given up on church because they came looking for God and found only people fighting for power. How many good pastors have been beaten up because all those new saved people were getting more attention than the two or three who used to be in the spotlight? How many new Christians have limped away from church because someone resented them for getting too involved? How many churches have been torn apart because a pastor wanted to be a celebrity instead of a servant? This desire for power and control can happen to all of us can’t it? It’s happened to me and it’s happened to you. Even now I know of churches where those who are doing the work of the gospel are being crucified by those who want to protect their own interests. The church is being assaulted from the inside by the stronghold of power and control. Paul warned those who destroy the work of God:

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.” (I Cor. 3:16-27)

In this passage Paul is saying that the church is God’s temple and you are part of it, if you destroy God’s temple you are assaulting something Holy, and God will deal with you severely. He was warning those who threatened to tear apart the Corinthian church over self interest. If we are to have revival we must tear down the stronghold of power and control, which has put a choke hold on the church for way too long. If your church has changed several pastors in just a few years, you may be under the stronghold. If you have one family or group that makes all the decisions for the church, you may have a stronghold  of power and control. If you have a long list of people who left the church without telling you why, you may have a stronghold of power and control. If you are afraid to be involved in your church because someone’s toes are in the way, you may have a stronghold of power and control. If you are really mad at me right now, you may have a stronghold of power and control. Finally, if you’re thinking, “I wish so and so would read this.” yep, you guessed it. It may be them…or it may be you.

So how do you overcome the stronghold of power and control? By practicing humility and self sacrifice. You overcome this by serving one another, not leaving one another. Leaving the church is not the answer. That’s the coward’s way out. It’s easier to run away than stay and pray. I should know, I have been the coward at times. We must stand together for the soul of the church and the cause of Christ. We have to fight against the stronghold of power and control by getting our eyes on Christ and giving up our own selfish ambitions. We also need to deal with those who are strangling our churches. You know who they are. They only see the church for what they can get personally out of it. In love and boldness you need to stand up against them. Stop handing the church over to those who just want to use it. If you pastor is doing the work of the gospel stand beside your shepherd, pray for them, encourage them and yes defend them. Finally, make sure that you are acting as a servant to your church, and not a ruler. Even as a leader you are called to serve others.

Church, let us work and pray for revival by putting away our need to protect our interests, and make it our chief interest to preach the gospel. Then the world will know that we meant it last Sunday when we sang, “He lives.”

(disclaimer: No, I’m not having trouble in my church. This isn’t a reaction to anything like that. I have a great relationship with my family of faith. I have a heart for revival in this county and I write this purely out of that desire.)

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