The Control Spirit and Apostolic Fathering - Part 2
This week, we will continue our teaching on apostolic fathering and the control spirit. We will primarily be discussing how to get free from the influence and wounding of control. I will also be highlighting the need for sound leadership and apostolic foundations.
Even as the law of the Lord brings life to us, the Lord longs to give us healthy boundaries that preserve us and protect us. The same is true of leaders who serve as a spiritual fathers. Those who have been wounded or hindered by leadership may perceive all spiritual authority as a wet blanket. But good spiritual fathers are a shield that protect us from harm and release us into greater potential than we could ever imagine reaching on our own.
Apostolic fathers will not overstep the boundaries given them by the Lord. Likewise, the word “apostle” does not guarantee universal authority. In other words, just because someone is an apostle in one area, does not mean he has authority in all other areas. There are spheres of authority in which we operate. Paul was an apostle to the gentiles, but he never claimed any authority over the Jews in Israel (Gal. 2:9). In fact, when he went to Jerusalem, he humbled himself and came under the authority of the other apostles there. Obviously, Paul’s letters have universal authority over the entire church today. But at the time of his life, they were not so widely recognized.
This principle is true in all spheres of fivefold ministry. The pastor of First Baptist of Smalltown, U.S.A. cannot expect to just waltz into United Methodist Church of Big City, U.S.A. and bear the same authority as he does at home. His words don’t carry the same weight – at least in the eyes of the people – nor does he have a God-given right to step in and exercise control.
In addition, true apostolic leaders will not implement legislation on believers that is beyond the scope of healthy scriptural guidelines. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. They will not micromanage the personal affairs of the flock, or legalistically instruct them on matters of personal preference. Except on clear moral issues, it is best to reserve liberty for the flock.
Getting Free From Control
For leaders who struggle with control, freedom begins with relinquishing it. Very many of the fathers in the church today have never first learned to be sons. Sometimes, we simply need to pull away, slow down and let go. We need to evaluate our motivation for ministry and remember that our primary objective is not to fill the role of a teacher and leader, but a father. We have many teachers, but only a few fathers (1 Cor. 4:15).
Abraham was the father of many nations. He never jostled for position or strived for an inheritance like his grandson Jacob. In fact, Abraham offered Lot the pick of the land – gave him the choicest possessions – and God later blessed Abraham with an eternal promise land.
Apostolic fathers have the genuine best interest of their spiritual children in mind. They are not seeking to build their own kingdoms, or simply increase their own sphere of influence for self-satisfaction. A key to reaching this place is stay reliant on the Lord, and not on our own ability to lead. We must learn to trust God. Anything else is scrambling to the top in the strength of our own human effort.
We Need Leadership
The spirit of control hinders the spiritual development of believers and keeps them stagnated below the level of the current ecclesiastical administration. In some cases, this is a very low level, as many pastors today are not even qualified to lead a home group.
The Lord is raising up a body of people who are fully equipped to minister – a royal priesthood who dig out their own revelation, instead of just feeding off another man. He wants mature eagles who do not need to be fed, but can search out their own meat. And He surely does not want an entertainment-based club where believers tune out and become viewers, or “hearers of the word only.” God wants us all doing the stuff of the Kingdom. Nevertheless, though we are all kings and priests, the church still needs leaders. Understand that the call to relinquish control is not a call to abandon positions of leadership.
The scriptures are clear that we are to respect and willingly work with local church leadership (Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Thess. 5:12-13). Many do not like to face this fact, because they have been wounded by church leaders in the past. But really, there are no other options. Without operating within the framework of the local church, we are guaranteed to stagnate, face intense spiritual warfare and in fact, become an enemy of the church through our criticism and bitterness. Without getting plugged in with the body, we will shrivel and become unproductive.
For those who have been wounded by leaders, it is important not to judge them. When we judge the Lord’s anointed, no matter what depth to which they have fallen, we curse ourselves to spiritual barrenness. If you have not encountered a controlling leader, you have probably not been a Christian for very long. There is no avoiding this test. There is a Saul that precedes every David, just as there is usually an Ishmael before every Isaac.
Many are so wounded that they perceive any spiritually aggressive activity as “control.” They would prefer men of God to be soft peddling sissies who walk in false humility, never confronting issues of sin. Jesus was meek, but He was no pushover. We must learn to be meek and gentle, but also to be fiery and bold as the situation demands. The Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12). Jesus was no cream puff. He took kingdom dominion at times. For instance, he violently cleared the temple of its money changers. But even there, it was more of a prophetic act than anything else. Had He wished, Jesus could have snapped his fingers and every temple merchandiser would have disintegrated into thin air.
Get Healing, Move On
Control is a form of spiritual abuse, but we cannot live forever under the stigma of unhealed wounds. The Levites were not allowed to minister if they had open wounds. It is paramount that we get healed and move on. We must learn to accept the inherent risk that comes with any relationship – the risk of getting hurt. Many refuse to reintegrate with the church or come under another leader’s authority after they have been burned by a controlling or legalistic church. But this is dangerous. We should not go to the opposite extreme by distancing ourselves from healthy accountability and sound leadership. Forgiveness must be extended in order to function in the Christian life.
Habit patterns and expectancies can develop within us which draw us to spiritually abusive situations. Often, a child grows up in an abusive home, then later marries into an abusive relationship. The expectancy of abuse – or a blind vulnerability to it – can lead some Christians to continually bounce around from one controlling church to another, never able to find a consistent, safe place. This could be the result of reaping bitter fruit from growing up in a controlling home. Unforgiveness and bitterness toward parents will consistently bring bad fruit throughout our lives. It could subconsciously draw us alongside leaders (in business, marital relationships and yes, even church leaders) who are more likely to struggle with control issues.
We need to forgive and get over hurts. We must also recognize that we will never find imperfect leadership in the church. If we are not willing to submit to imperfect human leaders (if you ever find a perfect one, let me know), this can be a sure sign of a religious spirit. Our own pride can prohibit us from submitting to them.
What is Healthy Leadership?
Many do not understand healthy spiritual leadership, because they have never seen it exemplified. Again, we have many teachers, but few fathers. We have many people willing to instruct us, but few who are willing to die for us. Good fathers have the best interest of their children in mind. They understand sacrificial giving. They understand nurture. They understand play.
True fathers love. They are not self-seeking. They are not out to build their own kingdoms. They are not out to court the bride of Christ to themselves, but prepare her, unblemished, for her coming Bridegroom.
Apostolic fathers will emulate on earth, what Father God does in Heaven in Psalm 91: They will be a shelter, a resting place, a refuge and a fortress. They are not takers out to shear the sheep or get “filthy lucre.” They will save the victimized from the fowler’s snare and from deadly pestilence. They will be a faithful protection, even as the Lord covers us under the shadow of His wings.
Yes, apostolic fathers will establish guidelines for holiness and right living. But their heart in these matters will be to protect us, mature us and release us. Not to confine or dominate. To the lawless – or to those who have been victimized – any authority or discipline may feel like control and legalism. But good fathers discipline those they love and consider sons.
Healthy discipline does not equal control and exasperating children.