A POWERFUL Church Growth Secret - Invalidation and Separation Using Identity
Johnny and I are ministering in Sanford, FL. We are working to establish koinonia fellowships in every people group, starting in our backyard. We hope to bring leaders together at the city level to join this effort. Our core understanding of scripture is that the body needs to be equipped and working together in order to see a great harvest, a harvest that is sustainable.
Here is a challenge that we’ve seen many times before.
People sometimes use a simple but powerful secret for growth of their church and control of 'their people'… create a strong identity and, at the same time, divide from and invalidate other Christ-followers.
Let me share an experience.. Johnny and I arranged for a nationally prominent minister, whom we knew well, to speak at a mega-type church. The church was thrilled that this man would come and speak. A week or so before the engagement, the church required that our friend send his multimedia presentation to them so they could redo the images in order that the images fully supported the identity that the church was creating. Our friend had spent weeks developing the presentation graphics. Yet, without ever having seen the presentation, the church's top concern was to redo the graphics to support their chosen identity.
They wanted him to speak and draw people to the services, and, at the same time, they wanted to micro-manage the graphics in his presentation in order to promote their chosen identity. Why? Because it IS true that adding people to one's church CAN be accomplished effectively by ‘owning’ and ‘managing’ identity and screening out anything that doesn’t fit. We are not talking about screening out things that are not Biblical, but ensuring that the identity image the church develops is portrayed in everythings, thus carefully differentiating ‘our church’ from ‘their church or ministry.’ But, is that God’s plan - to divide, to separate and often as a consequence, to invalidate?
Our friend felt totally invalidated. The result was that the speaking engagement was a disaster. Afterward, I confronted the pastor who was responsible for this and his reaction was, “Yes, we did this. So? I don’t see the problem, we didn’t do anything wrong.” The desire to prescribe an identity trumped respect, honor, liberty in the Spirit, love and even common sense. This is not Kingdom DNA.
The practice of invalidation and creating divisions based on identity has embedded itself in common Christian culture.
This practice can be overt… A friend of mine left one church, without complaint or fanfare, to attend another church because she thought her children had needs not being met by the first church. Her friends from the first church told my friend that their leadership had indicated that remaining friends and spending time with her would not be the right thing for them to do. My friend, a relatively new believer, was left wounded and bewildered by the overt practice of church leaders making sure that ‘their sheep’ don’t mingle with ‘other sheep’.
Another overt application is people using specific movements or streams of teachings as litmus tests to determine which Christ-followers they will or will not work with. Certainly, there are so-called Christians that reject basic Biblical truths. KingdomStandards.com and the great creeds represent core truths that should not be compromised, providing a valid litmus test. However, testing people by whether their identity includes speaking in tongues or the belief in the pre-tribulation return of Christ is just setting up divisions. Knowledge puffs up, love builds up. -God
Invalidation might be strategic. Here is an example. I have suggested initiatives to various believers. Many times they have indicated that community reaching would not go over with their leadership, sharing the thinking passed on by their church leadership is like this: “Our people’s time should not be spent in areas where our church doesn’t benefit from the growth.” Following that thought, these churches have developed various ways to manage their ministry efforts to ensure that they are scoped to serve those who might attend the host church.
Separation can be covert… I was involved with a community outreach a number of years ago. Many churches were involved. People from one of the local mega-type churches were excited to see the Kingdom extend and were getting involved with the outreach. They were soundly instructed by their leadership… “While we applaud the efforts of (XXXX) outreach; let’s not get ahead of God. When God wants the folks at our church to do this type of outreach, He will lay it on our hearts. Until then, let’s focus on the ministries of our church.” So subtle. So ‘spiritual’. They were separating ‘their people’ from others, so that ‘their people’ can work exclusively from and for their church, ensuring the harvest goes TO their church. They are tapping into the powerful church growth secret, creating growth for their church by using identity for invalidation and separation.
One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas[b]”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? -1 Corinthians.
These types of things abound: tapping into defined identities, sometimes developing defined identities, excluding other Christ-followers and using invalidation to create divisions in the body of Christ, often for purposes of control or growing ‘my church.’
Johnny and I expect to encounter these things in Sanford, FL.
When it happens, here are a couple things… The natural state of people is to divide. Look at the natural world. It is Christ that binds us together and the Holy Spirit that shows us where we have created divisions in His body. We need to be wise, repair breeches and, above all, when we realize we need to change, we need to repent and set a different course for our lives.
Pray for us. This work in Florida is important. We are beginning to see a core of people emerge. While, at the same time, religion (how we practice our faith) is hitting us smack in the face. More on this later. Some of our approaches need to be re-evaluated. This is like learning to drive a car, every turn of the wheel has an impact on where we are going.