Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gate Keepers or Permission Givers?

Several years ago I attended a conference in California made up of people who had an interest in what has come to be called “the emerging church.”  One session featured the pastor of a church that was known to be committed to reaching young adults.  One of the participants asked, “How long does it take to get a new ministry going in your church?”  The pastor, visibly uncomfortable and embarrassed, fumbled around without answering the question directly.  Evidently his congregation had a number of “hoops” one had to jump through in order to begin something innovative or unusual.

In each church, there are systems that can either encourage innovation or smother it in the crib.  Very often these are formal systems—committees, deacons, elders, or the session—that are concerned about accountability, liability, and expense.  Sometimes they are more informal entities—staff members, entrenched leaders, or influential persons—who are concerned about prestige, “turf,” or power.

There are no quick or easy ways to overcoming some of these barriers.  Too many churches have adopted the perspective of the gate keeper who is concerned about keeping people out rather than inviting them in, a desire to control rather than to bless.  Very subtly our organizations can come to believe that their primary mission is to protect and defend.  Think about the major change in perspective that would occur if the church came to see its structures as permission-giving in nature, blessing and empowering church members to try something new and innovative.

This is one reason that many Christian leaders, especially young adults, have adopted an entrepreneurial mindset and established ministries that have not been blessed by churches or denominational judicatories and operate outside of traditional channels.  They got tired of running into gate keepers rather than permission givers.

Whenever we say to a person, “We can’t do that because . . .” we may well be squelching the leadership of the Spirit in a person’s life and robbing ourselves of the opportunity to see God move in an unusual way.  The loss is ours because the Spirit will prevail.

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