I have served as a senior pastor for 30 years, and I have also worked extensively with political, community and business leaders over the past three decades. As my understanding regarding the Kingdom of God and marketplace ministry has evolved, I see church with a new lens and notice the frustration many young people and professionals have regarding their local churches. Many in these categories feel limited rather than celebrated and released into their callings.
In the context of this article, I use the word “straightjacket” as a metaphor to mean limitation and constriction of leadership potential. I believe if the church does not shift toward a kingdom mindset and move away from an empire-building mindset, we will continue to alienate some of the best and brightest young leaders in our generation. I speak this as a leader who believes the local church is the visible expression of the invisible Christ (Ephesians 1:22-23), and the hope of the world.
The church as structured in the New Testament is able to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6). I write this article with a deep yearning in my heart for the church to go to the next level so we will not continue to be irrelevant to the surrounding culture and miss great opportunities to disciple world-changers.
The following are ways the local church has become a straightjacket instead of a releaser of kingdom purpose:
1. When church leaders are the only ones viewed as ministers.
For the church to disciple nations (Matthew 28:19) and exert cultural influence (Genesis 1:28; Matthew 5:13-16), we must recognize and even commission (not ordain or give out ecclesial titles) those called to high-level marketplace leadership in the secular arena. After all, Jesus rose from the dead so He could fill all things (Ephesians 4:10). The only way this can happen is for the church to nurture, celebrate and release members called to the marketplace. If a church makes a conceptual distinction between church leaders and marketplace leaders by only referring to the former as ministers, then we are missing an opportunity to strategically place believers into every sphere of society.
Ephesians 4 teaches that Christ gave the church five-fold ministers to train God’s people for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12). Based on the context starting in Ephesians 4:10, we need to redefine the work of the ministry to include the filling up of all things on the earth, which means the equipping and sending of saints into every sphere of life, not merely equipping the saints called to full-time church ministry.
2. When business leaders are only valued for their tithes and offerings.
Many high-level business leaders I meet are very frustrated because they are either sitting under a pastor that has a lower level of leadership than they do, and/or they are only valued in the church because of the amount of tithes and offerings they give to the congregation. Business leaders in the first category should find an apostolic leader in the body of Christ (even if they are not in their same geographic region) they can receive input from, even if it is not their local church pastor.
They should stay in their local church as long as their family is receiving nurturing and pastoral care. This is a better option, for this would not allow these business leaders to get frustrated and opt out of church altogether (which many unfortunately do). Those only valued for their financial giving will be underutilized in the church; they will feel like they are in a straightjacket instead of a place that enables their leadership gifts to flourish.
3. When the pastor is an empire builder.
When a pastor is an empire builder, they only want to utilize marketplace leaders and their finances to build bigger buildings and support their programs. This is all good and fine, but limiting, since the message of the kingdom (Genesis 1:28; Ephesians 4:10) commands Christ-followers to fill up everyone else’s buildings, not just our own. Empire builders are only committed to people commensurate to the support they receive for their empire.
Kingdom builders wash the feet of marketplace leaders and help equip them to maximize their purpose in their cultural sphere. Pastors committed to releasing Christian leaders called to the secular arena will never have any lack of financial giving toward their own local church programs because of the law of reciprocity: Whatever you sow you will reap.
Marketplace leaders in an empire-building church will usually feel like they are only being used instead of being celebrated and blessed.