For a while now I have wanted to do a series of blog posts on the difference between ruling as a king and ruling as a politician. Since I was born again at the age of 16, I have seen in many different churches, denominations, Bible Schools and ministries, people who have the authority that they flow in through Jesus Christ and His life, and other people who are playing at politics. I want to set people free from the need to be political and show them how to reign as kings, because that is God’s will for us, and that is where true authority comes from and that is how to win at life and build healthy churches!
The reason why this is so important is that there is a lot of teaching going around the body of Christ at the moment about the need to be more political. Now if that means the church and Christians should be more involved in the politics of their communities, cities and nations, I am absolutely all for that. I even ran for public office once! I believe that the church needs to speak into national issues such as homosexuality, abortion and gender issues. The church should have a public voice. But, some of the people saying that churches and Christian leaders should be more political are not saying that – they are suggesting that the way we lead should be more akin to politicians than kings. That we need to continually look at how people respond, how they react to judge how we should behave.
Now in one sense there is an amount of truth in that. We should love people, we should not go out of our way to offend and upset people. Our role as ministers and leaders should be to reign in life. That ability to reign in life comes from the gift of righteousness (Romans 5.17) and over several posts I will explain how a revelation of our righteousness leads to us being able to lead properly as a king, and not like a politician. Most Christians who lead like a politician, if you scratch the surface, you will find out they do not understand properly grace-righteousness and they think that their standing with God is something they need to earn.
So today, I want to start with a major truth that many do not realize. And that is what is the source of our authority as Christians? It does not come from how many people like us, it does not come from how many people follow us, it does not come from how many people attend our church, it does not come from how many people appreciate you, it does not come from how many partners you have. No – it does not even come from he people. Your authority comes from Jesus Christ Himself, as a gift.
Saul made this mistake and lost his kingdom. He offered a sacrifice he was not anointed to make, he did something that he was never called to do, and when Samuel confronted him on it, Saul said:
11 “What have you done?” asked Samuel.
Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash, 12 I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.” (1 Sam. 13.11-12, NIV)
Saul was the rightful king of the nation, he was not put in power by an election of the people, but by the selection of God. But he was scared of what the people would think of him if he did not have an offering, and later on we find out that he let the people keep the sheep and goats from the battle fearing their anger if he killed them all.
Saul was concerned what the people thought of him. That was the driving force of his kingship – he wanted the favour of the people, he wanted people to like him. That stopped him reigning as a king, and started his career as a politician. It was a very short career, as it is impossible to reign as a king and be a career-politician. The way to deal with people, the way to deal with God, the way to handle decisions in both are too diverse, too different, too opposing for someone to do both. God removed the kingdom from Saul because God is not interested in a politician having authority in His kingdom. God appointed Saul not the people, and whoever appoints you to a position is whoever you should be looking to for leadership and guidance.
Now, what does that mean for us in the New Testament?
Our source of authority as believers is Jesus Christ. He appointed us to bear fruit, not people. We are not elected. Some churches hold elections, some of you have been employed by other people in a church or ministry, but ultimately as a believer your authority, your ability to rule and reign in life comes from Jesus Christ, not the people. Politicians are elected and selected by the people, and kings are given their election by the family they are born to. Your authority as a born-again Christian comes from your new family from the new birth, not the people. This should be basic teaching, but sadly many churches and many Bible Colleges do not explain this to people.
We need to not run our churches and ministries like Saul and pander to people. It is not the way forward, we are not running our race for people but for Jesus Christ. We need to be free from politics when it comes to Christian ministry and free from being led by the very people we are called to lead. You can gain political authority in ministry by crafting and changing your ministry to impress the people and you can gain a following by being subject to the desires and whims of the people. But you do that, and you will not be able to reign as a king at the same time! You will still have your God-appointed authority, but you will never bring it out in case it upsets one of those people whose “vote” you desperately need. Politician preachers and ministers can have a following, but they do not raise the dead. You need to make a choice – will I follow God or please men! Paul had to make that choice:
Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. My message comes from Christ (Galatians 1.10, NLT)
Everyone trying to be political as a Christian leader needs to examine this verse and see if they are not trying to win people’s approval, rather than serving Jesus Christ. Our authority comes from being under the authority of Christ, not from the approval of people.
Recently, a large ministry that I respect a great deal has started teaching explicitly and powerfully what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. The ministry believes that it has a mandate from God for teaching that. I have seen a number of people tell me that they think that this minister has missed it here, not necessarily because they think what he says is wrong or incorrect but rather because teaching like that so boldly and clearly might cost him followers and people.
Those people are thinking like politicians, they are thinking about the following of the people. They are thinking like Saul not Paul. They are thinking like politicians not kings. I asked the minister about it, and he said “I have lost people when I taught this, but I must obey Jesus over people”. You know that is the truth, we must obey Jesus over people, and not care about the consequences.
As a pastor or leader you have to be very very careful about people trying to make you political. Now, those people who do that have no God-given mandate to do that, so they will resort to manipulation and guilt to persuade you to be more political.
For example, they might hear a message you have preached and you have preached it strongly. I like to be explicit about what I mean and they are concerned I have upset someone. So they will come and tell me. But rather than be direct with me, and deal directly with what I have said (it’s one of the traits of politicians not to speak directly) – they will tell me “your ministry will not grow if you say things like that”, “that kind of thing is not statesman-like”, “that kind of behaviour is not godly”. They will want you to listen to the crowd. Sometimes they even invent the crowd.
Once I preached a message called “Being Tribal Not Clannish”. I believe that as church goers we should be tribal, our church should be our tribe, we should support our church, love our church like an extended family, and help them as much as we can – we should speak the same tribal dialect, and have the same culture and goals. At the same time, we should not be like a clan, so wrapped up in our own stuff we do not look outwards, and cursing and attacking people who don’t look like us. It’s a good message, and a great way of using language to define what kind of family we are as church. At the end of the message, an African man came to me to speak to me about the message. He said that I have offended a lot of Africans by using the word “tribe” to describe how the Tree of Life Church should function. I asked him who, but he refused to name anyone specific and just said people might be offended. I asked him if he was offended and he insisted he wasn’t (politicians will never admit to character flaws in case some people are upset!), but that other people might be. I said I am not going to worry about imaginary people getting offended. Imagine being so political you worry about what imaginary people think about you! But people are! Christian leaders are!
They ask you to think about the hundreds of people who are offended, but they are the only one, but that narrative doesn’t suit a politician, so they will tell you about the people who might be upset.
And you see, actually the reason you need to look to Jesus and obey Jesus and not the people is that Jesus loves people more than anyone who needs the approval of people. In fact, you cannot really love people while you are trying to get them to like you and approve of you.
This weekend I was officiating at a wedding, it was a young man who has been in our church and just finished his second year at Bible College, and while there met another student. It was a glorious wedding with people from our whole church family and a whole bunch of Bible College students. One of the students was coming to a conference we are hosting and I asked which speaker they were most keen on hearing. I was very surprised, and this is not a humble-brag, that they said it was me. They told me that when I speak and speak clearly about things, and tell it like it is, it helped them believe that they could actually be in ministry, it helped them deal with things in their life and address things. You see when you learn to reign like a king and do not care what people think of you – then you can actually say the things people need to hear rather than what they want to hear. That way you can genuinely help people.
Now politicians get so upset at that, it shocks them that you do not care what people think, they do not know how to process it, and they will call you controlling, authoritarian, unloving, and all sorts of other names. Just shake the dust off your feet and get on with the task of being fruitful, working miracles and changing the world. All of us are performing for an audience of one – the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next post will develop this theme further! Enjoy!