It is difficult to tell who will be loyal and who will stab you into the back. Sometimes someone will swear blind they don’t know then go on to be your best leader (like Peter), others you give all the jobs to and they then are the ones who betray you (Judas). However, there are clues and one of the first clues is what I refer to as an independent attitude.
An independent attitude never seems to fit in with the group. They might be a little upset at the leader, they might be annoyed at someone in the group, or just generally upset with the way the group does things. They might have started out keen but there is something different going on now: an independent attitude has taken root.
It’s a subtle first sign to a betrayal, but it is as real as can be and you need to be able to spot it. It could manifest in a number of ways: the pastor of a church could say “let’s all fast this Wednesday” and the person fasts Tuesday. That sounds minor but let me tell you this: always be careful around people who take no notice of the calendar or the clock.
This week it was independence day in Uganda. They celebrated, we didn’t here in England. Why? Because we are a different nation. We don’t follow each others’ calendars and clocks. When people are part of the same group, they follow the same calendar. It’s a really simple way to notice who is loyal and who is not. Not following the calendar: it’s not a big deal, but it is the first step down a slippery slope that ends with you getting a knife to the back!
I am not against being independent and I am not against people having an independent attitude, the issue is that when you want to be part of something bigger than yourself – which is the only way to find true significance – you have to join in in such a way that you flow with the group, the church, the business, the organization. You can’t play by your own rules and join in the big game.
At our church, a big big part of our culture is what we call Living Churches. They are groups that meet in the evening for a couple of hours in houses – we have 10 of these groups meeting every week and groups every weeknight. So most weeknights I am out visiting and encouraging the groups. I run two myself, my wife runs two, and when we are in we consider that time to be very precious family time. So I don’t do much evening visits with people. Some people get upset – they want me to be there for them in the evenings but they never go to a Living Church. They are not flowing with our church. They are not getting involved in something bigger than themselves. An independent attitude.
It’s harder to be involved in something bigger than yourselves. It is much harder than you can imagine. At Tree of Life Dagenham we often have up to twenty people serving in the main service – children’s ministry, making teas, ushering, etc. We all meet at 9am and pray for 10-15 minutes – that way we are serving like Mary out of our intimacy with the Lord, not like Martha. It takes effort to be there for 9am, but if you can’t follow the group calendar or clock you have an independent attitude, and that leads (eventually) to disloyalty.
Does this happen in the Bible? Yes! Absolutely, Joab was David’s right hand man. To use modern terms, he was the assistant pastor. But it is clear throughout Scripture he was there doing his thing, not David’s thing. David was a man of peace, but Joab was a task man – he missed David’s attitude and heart and went on doing his own thing. He didn’t understand David’s vision, David’s behaviour, David’s grace – and in a fit of offense did things his own way.
Pastor Joab was nodding in the staff meeting, but went out the door and did what he wanted. He never left David’s ministry – he enjoyed the benefits of being in the ministry but never submitted to the vision.
For example, in 2 Sam. 18.5, David is explicit to everyone: show grace and gentleness to Absalom. Forgive him for his rebellion. That was David’s way.
In 2 Sam. 18.12-14, Joab kills Absalom to protect David. It looks loyal. It looks fanatical. But he is doing it his way, not David’s way. This is an independent attitude – it is in the organization but doesn’t care about how the organization does things. Worship leaders who play songs that are not on the churches’ white list, assistant pastors who preach crosswise to the pastor when he is out of church, ushers who welcome people and then tell them the latest gossip, elders who run the Living Church how they want and teach what they want the way they want. It’s an independent attitude – and people who have one will never manage to be part of something bigger than themselves, and therefore are never significant.
An independent attitude is only a few steps away from stabbing you in the back. In 2 Sam. 12.28 Joab tells David unless you get off your backside and do what I want then I will name this town after myself. That is one of the biggest hallmarks of an independent attitude – people with one want a name for themselves. I remember a worship leader who wanted to lead worship but leave before the sermon started. Forget that! That’s an infectious attitude. I’d rather turn the CD player on.
I’ve seen this attitude lead to branch pastors renaming the church and making it their church, I’ve seen this attitude leading elders to turn house groups into their own personal church.
(Incidentally, that’s why some pastors hate branch churches and small groups – they are so concerned about a Joab taking over, but let me say that the rewards are always more than the risk. Always always disciple people and release them. For every Judas stabbing you in the back you get 11 good guys. Ok, so one of them might always stick their foot in their mouth, two of them might be sons of thunder, one of them might be the poster boy for doubting but as you disciple and release they will work miracles and build the kingdom. It’s worth far more than the pain of one betrayal!)
Always beware of people with independent spirits. People who don’t follow your calendar and clock. Church starts at 10am and they substitute that for their own personal arrival time. Conference is August 6th-9th, but they go on holiday then even though they have known about it for a year. People who want to name things after themselves – they run their own small group programme rather than plugging into yours.
I’m not saying any of these things are wrong, but if you keep seeing signs of independence that is not a person who is with you. Until the signs change, don’t promote that person. It will save you pain, it will save you loss, it will save your dreams.
For more teaching on this subject, please see our website: www.treeoflifedagenham.com/dream-killers.html