In the process of discipleship, territorialism can result in church terrorism. King Herod was not concerned when another Jewish baby was born. Herod was bothered, by the Magi’s question, “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” Herod fretted a lot! This new addition reportedly being born in Judea was suddenly a direct threat to Herod.
Fear is a powerful motivator. Herod instructed the destruction of all the boys born in the kingdom. Since Herod could not be sure who was a threat. He decided to act as though everybody was a threat. Such responses still happen.
Jihadists at Church
- A church attracting newcomers had a participant act as a “church terrorist.” When a newcomer would sit in the pew her family generally sat in she would say, “That is our pew. You will have to sit somewhere else.” Church terrorism!
- Another interesting experience was the person who decided some newcomers dressed too nice and had done too well in life. Using a device to change their voice, the person phoned newcomers to say, “You don’t fit at our church. Your clothes are too nice. You are too uppity. We don’t want you here.” Church terrorism!
Sadly tragic. A funny story to tell a few decades out. At the moment, it was behavior similar to that practiced by Islamic jihadists. In these instances, the terrorist symptoms were verbal. More often the terrorism shows up in attitudes. The results are often the same.
Motives for Church Terrorism
The real basis of all terrorism is fear.
- Not being in control.
- Losing place.
- Not being treated with kid gloves.
- Not being in the know.
Such behavior has to be eliminated
In whatever way, it has to be stopped. It has to be stopped! It is best if the behavior stops through teaching or direct confrontation. If the elimination does not happen using these means then the terrorist will have to go. Since it is not in the best interest of a leader to “run people off.” Patiently pray them out. One elder said of a particular church, “They are two good funerals away from a revival.” The terrorists have to go – whatever “going” looks like.
Most terrorism does not rise to the level referenced. It is more often subtle. Lack of a smile or making a point of not speaking. Commenting about “those new folks,” in a way that has a bit of disdain or derision. What I’m describing is an unhealthy “my church” attitude.
Actualized “My Church” Territorialism
Territorialism happens when people feel threatened. Notice that the concern is always reflected in thoughts about me, my and mine. There is no reference to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom. In such a mindset every change and all growth filter through, “How does this affect me?”
- I’ve been playing music.
- I’ve been SS Superintendent
- My kids have always sung the solos
- Legacy memberships. My mom has been coming here thirty years. Some who use such arguments do not actually support the church in any tangible way.
- Someone who has been in the church more than five years fills all leadership roles.
- My seat, my parking spot . . .
- Two decades ago a lady told me, “You are too focused on developing new people. I’m going somewhere else.” She and her physician husband went across town.
- I’ve given money and been faithful in attendance. Do you mean the priority is reaching and discipling new people? These people we are welcoming have never given a dime to this church.
Parallel to Israel
The church universal tends to struggle with a “me first” attitude. There is nothing new there. This is what Israel became. God called Abraham so that there would be a family and nation positioned to bless other nations. Abraham’s descendants wanted that blessing. However, the people of Israel did not see themselves as “a nation of priests” to other nations. The Israelites were instead content for the blessing to end with them. As long as they experienced salvation all was well. They did not see what God had done for them connected with God’s next step in redemption and reconciliation.
I wrote about the importance of the “So That” principle in a chapter of Revival in a Plain Brown Wrapper. God does few things as an end in themselves. Instead, He is always moving the pieces about to do a significant next thing.
At the time of Christ, the Jews defined themselves by heritage instead of activity. They said, “We have Abraham to our father.” Their past identified them. A church can be the same!
Addressing Territorialism and Terrorism
Preach and teach HIS kingdom on the earth. “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” can be a good place to start. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Study everything Jesus said after his resurrection. The take-away will be that the apostles, and the church were to “make disciples.” Every ministry within the church body is to focus on evangelism and disciple-making. Nothing gets to just “maintain.” When you teach this, be sure you have a plan to carry out what you are teaching. Teach toward application.
Define and contrast a religious club and the church. A church is intent on growth in both the existing constituency and numerical growth. A religious club comes together to talk about religion.
With faith, express your expectation of growth. Park in the most remote parking space on the church parking lot. If anyone asks why you parked so far away, tell them, “I’m declaring my faith in making room for the new people who are coming.”
Practice growth! Bring people, invite people, spend time with first and second-time visitors. Model the way. Pastor, you must be seen as investing in the lost and in those who are becoming disciples. Have a strategy to follow up on each guest. Jesus talking with the woman by the Samaritan well astounded His associates. Similarly, existing church members MUST see you involved with newcomers to the church. This has to be more than a handshake at the door. Take a new person to lunch on Sunday.
Don’t let terrorism go unchecked. Confront it! If nothing else works, pray it out. Whatever the terrorism being gone requires. It has to go!
Work at Overcoming Territorialism
Moving from a “me first” posture to being on the offense in welcoming new people can be a struggle. As a leader, you cannot make that decision for someone. You can teach, preach and act the principles of hospitality. Some will likely leave. No worry! A church cannot grow if it has its own version of a Herod who kills babies. Those who threaten newcomers are murderers. This is tragic. Discipling “new people” is the work product of the New Testament church.
How Will YOU Get it Done?
Let me give you some broad principles and approaches to applying these.
- The 3-minute rule. At the end of service, I say, “Spend the next three minutes getting acquainted with someone you do not know well.” Does everybody do it? No . . . but those who care about the church reaching new people will do so. It also gives me as the pastor time and a reason to go to newcomers. Those words and my action make newcomers a visible priority.
- Focus on disciple-making classes that feed newcomers at their level of understanding. Where a church is median or less I encourage the pastor to teach the converts class. Median is about 80 in attendance. I currently teach “Bear Fruit” our second level of discipleship training each Wednesday. Others teach a much larger audience. The lesson – new converts are important to the pastor.
- Communicate that growth is your priority and will be the church’s priority.
- Schedule opportunities to celebrate. What gets honored, moves up in significance! Each quarter, we welcome newcomers with baptismal and Holy Ghost certificates. Each person comes up front. We give the newcomers their certificates. After this, the church body come by and welcome the newcomers with a right hand of fellowship. We are making a point of welcoming these people into our church. We also do discipleship class graduations – with certificates and a gift. I try to have people prompted to applaud and cheer about this.
- Defend spiritual babies. Moses’ mother did not let Pharoah’s insecurity destroy her baby. She did all she could to save her child. She hid him. When Moses had grown so that his mother could no longer hide him she shaped a basket for her baby. Not only that, she involved her daughter as a watcher. Invest energy in new converts. Protect them . . . if you see someone not being kind you do your part to defend them.
My webinar on Sociological Issues in Disciple-making is available here. It addresses two other social challenges!
Church Terrorism is Not NEW!
Evangelist Samuel Chadwick blamed himself for letting converts get in a church that was apathetic toward them. Chadwick’s self-indictment, “It was like putting a new baby in the arms of a corpse.” John Wesley stormed at preachers he was training, “How dare you lead people to Christ without providing an opportunity for growth and nurture! Anything less than growth and nurture is begetting children for the murderer.”
Herod and Pharoah were destroyers of the innocents. It still happens. Most things begetting children for the murderer are produced by fear and jealousy. You can overcome these with intentional behavior and the right priorities.
I shared three of my horror stories about church terrorists. My stories are mild compared to some. I’m interested in actions taken that remedied terrorism. Yet solutions are often based on those tragic stories. Please tell your story.