In 1995, I was asked to promote my book on parenting by appearing on Denver’s radio station KRKS. My publicist booked me for a 20 minute interview, pushing my book and inviting people to call in with questions about the content. I answered the questions on parenting from about a half dozen callers when the host asked me an intriguing question.
“Mike, are you working on any other book ideas?”
It just so happened that I was putting together an outline of a book. So I decided on the spot to trial-market that idea with his audience. “Yes, I have an idea about a book concerning God’s church. I believe we have totally messed up God’s plan for his Body. God always intended that all of God’s people have vision, have calling and purpose and that every believer is supposed to be a minister. But we have relegated ministry to a select few professionals and the rest become spectators.”
“What do you want to call the book?” the host asked.
At that moment, the title came to my head: “Releasing God’s People.” I then went on to explain my personal experience with seeing members of my church trained and equipped to serve in literally dozens of different approaches to ministry. The concept must have hit a nerve with the listening audience. From that moment in the broadcast, the switchboard lit up. We had over 100 people wanting to talk to me on this subject. The host asked if I could stay longer than the agreed-upon 20 minutes. So I kept answering questions on the topic of church members and ministry. When we were all done, we had covered almost 90 minutes of air time. They asked me to return when I finished the book and they would do a program devoted to the content.
I did write the book about two years later. However, I never did find a publisher for it. Several of my friends–including my writing mentor who had become a book editor by that point–gave me the same assessment: No publishing company would touch that concept with a hazmat suit on. It is not a safe subject. They feared that many local church and denominational leaders would boycott the publishing firms if they published the book. I found this to be true. Because I had published three books before, I had enough cachet to be heard by editors. But when they were honest, they told me they didn’t believe the book would sell in the markets which mattered the most to them: Christian leadership circles.
This surprised me, because my informal poll on the radio station told me this subject would be of interest to the average Christian. Twenty years later though, I can see why Christian leaders would not want this subject broached: They perceive it as a threat to their jobs and their domain. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus came to his twelve closest friends–the Apostles–and sent them out in twos to announce in towns of that area that Jesus was coming to visit. But, even more importantly, he gave them personal authority to cast out demons, heal the sick and raise the dead. He gave them authority! I believe this is the model that he wanted them to follow. Their job as leaders would be to mimic his example: Release others and give them your authority to minister. When they come back to check in with you, instruct them, train them and encourage them.
In today’s church, those in leadership are often seen and treated as ministry superstars. Even those who abuse God’s people and treat the Body of Christ like a bully would treat a small kid in school are still afforded star status. But the Bible clearly teaches that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are there to “equip God’s people for ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-13). The most effective churches are those whose leaders don’t have time to make a name for themselves. They are too busy training and equipping members of the church body to have vision, hear God, share the Gospel, disciple new believers and read their own bibles for themselves.
In reality, a church leader does not need to be threatened by this unless their goal is to make a name for themselves. If a pastor follows Ephesians 4, then they will never be out of work. There is always someone more to train, to encourage and to stand beside.
When my book did not get published, God showed me that my role was to just live out this truth, even if no one ever read about it. But having this blog as a forum gives me an opportunity to show what this can look like. it can look like Jesus. In the weeks to come, I will highlight examples of what releasing God’s people can do in this broken world.