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John the Baptist understood that the Church belongs to God. If the Church was the product of human initiative and organization, we could probably make a case for human ownership. But the Church came into being as a result of the activity of God's Holy Spirit. It was God's idea and initiative. John knew his place and he explained that to others in the following terms:

You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:28-30 NIV)

So it should be with us as Christians Leaders. If we fail to recognise the unique relationship between Christ and His Church and, as a result, intrude inappropriately into that relationship then we need to repent of such faulty thinking and behaviour.

Our role is to connect people to God, not to us. Sadly, in far too many instances, the Pastor's need of recognition, affirmation - the need to be needed - leads him/her to make people dependant on them rather than pointing them to a maturing relationship where they are dependant on Jesus. In the imagery that John uses,that would be tantamount to the best man in the wedding party using his position of trust to virtually seduce the bride away from the bridegroom.

In my years as a Pastor, I have had the opportunity to visit other churches both here and overseas. Many of them have been a source of encouragement. But others have caused me great concern - especially those whose Pastor possessed the Church as though it was his own. I tighten up when I hear a Pastor refer to "my Church" or "my people".

Now sometimes that term was one of endearment and warm relationship; not one of personal possession. At other times, it reflected an attitude of unhealthy ownership where the people were treated as being accountable to the Pastor in ways that were inappropriate. They were usually accompanied by the dynamics of power, manipulation and control.

"Giving the Church back to God" is a posture or attitude that rejects such manipulative methods and relationships and seeks to honour and facilitate the Lordship of Jesus in practical, functional ways in the local congregation.

John the Baptist really did understand this truth. He pointed people to Jesus, not to himself. He prepared the people to recognize and receive Jesus when He came. And once Jesus was made "front and centre", John knew that he was to recede into the background.

That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.

Quite a few years ago I read about a Pastor who used his sabbatical leave to visit a number of fast-growing Churches on the west coast of the USA. He visited one Church whose Pastor had a very high profile and no matter which way he turned, the visitor was confronted with plaques and photos and trophies of this particular Pastor.

In another Church (whose Pastor was also well-known through one particular book he had written), the visitor was there for quite a few days before he worked out which one was the Pastor! It just seemed to me that, when it came to "He must become greater; I must become less" it was the second Pastor who believed and practiced that reality.

But giving the Church back to God is just the first part of my vision. I'd like to introduce you to the second half in my next post.

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