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  • Writer's pictureBrian Fuller

Those Territorial Christians!

My dog is territorial. Suffice it to say, he “marks” his territory each chance he gets. His routine is in order to let all the other neighborhood dogs know exactly what acreage is “owned” by Brady Fuller. The funny thing is, my canine doesn’t have his name on any of our closing documents. Not one. Truthfully, he doesn’t own anything. He’s just a dog. But, that doesn’t stop him from instinctively spraying our mailbox post, Ash Tree, or (the worst!) my perennials!

Sometimes churches are made up of well-meaning Christians who are similarly territorial. We begin to think we are owners of our spiritual gifts and ministries.  Seems like this was going on in Corinth when the members of that first-century local church were making mascots out of their favorite preachers.  “I follow Paul, and another, I follow Apollos”, etc. (I Cor. 3:4).  Becoming territorial happens subtly with a small misunderstanding. We begin to think of ourselves as owners of ministries, ministers, spiritual gifts, etc. rather than stewards of them. We don’t use the word steward too often these days. But a steward is simply a manager of another’s wealth. A manager should not be confused with being an owner. An owner has sovereignty over all of his wealth. A steward is assigned service by managing the owner’s wealth that he has been entrusted. When we view ourselves as owners rather than stewards, we often exhibit some of these territorial signs.

"My dog doesn’t own a thing. Neither do we."

1. We resist change.

When we view ourselves as owners, we are often intimidated by changes and we resist them. It’s true that an owner should be consulted on any changes to their property.  Similarly, in churches where Christians view themselves as owners, they often become suspicious and annoyed (even offended) if their property is changed or even having change considered. Stewards view changes altogether differently. Stewards view changes as potential to multiply their owner’s wealth, accomplish His mission, and bring Him fame; they quickly adjust.

2. “No one can do it as well as me.”

There is something really cool about owners-they take ownership! That is why the difference between ownership and stewardship is subtle. In our zeal to do our best, we can almost unnoticeably morph from being faithful stewards into becoming territorial owners. This territorial marking becomes apparent when we begin to think that no one can do this ministry like me. Truth is, you might be right! And, like my dog, we then become very territorial about anyone encroachment on our ministry lot. Because, after all, no one can do it as well as me!

3. Our ministry “team” becomes a clique.

One would think that the safest place to be protected from cliques would be in a loving, local church, right? Well, unfortunately, if you have been in a local church for any length of time, you realize that just isn’t always the way things roll. Over time, and often with no intent to do so, a group of Christians can become joint owners of a ministry. They collectively “mark” their territory. And, no new people are really allowed into that ministry. This kind of spirit is vividly on display when a new believer(or new member) offers new ideas, or wants to contribute with their unique Spirit-endowed giftedness. They meet resistance, or worse they are “squeezed” out of the ministry by the “ownership team.” 

4. Adjustments to ministry are taken offensively and personally.

Territorial Christians don’t take criticism very well.  We just don’t. New ideas are offensive to us.  We begin to view any suggested changes as an attack on us personally or that we haven’t performed well.  Stewards welcome new ideas for how to manage their Owner’s wealth better. A pretty good question to ask ourselves about whether or not we are becoming territorial is  “how did I react the last time a suggested change or new idea was presented to me?” “Did I take it personally?”

5. We are more focused upon accomplishing projects than equipping people.

Biblical, New Testament, Gospel Ministry is supposed to be an equipping ministry according to the inspired Blueprint(Ephesians 4:11-16). Are we more doers or equippers? Do we see the Biblical pattern as trying to “work ourselves out of a job” or as becoming the one who is known by the entire congregation as the “expert” in that ministry? No doubt, you have heard the sad statistic that is often quoted regarding the local church: “80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.” Well, that statistic might be true, but one wonders how that statistic might radically shift if the “20%” began equipping the “80%” rather than monopolizing all the ministries.

6. We love to wear the ministry "martyrdom" badge. 

When I view myself as an owner, I invariably want everyone to know how much I have personally sacrificed. It is very humbling and downright embarrassing to admit my secret desires for ministries I have "built" to fall apart when I am not ministering in them any longer. Do you know what I mean? This is that jealous thought that wants everyone to FINALLY realize how valuable I was, now that I'm gone. This is the badge of  a territorial heart. 

My dog thinks he is an owner demonstrated by how territorial he is. My dog doesn’t own a thing. Neither do we. We serve a gracious Owner don’t we! He has, in His sovereign grace, gifted every member of His church. As those members steward their gifts in service to one another, our Gracious Owner is glorified!

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11)

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