“Control” should be a four letter word for ministry planters.
I’ll never forget the first time I read Spontaneous Expansion of the Church and the Causes that Hinder It by Roland Allen. In the book he talks about the ways that we as missionaries and ministry planters fail to trust the Spirit of God in the lives of the people with whom we are working. We want to control our doctrine, our morality, and our way of doing things. Allen says this desire is normal and natural — and wicked.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. As someone starting new ministries on campus I was absolutely seeking to control what was happening on campus. On the surface I could have easily dismissed it. I knew the language of student empowerment. But I knew inside my heart that I desperately needed control. I didn’t want to allow students to try new things. I didn’t want people to think outside the box. I didn’t even want to allow students to give announcements at our large group — because I thought I could control the message and do it better. The more I looked at our ministry (and in my own heart) the more I saw my tentacles of control wrapped around everything we did.
Why was I controlling so much of the ministry? I was afraid, afraid of so many things. Afraid that the ministry wouldn’t turn out like I had planned. Afraid that I would be perceived as a failure (my identity was wrapped up in success). I was so anxious in life that I didn’t want anything, much less ministry, to be outside of my control. But thankfully God wanted so much more than for me to be in control of the ministry.
Ministry planting is the altar on which our illusions of control have come to die.
Developing a Spirituality of Relinquishing Control
I knew that if I immediately did not start giving up control of things in ministry that I would never do it. The first thing that came to mind was the Bible study material we were using in our small groups. I had been choosing what I thought would be best for the entire ministry, sometimes writing new curriculum myself. I reached out to some of the students in the ministry who had come to faith in the past year and asked if they would be willing to write the Bible study for the coming semester. God was calling me to trust the Holy Spirit in their lives. They agreed and did a fantastic job.
This led me to see more and more ways that I was wanting to control the new plant on campus. I was setting the strategic plan, without much input from student leaders. I was making financial decisions. I was leading the Bible studies. I began to give up control of all those things. Now on campus I don’t lead a single Bible study. Giving up control allowed me to see that students really do reach students best.
I’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to giving up control in ministry. Just ask the people around me. But I’m committed to continuing the process.
Giving up control in ministry is a scary place to be. Suddenly you find yourself in the liminal (in between) space of having a vision from God of what new thing He wants to start, but without the familiar tools of control to accomplish the vision. It is an anxious place to be, but is exactly where God wants us.
Richard Rohr believes that spiritual growth only happens in liminal spaces. It is when we are in these places where we don’t have control, where we’re not in the old but the new has not come that God is really able to work in our lives. I’ve seen it true over and over in my life. I hate the uncomfortability of it, but I know God uses it to grow me.
I had to begin to develop a spirituality of relinquishing control in my life. I had to be able to trust the Spirit that He could accomplish His purposes, even if I was no longer in control (it seems silly now as I write this). I know He’s not finished with me yet, but there’s no journey I’d rather be on.
As we follow the Spirit’s urging to create something new, we are called to step out in faith and relinquish our controlling grip on the world.
How can you intentionally take one spiritual act to give up control in planting today? What are the areas that are most scary for you to relinquish? What invitation of growth in your own spiritual life is God offering you as you start something new?
If you’re willing to step out in faith I believe you’ll set the stage for growth in your own life and in your ministry unlike you’ve ever seen before.