How Much Ministry Autonomy is Too Much?

I just heard of a veteran microchurch planter bounced from a mission he had planted because someone in authority thought he “wasn’t trained.”

This person had just come off of a self-funded mission to bring clothing and hygiene to people in a very poor city. While there he, and a couple of others, ran workshops for local pastors. They taught leaders to return to Jesus as an example of disciplemaking and to watch Paul as a church multiplication specialist (not bad examples, either one). The results were two new churches launched, in that city, immediately following the trip.

People like this will prevail, no matter what obstacles are thrown in their way. The man is a free-lancer who maintains a successful career while planting churches and training pastors. He was trained in a local church and had previously planted three microchurches (one grew to 80 people). He’s strong enough that the charge of inadequate training doesn’t phase him.

What About the “Bouncer?”

But what about the guy who tried to stop all this inadequate ministry? It’s him I worry for. Not that he’ll do much damage. Those who trust few, bear little fruit, whether good or the other kind. My concern is that by worshipping at the altar of formal education he misses the biblical mandate for priesthood of the believers while severely limiting the effects of his own ministry. The guy is intelligent, well-schooled and completely missing the power of leveraging effort through ordinary people.

I wonder if Paul included people like this when he wrote, “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13 ESV).

Local Churches as Equipping Platforms

We need to mobilize every member of the body of Christ for ministry. Local churches make adequate equipping and sending centers (Acts 13, Ephesians 4). If we determine to equip and mobilize people we can penetrate the nooks and crannies of need at home and abroad.

But all this requires a certain amount of freedom and autonomy. We must uphold the gold-standard of scripture. We need a few axioms for remaining in fellowship and partnership as a movement, but beyond that we must trust the Holy Spirit to guide “God’s masterpiece(s) into good works which he prepared for them.” Substituting our training regimes for the work of the spirit is no option.

Someone has said that, in battle, strategy reigns supreme until you meet the enemy. It is at then that field commanders, drone operators and others need the ability to make tactical decisions.

During the Second World War, bomber captains often searched for targets of opportunity if an assigned target was cloud covered. Submarine commanders worked their prescribed territory, but they also had the freedom to make autonomous decisions as opportunities arose.

When is Freedom Dangerous?

So, how much freedom is too much freedom? How much training does it take to guarantee adequacy? Was it wrong that Peter and John, both “ordinary men” carried the gospel to Jerusalem in the face of opposition from the religious establishment? Was it right for the Jerusalem Council to issue only limited guidelines to leaders trained by Paul and Barnabas (for only a few weeks)?

The answers to these questions will either enable us to reach a rising generation or hobble our efforts.

So what do you think? Do you have stories similar to what I’ve included? I’d especially like to know of people who broke the bonds of their own institutional behavior to liberate others… Comments below!