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The Prayer Circle – Who Owns the Church?

Thanks for meeting us at the prayer circle.

Most of us likely have a story about a church or ministry that was run by a pastor who thought he owned the church or leadership who thought they held the keys.
When we are convinced of Christ’s ownership of the church and are willing to submit what’s rightfully His to Him, our churches and ministries will experience a fresh breath of life from the Lord Himself.

Who owns the church?

Any sincere student of the Bible would immediately report that Jesus is the owner of His church.Here’s the Scripture witness:

“Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).

While this truth is easy to identify in Scripture, it seems to be difficult to implement in the life of the local church. We implement this truth through prayer. The owner’s manual calls us to pray before we do anything else. Paul’s instruction to young pastor Timothy, “Therefore, I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men. . .” (I Timothy 2:1). “First of all” means literally before all your doings.

The high price that Jesus paid for the church is a high call to prayer. An emphasis here should be made on the timing of prayer. Prayer is first—before everything else. The Owner should get our undivided attention first as a priority on our schedule.

Many a believer has felt the wrenching heartache and division caused by misplaced ownership. Pastors are shepherds, not CEOs. Deacons are servants, not shareholders. Congregations are sheep, not mobs that rule. Even strong and faithful families who have weathered the storms of a local body for a long time can assume some ownership that is not theirs. Even denominational real estate can become a point of pride and can usurp ownership from Jesus.

Here’s an example in my own ministry. After our first revival, the church entered a bit of a slump in attendance and offerings. However, we were also experiencing the expressions of new found life. People spoke openly of their struggles and their victories. The walls had come down, the roof had come off, and believers were learning to be transparent with God and the church body. This made the “establishment” uncomfortable. They called a meeting with me.

It was a cold, gray Illinois day in early spring. After some cordial greetings, the interrogation began.

“Can you tell us why the attendance is down?” I said “No.”
“Can you tell us why the offerings are down?” I said “No.”
“We know why you took the attendance board down. You didn’t want us to see everything dropping. Furthermore, you have turned our church in to a Catholic Holy-Roller church.” 

This was deduced from the open testimonies coupled with the new praise chorus we learned. People were now praising joyfully. I had taken the attendance board down because nearly every week I heard members of the choir making so many comments about the attendance. If we were up a little, they were elated. If we were down, they were deflated. I just really thought the focus should be on Jesus at least for the Sunday morning worship.

Everyone sat in awkward silence. Feeling like I should say something to account for the sagging attendance and offering, I began to query.

“Have I been immoral?” They said, “No, not that we know of.”
“Have I mishandled any money?” They said “No.”
“Have I preached the Word? “Yes.”
“Have I loved the people?” “Yes.”

After a long pause and silence, God game me these words. “I don’t know what the actual problem is. I don’t have the answers. All I can say is, it’s not my church. It belongs to Jesus.”

When I said that, it seemed like a gentle breeze blew into the room. We all seemed relieved that somehow we were beginning to recognize Jesus as the Owner and the Builder of His church. It was a definite turning point in our ministry. For the next 18 years, we became “underservants” together, cooperating with Jesus as He worked. At the core, we moved from being owners to being stewards. The strangle-hold of human pride is broken when Jesus alone is embraced as the Head of the church. It was a life-changing moment for our leadership. We never looked back from there.

Joe Humrichous

Joe Humrichous is the executive director of Paradigm One and Bible Prayer Fellowship. The message of the sufficiency of Christ for both the pastor and the local church was birthed during a time of brokenness in his early ministry. Now after 50 years in ministry, Joe is passionate to share this reality as it applies to corporate prayer and church leadership. He recently served as a pastor at First Baptist Church in Covington, Indiana. He and his wife Teresa have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.

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