The Christian culture has become far too territorial. Territorial is a good word if you are a pit bull guarding your backyard or the Marines attempting to hold a critical position in the middle of enemy territory. But if you’re a believer seeking to live out a life that imitates Jesus it’s not. For some unexplainable reason (sin…perhaps), our mindset is that we own the stuff, that is, the accoutrements that accompany our faith, and the only way we will share it is if someone pries it loose from our cold, dead grasp.
A brief look at the landscape of Christendom should suffice to support my thesis. Churches are territorial. They will spend gobs of money and time on community surveys, demographic trends, and denominational consulting gurus to pinpoint a prime location for a new church plant. But…when push comes to shove, and all the data points to the plant being located ten miles from their own front door, they go into lockdown, roll out the razor wire, and build machine gun nests to fend off the thieves who would steal their members. Steal their members…now that’s a novel concept indeed. Think about that one for a moment—if someone can steal “your” (not technically yours anyway, but the sake of my argument) members, perhaps—just a thought here—you may not be doing a very good job after all. And since we’re on this subject, if they are Christians, they don’t belong to you or me anyway, they belong to Christ. Our job is not to make members but to make disciples.
A second piece of evidence is found in the territorial nature of church staffs. I have worked on several staffs over the last twenty-five years, both large and small. Size makes no difference because the mentality behind territorialism is the same. We have rah-rah sessions and talk for hours about team work and unity, walk out of the room, and retreat back into our bunkers of personal achievement. The driving element is not the Kingdom, but rather fear, jealousy, and envy. We are fearful that someone will outshine us, or out do us, or out “whatever it is” us. The problem is it’s all about “u-s” without the “J-e-s” preceding it. “Us” is a sanitary term for our dirty, selfish flesh, and obviously it has not died and made Jesus Lord. News flash—it will not die in an environment of territorialism—it will multiply like the black plague. One thing it will do is kill our effectiveness and destroy any hopes we have in winning our communities.
Perhaps you’re thinking this is all well and good, but I’m not a part the church leadership or staff. I’m just Joe Church Member—what has this got to do with me. Consider this: how often do you blow a gasket when you find someone parked in your prime Sunday morning parking spot, or sitting in your cushy Bible study chair, or your favorite pew during worship? Have you ever felt a tinge of jealousy arising whenever someone else received the blessing you thought you deserved? If so, you are infected just like the rest of us.
What if Jesus had been a territorial terrorist like most of us? He certainly would not have left heaven for this messed up planet. He would never have emptied Himself and taken the form of a servant. Instead, the Jesus we have fashioned in our own image would have been involved in a fist fight every day with the Pharisees and priests in the Temple. He would have punted the disciples like a brand a new football. He would have called down fire on the unbelieving Samaritans before the Sons of Thunder could have even formulated the thought. And—He would have never died on a cross for us, but rather He would have roasted us all like turkeys for falling into the same old sins over and over again.
No wonder the world wants little to do with us and the sad version of Jesus we portray. We are trampling and stomping one another for the fleshly accomplishments of high fives that will mean nothing in a week, pushing and shoving for positions on pews even though we don’t listen or internalize what we’ve heard, or scurrying around to secure funds to build edifices we can’t afford to produce programs no one cares about. And we wonder why the couple down the street won’t visit our church.
The only territory Jesus cared about was the territory held by the devil that belonged to our Savior. Just a note—the territory Jesus came to rescue was you and me. I’m afraid many are returning in droves again to a similar place of bondage—the selfish swamp of religious territorialism.