But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, "No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles." 1 Sam 8:19-20
In my reading through 1 Samuel I recently went through the time when the people of Israel cried out for a king that he might judge them and fight their battles for them. God gave them what they wanted, though it meant they were rejecting Him as their king and, it seems to me, trusting in man to do for them what God would have done for and through them.
I wonder how many times we seek another to do what we should be doing? I think that this is a real danger in Christian circles—especially organized "church." That may sound funny coming from a pastor, but I think that one of the greatest dangers of organized "church" is that it can, if not handled well, encourage the body of Christ (the true church) to pass its responsibilities on to a few instead of being the body of Christ in fullness.
I do not go so far as to reject organized religion—I believe that Acts and the epistles makes it clear the early church met both in large groups, and regularly from house to house. I believe that it is clear they joined their resources to meet local needs within the body, and to support needs out of their area within the body. I believe it is clear God appointed some within the local parts of the body to be elders and teachers and pastors within it. But . . . if leaders aren't careful they can consolidate things around themselves out of ignorance, or insecurity, or love of power, or ???
Ephesians makes it clear that leaders are given to equip the body for the work of ministry—to equip all the believers to do the work of God, not to do the work of God for them. Granted, if they are paid and full time, they have more time to do some things that someone working at another full time job might not have, but it is far too easy for the body to just say, regarding visiting others, or praying for others, or doing the stuff that holds a body together, "Well, that's the pastor's job. That's what he's paid for," or other similar things regarding church staff, or the organized church itself. But, the New Testament makes it clear, the body is only fully functioning when each person does its part and uses their unique gifts to knit the body together.
One change I have made recently in our services is that I've stopped asking who has a prayer request and started asking who wants to be prayed for (there's often a big difference). In the past I've found that we might get 10–15 prayer requests, and very few would be writing them down. Then I, as the pastor, would pray and we'd move on. I am sure some got prayed for during the week, but I don't know how many.
Now I am asking, "Who wants to be prayed for?" The Bible says the gates of hell won't prevail against the church, and we are all, as believers, the church, so we are starting to bang on the gates of hell on behalf of one another. I must admit, since I started this we are getting a lot fewer prayer requests, but I feel we are probably a lot closer to what we are supposed to be doing.
After people who want to be prayed for express their need, or the need of someone they want to be prayed for, we go in to a time of prayer, usually about five minutes. I re-read the requests and then ask that each person desiring to be prayed for has at least a couple people join with them—maybe someone who the Spirit nudged toward them, or someone who has faced a similar issue. Everyone is free to get up and join someone or stay in their seats, or come up to the cross, it is all up to them. Then, start praying in small groups, with and for the person or persons asking for it. When I feel it is time I'll go and close that, but not without saying, "If you are still in a group and you feel you need to keep praying keep doing so, even if it means you are praying through all of the worship time and through my teaching."
This is just one small step, but it seems to be a good one from my eyes. I, as the pastor, don't have any more access to God than another believer does. The body must be the body, each part doing its part, each part realizing that church leaders are simply their brothers and sisters, called to different positions and parts in the body, but not any more special, any more loved by God, or with any more access to God than them. We have to be so careful to equip ourselves and to not ask others to do what God has asked us to do. Only when the body is fully functioning as the body will the world truly see Jesus expressed through us.
God bless you all. As always, I'd love your thoughts. —Erick