In the working of the local gathering with elders called of God, the Lord has not called one elder to be over the other elders. Elders have been called to serve among the brethren according to the measure of grace they have received. Other brethren are also called to minister according to His grace. For the local church to function properly, spiritual brethren must be moving as the Head directs by the Spirit. If one brother has a greater ministry than another brother, this does not make him the head of the elders, it simply gives him a greater place of ministry and responsibility for the grace the Lord has given him.
In the world, man is prone to submit to the stronger, and it is no different in the church. The less gifted brethren are inclined to sit back and not function with the ability they do have from the Lord, thereby allowing the more gifted brethren to have control. Excessive influence by any one man can come when brothers fail to function together under Christ, or when they go beyond God's pattern of the church. We need to know what the church is and how it functions, and this means that we must see and function under God's authority and according to His pattern.
If the glory of God's presence has departed, man usually moves in with his own government and program to hold the group together. Then man answers to man rather than recognizing God's spiritual authority flowing through spiritual brethren, called and functioning according to the measure of grace given them for the building up of the church. But all glory belongs to the Lord and we do not need to reach out to hold up in our own strength what God is doing by the Spirit. In the past when man has moved out of God's pattern, there has always been heartache and trouble in the end. We need to see where God places His authority and blessings, and move in that direction. The Spirit is restoring God's order where hearts are hungry for God and men are moving under His direction and doing His will.
From the beginning of the church, God laid out His pattern through those who were under His authority. The pattern of sending forth apostles came from Antioch, not Jerusalem. We see the church in Jerusalem as a mixture of law and grace, having a mixture of leadership which was not God's design. Much error comes from using Jerusalem as the pattern. We need to know God's pattern, but we also need for the Lord to be in control. The church and work must be under His authority.
The trouble today is that man's direction is taking the place of the Holy Spirit, and the will of men in official positions is taking the place of the will of God. In order for believers to do God's will in the power of the Spirit, they must know what God is doing, how He is doing it, and where He is doing it. The believer must be spiritually alive to God and under His control. If men really saw by revelation what God is doing, they would not believe in the many other things being done in the name of Christ.
Today man wants to do his own thing and call it "an arm of the church" or "a work for God." But to have the Lord show you the church means that you cannot do as you wish any longer. Everybody calls their work a work of God, but the Lord doesn't call everything His. What belongs to man cannot belong to the Lord. What is moving by man's direction cannot be moving by the Spirit. We have too many people doing what they say God has called them to do and then asking God to bless their efforts. We can come to only one conclusion: these men and women have never come under the authority of God, nor have they been called to labor.
The reason we have so many different works and ministries to different groups of people is that a need has been seen, but the way to meet that need has not been truly seen. All must labor under the Spirit's direction, and the first thing we must see is that God is doing only one thing: He is building His church. God's church is under His control. God's church is being expressed in the locality where believers live. When we go beyond God's limits, man is in control and it is not the church.
The local church and the apostle are God's only "schooling" for disciples. Education in the church is not in the mind, but in life and through revelation: a place of learning and a place to express the life that is being worked in our walk. Discipleship works out in two ways: in the local assembly and in the work of an apostle. I believe we can see that those who traveled with Paul were being trained in the calling they had from the Lord for an apostolic ministry. All those in this kind of ministry would have the work of building up the local church. Within the local church, the working is to make disciples out of every believer. Continuing training enables each member to function and minister to others.
God's program and purpose was never meant to include various groups such as Youth With a Mission, Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts, Navigators, and many other groups that fall into the same category. The only reason men continue to accept them as the working of God is that they cannot see the church. If anyone sees the church and its working, he will know that all works and ministries must be a part of the church. That which is not according to God's plan can never bring God's results. The men who begin such groups or organizations do not have a revelation of the church. They may have a ministry, but we would question the lasting effects of that ministry if they are not building the local church.
While men may say they are "an arm of the church," we can see they do not see what the church is, nor can they find a place within the structure of God's plan to labor. So they make their own place and answer to man rather than to God. They are independent in spirit, but they want to be accepted and recognized by all groups, fundamental and evangelical. They have seen the need, but not God's plan, so they cannot be laboring under spiritual authority. Most of these ministries try to work with all denominations, which reveals their spiritual blindness. Man can serve the Lord any way he wants to, and ask God's blessings on his work, as long as he doesn't have to labor in God's way. It seems that everyone wants to "do their own thing" for God.
If judgment is to start in the church, let us get on with whatever needs to be done to bring us back to God's plan, because the Lord is not going to change His plans. He is still building His church. Each member, minister and government must find his function under the Head.