When Jesus relayed His Great Commission to His disciples, beginning in Matt. 28:18-20 and then completing in Acts 1:8, He never minced words about Who owned the territory being discussed.
In fact, the Greek word “exousia” translated as “authority” or “power” in Matt. 28:18 carries with it the idea of territorial jurisdiction. In essence, Jesus was saying “all territory now belongs to Me,” therefore you can go anywhere to make disciples out of every ethnicity.
And yet so many times the carnal nature of territorialism seeps into our lives, our ministries, and our missional expressions. You see it when one minister feels infringed upon by another when there may be an overlapping ministry. Pride and jealousy immediately rear their ugly heads to defend the perceived encroachment, and the potential destruction that ensues is evident.
You see it when one church feels that another is encroaching upon their perceived church field; sometimes there are invisible denominational lines, but sometimes the ecclesial lines are as visible as the railroad tracks that divide a community.
You see it when denominational leaders demand to be territorial gatekeepers or when a missions agency demands that one of its churches receive permission before they take a mission trip into the territory occupied by a career missionary.
Unique modes of ministerial territoriality may be endless.
Moreover, the missional command from Christ was holistic in nature. The use of the inclusive “both” in Acts 1:8 was to say that our commission to the world was to be in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts simultaneously and with equal measure. Our responsibility for the lost man next door is equal with our responsibility for the lost man twelve time zones away.
So how do you overcome this sinful attitude?
Recognize the spirit of territoriality exists.
Until Jesus comes back, people are going to sin. And that includes Christians. Just as both Peter and John struggled with their own territorial tendencies (see Luke 9:49 and John 21:22), Christian leaders will always wrestle with the urge to be in charge of another’s ministry. The best thing we can do is admit it, confess it as sin, and repent from doing it.
Recognize territorialism is antithetical to the Great Commission.
The point of Jesus saying the jurisdictional authority belonged to Him was to grant a holistic commission without fear of encroachment upon one another. Jesus owns it all (Matt 29:18). That’s why we can and should reach the world with a fervor that makes no apology nor demands any permission slip.
Make effort to strategically partner with one another.
God has uniquely placed us where we are. Therefore, we have a grand arsenal of friendships and connections at our disposal. A camaraderie of colaborers in network is key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission (1 Cor. 3:9). With Jesus at the head of the team, all of our subteams find their identity in Him and their joy in working together.
Appeal to the highest authority.
Whenever a disciple, church or denominational agency begins to move away from being an access gatekeeper to being a prideful entry blocker, they are no longer acting within the will of God. Our permission, like our power, ultimately comes from God, not from other men (Acts 5:29). So when someone who should be a man of peace acts like a soldier of war, we make appeal to the One who has all jurisdiction.
In Jesus’ commission to the church, there are no walls and no border guards. The way we engage the world is a direct reflection of our theology.
This post originally appeared on Buck Burch’s blog.