Teacher,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:38-40).
To minister in the Lord’s vineyard is a privilege, and we are used to hearing that the vineyard belongs to him. It is his work, his people, his Church, and his “turf.” But, of course, that means that it isn’t ours, and sometimes we forget that. We like to “own” our work, and are all too ready to “defend our turf” against those who, in our view, are intruding upon it.
This all too common tendency of fallen human nature is evident in the Scripture quoted above. John and the other apostles tried to stop someone from casting out demons. Why on earth did they do that? Isn’t casting out demons a good thing, and don’t we want as many demons cast out as possible? Sure we do.
But the problem was that this unnamed man didn’t work in the same office as John and the other apostles. He belonged to a different organization. The apostles fell into the “turf wars” trap. They forgot that God is sovereign, that the Spirit moves where he wills, and that you cannot imprison the Word of the Lord. We are called to do God’s work; we don’t control God’s work.
The same “turf wars” temptation arose in the Old Testament.
“Moses … brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the Tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied,…However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” But Moses replied, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’” (Numbers 11:24-29).
Jesus and Moses both teach us that true leadership means we are humble enough to affirm God’s work when it’s done through structures and channels other than the ones we control. True leaders do not feel threatened when those not under their direct authority are doing the same kind of work. Instead, they rejoice, because they want the work done more than they want the credit. And they trust that God knows better than they do.