Mark 9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.
What’s the problem? The disciples pointed out to Jesus that some guy was casting out demons yet was “not following us”. There were twelve disciples in the beginning, whom Jesus selected personally. These were the famous ones who became the “apostles” once Jesus ascended to heaven. Yet they were by no means the only disciples. As time went on, more and more people followed Jesus. Since Jesus couldn’t possibly relate to all of them closely, one would assume the twelve original disciples mentored those who came later.
But the one casting out demons in this passage was not being mentored by Jesus or the disciples. He was not “one of us”. He was not “authorized” so to speak. They wanted Jesus to shut the guy down. I mean, God forbid that people all over the place start casting out demons in Jesus’ name! It could get out of hand! Where’s the control and accountability?! But rather than give the guy a good talking-to, Jesus condones the man’s actions. “Whoever is not against us is for us”.
I’ve been a leader in the church for over 20 years now and I can tell you one of the greatest obstacles to the effectiveness of the church is leaders who feel the need to exert excessive control over what God is doing through others. I understand the impulse. If someone is going to represent my church in the community I’d like that person to be accountable in some way to the larger church community. After all, that persons doesn’t just represent themselves, or even the church they’re a part of. They represent the name of Jesus. The name that is above all names. It’s not “anything goes”.
That said, excessive control gets in the way of people doing their thing for Jesus. There is the tension between freedom and control. We must have both to function well. However, at the end of the day it’s about the fruit of one’s actions. In this case, an unknown follower of Jesus was doing great things for the Kingdom of God. Jesus thinks that’s more important than exerting control. Some of us could learn from Jesus’ example.
Lord help us to trust that your Kingdom is working through many people, authorized or not. And teach us leaders to get out of the way when it’s happening. Amen.