It was at least 25 years ago that I was introduced to the concept of “turf shepherds,” that is people in church who guard their little area of “service” within the church. I use the word “service” carefully, because to me implied in service is servanthood. But a ‘turf shepherd’ has their name written all over the area of church life in which they are involved.
It takes all shapes and sizes, and it is not tied to any age bracket or economic strata. I have seen people who seemingly love the Lord get all bent out of shape whenever someone new gets involved in what they have had the responsibility for in the past. It can be as simple as who sits in a particular place, and as complex as who serves as the chairman of some ministry team.
Two brothers asked Jesus one day, “Grant it Lord that when You come into Your Kingdom, we may have the seats of honor, one on your left, and one on your right.” It stirred up quite a controversy among the apostles. The others were not so angry at the audacity of these two as they were jealous wanting that position for themselves.
As early as the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve at the forbidden fruit in a quest to be their own “god”, or to be “gods” themselves, there is this bent toward selfishness that comprises our sin nature. Thus, Jesus said, “If any one wants to come after me, let them deny themselves…”
Jesus prayed for unity in the church.(John 17). If there is to be unity, we must all die to self. We must be willing to take the most humble of responsibilities, such as washing feet. We must be willing to let others receive places of recognition to our own detriment. We must place others before ourselves. Paul wrote to the Ephesians and said, “Be diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He told the Corinthians they were acting like a bunch of babies because of their divisions.
We don’t mind embracing change so much, until it impacts our “turf”. But if the Kingdom of God is to take priority, we must surrender everything, including our little territories and let God receive all the glory.