Those who have been laid hold of by Jesus Christ have the same mission. Jesus gave it to us. He gave us his gospel, his Holy Spirit, and his commission to make disciple-making disciples of all peoples. We are called to take the gospel of Jesus into our neighborhoods and into the nations. However, one’s specific involvement in that mission is unique with regards to one’s role and one’s reach. You have a specific task or role to play in this mission. The Holy Spirit has equipped you for that role. It might be preaching and teaching, or pastoring, or administration, or mercy, or hospitality, but God intends you to use that gift, faithfully carrying out your role in the mission to make disciple-making disciples.
You also have a reach in this mission, a context that we might call your “domain of influence.” Your domain of influence is the sphere in which your ministry role is carried out. Some domains of influence are broader in scope; they are far reaching. Some people are given smaller spheres with a localized influence. This is fairly obvious to us. Some people pastor large influential churches and are invited to preach before great crowds, while others live in obscurity, faithfully pastoring small churches. The role of pastor is the same, but the reach one has in carrying out that role is different. Two pastors may have a similar calling, but different God-given capacities that bring with them differing spheres of influence and impact.
We see this principle of domain throughout the Scripture. One example is found in 1Corinthians 12. When Paul addresses the Corinthians about spiritual gifts, he highlights not only the variety of the gifts but also the differing impact that each person has in the exercise of his or her gift.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. - 1 Corinthians 12:4–6
But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. - 2 Corinthians 10:13–14
We see this same principle in Jesus’ parable of the talents. A master goes on a journey and entrust differing amounts of his possessions to his servants. To one he entrust ten talents. To another he entrusts five talents. To the third, he entrusts one talent. Jesus tells us that each was given an amount according to his ability. Each was entrusted with an amount that was in keeping with that person’s potential for functioning at a certain level. In other words, each would have a differing domain of influence and varying degrees of accomplishment with what they were entrusted because each had different capacities.
The Temptations of Domain
There are two great temptations in ministry with regard to domain. First, it is possible that we can under-reach our domain out of fear, sloth, or lack of faith. God may very well desire to expand our influence and reach, but our own timidity or laziness can keep us from moving into God’s intentions. This may be what Timothy struggled with. He was appointed and given a platform of great influence in Ephesus. As we read through Paul’s letters to Timothy, it is clear that he struggles with insecurity, timidity, and possibly even a lack of faith. In 2Timothy 4:5 Paul tells him to fulfill his ministry, to be faithful to his domain.
There are some that are not dreaming enough. God has greatly gifted them, but they are not reaching for what God has for them due to insecurity, fear, or sloth. But I believe the bigger temptation that most in ministry face is that of over-reaching for a domain out of pride, envy, or comparison. When we see the ministry success of others, we can enviously aspire for a similar platform and the visibility that comes along with it. John the Baptist provides a good case study for this temptation.
John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).
Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him. - John 3:23–26
If I am John, I am immediately faced with the temptation to comparison and envy. “All are going to him...” John has been at this longer and yet, Jesus shows up on the scene - endorsed by John at that - and John is losing his following. There is a constant temptation in ministry to ask, “How am I measuring up? Am I keeping up? Am I standing out? Is my church growing at a similar or quicker pace than others?” But notice how John responds.
John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” - John 3:27–30
John understands that God sovereignly appoints his role and sets boundaries on his domain (v27). His ministry is received, given to him from God, and he cannot add even one thing to what God has appointed for him. John knows his role is the forerunner. He is not the groom but friend of the groom. John gladly accepts his shrinking platform. His only real concern is that Jesus increases, which means his domain must now decrease. John is not trying to over-reach his domain here; he is submitting to his God-given role and reach.
I often meet pastors and leaders who are over-reaching and trying to operate in a way that is not in keeping with how God has gifted them and that is not in step with the sovereign boundaries he has put on their reach of influence. For example, they see Driscoll, Chandler, or Piper preach hour long sermons, so they preach for an hour. But they do not have the capacity to hold an audience for an hour. Many assume that they should be doing multi-site because other pastors are doing it. It is not a decision grounded in inspiration from God but imitation of another church. These over-reaching pastors feel the pressure to keep up with other churches. But if they are honest, they know God has not given them the leading, discipling, and preaching capacities for a broader domain than one healthy, local church. I recently had a conversation with a pastor struggling for years to move his church beyond the 40 or so people who were attending. He said he had a vision to plant more congregations all over his city out of that congregation. What if God does not intend his domain to go beyond one healthy congregation. Pastor, God might be calling you to plant a church and get it healthy and lead it well, and that might be the reach that heaven sets for you. And if so, that is OK. Remember the parable of the talents. Each servant is given a measure of responsibility in keeping with his ability and the commendation comes in response to his faithfulness to their role, not the expanse of their reach.
Faithfulness to Your Domain
If you are going to be faithful to your role and reach, you need first and foremost a passion for Jesus. John was content with growing obscurity because Jesus was increasing. As long as Christ is trusted and treasured, we can be content. Second, we need a Gospel-Identity. John sees himself as a friend of the bridegroom - a person in a privileged position. When we know who we are as those privileged by the gospel, loved by God, adopted into his family, set aside for his purposes, then we begin to break free from trying to establish an identity through achievement. Third, we need self-awareness. By self-awareness, I simply mean knowing how God has gifted you and wired you. John knows who he is and who he isn’t, and he does not try to be someone the Lord has not made him to be. Self-awareness comes from the Lord by means - assessment tools, giftings, passions, fruitfulness, and the affirmation of other leaders. Through these means, the Lord often reveals the reach of our domains. In this sense, domains seem to me to be an unfolding awareness - more of a discovery than an announcement. It is not about reaching for what you want to do, but discovering what God has gifted you to do and then being faithful with it as he reveals it. And, as we are faithful over a little, he makes us faithful over much.
I’m afraid that we may have bred in the hearts of pastors today a desire for greater platforms instead of greater faithfulness. Humbly accepting our domains of influence and being faithful to them is the key to being content in the ministry God gives us.