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I have done youth ministry for well over a decade and I am always amazed at territorialism in the church. Like Paul, I feel like there have been times where I am “chief among sinners” in this regard. I am guilty of building my empire and not God’s Kingdom.
Some of us have served on staff at churches where the issue of territory was prevalent. Conversations like, “well you can’t use resource X because resource X belongs to the _________ ministry team and they don’t like people touching their stuff.” Or perhaps your church is short on space for storage, and a few ministry teams insist on keeping many things in closets that will likely never see the light of day. “But what if we need that VHS curriculum for an adult small group?” or, “Could we use those cassette tapes for children’s choir?” Perhaps you’re the perpetrator, and have said “I just can’t part with _______ because I might need it for a crazy rec game at camp in 2035.” In one way or another, we all try to protect our territory and the resources that belong to our ministry department. There comes a point however, when this is unhealthy. Territorialism is NOT Christian stewardship.
Donna Flagg, founder of The Krysalis Group identifies territorial tendencies as “turfism.” In a post for Psychology Today, she states that “turfism erects walls, commonly known to produce what has been coined in workplace jargon as a “silo effect,” which ultimately limits communication, hinders the development of relationships and infects the culture with an overall lack of cooperation among people and departments.” Protecting territory and erecting walls between others on your ministry team is NOT a healthy way to manage resources.
In Acts 4, Luke points out that all the believers shared everything they had because ”No on claimed that any of their possessions where their own” (Acts 4:32, NIV). This worked in the early church, and it works today. We need to understand that the resources that we are blessed with are not our own. We are all on the same team, We all have the same goal of reaching people with God’s love.
We should build God’s Kingdom, not our own empires. The Gallup Business Journal identifies “empire building” as the ”pinnacle and most extreme level of pyramid bureaucracy.” Read the full article here. When we build our own empires through turfism, the Kingdom of God becomes secondary. So how are these pitfalls avoided? Three ways to avoid personal empire building in your own ministry are:
- Try to see the big picture. We we view things narrowly and from our perspective alone, we are on the road to empire building. Take other views into consideration and maintain a flexible spirit.
- Admit that everything belongs to God. Realize that the resources you have are not yours, or your departments, or even your church’s. They belong to God.
- Let go of your fear to fail. Too often, we fear our own failure and so we grasp for power. This may include trying to take over or “help” in multiple ministry areas, or even an unwillingness to share a storage closet. God is the one who called you to ministry, so let go of your need to impress others and find true joy in serving the Lord.
Contrary to the Jay-Z song, Christians are NOT called to have an “Empire State Of Mind,” but a Kingdom of God state of mind. Let’s get busy building God’s Kingdom instead of our own.
What does it mean to be the salt of the earth? In our culture we have plenty of salt. In fact, we have too much. If you haven’t noticed before, check out the sodium content in any frozen meal you eat. Chances are there is enough salt for a year in your TV dinner. Perhaps your doctor has even told you to cut back on salt so that your heart doesn’t do crazy stuff… like kill you. To understand what Jesus meant when he said “you are the salt of the earth” we need some perspective.
Two-thousand years ago salt was a hot comodidty, much like oil is today. The person (or rather the kingdom) that controlled the salt trade had incredible power over the food supply. The ability to preserve food was vital to city life in the Roman empire. If you take away Rome’s power to preserve food for the city populations, you knock the empire back from being a trade-oriented culture to a purely agricultural one. Wealth goes down, and power goes to another empire. Salt was crucial to the stability of the empire. Kinda changes your perspective on Jesus’s saying, does it not? “YOU are the salt of the earth.” Meaning YOU, children of God, have the real power. YOU, with my Spirit living in you, can bring life to others. YOU are vital to God’s plan for ushering in a new Kingdom.
So it’s a new year for ministry. How will you usher in God’s kingdom for your youth ministry this year? We are called to disciple students and teach them that God’s kingdom is more important than any earthly one. Have you thought about your youth ministry in Kingdom language before? Ask yourself in 2013:
- How can our youth ministry bring the Kingdom of God to earth?
- How can our youth ministry usher in the reign of Christ in families and schools?
- What are some creative ways we can bring true vitality to our congregation?
Being the salt of the earth is a big deal. Only God’s people get that responsibility and priviledge. As a student minister or volunteer, you have the priviledge of teaching teens what it means to bring God’s reign to earth. This year, let’s not be about programs and activities, but about building the Kingdom. Let’s choose discipleship over entertainment; God’s reign over our agendas.
We’ve provided a free Bible study for your group on what it means to be the salt of the earth. Our prayer is that this year, you could lead students and parents toward living as citizens of God’s kingdom above all else. The “Salt of The Earth” lesson can be found in the Ideas Toolbox part of our site on the Bible Studies page.
As I look at forums and discussion groups for the church, I am overwhelmed with the amount of idiotic and often UN-Christian conversations concerning the church. The hot button issues in many online forums seem to be homosexuality, women in ministry, Islam-a-phobia, homosexuality, how to protect current denominational structures, the inerrancy of Scripture… did I mention homosexuality. Now, in all fairness these are each important topics that deserve a robust and honest dialogue. The problem is that there is little real dialogue on any of these issues. By the time most clergy and ministerial staff go through college and even seminary, the lines in the sand have been drawn both theologically and in many cases (sad to say) politically. So I propose a new set of topics that may help evangelicals and main-line Christians move forward. After all, not one of the hot button issues addresses why many churches are hemorrhaging members and money. If Paul and Peter had sat on their laurels griping at each other in a Facebook forum then the church wouldn’t even be here today. So what needs to be added to our conversation?
1. Eyes (Vision):
Most denominations have not honestly evaluated their vision and mission in 50-100 years. Most local churches follow suit. I have been to numerous seminars on church vision and growth. At a recent seminar I attended one consultant advised us not to bother coming up with a good vision or overarching mission plan since pastors will probably be moved in a few years anyways. WHAT?!?!? SERIOUSLY?!?!? I couldn’t believe we had paid money to hear this guy. Having worked on staff at a church-start and in my current situation where I lead music and preach for a new worship service, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. I believe strongly that most churches either live on borrowed or murky vision. Neither is ideal.
I recently learned of a church that went to a conference at the mega “Church of the Resurrection” pastored by Rev. Adam Hamilton. Hamilton’s church clearly states that their journey toward fulfilling their purpose is “Knowing, Loving and Serving God.” This 3,000-member church took leaders to the conference to dream dreams and seek clarity of vision and purpose. They came back with a new mission statement: “Knowing, Loving, and Serving God.” Instead of doing the work to find what they were truly unique and gifted to do, they borrowed vision and language from another “more successful” church. Instead of the leadership of the church taking the time to initiate difficult discussions on local strategy and mission, they took their church’s potential shared identity and slapped another church’s bumper sticker on it. Every church needs to ask:
- “Is our vision borrowed from another church or from the denomination?” Be honest!
- “What is our shared identity as a congregation?” Get specific!
- “What rallying cries can we make based on who we are?” Be BOLD!
- “How can people catch the vision?” Get creative!
Let’s face it; we don’t live in a Christian society. By my best guestimates less than 10% of youth in our area are involved in a local church. That means 90% are lost, 90% have no relationship with their Savior, and depending on whether or not you agree with Rob Bell, 90% are going to hell. The church’s lack of urgency when it comes to evangelism is alarming. Now before you think that I’m suggesting we scare the hell out of people in order to win them to Christ, let me pause. I’m simply suggesting that we stop soft-selling the Gospel. Stop soft-selling the redeeming blood of the Lamb. Stop soft-selling eternal realities that we don’t fully understand. There was an urgency to spread the Gospel among the early apostles because the return of Christ was seen as eminent. Does Christ’s potential return inform anything we do? Any sermons we preach? Do we even believe He shall return?
The Southern Baptists adopted a strategy for evangelism in 1976 called Bold Mission Thrust. (I will not take time here to comment on the suspect nature of this initiative’s name.) Simply stated the goal was “that every person in the world shall have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Christ in the next 25 years … and can understand the claim Jesus Christ has on their lives.” Over the next 25 years the Southern Baptist Convention increased career missionary personnel by 85%, saw a 2430% increase in mission volunteers, and more than doubled the countries in which it had missionaries. This kind of vision changes lives and saves souls. The sad conclusion of this bold campaign however was that despite all the resources poured into evangelism, denominational infighting largely kept the SBC from reaching many of its stated goals for the initiative.[i] Also, the balance between evangelism and social justice became skewed as fundamentalists began to take over the demonination.
What if the mainline church’s vision and theology of evangelism was as robust as its understanding of baptism? They are closely related. Evangelism leads to conversion which leads to Christian baptism for unbaptized adults. The mainline churches even teach that adult and teenage conversion is necessary for those baptized as infants, because infant baptism is not alone salvific.[ii] With this in mind it’s odd that many ministers shy away from alter calls out of fear that a decision made at a moment in time won’t lead to true discipleship. One could go an entire week at some youth camps without hearing an altar call or invitation in worship. Also, the small retention rate of confirmands in most churches proves in many ways that confirmation is far from a perfect solution. Every church should look at its own grim numbers for adult/youth baptisms and adult/youth professions of faith, and ask itself honestly:
- “What is our strategy for evangelism?” – My church has an “Inviting” team (soft sell).
- “Are we equipping members to evangelize?” – Most churches fall short.
- “What is our goal for adult baptisms this year?” – Most churches don’t have one.
- “Do we incorrectly label social justice as evangelism?” – Many churches do.
- “Why are we afraid of evangelism?” – Most people can’t say.
A youth minister friend of mine was instructed by his senior pastor not to take the youth to an area wide youth revival because “The evangelist might be too evangelical.” If by “too evangelical” he means “share the gospel and give people a chance to respond to it” then we need to talk. The students chose to go anyway since there were 30+ churches in the area participating in the event and since it had free food, a BMX team, a NASCAR team, and a band. Only 3 middle school kids attended youth group that Wednesday after the others came and left when they realized their youth group wasn’t going to the event. Many say “we’re ecumenical” but don’t participate in community events and revivals. Many denominations and churches used to be known for revivals. We say we want to grow the youth ministry but fail to be attractional to that age group. In the past, Christians have been known for innovation. What are we afraid of?
Churches in the West likely have a better trained staff today than churches 100 years ago. There are specialists who have degrees and training in a litany of ministerial areas. You can get undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees in youth ministry, children’s ministry, church recreation, non-profit finance, religious education, family ministry, modern worship, hymnology, missiology, theology, “practical” theology, Christian counseling, pastoral care, Biblical studies, Christian ethics, Church history, preaching, and the list goes on! Those degree fields don’t even take into account the certificate programs offered online for second career ministers and folks that want continuing education. Count degrees, certificate programs, professional trade shows and conventions and you have an entire cottage industry of professional ministerial training.
The problem is this: many churches rely too heavily on a professionally educated staff and not enough on their most powerful resource- lay people. We all know this but few do anything about it. I’m probably among the worst. I rely on my own strength and don’t ask God OR church members for help nearly as often as I should, but I’m trying to get better. Pastors nationwide struggle to find time for writing a great sermon because of all the other demands of ministry. Our failure to equip church members drags down our worship. When a church reaches a certain size it is simply impractical for a senior pastor to visit every sick church member, do all marital counseling, and preach or be present at every funeral or wedding. Some churches are fortunate enough that they can hire full-time pastoral caregivers who are not the senior pastor. For the rest of us, the simple solution is to train and equip laity to help with pastoral care. “Oh we can’t do that!” most pastors say. “The people expect the senior pastor to visit them!” That may be true, but the underlying problem here is threefold:
1st: Many people including pastors have a weak view of their role in congregational life specifically when it comes to certain ministries because…
2nd: Many growing congregations and their pastors are clinging to smaller church models of ministry which means that…
3rd: Large churches often place the same expectations on senior pastors as smaller family-sized churches.
For head pastors the temptation to do it all is dangerously seductive. When it comes to visitations people smile and say “the pastor came to visit me!” which is a small boost to one’s ego. We know it’s false but we let people go on thinking that there is something a little more holy about a pastor’s presence, prayers and poise. When you go to visit someone in a hospital bed you are the presence of God to them. What if the laity was trained and freed to the same end? Expectations often placed on the pastor force him/her into a posture of fear when it comes to prophetically leading through the equipping laity to be the hands, feet, and listening ears of Christ.
This is simply one example of how equipping laity might empower Christians to be more faithful disciples. I am not trying to say that senior pastors should not do any pastoral care, but I am saying that as a church grows they can’t do it all. Instead of freeing people to DO ministry, we invite them to serve on a committee and come to countless meetings that take them away from time with family. Proof that hell does exist. Instead of inviting people to dream dreams and cast vision, we go to a conference and try and import another church’s uniqueness to the detriment of our own. Instead of training people to ministries of evangelism we simply make token appeals for them to invite a friend on high attendance Sundays or to a church-wide picnic where we give visitors a brochure with another church’s vision printed on it. Instead of asking a youth parent to be responsible for leading large group games or small group Bible studies we are content to do it ourselves. If ministry professionals DO all the ministry when will we have time to lead in ministry? Almost every protestant denomination says it believes in the priesthood of all believers, but the understanding is rarely as potent as it should be. Every church should ask these questions:
- “How can we better equip and free our laity for real ministry?” –Nothing is off the table.
- “What ministries in our church don’t utilize laity?” -Name specific ministerial tasks.
- “What is our concept of priesthood of the believer?” –Read 1 Peter 2:1-10, Hebrews 10:19-25
- “How should this understanding change the way we do church?” –Make a plan.
- “What fears might be present for ministers and laity in expecting more from laity?” –Name fears.
Eyes, Evangelism, and Equipping are my offerings for fresh conversation among people who are as concerned about the church’s future as I am. We must find ways to dialogue with each other in areas where common ground can be found. We must discuss together the future of the church and what the REAL reasons are for the decline of the church in America and around the world.
[i]http://www.baptiststandard.com/2001/6_25/pages/sbc_bold.html Article on the Bold Mission Thrust Initiative
[ii]http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5714529/k.7A7E/By_Water__The_Spirit.htm The Church’s stance on Baptism