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Turf Wars

The word turf is simply defined as “a layer of matted earth formed by grass and plant roots, peat, especially as material for fuel, and a block or piece of peat dug for fuel.” The reality is that the term has taken on its own etymology. It has been used to refer to a neighborhood over which a street gang asserts its authority, a city where a church has its ministry, and even a ministry someone oversees in your church. The turf “war” happens when someone steps into our area of oversight and we fell threatened.

While living in Romania, in 2000 my family and I visited a village on the request of one of the pastors there. We arrived on a Sunday morning to meet him and discuss the day of services. When I pulled up, I saw another missionary looking over at us and he began to walk our way. When I rolled my window down he said, “What are you doing here? This is my village and we have a ministry going on here!” We were quite taken aback, but the reality is that there are 10,000 villages there with no gospel witness.

Here is a reality check for churches. If all the people in your community decided to attend church this coming Sunday there wouldn’t be enough seating for all of them. The highest reported statistics say that maybe 25% of the population is in church on any given Sunday. Do the math! If you live in a city of 20,000 that means 15,000 need Jesus. That means that in the Little Rock, North Little Rock, Conway, AR, metropolitan statistical area 540,000 people need Jesus. The problem is not too many churches but, rather, having churches who see that the fields are white unto harvest.

Mike Breen has written on three things killing the American church and lists them as celebrity, consumerism, and competition. Looking at the third, competition, we must all admit that there have been times we have been tempted to think we must have better programs, better music, and better facilities than everyone else. We are in a competition with other churches to get members! What if we all focused on reaching those who are far from God? Our churches should exist to help people find Jesus and follow Him.

Sometimes the competition is inside the church. Ministries are competing for workers, space, recognition, and finances. People have their “pet” programs that they have “always” directed and they will protect their turf. Recently, when visiting a church, I was told not to go into a certain area of the building because it was under the “control” of a certain member. Really? No one should own a room, a pew (or chair), a parking space, or a particular ministry. If that occurs then they can hold the church hostage! How do you protect your church from turf wars?

First, remember that Jesus is Lord of the church. It belongs to Him and if we want it to honor and glorify Him we must recognize this principle. Do not over spiritualize this by thinking that the way you think it should be done is equal to how Jesus wants it done. Be submissive and teachable to timeless principles not just present traditions. Here is something that must be asked……. is your church making disciples? Are you seeing a multiplication of disciples, leaders, and churches?

Second, why you do something is as important as what you do. All too often we get consumed with all of the activity. We think that because we are busy all is well. Not necessarily so! Some churches require members to be present eight to nine times a week but souls are not being saved and disciples are not being developed. Perfect attendance is not the ultimate goal and does not guarantee spiritual maturity. Ezra 7:9-10 describes well this laser focus of how we are to study His word (II Tim. 2:15), live out His word (James 1:22), and then teach His word (II Tim. 2:2) to others also.

Third, always value people over the task and the program. Make sure that you are focused on the ministry of building up people and not people building your ministry. If you want more out of your team then you must put more into them. How can you help and resource them to make them as effective as possible? No one is perfect and do not expect them to always do things the way you would. Do everything with excellence! A great definition of excellence is that doing the best with what you have.

Fourth, be clear about the vision and the process of making disciples. Someone has said, “If there is a mist in the pulpit there will be a fog in the pew.” All too often, when you speak to church staff (paid and volunteer), even they are unable to clearly explain the vision and direction of the church. You must work hard to ensure that everyone knows where you are headed and how you plan on getting there. You can test this by asking several leaders to articulate to you what they believe your vision is and how to carry it out.

Fifth, make sure everyone is on the same page. Every ministry must be a part of the vision and the process of discipleship. We can become so preoccupied with programs that they become an entity in themselves. They must be evaluated to make sure that they are tools that facilitate the vision of the church. Without proper alignment with the overall vision, the workers can become passionate about their ministry to the point of protecting their turf.

Healthy churches protect their vision by saying yes to the best things and no to anything else. They refuse to protect their turf just to keep pet programs alive because they have always had that program.

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