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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.

Are You The Older Brother?

other-brother

The reports of great Easter services yesterday are already coming in! One church plant, not even two years old, had 212 in attendance and ten joined. Another report of a church plant not yet five years old had a record attendance of 539 with six baptisms. Our church exceeded our average attendance by 150 and had 495 present on Easter. How did these reports cause you to feel or react? Were you able to rejoice or did it make you skeptical or envious?

In the story of the prodigal son there are actually two prodigals. One took his inheritance, squandered it, and finally came to his senses and returned home. When his father saw him he rejoiced and the celebration began but the older brother was not a happy camper. The older brother was angry and said, “Look, I have been slaving many years for you, and I have never disobeyed your orders, yet you never gave me a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends!” (Luke 15:29)

The real story in the parable of the prodigal son is actually the older brother. In context, these were the kind of people to whom Jesus was telling this story. The older brother was actually more lost than the younger because he could not see his lostness. His goodness and respectability had blinded him. Sadly, he was living with the father but was far from him. He was more concerned about keeping score of how others were serving more than taking care of his own relationship with the father.

The older brother serves as a warning to us that it is possible to obey God’s commands and be lost. It is possible to faithfully attend church, read your Bible, pray—and be lost! As you work for God you can appear to be very close to Him and yet actually be very far from Him. If you still need a little convincing then you should take a look at Matthew 7:21-23 and Luke 18:9-14. The older brother did not have the same heart his father had!

How do you know if you are the older brother? Are there signs to look for that should cause us to repent and ask for the Father’s forgiveness? Maybe we are not the older brother but are acting like him at times. What should we look for? Here are things to watch out for to make sure our hearts are like the heart of our Father:

First, when you cannot rejoice when prodigals return home you are acting like the older brother. The father was dancing and celebrating but the older brother could not. There was no rejoicing in his heart because he was angry and believed he was justified in being mad. The issue was not that it made him mad but what he did with that anger. The older brother was seething because he had saved up this anger for years and now it was boiling over.

When you harbor and hold onto offenses over a long period of time they can lead to depression, ulcers, insomnia, and outbursts of anger. They give you a negative attitude and rob you of the joy of the Lord. The key is always to get before the Lord, admit our anger, and then ask Him to help us to rejoice the way He rejoices. If you are always skeptical when a prodigal son returns home you acting far more like the older brother than you are the father!

            Second, when you are constantly griping and complaining you are acting like the older brother. He says, “This son of yours!” He does not even want to admit that he is his brother. It appears that he does not want him back in the family and would just as soon go on without him. The older brother is condescending, proud, and faultfinding. He hears the music and wonders why he was not invited? He sees the celebration and is jealous that they were throwing a party for his brother and not for him.

How do you know if you have become like the older brother? When you are always negative. Especially about the things that makes our heavenly Father rejoice! Philippians 2:3-4 says this about jealousy, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” You can tell a lot about a person’s heart if they cannot rejoice when others are blessed and they are not!

Third, when you have a hard time forgiving you are acting like the older brother. Are you prone to holding grudges? Do you often think, “I may forgive but I will never forget?” Do you struggle with harboring bad feelings when someone has chosen the wrong path and then returns home? Are you actually sympathizing with the older brother and feeling like he is really getting a raw deal here?

Where do you start in this process of forgiveness? You need to grasp the enormity of your debt and realize it is much greater than you can even imagine. John Newton said this, “I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great savior.” Ephesians 4:32 states it clearly, “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ. “ The heart of the father is to forgive while the heart of the older brother is to hold a grudge ‘til Jesus comes!

Healthy churches and healthy Christians rejoice when God does great things!