A couple of guys from our church team and I are down in Lynchburg, Virginia, for Innovate ‘09. We are intentionally not going to every session because I think there’s just too much going on to actually be able to absorb it all. Yesterday, we heard Eric Geiger, co-author of Simple Church.
Both of the guys who are down here with me commented, “Isn’t this pretty much what you did?” The answer is yes. We looked at our church and said: let’s not do programs just to do programs. Let’s have meaning and vision for everything we do. We clarified our vision and we ask the hard questions to keep ourselves focused. We take our time and do things right.
One of the thoughts Eric shared was that too many churches have ministries that are “silos”, distinct from the other ministries of the church. Eric said it just as an illustration, but I spent most of the session thinking about the idea of silos in ministry.
It is no secret that I am highly cynical about the way the modern (and postmodern) church at large does ministry. To me, the purpose of the church is to lift Jesus Christ up and create environments where people encounter him. Too much is invested in church and not enough on living the Way of Jesus.
And this idea of silos really resonates with me because I grew up on farms, and I know that silos are for storage. They are for accumulating grain and storing as much of it as you can for later. Jesus spoke on the problems with this in two different situations.
Jesus said to his disciples:
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. [Luke 10:2, ESV]
He makes it clear that we are called to be laborers in his fields rather than farmers of our own fields. In fact, it reminds me of a church growth book I read a few years ago that talked about how pastors need to be ranchers instead of shepherds. This idea always struck me as a bit off from what Jesus said. Jesus does not call us to own the church but to be his servants in the church.
Which leads me to the second time that Jesus spoke on this topic. He told a parable:
The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ [Luke 12:16-20, ESV]
Here is the danger of building silos instead of working in the fields, in believing we own the farms instead of living as workers in the LORD’s fields. We become complacent; we become content. We store rather than serve. We forget the amazing blessing of seeing the harvest come every year and knowing it is from God.
Jesus spoke on this theme of ownership at another time:
A man planted a vineyard and let it out to tenants and went into another country for a long while. When the time came, he sent a servant to the tenants, so that they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent another servant. But they also beat and treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And he sent yet a third. This one also they wounded and cast out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours.’ And they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. [Luke 20:9-16, ESV]
Do you see what Jesus is saying to us? We cannot afford to think that the church is ours, that our ministry there is somehow ours to control. We are his servants.