Turnkey Church?

Thoughts continued from Organizational Turnkey and the Great American Detox

I think the turnkey approach can be incredibly helpful in many industries and organizations… but in my opinion, local church is not one of them. To reiterate, this is my opinion, and I’m voicing it, hopefully, to relieve some pressure that many of our local church communities can so easily begin to feel — finding themselves taking on things they were never meant to take on, carrying things they were never meant to carry, and trying to be something they were never meant to be. Because of the way we, the church, have looked to marketing and business as the way we build, organize, and strategize [which are, at times, incredibly helpful tools], we have unfortunately also taken on this pressure to offer every spiritual service imaginable — often for the sake of marketing or more simply, appeasement — going back to our turnkey definition from my previous entrya complete product or service that is ready for immediate use. Is it necessary [or healthy] for a local believing community to be a spiritual one-stop shop? Is there a subtle cost that we are paying for over time?

For the body does not consist of one part, but of many… If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the members of the body, every one of them, according to His design. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body (1 Corinthians 12).

Paul’s admonition has often been directed toward the individual, but not typically toward the local congregation of believers. Yes, each community of believers is made up of many gifts. But to say each groups is to carry the fullness of the glory of Jesus [his entire body], would not be correct, as it’s missing entirely the purpose of the whole, universal, catholic body of believers — the one body of Christ. There are not local bodies of Christ… There is only one body and He, the head, has invited us to be part of what He is doing.

Despite this reality, our churches and leadership teams feel pressure to be the best in every area — Hollywood caliber teaching, rockstar worship experience, over the top youth and children programs, small groups geared toward the older generation, the newly married, the not married, the young families, the empty-nesters, the un-nested. What we do in the name of excellence, if we are not careful, becomes an aside that distracts us from the very identity the Spirit of God has spoken into each distinct expression of his body — communicating a unique piece of His heart and character.

So where do we go from here?

We have each been uniquely created. We have each been uniquely gifted. Would it not also be true that each community of believing people would also be unique in composition? It takes courageous leadership to communicate this is who we are, this is what we are best at, this is our contribution.

Let’s courageously ask ourselves… What is my contribution? What is my part? Where do I come alive and how do I bring God glory from this place? How does he want to impact my world? 

And leaders, let’s ask the same of our local expressions… How has the Spirit of God identified us? Who has he called us to be? — And taking it one step further — What areas are we weaker in? — And another amazingly courageous step forward — What other groups, communities, organizations are strong in these areas and how has God invited us to join together in order to further his kingdom in our region?

Instead of reinventing the wheel — the wheel that we really don’t have time, energy, vision, capacity, to build anyway — what if we walked out of our house and looked down the street to see if anyone else had already built it. What if, when we do find someone with the wheel we are missing, we ask them if we could come down to their house to use their wheel too?

It could really position us to keep doing what we do best. And, you know what? As we get to know the folks who’s wheel we are using, we might even become friends.


Phil Rice — philrice.blog
Executive Director of Ember

5 thoughts on “Turnkey Church?

  1. Thank you Lana. Yes, this is huge. There is such peace in participating in the piece God has given to us to play. I can personally just feel the internal sigh of relief as I surrender my path to the Lord. “Here I am Lord, where are you going and how would you have me/us move forward. What is my/our place.”

    Power and authority come in responding to his call, no matter if it’s center stage or behind closed doors. It’s easy to get caught on either end saying one is right and the other is wrong. But it does come down to a matter of obedience.

    Thanks for sharing, Lana. I love this.

  2. This is really good, Eugene. Thank you for your thoughts. And I would agree with you on the overstated case. I suppose, more simply put, I believe that if our local communities are not careful, we can believe that we no longer need one another, and that we are doing “church the right way,” while others are not. Continuing to remember that we are all under Christ’s banner is helpful to me as I continually seek to walk out the path he has set before me, inviting other individuals and communities to influence me and help me. This is not to say that we should not walk out local and even regional expressions of his body, rather that each of our communities walk in humility knowing that we each play a part of God’s story and that our storyline is not separate from that.

    I would love any continued thoughts you have here! Whether on the blog or in person. Really looking forward to getting time with you guys in a few weeks! It’s been far too long.

  3. Yes. My two cents is that it’s such a temptation for people to want to be seen by others for doing xyz ministry. Over the last several years, I’ve found that charisma has nothing to do with servant leadership.

    When we found ourselves looking around for how we could contribute, we were tempted to join in the next popular trend in the church or go where everyone else was going. But we found a humble couple doing the work of Jesus and found an “under the radar” thing to pour our gifts into. We were drawn to their humility, their faithfulness and their lack of attention-getting gimmicks. They are true servant leaders. God is so honored by people like them, who are doing it for His glory, not for theirs. I’m constantly challenged by this type of unseen work. It rubs against my desire for recognition etc.

    I like what you shared and I pray it starts conversations, plants seeds of healthy discussion and causes people to look around and see how they can contribute in a God-honoring way.

  4. I love that phrase you have repurposed: turnkey church. It describes well one of the modern issues the church is facing. In becoming all things to all people (by virtue of a misunderstanding of that passage), the church then becomes nothing to most people. It’s interesting that Dave Olson, in his book “The American Church in Crisis,” describes how small churches are growing because they focus on relationships and a few things, but very large churches are still growing because they still can “do it all.” But medium size churches are not growing because they have lost the relational focus but can’t compete with mega-churches in programming.

    I do think you overstate your case, however, when saying there are not local bodies of Christ. The New Testament clearly describes and prescribes local bodies. I believe this is a case of both/and versus either/or. G.K. Chesterton, in “Orthodoxy,” tells how one thing that brought him back to belief was the way Christianity often holds truths in tension rather than trying to easily resolve them. God is immanent and transcendent. God is sovereign and we have free will. Likewise, the church is local and universal.

    Thanks for the conversation and I’m excited to see you and your family.

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