Observations After a Week With College Students
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For God's Sake, Tear Down Those Silos

A few years ago some farm land near where I live was purchased and turned into a shopping center. The farm land wasn't being farmed and hadn't been for years. A subdivision had been built around it and the only remaining signs that farming had been done near there were two old, large grain silos that stood on the ground. The silos became landmarks for many in the community.

When the land was cleared and the shops were built, the intent was to keep the silos intact, especially since the shops would be called the "Silo Shoppes." Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on one's perspective) the old old silos weren't able to be salvaged and were destroyed.

Then, the builders built a smaller, fake silo for the property. It stands there now, between the sports bar and the Salvation Army Store. A symbol of a bygone day. . .and a useless building, it seems.

Outside the world of agriculture (or nuclear missles,) silos are not often referenced. However, over the past few years, there has been much discussion among churches of the dangers of silos.

Within the church culture, the silos being referenced are not physical structures,  but the ministries that most of us enjoy being part of and promoting. Ministries are not bad things at all, but when they become "silo ministries" they become a detriment to the influence and focus of the church.

Silo ministries have no greater vision, goal or calling other than themselves. Their development leads to "little churches" within the church. By the way, that is not a good thing and is the opposite of healthy church planting and multiplicative ministry. It seems that after decades of church work built on growth strategies and marketing plans borrowed from the business world, we are finally discovering the inherant danger in siloing ministries within the church.

It's a difficult concept and creates not only confusion for some, but frustration and anger. Just based on what is being written, spoken and blogged in the realm of church health today, the concept of creating and maintaining silos in ministry cannot be classified as anything but BAD.

Yet, there are some, like Kaye, a children's ministry leader and blogger from Australia, who are asking if siloed ministries really are that bad. You can read her thoughts on this here. Her post is well-thought and I agree with most. She makes the distinction of being focused and, in my estimation, is defining silos differently than I would.

Nevertheless, as we (the church in the US, especially the Baptists) are facing the realities of declining baptisms, closing church buildings, diminishing missionary funding and increaased cultural challenges, we are forced to acknowledge that some of the "church things" we built in past decades may need to go the way of the original grain silos near my home.

It is easy to see how ministry silos grow. 

It is just easier to segment every single thing done within the church based on age group, grade, physical needs, gender, and a host of other creative boxes.

Destroy silosWhile I acknowledge the value of ministry focused on certain groups (i.e. children, youth, students, men, women, etc.) the sad reality is that apart from a clear focus on God's calling for His church, and a healthy sense of awe of Him, churches will continue to "silo up" and justify the means with no real focus on the end, or Kingdom goal.

I have heard some, even in the church I pastor and on our leadership team, say "We don't know our goal!"

When I first heard that, it shook me. I was thinking, "Maybe I haven't stated our church's goal very well?" I was thrown for a loop. Then, after months of prayer and reflection and even. . .and I know other pastors do this too. . .looking at other churches for ideas of "mission statements" and "goal statements" and the like, it hit me. . .WE ARE NOT TO CREATE THE GOAL!

God has already done this. If the church is doing anything other than honoring God through making disciples and growing His Kingdom, we are wasting our time just "doing church" and I fear that is why many in our culture are ineffective, closing and dead. Perhaps God "left the building" in these instances.

While I am not proposing the dismantling of ministries within the church (though, in some cases, it may not be a bad idea,) I am declaring that intentional, self-seeking, silo building has no place in God's church.  

Rich Burch recently posted "6 Subtle Signs of Organizational Silos in Your Ministry." Here are his six signs, with my comments.  You can click here to read his entire post with his thoughts.

  1. "Us" verses "Them" mentality. We have probably all experienced this at some level. It often occurs at the time of year when ministry leaders are recruiting volunteers. Sometimes it happens during the calendar and financial allocation planning time. If your ministry leader always seems depressed and acts as if he/she is fighting everyone else in the church and all other ministries with 
  2. Different Core Communication Tools. I have been guilty of this, as have many others who have served in Associate Pastor roles. Sometimes, it's just a sign of creativity by right-brained staffers. In those cases, it's not dangerous. Other times, it is little more than a passive-aggresive protest at the leaders or the organization/church.
  3. Office or Ministry Hub Placement. This has been borrowed from the business world. When I was at IBM, the executives' importance was identified by number of windows and location of offices. Sometimes this is seen when ministry leaders have a desire to be "away" from the rest of the staff or pastors.
  4. Resistance to Church-wide Emphases. This happens in every church, at some level, I fear. The church may be focusing on a large emphasis, but in certain ministry areas, it may as well not exist. Perhaps it's personality driven (most often) or focus driven. Sometimes it happens based on church-wide scheduling. Siloed ministries tend to create their own calendars with little or no regard to the church-wide calendar. An arrogant sense of "my ministry is more important than others" reigns and others within the church notice it. 
  5. Great Internal Communication with Poor External Communication. When a ministry silos itself, those within communicate well and often, but they don't do so outside the silo. This "holy huddle" is deadly to the church and . . . every church has groups that develop this, at some level.
  6. Special Deals. If a ministry has a sense of entitlement and those who serve have a "right" to skirt rules, guidelines and policies that all other minsitries have, a silo may be growing. 

Here's the thing about silos in ministry. I don't think anyone sets out to build a ministry silo. It often just happens.

It has happened for decades.

And the church has suffered.

It is time, for God's sake and the sake of His Kingdom, to tear down the negative, self-serving ministry silos that do little, if anything, for the Kingdom of God.

And, unlike the shopping center near my home, let's not build a new one to replace them.

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