Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars in the Church

by Charles Smith April 8, 2015

In the New York Times best-seller Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars, author and Harvard professor Patrick Lencioni outlines the dangers of some “organizational cancers” and gives leaders a sober prognosis: dismantle them or they will dismantle your church.

A highly regarded business consultant, Lencioni has worked with the likes of Jack Welch, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates. But it was not his interaction with these men that led him to write this book. Rather, it was a painful trip to the emergency room where he observed what he later called “the most effective team I have ever seen.” Lencioni writes, “Every single attendant quickly and selflessly worked as a team, doing what was needed to get the job done. There were no egos, cliques or nurses sulking in the corner murmuring ‘it was my turn to do CPR…’.” Why? Because there was no time for such behavior. Their mission—in this case, easing Lencioni’s immense pain—was far too urgent for silos, politics, and turf wars. It was this experience that taught Lencioni that silos, politics, and turf wars exist where mission and urgency do not.

Though intended for business leaders, I couldn’t help applying this to churches and the broader evangelical movement. No emergency room, hospital, or battlefield demands a tithe of the urgency that hell does, and yet we often spend more time protecting our reputations, committees, titles, and turf than standing together for the gospel. According to Lencioni, these are clear indications that we have forgotten why the church exists to begin with.

But this is not a new problem.

In Mark 9-10 we find the disciples engaged in a first century example of silos, politics, and turf wars. With their sight still fatigued from the blinding rays of the transfiguration, James and John quickly get back to the task of building their own kingdoms, asking Jesus to allow them to sit at His right and left hand. Other accounts (Luke 9:46-48, Matt. 18) describe the disciples arguing over who was greatest among them, feet from where they had just witnessed Jesus perform miracles.

It is difficult for me to read this account without being both astonished and struck to the core. I am astonished that they could even conceptualize having such a conversation in light of what they had just witnessed but also convicted that I am guilty of the same on a daily basis. Like the disciples debating their rank minutes after Jesus performed miracles (Mark 10:35-45), we often quietly silence the cosmic urgency of the gospel with another gospel and another kingdom—a kingdom built by our own hands and riddled with silos, politics, and turf wars.

This shouldn’t surprise us. We’re all insurrectionists by birth and hard-wired to “seek our own interest” (Phil. 2:21), protecting our own cardboard kingdom. Like a child bravely protecting his bedroom fortress, we often trick ourselves into believing we have anything to protect to begin with.

The only hope of dismantling silos, politics, and turf wars is to offer your people a greater kingdom. A kingdom whose citizens are unconditionally loved and accepted by God, not on the basis of their accomplishments, but on the basis of His. A kingdom where subjects “never thirst” because God Himself leads them to “springs of living water” (Rev. 7:15) A kingdom where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” and “everything is made new” (Rev. 21:4-6).

This is indeed a greater kingdom. And when we preach the gospel, we invite all who hear to lay down their arms and pledge allegiance to the “true and everlasting King” (Jer. 10:10).

Patrick Lencioni is right about a lot of things. Silos, politics, and turf wars do indeed exist where mission and urgency do not. But while these organizational cancers are deadly, we cannot overcome them until God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, reveals the greatest kingdom to our hearts and minds.

Are you a leader who wants to unify your church and dismantle the silos, politics, and turf wars that frustrate real ministry and mission? Then labor to help your people see beyond their own cardboard kingdoms and embrace the greater kingdom of God.

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