Invest by Sutton Turner

Invest-Book_v2

In ministry, it’s easy to think of certain gifts as being more valuable than others. We look at one man’s ability to handle the Scriptures and applaud. We look at another’s ability to manage an organization and… well, often times we’re not quite sure what to do. It’s not that we don’t appreciate those abilities. It’s just we have a hard time thinking of them as having a purpose in ministry. And as a result, some Christians who want to use their gifts to bless their churches are left in a lurch.

Invest: Your Gifts for His Mission by Sutton Turner is written for people like this. People with serious business skills and a heart for the church, but struggle to see how their gifts can be used to benefit the body. Turner uses his experience as the current executive pastor of Mars Hill Church to help business-minded believers see how they can work for the glory of God, perhaps by considering taking on the role of an executive pastor.

A good reminder of the need for business savvy

The best thing about Invest is the refreshing reminder of the need for business savvy in ministry. “Ministry” should not be code for sloppy planning and procedures. But this is pretty common, sadly. Many who gravitate toward ministry roles tend to be people who want to spiritually guide people, but aren’t particularly savvy with administration or business practices. It my never occur to them to think about things like licensing for the songs we sing on Sundays, or the tax regulations that need to be followed in order to maintain charitable status.

So churches and parachurch ministries alike can greatly benefit from believers who are skilled and passionate about such things. People who care about what the organizational structure looks like and whether or not it actually works in practice, and who care about staff culture and dynamics. We need to be concerned about these things, and, thankfully, God has gifted certain individuals to be deeply passionate about them.

While I appreciate the general premise of the book, there’s a great deal about it I’m concerned about:

An unnecessarily defensive tone

From the very beginning, Invest takes a defensive posture, most noticeably in Mark Driscoll’s foreword, where he writes: “Dear Bible Guy, please don’t be yet another nerd who proof texts verses on lovers of money, lording it over like the Gentiles with curse words like ‘pragmatism’ and ’it’s all about the numbers’ criticisms.”

Now, I get that there are (allegedly) some who see any sort of focus on improving systems and structures as inherently ungodly, but I have to wonder: what’s being accomplished by this approach?

I want to think otherwise, but here’s where the cynic in me goes: because Invest reeks of the “big = better = blessed” ideal that so dominates western thinking (more on that in a minute), it may be they’re trying to get out in front of the potential criticism and turn it back around on the critics themselves. So, rather than the problem being a mindset within many mega churches in general or Mars Hill in particular, it’s a problem with the reader who thinks all is not right in Seattle.

A weak theology of work and ministry

A second concern is the theology of work and ministry described in the book, particularly as Turner differentiates between a “job” and “ministry.” Consider his distinctions:

  • If you want praise and recognition for what you do, it’s a job. If no one else besides Jesus needs to commend your work, it’s ministry.
  • If you do the job as long as it does not cut into other things (such as hobbies, family activities, etc.), it’s a job. If you are willing to make sacrifices in your personal schedule, it’s ministry.
  • If you compare your lot with others who have more free time, more money, and more possessions, it’s a job. If you pray for others rather than compete with them, it’s ministry.
  • If it bothers you when the phone rings on evenings and weekends, it’s a job. If you see random calls at odd hours as opportunities to serve with joy, it’s ministry.
  • If you want to quit because the work is too hard, the pressure is too great, or your performance is criticized, it’s a job. If you stick it out—until Jesus clearly tells you that it’s time to move on—it’s ministry.
  • If you use the church as a stepping-stone, a payday, or a gold star on your résumé, it’s a job. If you’re working for the church because you love Jesus and you want more people to meet him, get saved, and be transformed, then it’s ministry.

There’s definitely some truth to these examples. Turner is correct that both the “work to live” and “live to work” mindsets, or what another set of authors describe as idleness and idolatry in work, are unhealthy. The problem, of course, is the distinction between “job” and “ministry” is actually a false one. Vocational ministry roles are jobs, and we’re kidding ourselves if we think differently.  Non-ministry jobs intrude on our personal lives all the time. So do ministry ones.

It’s a silly distinction, one which elevates a kind of work as being more important than others. This is ironic since Turner is trying to advocate for the importance of these non-traditional type ministry roles. You also need to be very careful as this is the kind of thinking that’s lead so many men to sacrifice their families on the altar of ministry. They bought into the lie that if you take care of the ministry, God will take care of your family—a lie that destroyed both their ministries and their families.

So yeah, do see what you do as a blessing; in fact, we should see every job as ministry. But don’t create silly distinctions that God does not.

A flawed view of fruitfulness

Invest seems to frequently elevate the mega-church as the ideal, rather than appreciate the small church. In speaking of his friend (and fellow Mars Hill pastor) Dave Bruskas’ experiences as a pastor, Turner writes:

In Pastor Dave’s case, everyone in the congregation was directly connected to him, and when he maxed out so did the church. Between the relational demands, the responsibilities of running church operations, and the pressure to compose a sermon every week, Pastor Dave did not have the capacity to create the systems and structure necessary to organize the work and, more importantly, develop leaders to share the load.

Again, there’s some truth in this. Regardless of the size of the church, pastors need to be investing in leaders. They need to be working to keep the organization running as best as they can. But the stated assumption undergirding the example is that because Bruskas could himself only maintain about 150 relationships. Because Bruskas was maxed, the church maxed out, too.

Now, here’s my question: why do we assume a church should always be expanding numerically? Where do we see fruitful = big numbers in the Bible? Nowhere.

And yet, this thinking plays into so much of what we see in Turner’s description of his role as Driscoll’s Executive Pastor. He describes the strategies currently at work within Mars Hill Church, from planting more satellite locations (rather than autonomous churches) to shaping Driscoll’s public persona (I don’t even know what to say about this), and it all comes back to the same thing: building a bigger Mars Hill.

But no matter how many times we’re told big does not mean better and does not mean blessed of God.

Is it worth reading?

So should you read Invest? There are going to be nuggets that readers will find beneficial, for sure. But honestly, unless you’re looking to see how the mechanics of Mars Hill work and replicate that, you’ll probably want to pass on this one.


Title: Invest: Your Gifts for His Mission
Author: Sutton Turner
Publisher: Tyndale House/Resurgence Publishing (2013)

  • Phil

    Thanks for the review. I’ve been thinking a lot about this sort of thing. My only experience with an executive pastor has been kind of negative. When I talk to him, I always feel like I’m being managed. He’s been helpful to the church, to be sure, but I always feel like he looks at me, and others, as either a problem to be dealt with, or a resource to be directed, rather than a person to be pastored. Maybe I’m just too sensitive.

    When I think about the direction our church is going, I fear the cultural shift that comes with it. I want to see people saved… but I feel sometimes like instead of connecting folks to the family of God, we’re just plugging them into the *insert church name here* machine.

    We talk about Jesus a lot… we preach from the word. All the right books are recommended on our book table. When I talk to our Sr. Pastor, he seems to genuinely love the church and want the good of the people.

    So why do I always feel like my church is trying to sell me something?

    • Mark

      Phil, your rhetorical question is right on the money (pun intended).