By Sutton Turner
Sutton Turner, executive pastor and an executive elder of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, spent his first 35 years accumulating everything a man could want: a successful business, a beautiful wife and kids, a golf swing, lots of money, and plenty of free time to enjoy the finer things.
But, he couldn’t buy enough or earn enough to escape the haunting question: What’s the point?
Somewhere between continents, cultures, commerce and Christ, the story took a turn for the better.
Today, Sutton Turner oversees Mars Hill’s central operations and business functions, including finance, property, media and communications and technology. He also trains and mentors the executive pastors and deacons across all Mars Hill Church locations.
In his new book, Invest Your Gifts for His Mission, Turner shares his experience with others like him.
“This book is for older men ready to give whatever they have left,” he writes. “This book is for young men anxious to give all they’ve got. It may be a year or it may be a lifetime, but it’s never too late to invest your gifts in the greatest mission the world has ever known.”
I get the sense that business men — with a love of the Bible and of people — are a primary audience for this book. Is this accurate?
Sutton Turner: Invest is focused around two groups. One group is mostly for Christian men, 35 to 55 years old, who are praying about how to invest the rest of their lives. If we’re in Christ, he has made us a new creation — 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that — and with that, comes new desires. Recognizing and accepting what he has done for us on the cross is motivation to serve him gladly with our whole lives. There is no greater earthly joy than “going to work with Dad,” as
Pastor Mark [Driscoll] likes to say — in whatever way that might look. Jesus is at work all over the world, and he is constantly inviting us to join him.
Many people today have spent the first part of their business careers working towards the corner office or a specific “title” in the company. Many of us reached those idols and realized that they weren’t fulfilling. The only mission that is fulfilling is the mission that Jesus Christ gave us to go into all the world making disciples and planting churches. I believe, though, that most men gifted in the business world feel as I did: Where do I fit? What’s my place? I want to serve God, but I’m not pastor material — I went to business school, not Bible school! I hope to answer their questions and concerns, and also give encouragement as to how they are a part of Christ’s body.
I don’t, however, want to be too exclusive and particular on backgrounds for XPs. At Mars Hill Church, we have 15 churches and 15 XPs, but some of these men come from construction, real estate and ministry — one’s even a former worship director. So, it is certainly not what a person has done in the past, but what he wants to be used for by Jesus in the future.
In the book, I’m simply asking the question: Has God gifted you in such a way and could God be calling
you to serve him, his church and a lead pastor as an executive pastor?
The second group [the book attempts to reach] is lead pastors at churches of any size, from the small 40-member church, to the 22,000-member multi-site mega church. Many lead pastors don’t fully see the need for an executive pastor, whether paid or as a volunteer on a smaller-sized church. I pray this book will help them better build a staff for the forward progress of their church to proclaim the gospel of Jesus.
In your online interview with Pastor Mark Driscoll, the topic of “using business gifts in the heart of the church” is addressed. What types of business gifts have you seen translate most successfully from the secular business world to church leadership?
Turner: It’s very important that an executive pastor complement the lead pastor. So, you can’t generalize what attributes an executive pastor needs until you tell me who the lead pastor is and what his weaknesses are.
An example is that Pastor Mark [Driscoll] hates budgets, meetings, manpower planning, financing, et cetera. These things totally drain him — but I love them. We complement each other.
In a small church, the executive pastor will be a volunteer who complements the lead pastor. But, not every executive pastor is like me, because not every lead pastor is like Pastor Mark.
I’ve seen men succeed in this role who enjoy building systems, processes and organizations of volunteers. Leading leaders is an ability that’s caught, not taught.
However, when I see an XP fail, it’s usually because these men are trying to do everything themselves and not building systems and teams of volunteers to share the load of leading the church.
Is an executive pastor role the primary fit for a business-minded congregant/potential church leader? If not, what other roles lead well to their real-world management/leadership/business experience?
Turner: Executive pastors come from many backgrounds, so there’s not just one type of XP. At Mars Hill, we adhere to the tri-perspectival model of church leadership — prophet, priest and king, believing that Jesus Christ was the only perfect
Man, and no human being will be highly gifted in each of those offices.
At Mars Hill, this is the way our executive eldership is formulated. As Jeff and Kim Booher describe in their book, The Emergence of Love Leadership: “In the prophet role, the leader sees the vision and is the seat of creativity. In the priest role, he communicates the vision and develops the people who must run with it. In the king role, the leader is the administrator who manages the organization.” So, we’re looking for a king to serve as an XP.
That being said, I’ve seen kings serving in the executive pastor roles from all types of backgrounds. This is where I fully see the providence of God. I spent a few years in the Middle East and was highly criticized and attacked for my Christian beliefs, especially leading one of the largest and most influential companies in Qatar and Abu Dhabi. Now, I realize that this experience perfectly prepared me for handling the criticism and attacks that come from being a part of the leadership of Mars Hill. You get shot every day with arrows from the enemy.
My good friend John Collins, who has been the XP of Harvest Christian Fellowship and served Pastor Greg Laurie for 30 years, has specific prior experience that aids in his role. John spent eight years in marketing and communications before joining Pastor Greg. Now, after 30 years, John will say that the eight years of training he got were critical for his role in starting the Harvest Crusades that have had more than 4 million people in attendance since 1985.
So, I firmly believe that no matter what business career Jesus has a person in today, that experience can benefit and serve the church and a lead pastor.
How might our magazine’s audience (large-church pastors) mobilize this book to identify potential “investors” of their gifts to strengthen their own churches, or the Church as a whole?
Turner: Most lead pastors are some combination of prophet and priest, and most fall into two different categories. One is that they have a second-in-command guy who’s their successor, not their complement. John C. Maxwell talks a lot about how leaders either compete with another leader or complete a leader. The successor is like the lead pastor, gifted very similarly. However, the things that these two men aren’t gifted to do, either don’t get done or become a huge source of frustration to them and the church. Most of the time, these are structure, system, policies and processes.
The other category is that the lead pastor has a team of leaders around him with whom he planted the church from the very beginning, who now add very little to the strategic future of the church. The church has outgrown the original leadership team, but the structure doesn’t allow for the lead pastor to hire from the outside what he really needs: a good executive pastor. The lead pastor is stuck with a team that doesn’t complete his giftings and doesn’t bring in outside experience that’s vital to continued organizational development and learning.
In both cases, the lead pastor suffers, the staff suffers, stewardship suffers, and the forward progress of the church suffers. I would love to see lead pastors read my book and then give it to men whom they have observed — business guys or not — in their churches who might be ready to respond to the call to serve God, his church and his lead pastor.
Mostly though, I would say to lead pastors, “Get to know your people.” As a brand-new Christian, by the grace of God, my first mentor relationship was with my pastor. We played golf together, traveled together — we were simply friends. My friendship with Pastor Joe was the vehicle God used to put me in the exact position to receive his call on my life.
— Reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh