It’s not very sexy to say, but few things matter as much as organizational structure. The way we live—literally determined by a sequence of choices born out of belief—determines everything.
This is very true of the church as well. Whether good or bad, the structure of our churches exactly matches what we really believe. There’s no way around it.
As we continue to til the soil of understanding about how the church does its work, we have looked at this important definition:
A. A business is an organization involved in the trade of goods and/or services to customers in exchange for money.
B. The efficient and effective operation of business is accomplished through the management of financial, capital, and human resources.
Last time we talked about money. This time we focus on organizational structure.
The Church provides goods and services
While it is not the church’s only mission, and the church is not (should not) be seeking profit, the church is an organization that provides services. Those services are God oriented (or loving-others oriented). We organize to take care of each other and provide for the communities we live in.
As individual members of the body of Christ, and as a community, we should do this:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
This is demonstrated in Acts 6 as well.
In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food.
This story in Acts 6 is particularly instructive. The Apostles asked the church to appoint deacons to take over the work of providing services. The Apostles weren’t doing it well, and didn’t want to. Please note:
- The Apostles didn’t appoint deacons. They brought the need to the church and laid hands on those the church put forward.
- Notice that there is no debate as to whether the church should be taking care of those in need. Once the problem is voiced, they move to a solution.
- The Apostles quickly remove themselves from the responsibility, but not the need. That is, it was the communities responsibility. Not theirs.
- The Apostles did not retain final, decision-making authority. They trusted that to these fellow leaders and the Holy Spirit.
- Notice how the community discerns those who operate in the gift of administration and appoints them.
- In a nice little twist, these servants managed resources, which is part B of our definition of business. That was their calling—administration—and significantly, it was not the Apostle’s calling.
The big idea
God has provided two primary forms of ministry that complement each other. Our mistake is that we have tried to combine these gifts into a single person, the lead pastor.
After Acts 6, the New Testament pattern, if there is one we can discern, seems to be the establishment of two kinds of elders that provide leadership: overseers (bishops) and servants (deacons). Both are identified by Spirit-gifting, and complement each other.
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:10–11
I chose this verse as an example of what I find throughout the NT. While I don’t think Peter is trying to be exhaustive, I find it instructive that he highlights these same two forms of ministry: a public, speaking gift, and a behind-the-scenes, servant gift.
A corrective detour
Deacon to us too often only means the people who change the lightbulbs and clean the toilets. The Biblical paradigm is a ministry gift that functions with decision-making authority regarding the management of resources. A church council or board probably mirrors some of these functions, but not if they only advise the lead pastor. Here’s the issue—you cannot find the role of single pastor/CEO in the NT. Instead you find a plurality of leadership operating under the gifting of the Holy Spirit.
In my tradition, most pastors are trained in Biblical studies, homiletics (crafting sermons), theology, and a hint of counseling (which is simply the application of those Biblical principles).
[No one likes to be picked on, of course, so deep breath through this next part.]
Lead pastors are generally unprepared to give direction to projects and people (by training and gifting). In other words, they may be great at speaking, praying, and counseling, but are less skilled at carrying out the management of services to the congregation and the community.
One could see how we are attempting to follow the Biblical paradigm in our training (that is: the Apostles focused on prayer and Bible study and we train our pastors to focus on prayer and Bible study), but we don’t extend this to the logical conclusion of releasing responsibility to the community and community-appointed servants.
Notice this progression:
- Leadership to us equals making the decisions regarding people and projects in the provision of services. (Meaning, you’re not in charge unless you are deciding how to do things.)
- we vest that authority in our head person, one person—a lead pastor (overseer).
- that person is usually not gifted to make decisions regarding people and projects in the provision of services (just like the Apostles). Instead they are gifted in ministry of the Word and prayer.
- leads to marginalizing those actually gifted in administration (the community-appointed servants of Acts).
- leads to gross mismanagement (If you think government is bad, you should look behind the curtain at most churches!).
The leadership movement has risen out of this vacuum and attempted to vest in a broken model (the pastor as CEO) what was already provided by the Holy Spirit (administratively gifted servants).
Many pastors I know actually have the gift of administration. But because we do not organize as overseers and servants, and they are called into ministry, pastor is the job they take and the term we use.
The key take away is this: the pastor/teacher gift, as we commonly use it, and a gift of administration are not synonymous. They are simply not the same gift.
Our organizational structure is based on a flawed belief. We have incorrectly tried to make our lead pastors the primary minister of the Scripture and our primary decision-making administrator. Until we correct this belief, our organizational structure will never be all it can be.
You cannot try to shoehorn into one person what the Holy Spirit has designed to be shared by a group of people. Well, you can try, I guess, but you’ll end up with the results we’re living with. I want more. I want all God intended.
On to part four.