Understanding that the New Testament hands us little in the way of church organizational structure, we also recognize an essential need for a structure of some kind that is both efficient and effective in carrying out the mission of the church, which is made amply clear.
Perhaps the reason for this lack of detail regarding structure is owing to the fact that there is a timeless, divine perspective on the church as a collective body of believers linked together by a common Spirit and mission that is often lost in our cultural, human perspective on such things as purpose, leadership, authority, responsibility, and accountability.
Most tradition-bound churches operate from an organizational structure based on the American business model and corporate management principles of the last century. Words such as “business meeting”, “committee”, “board”, “chairman”, and “Constitution and By-laws”, are obviously non-biblical terms.
Organizational charts usually illustrate a “top-down” management structure with the Senior Pastor at the top of the “Chain-of-command.” This is often more a perception than a reality in that it almost never incorporates the church as a whole. Therefore, it almost never accurately portrays the church’s true structure in terms of authority, responsibility, and accountability.
The big flaw in this common church structure is that it misrepresents, undermines, and shackles biblical leadership. The big failure is that the mission of the church becomes less important than the management of the church. The big fix is a fundamental shift in the church’s values, practices, and priorities.
We have enough of the historical church in the New Testament to see it as a movement of God through his people as empowered by the Holy Spirit. We see it as a movement that transcends culture and human society without ignoring context and the necessity for organizing people to carry out its purpose as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The Chain of Commission depicted below might be a better way of understanding a church structure that is moving under he Lordship of Christ. He is the point of the spear. He is the Head of the Body and the Great Shepherd of the sheep. In this model, called and gifted biblical leaders truly lead the church as they follow Christ. Leaders and those they lead are both empowered and linked together as practitioners of the Gospel and partners with God in the work of the Kingdom.
GROUPS> ----- TEAMS> ----- MINISTRY> ----- Pastors/Elders> ----- The Body of Christ> ----- The Head/Shepherd>>>>>>>>>
In the Chain of Commission model, Christ empowers the church, the church empowers biblical leaders, and the leaders empower the people, providing the leadership, equipping, and vision for fulfilling the mission. The key question is not “Who’s in charge?” but “Who’s leading the charge?"
Hal West spent 33 years as a pastor with an emphasis on creating effective change and transition in a traditional church setting. He is the President of Compass Coach and Consulting (compasscoachandconsulting.com) whose mission is to assist pastors and churches find the road to success. He has authored 3 books. His latest is The Pickled Priest and the Perishing Parish: Boomer Pastors Bouncing Back (CrossBooks Publishing, 2011)
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