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Guest Article

Church Structure
By Daniel A. Brown

Sometimes the most obvious truths escape our attention until we find ourselves in a new setting. For instance, even though I had been taught the truth of God's word from boyhood, it was not until after I began attending a Pentecostal church during my college years that I realized how often the Bible exhorted me to "Praise the Lord." The non-charismatic church culture from which I came made me inherently suspicious of borderline danger points that might carry me away into emotionalism—like lifted hands, spoken praise and hymnal-less worship. I still do not know how I had missed such an obvious theme in Scripture, but "Praise God" suddenly made sense to me as a personal encouragement, rather than as mere words or an emphatic (verbal) punctuation mark.

Perhaps that is why I'm always on the lookout for obvious truths that unintentionally become hidden behind well-meaning spiritual attitudes. Take for example our passion and earnest prayers for God to "do something"; as Pentecostals we celebrate spontaneous interventions, miraculous and sovereign activities of the Spirit. And well we should. But a simple reading of the Bible reveals that what God does on earth almost always happens through the agency of individual human beings; He does almost nothing all on his own, without using some person's staff, hand, lips, etc. People are God'ss tool of choice, and that is why Jesus told us to pray for laborers, rather than for the harvest (Matt. 9:37-38).

I'm not suggesting that it is wrong to pray for revival—just that it is an incomplete understanding of how God "moves" unless we have a corresponding passion to mobilize workers for the Harvest: intercession and discipleship; seeking God and sending people. One way to think about why God employs us fallible creatures, is that He wants us to share His excitement by involving us in the very process of rescuing and transforming His children.

In the same way that an overly spiritualized view of God's activity on our planet can cloud a complete picture of how He does things, so too can our feelings about natural vs. spiritual—especially when it comes to subjects like administration and structure in our churches. We who rely on fresh leadings of the Lord in our personal lives and ministry are suspicious of any barriers or limitations that might get put in His way. The very mention of structure frightens many Pentecostal leaders—usually because they fear it will unduly "quench" or interrupt the free flow the Spirit.

But God is not constrained by order; a river with narrower passage flows faster, and a river that overflows its banks is called a flood. Just as God uses flesh and blood people as vessels for His activity, (subjecting the spirit of a prophet to the prophet), so He often makes physical arrangements to sustain spiritual breakthroughs; "God is not a God of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:32-33). From the very beginning of Creation we see God bringing order to chaos, setting up boundaries to distinguish night from day, developing (eco)systems, job descriptions ("Be fruitful and fill?") and arenas of responsibility (Caretakers of the planet).

The Book of Numbers is essentially an administrative handbook on duties and arrangements for God's people, and throughout the Old Testament we find series after series of record-keeping, boundary-defining, tribe-distinguishing, people-deploying and assignment-giving. Whatever their spiritual meaning or implication, these are administrative activities—the stuff of structure and logistics.

What often escapes our Pentecostal Bible-reading is that spiritual matters usually have some sort of organic (logistical "flesh and blood") implications. In fact, the physical arrangements are pivotal in many cases. One excellent example of this is the well-known story of Moses' battle with the Amalekites (Exodus 17). When Moses' hands were extended, Israel prevailed. That will preach! The spiritual implications are huge—spiritual warfare brings victory. Amen.

But notice other details in the episode: Moses' arms needed support to remain aloft (Aaron and Hur); Joshua and others fought an actual physical battle with swords. Without the spiritual power activated by Moses' simple obedience, no victory was possible, but only with physical arrangements, could spiritual victory be sustained.

We see this same picture on the exodus from Egypt just after Moses meets his father-in-law who is bringing back Moses' wife after their lengthy separation (chapter 18). Moses tells Jethro about all the miracles God performed, and they have quite a celebration service. Hallelujah! That, too, will preach. Then we come to these telling words: "And it came about on the next day?" (v. 13). Jethro saw the lack of intentional structure in Moses' approach to ministry, and that every dispute or issue bottlenecked at Moses' feet. Jethro knew that Moses needed an arrangement of people and responsibilities to continue ministering to the people the "next day"—in between miraculous interventions.

One New Testament episode highlights the synergy between logistical planning and spiritual breakthrough. When the revival in Jerusalem spread so rapidly, the Hellenistic widows were getting overlooked in the food distribution. (Have you noticed how spiritual growth causes problems? That will preach—but only to preachers.) This solution was to delegate and make arrangements for physical realities.

Overly spiritualized interpretations of this text mistakenly assume that Peter considered "waiting on tables" less important than the spiritual tasks of prayer and preaching. Actually, since he and the other disciples had already received their "waiter and busboy" training in the feeding of the multitudes some years earlier (see Matthew 14 and 15), Peter understood that such work would be leadership roles. And it was. Stephen's heavenly vision and Phillip's conversion of the Ethiopian flow seamlessly from their structural assignments in the food pantry ministry.

Does structure and over-planning sometimes get in the way of what the Lord wants to do? Of course. I am not saying that we ought to put our trust in well-oiled plans, or rely on administrative structures to accomplish Kingdom enterprise on earth. All plans must be brought under Jesus' Lordship with the simple belief that a God who gave such detailed instructions about the dimensions and materials and furnishings of His Temple, surely has thoughts for arranging the living church in each of its local expressions.

What practical ways can we think about combining structural arrangements—administration, staff positions, etc.—with spiritual pursuits? More specifically, how can we develop and improve our church structures? Let me offer these suggestions for your consideration, recognizing that they must be adapted to fit with your particular situation:

1. Most importantly, think of structure as a verb (an action or process) rather than as a noun (a thing or product). Structure is something to do—arranging stuff where it belongs now, moving things around, getting things to fit together to accomplish a goal—not something to have. Even if you are able to draw a flow chart with boxes and names and lines of accountability for your church, I can tell you that it is already out-dated. People, things and needs have changed. Good administrative asks the question: Who or what needs who or what to do what we're trying to do? The answer may be as simple as drivers for the Junior High event or as complex as someone to oversee various care ministries in the church.

2. That is why good structure is fluid and flexible, adapting to "daily bread" needs. Rigid, bureaucratic models like in the military or industries where workers do the same basic set of things day after day, do not function very well in the church. To begin with, we utilize lots of volunteers, who will get left off such flow charts precisely because they are not "consistent." And, churches do so many different kinds of things each week—CM, crisis counseling, bulletins and worship practice—and such a variety of things each year—Harvest Festivals, jail outreaches, mission teams, etc. It is impossible that the same few people are the best ones for all those jobs!

3. Good structures recognize that position is not as meaningful as involvement. A titled position does not mean that the person holding the title can orr should be that involved in the actual work that must be done. Going back to the example of a Junior High event, the ideal scenario would be for the Youth Pastor to arrange things (time, information, etc.) to find and involve someone else in finding the drivers. Without intentional arrangements, pastors fall into the same trap as Moses, assuming there is no alternative to doing everything themselves. Who else and how else can I get other people involved in this project is a question that will make you a better administrator.

4. Since churches' programs are mostly short-lived activities, good structure will maximize the use of small workgroups, differing combinations of personnel with changed roles from the last project. For instance, the Youth Pastor and the dad who organized the drivers for the Junior High event might both be part of a team planning the Father/Son fishing derby; as a married man with a son, the dad probably knows more about what and how to plan than the single youth pastor does—for this event. And if they're smart, they will invite a mom or two to get in on the planning too. Our question is Who can think about this project better than I can, and who has knowledge that I lack?

5. You've heard the saying, "Doing things right is not as important as doing right things." I do not think it has to be an either/or choice, but if we grasp the priority expressed by the statement, I would put it this way about structure: "Avoiding mistakes is not as important as empowering people enough to make mistakes." Good structure increases overall productivity by pushing the decision-making power to the front most positions in the organization, not by restricting the power to a few individuals at the top. The whole point of having designated areas of responsibility is to release people to maximize their decision-making and minimize their permission-asking. As I told a staff person last week,"I'd rather have you pray/think about and then make a decision—even if it turns out to be the wrong one—rather than await my decision about things for which you are responsible."

6. As obvious as it sounds, the whole point of administration and structure is to better enable a church to accomplish its purposes in/with the lives of its people. Thus, the structure must match the goals of the church. Let's take cell groups. We emphasize cell groups in our church because one of our goals is to keep encouraging people toward ministry leadership roles. That is also why our cell groups are structured to have apprentice leaders, and why we have lay leaders overseeing clusters of cell groups, and yet another layer of lay leaders (two couples) who minister to those cluster leaders. If your church's main assignment is to gather the flock to listen to teaching, cell groups would be counter-productive. Thus, good administrators ask the question: What does our planned-for structure communicate to people? (Have you noticed that people watch what we do much more than they listen to what we say?)

7. Here's another obvious thought: the structures we have in place ought to actually work. By "work" I mean that they are enabling the church to carry out lots of ministry activity without the leader's direct oversight or involvement. The amount that even a "gifted" leader can do on her own, is small compared to what she and three key program-staff members can do, and that pales in comparison to what she, those staff and the nine additional volunteers can accomplish. A church does not have to be big to have great people doing amazing things by partnering with other great people. But a church of any size does have to have a leader who arranges things in such a way as to make such partnership the norm rather than the exception.

8. As Pentecostals we thrill with the understanding that Jesus gave ministry gifts to His church; we are each uniquely capacitated by Him and the Spirit to be particular parts of the Body. Some are prophets, others are exhorters; teachers, mercy-showers and givers sit alongside evangelists, servers and pastors. Paul explained that a church body builds itself up in love when each part is actively and efficiently working the way it is supposed to work. Good church structures recognize, celebrate and promote gift-mix diversity. Most likely, an exhorter will be more relational and less organized than a teacher if asked to head up the coffee ministry. And if one is passing the coffee baton to the other, some of the job is bound to get lost in the transition. The neat thing is that something new will grow back in its place.

9. Lastly, remember that all structure is merely artificial. There is no actual spiritual life in it at all. Little of eternity is affected by shifting service times a half hour backward, or by changing someone's title from assistant to associate. The implications of that can sound almost the opposite of what I've been saying thus far. Structure is disposable—meant to be used rather than preserved; like an umbrella it works until it breaks, or until the sun comes out. Like clothes, they wear out. As fresh and new as our systems and structures begin, they all eventually require significant readjustment, and sometimes it's best just to trash them and start over with new structures for new seasons.

The Bible tells us that David, a man after God's heart, led Israel with a combination of integrity and ingenuity; he was both spiritual and skillful (Psalm 79:72). That understanding will preach! And it will make us more effective preachers.

By Daniel A. Brown, Ph.D. From www.coastlands.org. Used with permission of the author.