December 15, 2012
Churches throughout the world teach the Good News in diverse settings. Some churches use a the pulpit to deliver their message every Sunday, while others take a more organic approach meeting outside the walls of the church in several places to deliver the message of Jesus Christ. In America, the mission of the church is set against an environment of secularism. Secular values of diversity and extreme liberty have created a culture of ‘anything goes’ that leads to ambivalence among unbelievers. The universal belief in today’s culture is that if it works for someone, it is acceptable but if it does not work for someone then it can be ignored. The spirit of truth itself is under attack in the form of diversity and in the propensity to place Christian values in the framework of culture rather than the other way around. In the midst of this situation, each church structure offers different benefits and drawbacks to the Christian mission of bringing the gospel to all the corners of the earth. As such, church structure can be developed in tandem with the needs of the people that the church serves such that the unchanging gospel message and the mission it entails can reach the people in a way that best suits them. The best church structure, then, is one that is fundamentally focused on missions as the purpose of its existence and that crosses with the other structures that best allow for church’s growth.
Traditional Church Structure
Each church structure ascends out of a different set of beliefs about human community and organization. The traditional church structure adheres to an organizational philosophy that is hierarchical with singular unified leadership and an attentive followership. This structure has the advantage of clear leadership and potentially fewer deviations from scriptural truth and from missional goals. A hierarchical structure has roots in the theological structure of the kingdom of God where God rules without question and without democratic votes. Human communities may thrive with democratic structures, but when humans mix with the divine democracy is no longer a viable option. The traditional structure also appeals to a culture that values authority and admires knowledge and expertise. On the other hand, it may not appeal as strongly to cultures founded on independent ideals and tendencies toward questioning authority because the people will not inherently value the direction of their leaders. This is not a matter of respect; it is a matter of value. If people respect but do not highly value the authority of leaders, they tend not to respond as positively to a hierarchical organization. The exception to this rule is if a church has a pastor who is able to inspire change. Such a pastor is able to organize people and resources toward the goals that the church has set and its specific interpretation of the mission. A transformative pastor tends to be irreplaceable, however, because a certain amount of what might be characterized as hero worship ensues among the members and the absence of the leader causes a sense of loss within the church that is difficult to replace. When missioning within a church of a traditional structure, then, it is customary for the pastor to recognize and respond to the internal needs of members as a part of church building. It is sometimes difficult, however, for a traditional church to respond to the external culture within which the church is located. The recognition of needs can enable the pastor to guide the direction and development of educational programs to grow the church and encourage the membership through inviting new members, but outreach programs tend to be more inward-looking.
The Attractional Church
Attractional approaches to ministry are very popular today. Mega churches like Saddleback and its pastor Rick Warren, and Willow Creek and its pastor Bill Hybels, have had...