When the church goes corporate (part 10)

In recent years many large churches have been challenged with organizational issues of a magnitude smaller churches never grapple with. I believe that many of these large churches have naively turned to a corporate or business model to try to solve their organizational problems. They reasoned, “These strategies have worked well in corporations, so let’s implement them in the church.”

But as I’ve attempted to demonstrate briefly above, corporations and churches do not share the same goals and cannot function successfully within the same model. Imagine a corporation implementing the church model in which their goal becomes building relationships, not making money. No employees are expendable. All leadership is shared and servant-based. There are no metrics, simply values. It might be fun to work in such a corporation—until the money runs out! The church model will not work for the corporation! Why would we think the corporate model would work for the church?

What about a very large church with a large paid staff? Aren’t we forced to step into a more corporate model where staff like this is involved? To answer that question let me ask, What has changed? What is different with a large staff versus a solo pastor of a small church? There are a number of differences which could be summed up with the word complexity. But have the goals, means, values, etc. changed? I trust not! So why impose a corporate model that is inappropriate for the church?

The crux comes down to this: “Christ is the head of the church, which is his body.” (Colossians 1:18 NLT) Jesus Christ–-no man or woman or board—is the Head! We, the church must look to our Head, our Leader. How do we do that? It must be through shared leadership. How can I say that? Because shared leadership is relational. A corporate CEO model of leadership is not.

I currently serve in a large church as one of the pastors with administrative duties: all the staff report to me and I have responsibility for the finances, the facility and leadership training. But I’m a member of a leadership team. Through prayer we seek God’s direction and act when consensus is reached. I cannot begin to count the times when I would’ve made a dumb decision apart from the interaction and input of the team and our dependence on the Holy Spirit to lead us together. Such shared leadership is holy, reassuring for the church family and spiritually protected.

A strong leader on a church staff often has a bent for efficiency. And we should look for ways to print the church bulletin or check kids in on Sunday morning more efficiently. But when leadership becomes enamored with a corporate model of efficiency, it loses sight of relationships, because relationships are rarely efficient. Relationships get messy and get in the way of efficiency. Christ has called us to relationships in the church not efficiency. Shared leadership is holy because Christ’s people are coming together relationally seeking his mind. In his presence he changes us.

Shared leadership is incredibly reassuring to the church family. When a team of elders, who are enthralled with God and exude Christ’s character, spend time praying for God’s guidance and he gives them a unanimous decision, the church rests confident in its spiritual leaders and in Christ. In Acts 15 the apostles and elders in Jerusalem met together to discuss a very important issue. After coming to consensus, they wrote a letter to the churches. In that letter they said, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” What assurance and refreshment the recipients of that letter enjoyed in that statement!

Finally, there is strong spiritual protection in shared leadership. When the leadership at the church of Antioch was worshiping the Lord and fasting, “the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” (Acts 13:2) The church knew that this decision was not simply the bright idea of one of its members or the dictate of an overbearing leader. This was a team leadership decision in which the Holy Spirit led the whole team. Imagine the security and confidence that gave Paul and Barnabas as they went out under difficult circumstances and experienced persecution.

The corporate model is a good one—for corporations, but not for a church. Let me leave you with the following out of Ephesians 4:11-16 (NLT):

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.

Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

©2009 Rob Fischer