As I continue my exploration of Christian church organization, specifically focusing on U.S. evangelicals, I need to make something clear from the outset: There is no single, perfect organizational model for all churches.
You would think that this is obvious but it’s not. It’s not even obvious in business management. Elliott Jaques’s ideas of Real Boss and work levels is brilliant but he got into some massive problems insisting that every organization he saw needed to be a Management Accountability Hierarchy. Not even all business organizations need it. You can be a genius and still be blinded by your way of seeing things, which I pointed out in our discussion of Warren Kinston & Jimmy Algie’s seven decision making approaches.
So it’s probably a good idea for us to get this in early.
Even so, I know that most of us need simplified model. I think that I’ve gotten it down to three or four that serve our purposes.
Why is there no single, best model? Because humans aren’t that simple. We’re complex and our gatherings are complex. One single model won’t cover all our needs.
And there have certainly been several models used in history. There are so many, in fact, that most of the ones that people show off as the New Model for Church! is really just some old model but without the improvements made to it over the last five centuries. We’ll have to dip into some history to understand how these old models worked, and how they demonstrate the weaknesses of the people using them today who don’t know any better.
We have to get to the extant models in use (what’s really there) as opposed to the stated models. People tend to think that they are, say, congregationalist — a model where the congregation makes all the major decisions — when they are actually elitist authoritarian, where a small group of religious elite make them without discussions with the community members. It’s just like looking at how a company is really organized and makes decisions as opposed to the official organizational chart.
We’ll have to be pretty strict about definitions. Fuzzy thinking comes all too often from fuzzy language. Clear language and proper naming must underly the rest in order to escape the muck of the organizational thinking amongst today’s evangelicals. (Don’t get too smug: business management thinking is just as bad, and is often the source of Evangelicals’ bad thinking.) I’ll be using some examples that I find around the web, and I suspect it will be largely from church plants. I’ll also be examining how the maligned mainline models actually work, so we can see all the options.
Next up in this thread is probably some definitions.
Church near Junction City, Kansas. ca. 1942. John Vachon, photographer. US Library of Congress collection.