See… I still write about the church…
The church always organizes. Always.
(For example, even when two friends gather together as the church, there is still organization: where, when, who, etc…)
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the difference between the church and organization. During this time, these three (generalized) categories came to mind:
- A bad organization hinders (intentionally or unintentionally) the work of the church in order to build up or sustain the organization.
- A neutral organization does not hinder the work of the church.
- A good organization is willing to sacrifice itself so that the church can build itself up.
So, if these are decent (broad… general… never completely true or completely false) categories… then the goal should never be to remove organization regarding the church. (In fact, I don’t think that’s possible.)
Instead, our goal should always be to examine the organization (and every aspect of the organization) to ensure that it is not hindering the work of the church in building itself up.
Of course… this is not always easy, especially when we are part of that organization.
17 Comments on “Some quick thoughts on the church and organization”
I always enjoy riding this hobby.
The church in the Bible is no more organized than a family. Or, to make it sound like a lecture, the church in the Bible is an organism and the church on the corner is an organization. Two or three friends, meeting as the church, may be organized; but the group is not an organization.
When I was in college, some students met frequently for worship. The closest we got to organization was to see one of the regulars on the quad, decide to meet that evening and agree to gather at so-and-so’s apartment after supper. Even so, a history of our group would sound like the book of Acts. Including a warning from the administration to stop meeting or find another college. (It was a denominational college.)
To play out the family analogy,
The Smith family may operate the Smith Company, but the company is not the family. The Smith family is created by the parents; the Smith Company is created by the family.
The company exists for the benefit of the family, not the other way around.
Not every Smith is in the company. Some choose not to be, others are not allowed to be. Nevertheless, they are all Smiths.
The family may operate several businesses according to the preferences of various groups of Smiths.
Jim… thanks for sharing your thoughts. Even a family has some amount of organization.
What you suggest is VERY hard to do when our translations feed us bogus translations. Example: 1 Timothy 5:17
“Let the elders who rule well…” The word rule is not in this verse but it is put here to satisfy the desires of those who want to practice sacerdotal routines. This makes it sound mandatory to have a ruling class in the church. This example is only one of many.
Thanks for the reply, Tim. I think fewer translations are using the term “rule” now. Either way, we can all look at the organizations and ask if it is helping or hindering the church.
I checked my translation comparison and found the majority still use “rule”. However, when the preacher is lecturing about his alleged special status, he will bring in the “rule” word or some other compatible authoritarian term. I read through “Biblical Eldership” by Alexander Strauch more than once. He, and everyone who follows his version of eldering are deep into authority for a few. I remember recognizing that his basis for his claim was so weak and distorted from anything considered expository.
I read Strauch’s book long ago. Like most books on the subject, I found some good ideas and some questionable ones.
Human is a creature with an mind which has the ability to organize. Whether 2 or 3 individuals agree to come together for a clear purpose, they will organize themselves to form a body. The 1st body is a family, a larger body is the village, and so on.
A church is simply an organized body of multiple members who agree to gather together for worshipping. There is always a structure of hierarchy in a body, so it may function well. In the body of a man, the brain is the control center and it gives order to all other members to act. Removing the brain, the body just stop working.
For the same reason, the church also has elders or leaders to maintain the order and ensure its functions work in a smooth and correct way. It is not possible for the church to work well and not to have elders, or leaders to rule it.
Thanks for the comment, Duc. Even those who disagree about the form of organization recognize that the church organizes. My purpose in this post is 1) to help us distinguish between that organization (way of organizing) and the church itself and 2) to consider the importance of the organization vs the church.
I love the way you can unoffensively point to the elephant in the room. By admitting that organization exists, however simple or complex it may be, we can evaluate that organization. It is not helpful to evaluate it by it’s level of simplicity or complexity, levels of hierarchy vs flatness, or any other measure that only looks at structure. As you suggest, structure can be neutral, negative or positive. We only presuppose that how a church takes shape is itself good or bad. We can argue about that without ever having any basis other than what we prefer. That is arbitrary and subjective. And pretty often puts tradition above scripture.
But you are proposing that we measure the structure against “the work of the church.” This gives us an objective measure. Well, at least it moves the conversation towards a scriptural basis for how we shape (and potentially re-adjust) ourselves. The rub is in coming to agreement about what constitutes the work of the church. If we gain agreement on these principles, then we can examine how well our organization supports those in practice. Or how well our form facilitates the functions we agree are the work of the church.
So, if we accept subjecting our organizational designs to the scrutiny of the work of the church, what is the work of the church? How do we come to agreement about that?
I’m not suggesting that all men everywhere will agree to any set of principles or functions that constitute the work of the church. I imagine that these standards or purposes or functions or principles should be whatever the members agree it is (and hopefully, continue to grow in those understandings). Having agreed on them, then they have a biblical basis to evaluate what they are doing by how well it helps or how much it hurts in achieving these.
So, how do we (in a given church) 1. agree to define these and 2. agree to measure our practices and forms by them, and 3. agree to make structural, organizational changes that improve our performance in doing these things that define the work of the church? (and then, to close the loop, over time to re-examine what we believe is the work of the church, measure, and adjust our organization again).
Churches don’t even seem to do this for the grand visions and missions they state as “the work of this church is to…”
Glad you blogging again!
Thanks for the comment and kind words, Art! I love how you can break this down into steps. But where’s the chart?
No way to attach images 🙁 But I sent you one via email.:)
Jn 12:24 ‘unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit’ Church ‘organizations’ today are not willing to die to accomplish their mission–to equip the Body to do the work of Christ in our world.
Thank you Alan, for a very simple way to understand our church organizations. I’ve wrestled a lot with the whole organization aspect of the Body and have come to the understanding that organization is indeed part of the Church and this gives me a better lens in which to view it.
Thanks for the comment, Heartspeak. I think many people wrestle with the organization vs church question… sometimes even when they don’t realize what they’re wrestling with. I hope my thoughts encourage people in those struggles (struggles which are good, I think).
Good stuff, Alan. I would add that organizations, like water, can be fluid or rigid. It’s not necessarily wrong to be rigid, but with rigidity comes certain costs and benefits. Fluidity also comes with tradeoffs. Icebergs are beautiful, majestic, and enjoy a permanence that fluid water does not enjoy. Water in fluid form can fit in places an iceberg could never go. I think the believers in the US would do well to acknowledge the value of different expressions of organization to express different facets of God’s heart, purpose, and mission.
Thanks for the comment, Joel. I’ll think about your analogy between organization and water/icebergs.
Happy to see you blogging again!
I think organizing or coordinating time, meals together and special events together is different than being an established Organization/Institution. My experience has been that coordinating time together does not equal an Organization, but if out of fear, I want to protect the time, meals, etc… I will create an Organization/instatution to protect the way I think the function of the organized times should work.
I think fear of getting off track produced Organizations and institutions.
Alan – great post!
Thanks, Dan. They are both different types of organizations. And I agree that fear can be a contributing factor that perpetuates damaging organization.