…on to the next controversial topic. Last week we “flipped the script” on generosity, asking whether most church budgets model generosity for their members and to their communities. Now we’re going to follow the logic and central assumptions of our blog series and “flip” something else – the organizational structure of nearly all of today’s churches.
The concept that “members ARE the church and not the ‘customer’” dictates that churches…
Squash the Org Chart…
Pastors Move Down
The prevailing hierarchy in the respective roles of pastors versus members should flatten. As “insiders”, members should no longer leave the heavy lifting to the “professionals”. Relegating church members to a role as inviters rather than trained evangelists demeans them and unduly elevates pastors by comparison. Companies can expect no more of customers than to secure referrals. However, churches should either raise the standards for members or risk treating them as “customers”. Members should “close the sale” – not just bring people to church but to the Lord. Most churchgoers feel unqualified to do so because leaders were hesitant to challenge them to become disciples. Consequently, they default to letting the pastors handle “closings”.
In that respect, pastors act as the “church” while the members are their “customers”. Yet pastors are not the embodiment of church, nor are the staff. They are the paid workers; the lead teachers and administrators. They should not be elevated to a position they were not intended to occupy.
“Pastor dominated” sounds like a negative way to describe a church – and it is. Yet by our definition, nearly every church today in America is “pastor dominated”. This is not an isolated issue. It’s not restricted to prosperity or mega churches. Only a church heavily engaged in deep personal discipleship and challenging members to BE the church in the community – to the point where it’s having a noticeable impact – can be considered adequately “flattened”.
Members Move Up
In “pastor-dominated” churches, members are not considered “insiders” (i.e. assets or stakeholders in a corporate sense). They don’t share the leadership load. They’re seen as voluntary, casual participants that leaders need to keep happy or they’ll leave the church.
The alternative, diminishing the status of pastors and elevating the standing of all others by comparison, will meet with resistance. Yes, flipping the org chart does involve costs, but they are minute relative to the enormous upside:
- Pastor stepping down from any pedestal and accepting no greater recognition than that of any other member
- Losing some “consumers” who aren’t ready to accept a role involving more responsibility
- More disciples
- More “leverage”
- More growth
- More servants bringing help and hope to the world around them
- More churches known for love and compassion
Where is POWER held?
Pastors are servants called by God to teach and to shepherd a flock, as Jesus did. There’s no room for taking on a role of greater importance than the “flock”, particularly because doing so severely inhibits the proliferation of the gospel. Unfortunately there’s a long history in Christian churches (as well as other religions) of viewing leaders as more holy and closer to God than anyone else in the church. In too many cases, a church’s viability hangs on the popularity and celebrity of the pastor. If the pastor retires or dies, the church may too.
As an illustration of the issue, fewer and fewer churches have deacons and elders today. They’re “pastor led” without lay member involvement in leadership. As a result, fewer congregants are empowered to:
- Provide input into important decisions
- Hold the senior pastor accountable
- Lead discipleship efforts
- Even form a search committee if the pastor is hit by the proverbial bus
Churches should have a strong “cabinet” of empowered and equipped lay leaders, not necessarily for the purpose of setting direction, but to take “ownership” of their role as the living, breathing church. There is far more growth potential in a church where members are given some authority to lead as opposed to a pastor-led “genius with a thousand helpers”. Churches need less centralized control, not more. As opposed to the preponderance of articles and books today, revitalizing a church is not about leading better, it’s about leading less and empowering more.
Where is KNOWLEDGE held?
The differential is far too great between the Biblical and evangelistic knowledge of pastors and members. As opposed to many other religions throughout history, in today’s churches that knowledge gap arises not out of a desire to exploit but a fear to challenge. There is too much reliance on the pastor to teach while the vast majority of congregants sit back, enjoy the show and head home. As evidence of this “consumer” mindset, how many criticize the sermon, make suggestions to the pastor on how to improve it, and decide whether to come back based on how well they were “fed”?
A pastor can’t provide enough deep, challenging content during a 30 minute sermon once a week, particularly with part of the church committed Christians and the rest visitors or non-Christians. So where else are congregants going to get the deeper stuff? Pastors don’t challenge members adequately to do self study and small groups aren’t intensive enough to qualify as discipleship. Only personal discipleship can close the knowledge gap. There’s tremendous power in sharing versus centralizing knowledge. Leverage is created in the number of people now equipped to represent and expand the organization. With a strong discipleship program, churchgoers will feel far more confidence in their ability to share their faith and bring people to Christ.
Where is RESPONSIBILITY held?
Pastors and staff alone can’t materially impact a church’s true “customer”, the community. A company or church must have “all hands on deck”, trained and active in pursuing and serving the organizations “customer”. Yet few churchgoers sense that as a “responsibility”. Instead they see evangelism and serving others as an option. I would contend that most go so far as to pat themselves on the back each time they do either. Doesn’t the prevalence of that perception confirm once and for all that too many churches are failing to teach the Great Commission as an imperative?
To flip the org chart, pastors should make it clear that “We’re ALL in THIS together”. The “THIS” is the cause of reaching the community and world for Christ. The “ALL” reflects that members are “insiders”, equally responsible as pastors for accomplishing that mission. Pastors are simply the coaches, strategizers and organizers, responsible for rallying and mobilizing the troops into action. Churches should no longer underutilize its most critical resource – the manpower sitting idle in the pews. However, rather than seeing members as a resource to be utilized, most pastors fear challenging them lest they take their “business” elsewhere.
It’s your turn…
In America’s churches, did pastors usurp power, knowledge and responsibility or did members abdicate them?
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