There is an escalating debate concerning church governance methods. I’m not sure if it’s a growing disenfranchisement with the megachurch model or if that has always existed. Perhaps it flares up during lead pastor transitions, such as I have been in since October 1, 2017.
This is an especially difficult week as news broke of a second pastor just this month who has taken his own life. I am grieved by this, but also understand the loneliness such an undertaking that shepherding can be. This week, one of my friends likened the calling of shepherding a church to requiring the CEO abilities of John Maxwell, the depth of scripture insight of C. S. Lewis, and the speaking ability of Ronald Reagan. All of these faculties need to be able to be drawn upon in a moment’s notice. As I look at the state of the church in America, where I live and serve, there are a number of things I would want to say to our church about how we function. I fully believe that the Lord has angel armies protecting those who do His work in His name and to the best of their abilities, in His ways. This is not an apology for church leadership as much as it is a group of essays for our church. The questions noted below may be part of ongoing conversations.
- How do we organize ourselves?
- Who makes the decisions?
- What is the process by which church business is done?
- What exactly does God’s Word say or not say about all of this?
These are some of the questions that start to rise to the top and especially when the senior teaching pastor changes. We have some guardrails and clear direction about how the church was set up and how it ran in the New Testament, while at the same time, a certain amount of flexibility in structure and methods can actually be quite wide. I thought it would be beneficial for our church to focus on some passages that offer clarity. There are other sources that speak to these questions with more experience and greater intellect, no doubt. One of the purposes for me to personally set about stating some convictions and teaching on the subject would be to specifically help Generations Christian Church staff, leadership, and body understand my heart on such matters.
Two Different Experiences
We really learn the most by what we live. It’s only then we can apply the knowledge from the text (books) more accurately. Jen and I experienced the craziest polar opposite in our church models at formative ages. Here is one context we found ourselves in. Even before we were married, Sundays would start with me loading up the guitar and picking Jen up at her dorm on campus at Cincinnati Christian University. We would drive for about an hour and a half to Orange, Indiana. The building had no air conditioning and was over 100 years old. We had the opportunity to organize our first youth trips, church picnics, and pretty much try everything we were learning about in school at the time. For a short time while serving at Orange Christian Church, we would lead worship on Sunday mornings, teach Sunday school, preach in big church, and then hold youth meetings on Sunday afternoons. I remember our highest attendance was an Easter Sunday service with 150 people. As we look back on that time, we fondly remember relationships that are strong to this day and kingdom fruit. We were called to be shepherds and serve at that church. We were clueless and made many mistakes, but God was so good and His plan for the local church worked!
The dichotomy of our church experience at that time was actually the broadest it could possibly be. While we were ministering at this small country church in rural Indiana, Jen and I had also started a worship band at our school. We led weekly services for the students on campus and had some opportunities to travel and do some larger events. As the band had some success, we attracted some talented players whose weekend ministry experiences were quite different than what Jen and I were accustomed to. Our drummer and electric guitar players were interns at Southeast Christian Church. In the mid-to-late 90s, the worship center at Southeast was still new and so large that it held the North American Christian Convention at one time. We even recorded a CD in the middle of the night on the main stage. When our guitar player, Matt Davidson, got married I remember spending the weekend with my friend’s boss, Greg Allen, who was the Worship Pastor at Southeast. Jen and I interviewed for a college-age teaching position in 1997 and ended up recruiting four more players from Southeast over the next ten years. Our tour bus had a regular stop in Louisville. For a long season, Jen and I had a window into the lives touched by this massive church, and we were friends with kids who sat in meetings with leadership, and what developed for us was a profound respect and love for the kingdom work God was doing through this megachurch of megachurches. We never attended a Sunday, but our closest friends were being personally discipled by key figures in leadership there. What we gleaned more than anything was a sense that there were shepherds. Our friends were being cared for and nurtured. We no longer saw a huge parking lot and an overwhelming stage. Our focus was on the shepherding that was happening in the lives of our friends.
How different could these two worlds be that we had experienced? We would be dropping a bass player off in the parking lot of one of the largest churches in the world and then rushing back to Orange, Indiana to preach to 45 people. The pastoral staff meeting at Southeast was ten times larger than our whole church! How beautiful is the design that the living Word of God gave clear direction to these two separate and very different expressions of Christ in their complexity and scale. God knew all of this. God constructed guardrails for church governance that would work for a situation with a single church planter in his own living room to a movement of churches across a large suburban area. I see the power and deity of our Lord even in the forethought of how His instructions, and our need for them, could last for 2,000 years. The following are a reflection of what my personal experience has shown me.
- God is in control.
- We have all we need to love, teach, lead, and serve the Bride.
- The church can operate and have success in many different contexts.
- We are each responsible only for our own context God has placed us in.
The Greatest Shepherd
The highest binding truths of our faith are centered on the work of Christ, Who He is, and the perfect example He sets for us. In the model of Christ’s three-year ministry, many, including non-believers, would argue that He is the greatest leader in the entire course of human history. Yet, Jesus never taught leadership classes in the sense we teach them. We can’t find an account where Jesus talks about seven ways to be more successful in the thriving but arduous fish market of Galilee. It can be as simple as semantics. The principles Jesus taught were the greatest leadership principles ever taught, because He is God. His every lesson was profound. Maybe the best way anyone has described what Jesus perfectly modeled for us is servant leadership.
Jesus modeled this perfect leadership, and He calls all His followers to practice His example. What further explanation can we find to emphasize this model? Jesus identifies Himself on multiple occasions as the Good Shepherd. He also asks Peter to continue this work and to feed His sheep. Think of the illustration drawn of the shepherd leading the sheep up the mountain to escape flooding in the valley or escape predators. Just when the time is right, the shepherd leads the sheep on a narrow path through treacherous ground that only he knows to a hidden water source. I imagine that the terrain is perfect for the shepherd to watch all the sheep and guard against enemies while they unknowingly and peacefully drink. Way before the mountain storm is noticed by the sheep, the good shepherd guides his flock down to a valley place. Even though they don’t want to lie down, they obey his direction, because he knows what tomorrow brings. This is the backdrop painted for the reader of Psalm 23. The good shepherd constantly thinks of his sheep first and goes to whatever length necessary to serve the sheep. How awkward would it be for one of the sheep in Psalm 23 to say, “I had some questions on what authority you have to make all the decisions around here.” It is absurd, because it just never happens. When people are served, they are grateful. Jesus tells us in John 10:27 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” This is the model He calls pastors to strive towards.
This is hardly a comprehensive philosophy on Who Christ is and how we are to organize ourselves and carry out the Great Commission until His return. It is, however; a start to a conversation about those things. Jesus commands us to make disciples, teaching them to obey all that He has commanded. Therefore, as a starting point, I believe it is in His design to appoint and uphold teachers. Teachers should be on a path to become more like Jesus. The starting place should be the same that Christ had, submission to the will of the Father and servant-hood towards others. This was the posture of Christ’s heart. I have seen this take place in home churches and I have seen this happen across denominational lines. I have seen this Great Commission carried out on college campuses with short-term relationships. I have seen this happen in country churches. I have seen this happen in the largest churches in our nation. At the end of the day, it takes a shepherd.
It is my prayer that this group of essays continues to build the biblical knowledge of our church. May our confidence in the strategies we have chosen be based on the text that guides us. May our eyes be opened to the Holy Spirit as His work is done in accordance with 1 Corinthians 12.
- Jesus and Church Polity
- Two young Pastors and the instruction they get: Timothy & Titus
- The Seven stars that Jesus holds in His hands: A look at the church in Revelation
- What implications does the Old Testament model have for us on church polity today?
- What is the case for vocational leadership in today’s world? Double Honor.
- What are Deacons and are they necessary for church governance today?
- What North American Governance lens are we projecting onto the text unknowingly?