The Right Way To Do Church

Before I really get started on some church organization stuff, I want to clarify my position on what is the right way to “do church”. If we’re honest, what we do as churches today is mostly created by us. We like to claim that we use a biblical approach or that we do things the way the New Testament church did them, but there is really no basis for that statement when it comes to how our churches are organized and the way they are led. There’s not a New Testament directive for elders being in charge and making decisions. There’s no discussion on whether we should use a treasurer or a finance ministry. The hiring and firing of ministers and staff is a completely foreign concept to the New Testament church.

In fact, the claiming of the New Testament precedent really works against us. What we’re actually doing is claiming biblical authority for our traditions, which makes them above evaluation and change. This is very unfortunate because for most of our churches it is the issue of organization that works against us most in our efforts to evangelize and grow. Unless we can evaluate and change the way we are organized, we will continue to suffer the same ineffectiveness that we’ve experienced over the years.

So, what is the right way to do things? The truth of the matter is that there is no right way to do things. Lots of different models have been successful in lots of different places. Most genuine efforts to produce healthy organization can succeed. Whether you choose to let the elders lead the church, a single minister/pastor, or a strategic leadership committee, they can all be successful.

This may be surprising. It surprised me when I came to this realization. Having grown up in a particular church model that was very hierarchical and having worked as a minister in this type of environment I was predisposed to being anti-hierarchy. At a particularly low point in my career I did some substantial research on whether elder-led churches were biblical. What I found, interestingly, was that most of the literature addressing this topic was written about denominational organization that involved being pastor-led. The complaints were the same in both systems. It turns out that the negative aspects of leadership were consistent regardless of the system that was in place.

As it turns out, any system that covers essential basics can be successful in church organization. Any approach to church has a chance to be successful as long as specific areas are covered.

I’m going to start addressing some of these areas, but before I do why don’t you tell us what you think the essential areas that need to be covered are.

14 Responses to The Right Way To Do Church

  1. Great Stuff Brad! I will be following this series with great interest.

    Shepherding/ family care has to be the main focus from my perspective–I believe when we care for the flock, evangelism springs naturally from it. here at Orange Grove, I serve as both preaching minister and as an elder–I see the two as being totally intertwined. I dislike having to make any kind of business decision and tend to push us into letting those who are better qualified make those kinds of decisions. We don’t do any of it perfectly for sure!

    • Les- I’ve followed your journey to shepherding over the last few years. I’m interested to know how you are doing things differently if at all.

      The thing that has intriqued me about the whole decision making thing in regards to elders is the implied magic wand they receive when they’re appointed. We take guys who meet a certain set of spiritual criteria and suddenly expect them to be fully qualified organizational managers, complex financial consultants, church growth experts, and human resources professionals. When we actually say the words it sounds crazy, but in effect it is what we do. It’s unfair to the church and it is unfair to the men whom we place the unrealistic expectations on.

  2. Laurel Starkey says:

    I’m looking forward to reading this. I think you’re right — there’s problems with any kind of structure because we are human and fallible. I would love it if you addressed the issue of women in leadership. Our fellowship is all over the board on that one and the divide line tends to be generational.

  3. Allen Coker says:

    From my reading tonight, this is known as contingency theory. CT says that you find the best match of organizational approach to fit the environment you are in. I like your point about how pattern theology about structure has actually limited us.

    • Brad Palmore says:


      Contingency theory is a little different, though similar. I’m saying any genuine attempt at church org stands a chance. Instead of no right ways, CT suggests there are many different right ways of organization contingent upon the particulars of the situation.

      However, even this approach reveals how poorly we’ve done in church org. We’ve said that there is one model that fits all scenarios, which is foolish to say and even sillier to practice.

      But what about those common essentials that need to be covered in any church org system?

  4. Doug Young says:

    Brad…I think your first two paragraphs are amazing. They definitely speak to why I am on a hiatus from local pulpit work.

    As for the areas that need to be covered, I would love to see the you tap into church structure. For years, I’ve decried certain denominational structures, especially Catholic, but it seems from Romans and Titus, that elders might have been appointed for every city. It sure seems that the church at Rome is a series of satellite groups, doesn’t it?

    Structure is one thing, but a real look at the roles of elders/deacons would help as well. I agree with you, I think most of what we implement is counter-productive to the Restoration plea, because it is of human origin and is set up to protect the system itself. The only hope is to tap into the Word and bring to light what we’ve been overlooking for so long.

    Thanks for doing this, bro. Thanks for your influence, especially in my life. I am moving in the direction I’m headed because God brought you into my life. I am indeed grateful.

  5. Meowmix says:

    Brad, I can only comment about what I believe the Bible to be teaching and what I’ve seen happen. Scripture says for the shepherds to feed the church of God over whom they’ve been made overseers. Putting that together with the Acts account of finding men of good report to handle some physical things so that those other guys could devote themselves to prayer and ministry, I come up with a conclusion that shephers/elders/bishops are the spiritual leaders and feeders, if you will, and the deacons take care of all the other stuff. Too many times, I’ve seen the elders hang tenaciously to ALL responsibility and not spend a whole lot of time on the spiritual. Just my observations, and I’m a lay person! :)_

    • Brad Palmore says:

      Meowmix – I love the way you pop in and share from your heart!

      Your comment includes one of my favorite things that C of C folk have done with church organization. The account of Acts 6 has nothing to do with elders/shepherds. The ‘other guys’ you mention are the apostles. The men that they are looking for are frequently referred to as the first deacons, but there is no textual support for that, either. What we do with that passage when we treat the ‘men of good report’ as deacons is exactly what you’ve done: we equate the elders with the apostles. The problem with that is that the apostles had special authority because of their direct ministry with Christ. There is no scriptural evidence that the authority of the apostles was transferred to the elders of the church, however that is the way we act. All kinds of problems stem from this. More to come on that topic later…

  6. Ann Pyles says:

    Read your comments.  Am looking for a church home & still not finding it.  When is the “church” going to get back to the basics of shepherding the flock?  When will someone do some thinking & say maybe the way we are doing things is not scriptual.

    • Anonymous says:

      Ann, I hear you! Seems like we’ve gotten distracted with things that don’t
      really matter much. Use the contact form to let me know where you live and
      I’ll see if I can make some recommendations based on churches I’m aware of.

      Thanks for commenting!

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