Power Neutral Systems, Part 1

Unlike previous items where I’ve mentioned one key of healthy systems per post, I’m going to have to break this one up over several to adequately communicate my ideas.

We’re now up to the fourth of six keys for healthy church systems that I laid out in an earlier post. The topic of power neutral systems may be the most difficult of the six to achieve. The reasons for this are mixed. First, there is a natural tendency for organizations to drift toward the hierarchical. We are, after all, a product of the modern age. If we’ve learned anything from modernity it is that groups must have leaders. CEOs lead successful companies, generals win wars, school administrators drive up test scores. It is natural, then, that churches will identify people within the organization to be the ‘leaders’. A problem comes into this when our humanity gets the best of us. In the process of leading, it is very easy for leaders to begin to advocate for their own desires and comfort zones over the needs of the congregation. This will sometimes take the disguise of acting in the best interest of the church family, but the underlying motivations will be more selfish.

The issue of non-power neutral system becomes severely dangerous in the health of a congregation when body of Christ principles and principles of mutual submission are not present. Scripture says very little, if anything, about the way our churches should be organized and led. The driving force in church leadership as represented in scripture is the process of discipleship, the process of becoming like Christ. Beyond that, scripture is fairly silent about organization. What it does teach, however, is that everyone in the Body has a role and a responsibility to exercise their gifts in that role (1 Corinthians 12) and that we are to live in a state of mutual submission to each other (Ephesians 5:21).  I am of the opinion that a church that has one person in charge of everything (pastor system or one elder that has all the power, whether that power is given or taken) or even a church where a group of people sit at the top of the hierarchical pyramid (eldership, board) is not operating in a power neutral system, nor is it operating in a scriptural system.

That last statement will probably get some of your attention. My church of Christ friends will probably hang on to the fact that I’ve just said elders shouldn’t run the church. While I believe that, I also want to make sure that you also heard me say that no one individual should run the church as well. I’m not advocating for a minister/pastor led church, nor am I advocating for a church without elders, but rather one of balance and power neutrality.

The body of Christ principle runs two ways in church leadership. Too often, leaders try to do too much. Let’s take elders for example. Once a person becomes an elder, they will sometimes act as though the reigns of the church have been handed to them and they need to run everything and have their hand in everything. They need to know the checking account balance, who’s working the nursery, and whether the guy passing the tray has been scripturally baptized or not. This is frustrating to a lot of ministers and church members. I’ve known many and have been one myself. Here’s the rub that many of us don’t stop to consider: elders sometimes function that way because they are expected to by people in the congregation. If you think about it, it really isn’t fair to men that we’ve asked to serve as elders. One day, they’re a normal guy attending church. The next day, they’re an elder and we expect them to be masters of complex organizational systems, human resource managers, expert theologians, and practitioners of multi-level organizational finance management. Both of these approaches to elder roles are bad because they violate the principles of the body of Christ.

The effects of this type of centralized leadership have a direct correlation to how large the congregation can be. There is just so much that one group can keep their hands on. Once you surpass the number of manageable processes that the group can handle, one of two things will occur. First, and preferably, the system will adapt and expand and include more leaders to manage more processes. Second, and unfortunately more typically, the system will self-correct and the number of processes will reduce to a manageable number. In other words, the size of the congregation will retract.

Okay, I have to take a break so you can continue to focus on the topic. Feel free to leave any thoughts at this point and check back for the continuation of this topic.

Leave a reply