Organizational Structure and the Bible

Bruce D. Johnson blogged in April an [article] entitled, “Don’t Tie Your Organizational Structure to Scripture”. He says in the article:

Because if you tie your organizational structure to Scripture and then have to change your organizational structure (which all growing churches have to do), then you have a problem. Did Scripture change? Or did your interpretation of Scripture change?

What we can agree on is that churches need to have godly leadership and accountability. How that is parceled out in each church at each stage of its development is up for grabs. There is no perfect organizational structure that is good for every church in every place for every stage of its life. So, don’t make the mistake of tying your organizational structure to Scripture. Tie the need for godly leadership to Scripture. Tie the need for structure to Scripture.

I threw this statement out to a pastor friend of mine and his reaction was, “wait a minute, you know I’m a Biblicist…you’ve got to explain yourself.” So I asked him, “Do you have deacons or elders or both?” He’s Baptist so the church has historically had deacons, not elders. “But,” he said, “the deacons are becoming like elders.” What he meant was that his deacons were a board, so while they had the title of “Deacon” they were functioning as elders. So I asked him if he had any deacons, meaning deacons in function. He started rattling off people who were truely ministers, not administrators. So I asked him if he was going to change the structure to Elder/Deacon? If so, does that mean the church he has pastored for 7 years was wrong about their interpretation of scripture?

It’s a valid point that Bruce makes and a valid question for us to answer. I face that decision now. We are currently elder-led and only have two elders. We have to expand our base. One of the issues we’re faced with is that there are qualified men who are lacking in confidence with being an “Elder”. So I asked one of them if they would be a part of a management team, and his response was absolutely. This guy is a partner in a multi-million dollar company, so I expected the excitement of his response. The issue wasn’t the responsibilities but the title. So the issue I have is, do we let the title hinder his involvement in leadership? In reality, my view of a management team is the decision-making and administrative arm of the church. If we want to call it Elders, that’s fine. The issue isn’t the title, but the function and the character of those who are a part of that ministry.

Some churches call their elders “lay pastors”. Saddleback, I think, has staff – who act as elders – and their lay pastors are their deacons. Fellowship Church in Dallas has a management team, no elders or deacons.

I think Johnson’s challenge to us is appropriate, especially for the ever-changing enviroment we live in. We have to be able to adapt and change with culture, and that sometimes means integrating a new ministry or new ideas or new structures into the body without it taking 6 months or 6 years. Your leadership structure – Elders, deacons, board, lay pastors, etc – whatever you use will determine the plausibility of those changes.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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1 comment
  • What is the difference between elders and deacons? When new leadership comes into a hisorical church with deep roots in tradition, how much latitude should a new minister have in changing church customs, traditions, etc.? What is the best way to help church members accept change – from changing of the guards (firing staff, appointing new ministers of music, changing church hours, etc? What should be the role of a pastor emeritus?

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