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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Building the Perfect Church: Tackling the Issues of Church Structure and Leadership

Building_1Last Week

Last week, I outlined the four major categories by which any society, organization, or church can be analyzed.  They are structure, culture, interpersonal relationships, and the individual.  Beginning with this post, we turn our attention to church structure and leadership.

Introduction:  You Have Two Cows

Let your thoughts float free for a moment.  If you owned two cows, what would your thoughts be?  Are you imagining them grazing in an open field on a hazy, lazy summer afternoon?  Chances are, the thought of government did not enter your mind.  However, the kind of political system in which you live has a major impact on you and those two cows.  Consider life with your two lovely cows in the following environments:  Anarchy: You have two cows. The group with the most and biggest guns steals them.  Communism: You have two cows.  The government takes both and gives you part of the milk.  Socialism: You have two cows.  The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.  Dictatorship: You have two cows.  The government takes both and sells you the milk.  Nazism: You have two cows.  The government takes both then shoots you.  Bureaucracy: You have two cows.  The government takes both, sells one, milks the other, then pours the milk down the drain.  Capitalism: You have two cows.  You sell one, buy a bull, and end up with many cows.  You then hire a manager for your growing cattle ranch, supply meat for McDonald’s, go on vacation, and retire early.  Though we may not often think about it, structure affects our lives in a big way.

Corporate Structure and Leadership: Chrysler

When Lee Iacocca took the helm of Chrysler Corporation back in late 1978, the company’s very survival was at stake.  Iacocca writes in his 1984 biography, “what I found at Chrysler were thirty-five vice presidents, each with his own turf….  Everybody worked independently.  I took one look at that system and I almost threw up.  That’s when I knew I was really in deep trouble….  Nobody at Chrysler seemed to understand that interaction among the different functions in a company is absolutely critical.  People in engineering and manufacturing almost have to be sleeping together.  These guys weren’t even flirting.”  Under Iacocca’s leadership, the company was restructured, policy changes were made, and at a pivotal point in its history, Chrysler survived and became productive again.

Church Structure and Leadership
Issues of structure apply to the church as well.  Most churches have a constitution or bylaws which govern its structure, its officers, and basic operational schema.  When a church’s bylaws are poorly conceived, or non-existent, watch-out!  In such instances, when people can make up the rules as they go along, a steady stream of conflict and behind-the-scene power plays inevitably follow.  One long-time minister who pastored such a church (with no bylaws) reflected, “those were the 20 most miserable years of my life.”  Indeed, when an outside consultant was brought in to evaluate the conflict a subsequent pastor was experiencing at the same church, the consultant declared, “the most perfect pastor in the world could not have pastored this church.”

Dr. John L. Mitchell, Th.M., Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary, retired minister and church consultant noted, “after talking with many pastors around the country, I’m discovering that over half of church conflicts are between the pastor and the board.  This tells me that the pastor’s role and board’s role needs to be more clearly defined.”  [Dallas Insider, August, 1986].  Today, nearly two decades later, the need is the same.

How Should Church Leadership Be Structured?
Churches, unless directed instructed by their denominations, are on their own to design their own leadership infrastructure.  Sometimes the effort is successful (Acts 6:1-7).  Other times it is not (I Cor. 1:11-13).

For Discussion
What is your opinion?  What do you think should be the structural relationships between the senior pastor, church staff, church boards, and congregation.  Let’s learn from one another as we now dive into build the perfect church.



© 2005 Kenneth C. Newberger
Ken Newberger, an experienced church conflict resolution specialist, earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, has ten years senior pastoral experience, and is in the dissertation phase for his Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Nova Southeastern University, one of only two accredited doctoral programs of its kind in the United States. If your church needs help resolving conflict, if you need individual coaching, or if you would like to introduce a proactive conflict management system into your church, please visit Ken's website at www.ResolveChurchConflict.com  or call 301-253-8877.


You are invited to attend Ken's free conflict resolution seminar entitled, “How to Convert Church Problems and Tensions into Energy Leading to Deeper Relations and a Positive Outcome.”  This event is sponsored by Regent University at its Alexandria, VA campus (just outside of DC).  The date and time is March 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 pm.  For more information, contact Lolita Cobbs.  Email: lolicob@regent.edu. Phone: 1-866-REGENT-U or 703-740-1409.  Come join us for an interactive and edifying time together.

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February 3, 2005 in The Newberger Project | Permalink

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I think the ideal structure is functional, flexible and relational. Not necessarily in that order. I believe in horizontal leadership as opposed to the vertical type and ultimately functions best when seen the least.

That's going to look different everywhere you go. I used to be part of a movement that believed the New Testament created a blue print for church government. I gave up on that one based on what I saw in life and in the Bible. I think the best idea is "it seemed right to us and to the Holy Spirit". Always be adapting is what I'm learning. What worked for structure and leadership at 35 doesn't work at 100 and at 150 it's different again. But functional, flexible and relational will always work.

Posted by: Brian | Feb 3, 2005 10:47:45 AM

The question: "What should the 'structural' relationship be between ___________ and _______?" Good question because what might work in one church wouldn't work in another. It comes down to the Sr. Pastor and his comfort level.

I'm all for flow charts, clear understanding of the roles of each involved and a clear point of where my authority within that structure begins and ends. I liked the comments that said
“after talking with many pastors around the country, I’m (the author) discovering that over half of church conflicts are between the pastor and the board. This tells me that the pastor’s role and board’s role needs to be more clearly defined.”

How true. Solve most of that issue in the entire church for lay leadership and staff and it will be about as good as it gets. But let's not get too settled, for as the church grows so must the structure.


Posted by: W.J.M. | Feb 3, 2005 12:08:03 PM

I am currently pastoring two yoked congregations. Each church has their own constitution, their own board, their own culture, their own building, etc. One of my churches is currently experiencing and demonstrating how poorly conceived their constitution and by-laws are. Much of what is on paper is ignored. Making up the rules as they go along is leading to much conflict and behind the scenes power-plays.

To complicate matters, the yoke relationship needs structure but the structure is being resisted because I think those in power at the one church recognize that they have much to loose if the yoke relationship and how the churches will get along with each other is clarified.

This is so utterly frustrating! Why can't we be about advancing God's kingdom instead of our own little kingdoms? Honestly, these little kingdoms don't amount to much! But we protect that turf like our lives depended on it!

Sadly, this dysfunction is really casting a dark shadow over these churches.

At this point, I am not terribly pleased with the congregational form of government as that is the dysfunctional church. I'd love to see a healthy congregational church but my experience is when the church has a representational form of government (presbyterian), it is easier to get everyone on the same page (consensus).

Posted by: Steve | Feb 3, 2005 12:13:16 PM

As a PCUSA Congregation key issues for us are those of authority and leadership. Both are essential to growth and both are diminished by traditional church structures and governance. Our Congregation has come to see that traditional "work-group" models of governance are more prone to create conflict and punnish leadership. We believe that in this era of the Church, leadership is essential and much of church conflict is destructive. Believing with Cloud/Tounsend that boundaries are the essential elements for individual and corporate growth, that responsibility,authority and accountability need to be evenly balanced; we have adapted a model for governance designed for business use to church use. After using this model for the past 5 years,(coupled with an intentional process for conflict resolution) we have dramatically reduced destructive conflict and enjoyed the results of leadership.

Posted by: Dale | Feb 3, 2005 12:22:47 PM


What you wrote sounds very good. Can you supply more detail in terms of the specific modelv you are currently using? Thanks.


Posted by: Ken | Feb 3, 2005 12:44:51 PM

I believe that when someone is called by the LORD to do something--in this case form or operate a churh--that person needs to have veto power. Also, a leadership group (the pastor would be a part of this group) should be in place to expedite leadership decisions and vetting of people coming into key positions. Also, this group would operate the church within the written structure of the church's constitution. The pastor would be free to amplify his area of expertise and not be bogged down with administrative duties. The group would need to be sure to delegate duties and to make sure that NOBODY gets too much on their plate. This is vital to the good health of this body and is no different than the human body. When we take on too much, whether it's food, work, thing or even fun, we can damage our health--either physically or spiritually or both. To allow for balance the pastor would agree, in writing, to be removed from his position for various reasons i.e. adultery, child molesting, theft, etc. These items would be limited to agregious actions. As the church grows the leadership group would add people into positions of authority always being sure to implement checks and balances and always being sure to being efficient and complete in having regular reviews of leaders and ministries. This allows for maximizing the opportunities at hand and will allow for the reshaping of ministries to accomodate the growth. The worst thing that can happen is to outgrow the present model and not adjust to accomodate God's provision. This could even mean eliminating a ministry so that a better, more efficient ministry can be started. Job descriptions would be necessary with written provisions to show what the vehicle would be in the event someone needs to be removed or disciplined. Another important point is that when the pastor gives somebody a ministry, job, duty or whatever he directed someone to do, that person or persons could not be prevented from following through on that responsibility unless the leadership group approved the change. This simple written 'rule' would help prevent the stops and starts that bog down too many churches (and businesses, too!).
These thoughts are incomplete, but all that I have time for. I hope each of you has a great day!


Posted by: Scott Fishel | Feb 3, 2005 12:50:36 PM

Checks and balances. Whether your church government is congregational, or elder led or any sort of combination, there must be a system in place for appeal to a higher authority. Many a church system looks good, assuming that good people occupy the positions of authority. But when designing a church structure, ask yourself, "What peaceful way is there to resolve conflict if the problem lies with the leaders themselves?" Never put too much power in one place.

Some might say that we have nothing to worry about if the person with that authority is godly and called of God. But there is no guarantee that that person(s) will be godly and called of God. What if they turn out not to be? Then what? There must be a system and structure in place to check that postion of authority if there's ever a problem. And the time to do that is BEFORE a problem arises.

Posted by: Phil | Feb 3, 2005 3:10:36 PM

Having pastored a highly structured but terribly dysfunctional church I have come to the conclusion that the exact form is not too terribly critical.
This is especially true if the lay leadership doesn't see their role as leaders or facilitators. In my situation they saw their role as being a control even though the bylaws clearly stated that each team was to develop and implement.
The real issue is in a congregational based church if the rank and file members fail to hold both staff and board accountable then conflict and disarray will certainly follow.
Presently I serve in a less structured and certainly more fuzzily defined church as a support staff. I see the seeds of discontent becoming more evident as we transition into a new structure. Time will tell if we have chosen a good path.
In both churches the more spiritual sides were replaced with a “practical” form. It would have been better to spend more time in prayer and less time in structure meetings.

Posted by: Homer | Feb 3, 2005 4:12:04 PM

I have pastored a church with a congregationally centered democratic government, a church with an elder run structure, a church with sole authority vested in me as the Pastor and a church under submission to an external apostolic team leadership. What I have come to as a result of much study, experience, sorrow and joy, as well as prayer, is that the structure of church government ultimately is an issue only for those who are going to live out their Christian walk in the carnal arena of their flesh and natural minds. I say that because church structure and its governmental authority is in reality "Civil Authority" and not "Spiritual Authority." Church governmetal authority is not "Kingdom of God Authority." Whatever form it takes will work for us to the degree that we recognize the difference and do not allow that authority to interfere with true Spiritual Authority. If we let the church government control or influence our direction and what we will or will not do in response to the leading of the Lord we are in trouble. No position of leadership in any church structure gives any man or woman any spiritual authority at all. True spiritual authority only extends as far into any one persons life as that individual is able to see and hear jesus his master through that particular leader at that given moment. His sheep hear his voice and they do follow after Him. there is a very real sense in which church government is Ceasar's kingdom so let's give it what it needs whatever form it takes and just be sure we give God what is His. I know whoever disagrees will consider this over spiritualization and foolishly impractical and that's okay. But it is rooted in 30 plus years of pretty valid ministry.

Posted by: Jim Eaton | Feb 3, 2005 7:44:06 PM

Systems are key when designing form...without it our function fails to be something great...

We use a controlled chaos...fractaling...with leaders being held accountable to succeed...if they are not successful in what they were called to...they are moved...

Structured only by boundaries and free to operate in the Spirit of God…very productive when the systems are established…followed…and evaluated

Posted by: phill | Feb 3, 2005 7:47:08 PM

Pastor Mark Dever and Capitol Hill Baptist Church have thought deeply on these issues. See www.9marks.org for a great model of biblical church structure, as well as helpful pointers on healthy change.

Posted by: Scott | Feb 4, 2005 12:00:59 PM

Come on folks, all the stuff written that is practical, pragmatic, coroporate or whatever you want to term it is interesting and wonderful. Scripture does present a form for Spiritual governance, and I agree with Scott; Dever did a fine, Biblical "job." The problem is, of course, few really follow Scripture, as for me, and my house, I'd prefer to err on the side of Scripture; not what may work at this time in this world. I'm just passing through... Sola Scriptura!


Posted by: Jay | Feb 4, 2005 5:43:10 PM

Okay, I went to the web site and read the nine (9) distinctives for BIBLICAL church structure according to Devers. It reads a great deal more Baptist than it does Word of God. But then this is our consistently present problem in the sadly divided Body of Christ. Rather than DOING what the Word of God speaks to us concerning submission to Him and depending upon His Holy Spirit to LEAD and GUIDE us, we choose to press Scripture through the denominationally and culturally mandated collander of our theological bias and end up worshipping "THE BOOK THAT SITS UPON THE THRONE"! While the word Biblical ought to mean that we are living, moving and having our being in Him, that we have abandoned trust in our natural minds knowing by experience with His Word that the things of God (all of them including church structure)are spiritual and cannot be understood with our natural minds, we instead have become those who "search the Scriptures because in them we think we find life." Until we are willing to admit that we have replaced real relationship with and complete dependence upon God Himself, with absolute allegiance and submission to an institutionally interpreted BOOK, the Word of God we are so blessed to have access to in the Bible will continue to escape the true authority in our lives it is intended and empowered to hold! Because of where we have come across the board as His Church divided over His Word, the mere suggestion that the most important thing is for our church structure to be Biblical, is in itself, a convoluted statement of semantic distortion to the highest degree. What it needs to be is whatever He makes it be as He inhabits the praise of His people, dwells in their midst and leads them by His Holy Spirit DAILY!! Anything beyond that is our doing and not His. That doesn't make it wrong or even ungodly. But we ought to be honest enough to admit we're doing it that way because we want to or feel the need to and not because it is BIBLICAL!

Posted by: Jim Eaton | Feb 6, 2005 12:06:13 AM

My church is Jesus Christ. I belong to Him. There is one body with many members. The Bible talks about different administrations but the same Lord. Jesus visited congregations and there was dialog. When the church lives in Jesus it is a beautiful thing. There is a marriage supper. May we honor our vows. Where are the martyrs today?

Posted by: Harry Miller | Feb 6, 2005 8:00:42 PM

Lee Iacocco said:
"Nobody at Chrysler seemed to understand that interaction among the different functions in a company is absolutely critical. People in engineering and manufacturing almost have to be sleeping together. These guys weren’t even flirting.” "

That's a good example of how close leaders need to be.


Posted by: bernie dehler | Feb 7, 2005 10:30:49 AM


We have adapted John carver's model, combined it with Rick Warren's Purpose Driven model added a dash of PCUSA polity and management by "team". Carver gives us excellence in goverance, warren excellence in ministry, PCUSA polity maintains our connection wi the larger church and "team" means our Department Leaders and mnistry staff lead together. We have no standing committees and only those task forces necessary to accomplish ministry.

The beauty of the system is that leaders can lead - are held accountable for their leadership in defined ways -- and the church can follow its leaders into ministry knowing that the direction is clear and the governing board is firmly in control.

Posted by: Dale | Feb 7, 2005 1:01:52 PM

Our church was founded on John Carver's policy governance model. We're still trying to get this nailed down because it is so counter-intuitive and foreign to how 99.9% of nonprofits function. So, while the jury is out in terms of its effectiveness in our church, we believe this model is consistent with scripture (recognizing that scripture does not prescribe one right way of goverance)and that it has a proven track record of creating structures and roles that actually work.

As the lead pastor I am responsible for the "means" to accomplishing the "ends established by the elders. Furthermore, regarding the means to the ends, the elders issue "executive limitations" that prescriptively tell me what I may NOT do. Implied in that is that if they do not tell me know, then the answer is YES...go for it.

As you might expect, Executive Limitations include things like don't break the law, don't put the church at risk financially, morally, ethically, legally etc. (with a fair amount of context to flesh this out). But then the elders "hands off" so that I, the staff and the multiple ministry teams have maximum freedom to do what God has called us to do.

The Carver model of Policy Governance is a fairly radical shift, but remember what Peter Drucker said about churches and other non-profits--they are organizational disasters frought with micro-management that kills initiave and promotes the staus quo.

Blessings to all you pastors as you lead and guide God's people.

Nick in Traverse City, MI

Posted by: Nick | Feb 7, 2005 7:53:14 PM

how do i meet you,ken personally as i have need of you in my country.

Posted by: pastor ebukanson | Dec 15, 2005 6:33:45 AM

how do i meet you,ken personally as i have need of you in my country.

Posted by: pastor ebukanson | Dec 15, 2005 6:41:24 AM

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