Wednesday, October 14, 2009

structure of the local church

One question I've been wrestling with since I've been at Moody is what the local church in America should look like. Since being here I've received some opposition towards the way Grace does church in Clarksville. I've gotten lots of questions like: Do small groups provide accurate means for discipleship? Is the governmental structure too corporate, and as a result too secular? Do topical messages truly teach the Bible? Should the environments be tailored for believers or non-believers?

Honestly this has made me question a lot of the ministry principles I've learned the last few years. Last week at Catalyst Chuck Swindoll made a cool statement about church structure.

"We must be willing to leave the familiar methods without disturbing the Biblical message."

In other words, the method should not be unwavering, the message should be. The church should be structured in a way that reaches people without changing the message of Christ.

The problem, however, is that a lot of the modern church models are being attacked for their lack of Biblical basis. Questions arise over whether or not these new models are holding firmly to the New Testament's teaching. Today at Missions Conference a missionary from eastern Europe made this statement, "Our experience of church is not based solely on Biblical teaching."

Every church has a system and structure. That system is never FULLY Biblical, because the Bible doesn't fully describe what the system should look like. Therefore, anytime a church clings to a system, they are clinging to a man-made idea.

Here's where I currently land on the issue of church structure/systems:
There is no perfect system, BUT some do work better than others.

It is generally accepted to do church differently in other countries because of culture, so why should it be critiqued when the American local church creates a system to better appeal to culture? Craig Groeschel says it this way, "To reach people no one else is reaching, you have to do things no one else is doing."

Our ministries should be designed to make the message of Christ as relevant as possible. If that means the structure of the local church in America needs to change, then let's change it.


  1. Being Devil's Advocate here... but I've been wrestling with whether a system is a valid way of having Church.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I'm reading into your thought, but I'd say you are advocating church as a lifestyle. If that is what you're doing, then I completely agree. But that doesn't take away the place of the local church. Nothing in society exists without a system. Every single relationship, family, business, organization, and church has a system. Trying to abandon systems is impossible, because we are trapped in the dimension of time (which, in fact, is a system). Also, groups who try to manage without a system are still operating in a system.

    Systems are inevitable. The question is how the system is going to function. I would encourage you to read 1 Corinthians. Paul gives lots of solid foundation for us to build on. Because again, systems exist.

  3. Ok. I think every christian should be living 'church' as a lifestyle. God has to be at the centre of everything we do... he isn't but he should be.

    I guess the real question is (and I must say... I still haven't decided either way) is whether the hierarchal leadership in church is valid (for the record I am reading Frank Viola's Reimagining Church at the moment)

    God Bless

  4. God should be the center of our lives I don't think there's any question there. And obviously the church is the body of Christ, but I think a Biblical principle is having a gathering time for believers. The local church was birthed out of that idea. In my opinion, the local church will always exist in some capacity.

    I'm not familiar with the book, so I would have to read it to understand the arguments, but based especially on Acts and 1 Timothy I think church government does exist and there are Biblical guidelines for elders, pastors, preachers, and deacons.

  5. Great blog, Nate! I've been following your dad on twitter and he posted some of your thoughts which led me to your blog. Thanks for sharing from a Church Planter's kid's perspective. I know God is using you in big ways. Stay faithful. God bless, Mark--Lead Pastor, Ironbridge Church in Richmond, Va

  6. When I was a child, I thought about this often as I had relatives who attended other denominations than I did. I worried about them because my church taught that only members of our denomination were doing it right and everyone else was wrong. Call me a rebel, but I didn't buy that even at an early age. I learned several lessons from that which I think are pertinent here.

    1. Don't EVER blindly believe what someone else is telling you, even if they are a church leader....they are still human and will make mistakes.

    2. Talk to people and get other perspectives. (Be informed)

    3.(Most important)Pray for guidance and read the Bible...constantly. Start with Genisis, take notes, stop with Revelations, then repeat.

    When I did this, on my own, with no guidance from anyone other than God, I got a message very different than the one taught to me by my congregation. Don't get me wrong, I value the Biblical education I got in my youth, the people of that congregation are wonderful, Christian people, but I have a greater understanding about the message now than I ever have. No one can create the right system except God. We will not experience the 'right' system until he comes again. Until then, we will struggle with what is the 'right' way to worship just like all people of God have done.

    Grace is VERY different for me, but it reaches people that the church I grew up in would repel. There is value in that.

  7. To be relevant in any culture structural change is needed depending on the socio economic and education levels and demands of the people affected by the local church. Just like the Bible does not endorse any political governmental system, neither does it teach church government besides the qualifications for certain offices and leaders.

  8. In my opinion, those in a church should be what one looks at. How they act in their daily lives. How closely do their actions imitate the Lord Jesus. The closer one comes to being like Christ in attitude and action the more impact they will be able to have on the world around them and the more people that come in contact with them will be pointed to the Lord. If that was the focus of more "churches" then most of this conservation would be a moot point.