An Exersize in Futility — Final

RobDevotions

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Shameless Plug: Don’t forget to check out the hot new blog (my wife’s) at www.michellesingleton.com

Now…Here’s the wrap-up that has been forever in the writing. Last time we talked about the zillions and zillions of structures and denominations that Christians have come up with over the last 2,000 years. It’s pretty easy to see all the confusion and wasted time quite a few of them promote. So the question is,

Which one is right?

None of them and some of them.

I know, not the answer you were looking for, but let me explain.

The one place churches should go for guidance on this issue is often the last (if they bother referencing it at all). I’m talking about at least 2 separate scripture passages, I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Amazingly, the structures we find in most churches are not in either chapter.

Did you catch that?

The structures people are willing to fight for, gossip about, split churches over, demand {on supposedly biblical grounds}, etc., aren’t even in there! — In fact, they aren’t anywhere in the Bible.

Surprised?

It’s true. Just like the plethora of denominations (over 33,000!) that have sprung up because of in-fighting or spitting hairs, for good reasons and for bad—church structures have also sprung up in an attempt to rightly interpret these passages. The following are some examples:

  1. Presbyterian feel lay elders keep a greater accountability on the pastor but fail to provide accountability much of the time for those same elders.
  2. Baptists put this same mantle on the deacons with much the same results. Although they have the added mystery of sort of ‘ignoring’ elders altogether
  3. Sometimes there is a mix of the 2 in what appears to be a hodgepodge of everything.
  4. However, by far the most popular model is simply what I call the, “American Business Model.” This comes complete with a pastor functioning in a President or CEO type role, a group of lay elders functioning as a Board of Directors, and one appointed lay elder in the role of “Chairman of the Elders” (paralleling the chairman of the board at, for example, IBM). This might work well in the business world, but in my opinion there are infinite problems with it in God’s church. First, the church is not Bank of America, it’s not an organization. It’s an organism—alive and vibrant. It’s the Bride of Christ and we’ve done our best to turn it into the bride of Frankenstein. In this model the vision is stifled, the direction has as many forks in the road as there are leaders at the helm and the power plays are endless.
  5. 5th structure is a staff lead church. This may sound new but it’s really as old as the Bible itself. The first staff consisted of people like the disciples and the apostle Paul. Timothy lead the church in Ephesus and so on. But this in and of itself doesn’t mandate the ‘staff lead’ model. Actually, any church governing model that honors and stays true to the qualifications for elders in the afore mentioned chapters is a valid system. What remains is simply for churches to structure in a way that accomplishes this and helps minimize maintenance and maximize ministry.

Southbrook moved to a Staff lead model about 3 years ago for a number of reasons. Among these was the fact that we were growing so fast that a once a month meeting of lay elders (all of whom had full time jobs in other fields) was no longer adequate for our type of church needing to make more and faster decisions on an almost hourly basis. We also began to feel the need for the primary leaders (of day to day operations) to be the very pastors who were in fact there at the church 24/7. Most of the churches we respect and look to are structured similarly. In fact, our own bylaws are adapted from the bylaws of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. This church is pastored by Ed Young Jr. and is one of the top ten largest churches in the country. Churches similarly structured include, Northpoint with Andy Stanley, Church of the Woodlands w/ Kerry Shook, Flamingo Road with Troy Grambling, Saddleback with Rick Warren and so on and so on. In short, we found that churches “getting it done” and moving forward in a culturally relevant way were almost always staff lead.

 

Contrary to the opinions of some, it ends up being the system with the most accountability for several reasons. First and foremost, it allows the leaders to focus on the vision and day to day operations of the church while the finances and church discipline, etc are turned over to mostly lay people. These two areas are the ones where most churches get in trouble and where lay people need to have the most input.

 

One example…Before we moved to this structure, I was present at each and every financial team meeting. I helped set policy and set the financial direction. Under the new structure, I haven’t been to a financial meeting in over 2 years! This is just one example of how I have been freed up to concentrate of leading, preaching, teaching, equipping and all of the other things that God called me to do rather than areas where others have greater gifts and abilities.

 

In my own accountability I now have not only godly laymen but also godly pastors both within and outside of Southbrook Church who hold me accountable to the vision and purposes of God’s work through Southbrook Church. Here are some of those accountabilities:

 

 

  1. Meeting each Wednesday at 11:30 AM with best friend and former elder at Southbrook Church for over 7 years
  2. Meet with another outside pastor from Shelby (you all might know him, Clayton King)
  3. Yet another outside pastor from the Atlanta area, Pastor Rusty Hayes from Sugarloaf Community Church.
  4. A former professor from Dallas Theological Seminary.
  5. The Core team (pastoral elders) of Southbrook Church. This is a group of pastors always to consist of no less than 3 and no more than 7 of the pastors from our own church. Currently there are 3 and we are praying and seeking others to add…Paul Allen, Daryl Sutherland, and myself)
  6. An advisory board made up of lay leaders from Southbrook Church (these men serve as an accountability team for me and function basically in the role of lay elders — they are, David Peed, Mark Cianciaoso, Art TerKeurst and David Alexander).

And more…

So it always amazes me how often people will protest about churches who are non-denominational having, NO ACCOUNTABILITY!

 

Honestly, I hover between laughter and bewilderment at the lengths people will go to to defend broken systems and the depths they’ll sink to in order to demand ,their traditional structure be in place wherever they attend church—whether it works or not!

 

 

Usually, it’s not.

 

 

At Southbrook we want real accountability that will bring people together in frank discussion and love in order to help each of us (not just me) finish the race and stand before God ready to hear the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” But it continues to baffle me the many “Christians” I speak with who want what looks good on paper while in reality does nothing.

 

In the last couple of years alone we have witnessed (just in our area) 2 large churches that were structured to the hilt with every denominational accountability check and balance imaginable in place, still self destruct because no real, caring accountability existed at all. These churches hemorrhaged people over it and it ruined the lives of at least a dozen pastors.

But at least the “Sacred Traditional Structure” survived.

Honestly people, who gives a rip about the structure if the entire church is falling apart?! It’s the people Christ loves, not the government. That’s why I found myself thankful yet again for those in my life who really genuinely care that I finish strong. We met for lunch yesterday (me and the advisory/accountability team) and they challenged me in several areas and encouraged me in several others. But they were also quick to remind me that they believe in me, pray for me and intend to be a hedge between me and the evil one who loves to chew up preachers and spit’em out.

 

Thanks guys!

 

One more thing—thanks for hanging in with this incredibly long post…

 

Friends, to care more about a structure than the people it’s set up to serve is nuts, but we see it all the time. At both churches I referred to above the lead pastors did not have a single individual on either elder board who was involved enough in the lead pastor’s life to help or offer any kind of hope. It all came down to, “business as usual.” Oh that they would have cared as much for their shepherd as they did their structure. I’m convinced none of it would have happened.

But, sadly, this attitude is still very pervasive in the church with people who’s focus is more religion than relationship. It’s normally fairly easy to spot—these are the folks who demand a Presbyterian structure or a Baptist or Methodist structure—whatever they grew up with and are sure is written in some lost book of the Bible somewhere. Some, while issuing their demands will also, like paparazzi, sprinkle “alarming (read here, ‘made up’) stories” fit for the National Enquirer among the congregation. They whisper their tales of “dreadful behavior” sure to be going on under some rock somewhere. “Just give us time,” they say, “we’ll find it! There’s sure to be a culprit somewhere.”

 

A quick trip to any nearby mirror would be the fastest way to locate said behavior and culprit, but they never go there.

 

I’ve even seen it come and go at Southbrook over the years. Fortunately, “religious types” don’t stay long at SCC—relational ministry is like Kryptonite to them.

 

And so we’ve grown a church that is incredibly real, infinitely loving and generous, and unwaveringly committed to seeing God’s purposes lived out through Southbrook.

 

You all rock!

 

And I love being your pastor.