You’ve heard it before, the old argument that the church should not be run like a business. While I understand the heart of this argument, I disagree with it. “Business” is a neutral concept which is neither inherently good nor bad. Wikipedia says that “A business is a legally recognized organization designed to provide goods and/or services to consumers.” There is a component of the church that meets that description. The church is a divinely created organization/organism designed to worship God and witness to the nations (thanks to John Stott for the “worship/witness” paradigm). A similarity between church and business is that both are created for a purpose… to provide value to others. Dissimilarities would include the purpose of the organization – to generate a profit vs. to glorify God. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Church as organization and organism
Theologians and church scholars commonly agree that the church is both an organism and an organization.
- Organism: a form of life composed of mutually interdependent parts that maintain various vital processes.
- Organization: the act or process of organizing. Organize: To put together into an orderly, functional, structured whole.
Examples of church as “organism” include:
- The presence of God in worship
- The resolving of differences between believers
- The relationships developed in small groups
- The salvation experience
In short, the “organism” side of church has largely to do with life, spirit, attitudes, etc., things over which we, largely, have no, or limited, control.
Examples of “Organization” in the church include:
- Service times
- Hiring policies
- Governmental structure
The organization side of the church consists of things over which we have much control, and this is where systems and processes have their place.
I’m confident that most people will not struggle with the “organism” (life) side of church. The “organization” (systems) component however may cause some difficulties. Let me share two scripture passages with you that will make the case for the organizational component of the church:
- Paul opens his letter to the Philippian church with these words, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1 NIV). These verses give us a clear governmental structure within the local church… a system.
- In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2 So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4 and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 5 This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6 They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:1-7 NIV) These verses demonstrate the chaos that can occur without organization (systems/processes) and the transformative results that can occur when there is organization (systems/processes).
- In both of these passages we could identify multiple systems/processes (e.g. the clear character descriptions for leadership within the church; the processes involved in the daily care of the church). Suffice it to say there clearly are systems and processes that are regularly identified within a biblical definition of church.
It is possible to have organization without organism = systems/processes without life. I’m equally convinced that you cannot have organism without organization. Anytime there is life there are systems/processes present. The question is, are the systems/processes facilitating healthy life, AND is the organization aware of those systems/processes and their influence? Peter Senge, author of the The Fifth Discipline, says that systems create behaviors. Andy Stanley says, ““Great sermon series do not create behaviors. Systems create behaviors.”If these guys are right you’d do well to be aware of and intentional about the kinds of systems/processes you have in place in your organization.
Have you missed the first two parts of this series?