Jesus people, loving people

Church as a business, or Church as a tribe?

The previous post on this blog (We Want a King!) delved into what it says when we look for certain kinds of autocratic leadership in church situations. God is our ultimate king, and godly church leadership will always point people to His rulership, not take its place.

That leads us to the next question: how then, should leadership operate over (or between) connected church congregations? How should churches within a network or denomination relate to each other?

Three words

I find it helpful to consider the dynamic of relationships in churches using three words: dependence, independence and interdependence.

Autocratic leadership creates dependants, discord creates independence, but the kingdom of God is a place of unity, of interdependent harmony.

A king  =  dependence  =  “We all do the same thing”

No leadership  =  independence  =  “We’ll do our own thing”

Humble empowering leadership  =  interdependence  =  Harmony: a dynamic of unity and diversity

Now, harmony requires both differences and unity, whether that’s in the subtle interplay of juicy flavours in a meal, the finely balanced and diverse ecosystem of creation, a choir’s weaving harmonies of soprano, tenor and bass, or the different members of a body working together. The eye couldn’t see without the brain, the brain would be dead without the heart, the heart would die without nutrients from the gut and the gut wouldn’t get any food without the eye seeing what’s good to eat.

Church should be like a pizza or your granny’s secret recipe soup

This is what God is like. God is Father, Son and Spirit, so in Him there is both unity and diversity. A church is a group of people joined together and filled with the breath of God’s Spirit in order to bear the image of God, to show what He’s like and to be an expression of the kingdom of God on earth. Therefore within each local expression of church and between church congregations there should be the same harmony of unity and diversity that we see in God. That means to live out our calling we need find the right balance between unity of heart and diversity of expression.

I’m convinced the right balance isn’t to have a human king who rules over us. Kings create clones, but mothers and fathers, while kingly in role, trust their DNA and raise sons and daughters to be their own colourful selves.

This has implications on the way we structure our church. Being a church marked by a spirit of brotherhood that initially grew explosively from a single small baptist chapel, we’ve naturally stuck together. At times we’ve been pretty rigid in franchising and controlling expressions of church. We’ve not done enough to encourage personal relationships with God. That’s not how it should be.

Harmony requires both differences and unity

Our unity of heart should spring from a shared closeness to Jesus and valuing what he values, not simply from shared activity or surface uniformity.

Right church leadership won’t replace anyone’s active, living relationship with God. It won’t create a “nanny state” church that only requires you to sit in your highchair pew, gobble up edicts and do what you’re told.

Every cluster of Christians who love one another and meet regularly in the name of Jesus as their Lord is a church and has the Spirit of life. They have all they need, or the potential is there. This is where we’re heading: not toward strictly independent congregational autonomy, but toward what will often look like functional autonomy, better sharing the responsibility of being, leading and creating church across all our congregations and members.

The images in our heads

The images we have in our heads when we think of church affect the way we organise things. The way we organise things can shape our culture over time, and our culture shapes how we treat each other. What comes to mind when we imagine church?

I expect every image we’ve had has some validity and expresses something we mustn’t lose, but often the key is in getting the emphasis right.

The great commission is replaced by targets for the three Bs: bums, buildings and budgets.

Sometimes we’ve imagined church as an army. This is an image of discipleship, of focus, of drive and service. Every soldier becomes a clone marching in step. Taken alone this idea leads to hyper-control and a domineering outlook.

Or the idea of church as a businesses, this is more mainstream and modern. The Senior Pastor is the CEO and has secretaries (church staff) and talent (worship leaders, youth workers etc). Everything’s run according to the bank account and the aim is to run attractive programs to get more bums on seats to make bigger tithes. The great commission is replaced by targets for the three Bs: bums, buildings and budgets.

Perhaps a more biblically faithful and healthy way of imagining church is as a tribe made up of a network of families, with all descended in one lineage and with each occupying a unique place in the whole. In our context every church household or congregation would therefore be within the Jesus Fellowship tribe, with each ultimately responsible for their own strength, life and growth, and for supporting others. This is a picture of neither uniformity nor autonomy but harmony, with each taking proper responsibility.

Perhaps we could then start saying “I belong to [insert local church congregation name here], which is in the Jesus Fellowship family of churches.”

What unites? What distinguishes?

What do we all need to agree on in order to remain united, and what must be kept open to allow the diversity of expression that harmony requires?

Each local expression of the church must follow the lead of the Spirit. There should be oversight and accountability across congregations, but decisions should be spring from the intimacy of our relationships, not overrule it or take its place. There would be high accountability but low control.

I believe what unites on each level should slide on a scale. If we start with an aerial look over our national church (or family of churches), what’s held in common at that big-picture level should be broad values and relationships (why and who questions). As we then zoom down toward local and intimate expressions of church what’s shared resolves down to specific shared tasks and practices (what and how questions). In other words values should broadly unite us while ways of working out those values distinguish us. This variety helps churches genuinely complement each other.

High accountability but low control

Allowing for a greater variety of expressions of church allows each group’s way of life to be shaped to suit both the gifting of its people and the context to which they are called, their mission field. We must be careful not to impose structures and expectations contrary to the kingdom’s natural expression in a context, and we must all take responsibility for our own life and growth. Let’s see the end of a “cut and paste” franchised church model and the end of households working in isolation.

What this means now

Let God orchestrate harmony

A commitment to unity of heart compels all of us to reach out across the pews, across the street and across the world, with every church and household of faith meeting and networking with other churches and households. It calls us to celebrate one another and avoid prejudice, suspicion and competition. It requires the hearts of the fathers to turn to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.

And a pursuit of diversity requires local leadership to rise up and lead each church and group in seeking God’s call for them, shaping a way of life around the call of Jesus discerned by all, not just through instructions relayed by a single commander-in-chief. It calls us to recognise and celebrate each church’s unique contribution, avoiding duplication. And perhaps most importantly, it requires every one of us to be individually connected to our great high King.

Published 21st September 2018 with tags: church leadership


  1. John Lewis says:

    Hello there- reading this grieves me- ” Sometimes weve imagined church as an army.” I do not understand why you are trashing the legacy of the Jesus Army- when you do not appear to have anything to offer that is better rather than a vague longing to be one with the universe. Our society needs the church to be an army now more than ever before- to be on the side of the poor- the marginalised. Our society is becoming more unequal and the poor are becoming poorer. What are you going to do about it?

    1. Admin says:

      We’re not trashing the army metaphor. As the article says “every image we’ve had has some validity and expresses something we mustn’t lose.” Also that “this is an image of discipleship, of focus, of drive and service.” Wouldn’t you agree those are all very good things? The point is no image will lead to a right balance when taken alone without other conceptions of church, as “the key is in getting the emphasis right.” So only thinking of church as an army can lead to negative things, just as only a body, only a tribe etc…

  2. Santidade says:

    I really loved your content, congratulations.

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