Suppose the Apostle Paul showed up, did an analysis of contemporary American evangelical churches, and was given a free hand to reconstruct them according to a biblical model. What would change? I believe that he would make substantial alterations. Over the next several posts I would like us to reflect together on what those changes might entail.
Today I would like us to consider modifications he might make on basic church structure.
My belief that he would institute revisions comes from this verse:
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17 NKJV)
Apparently the writer of Hebrews has in mind a church design in which leaders are held responsible for the oversight of the flock. Since they would be giving an account to God for this responsibility, it would be approached with profound care.
Imagine if God assigned to you the responsibility to mow your lawn, and He told you he would be back tomorrow to check on your work. I am convinced that your lawn would look better than it ever had at any time in the past, mowed, trimmed, and weeds pulled from the flower bed.
Now apply the same standard of excellence to church leaders responsible for the spiritual growth and well-being of those in the congregation. How would they achieve that?
Step one would consist of identifying the flock, i.e. determining specifically the sheep for which God would hold them accountable. In most contemporary evangelical churches this sort of identification at best occurs on a very casual basis. Some churches do not even have membership, and most that do are quite casual about it. One mechanism that I have found troubling is the church directory. Most churches list members and non-members in the church directory. The criteria for getting your name included is usually quite nebulous. Are those listed in the church directory part of the flock for which church leadership is responsible or will they give an account just for members? Since they are giving an account to God, this comprises a serious question. If we’re dealing with a small church in a small Iowa town where population is fairly static, this may not be a problem. However, in today’s mega-churches where population is usually quite fluid, there is no fence around the pasture, and sheep come and go at will. “I haven’t seen Tom and Barbara for a few months, I wonder if they’re still around.”
However we identify the flock, an essential criterion would need to be their willingness and commitment to being discipled by church leadership, which would include submitting to direction.
Having identified the flock, the next step would comprise some management configuration. Perhaps this would entail dividing the congregation into groups of 10 or so families and placing an elder in charge of that group. He would have responsibilities such as determining the spiritual state of each family member and developing an oversight program that would provide for their spiritual growth and other needs. This could include plugging them into various church programs. He would meet with them periodically, perhaps monthly, to identify problems and determine progress.
These elders would report to the pastor. Elder meetings, instead of being consumed by issues such as discussing whether to provide coffee in the foyer would be used to assess the state of church families, fine-tune oversight, and pray for the people.
The bottom line would be much healthier believers and a much healthier church. In the absence of the Apostle Paul, maybe we should think of applying a biblical church configuration on our own.