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To Have a Healthy Church, Have a Healthy Structure

photo credit: aakanayev

Structure is far more important that we usually realize. Every building in the world has to have the right structure to stand up and not collapse. Living things have structure as well. An animal can grow to no more than nine inches without an internal skeletal system. And every church has a structure as well. Some churches are structured for health and growth while others are structured merely to maintain and to survive.

Jesus once said, “no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins.” (Luke 5:37 NLT) His point was that nothing can expand without a flexible structure. In fact, a rigid or inflexible structure is one of the reasons many churches cannot break through some common growth barriers.

How can you tell when your structure needs to be more flexible?

1. When your growth has plateaued. When you’re going nowhere, it is often the result of a structure that is holding your church back. It must be understood that structure does not cause growth. Re-structuring will not start growth for a church that has plateaued. But structure does control the rate and size of growth for a church.

2. When there is internal conflict. If staff members are arguing over decisions, the structure of the church may very well be to blame. It’s possible that the vision and values of the church are not being communicated and leadership roles have not been clearly defined.

3. When leaders are getting discouraged. I’ve talked with thousands of pastors and without a doubt, their most common heartache is dealing with difficult structures. Too many churches are structured in such a way that fear and control drain the enthusiasm and kill the vision of the leader. Churches shouldn’t have such a bureaucratic approach to decision-making that visionaries are silenced.

Understand that it isn’t always structure that is the problem, but whenever a church plateaus, has frustrated leaders, or experiences infighting among leaders, it’s time for renewal. And there are four basic kinds of renewal every church needs.

We need personal renewal. That is, we need to experience a kind of renewal in which God becomes more real to us. Usually, the spiritual health of a church is a reflection of the spiritual health of its leaders. Our passion for leadership ultimately needs to flow out of our relationship with Jesus and our big vision of who God is.

We need corporate renewal. When a church really experiences corporate renewal, there is a collective, contagious excitement. The church becomes warmer and brighter when God’s people experience renewal together in community.

We need mission renewal. That is to say, we need to re-capture again our deep sense of mission from Jesus, our vision for the world, and our grasp on the purposes God has for us and for His church.

We need structural renewal. To put it another way, sometimes we desperately need to change the way we’re organized so that leaders are free to dream, to make decisions, to exercise faith, and to empower other leaders and volunteers without an over-abundance of red tape, policies, and procedures. Make no mistake, the church must absolutely function with a high commitment to ethical and legal integrity, but we also can’t forget that the church is a living organism that must move fast and remain fluid and flexible.

George Whitefield and John Wesley didn’t agree on every theological point, but they were friends who each made a significant impact on their world for the gospel. But when George Whitefield died, so did his ministry. John Wesley, on the other hand, lived on. What was the difference? They both loved Jesus and they both preached the same gospel, but John Wesley developed a great structure for sending preachers all over the world. That structure became the conduit for a growing movement that still impacts our world today.

To be a healthy church, you must have a biblical structure that is grounded in God’s purposes for the church, and you also must have a smart, flexible structure that never gets in the way of growth.

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