We might like to think that Church should be all about life and that Structure speaks of something more like death than life, and so Structure is not important. However, if you consider what life itself is, you can see that Structure is very important. Every cell in our bodies is full of incredibly complex Structure. DNA, the molecule that holds the genetic code for each of us, is a complex double helix Structure. Our bodies would collapse but for a series of Structures, including but not limited to our skeletons, our arteries and veins, and our nervous systems.
A paradox here is that, if Structure is indeed important to a healthy Church life, the Bible seems to be very non-prescriptive and open about what the required Structure actually is. My belief is that this reflects God’s great wisdom, given that his plan is for the Church to be able to operate in all sorts of cultures, and in all sorts of situations, over a very long period of time – starting with the events recorded in the Book of Acts until the very end of this current age.
I suppose many Churches will believe that their particular structure is totally consistent with the Biblical model of leadership and governance; but there seem to be so many variations to these models, and surely they cannot all be ‘right’, can they? I suggest it’s relatively easy to pick up on one aspect of what the Bible says about leadership, while at the same time more or less overlooking or ignoring something else. For example, one Church might have elders, but where are the deacons? It might have both elders and deacons, but where are the bishops? Another might do well with bishops, but struggle more with pastors and teachers. There might be priests, but how about the priesthood of all believers?
If we aim to be part of a Church that is based on the early Church, we all start with an immediate disadvantage, however hard we might try to cover everything the Bible says about how Churches are led. The early Churches were Churches of cities. They didn’t have the history of division and denominationalism that is the real historical and cultural context for so many of us nowadays. For example, if you are in a Church that believes in recognising elders, eldership was something that was understood in the first century in the wider community beyond Church communities. Elders were elders of cities – how does this really translate for the leadership of one Church amongst many Churches in a city?
There is, for me, nonetheless something in the New Testament that cries out to us across the centuries and applies to us wherever and whenever we are, regardless of the size of our Church and regardless of any other variables, whether those variables relate to ethnicity, economics, gender, persecution, age or anything else. It is this:
Ephesians 4: 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. [New King James Version]
This statement by the Apostle Paul seems to apply for all times and for all situations. God has a plan for the body of Christ, the Church, to be built up. The word in the original Greek that is translated here as ‘equipping’ has the sense of fitting and adjusting things together perfectly. If what these 5 ministries (some say 4 – linking pastor/teacher together as one) do is fit people together, this is relational, personal work. It follows that if a Church, as part of the body of Christ, is being built up in this way, then there must be some kind of relational, personal connection to the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists.
Where are these connections in your Church, and in mine? Possibly some or all of the names of the ministries God has given to us are not totally familiar within your Church. If that is so, isn’t this strange, given that Paul tells us plainly that God has given these ministries to us?
Many of us will be familiar with pastors – although this name is often applied as a label to someone who leads a Church, and this might be a very different thing from saying that the leader is primarily a pastoral care type of person.
We might imagine evangelists as the people who come in to organise special events, or perhaps we might think of the people in our own congregation who seem keen to reach out to those who are outside the Church. Possibly the leaderships of many Churches do not easily include evangelists. Evangelists are so interested in what is happening beyond the walls of the Church building, and not very interested at all in maintaining existing Church members.
As for teachers – well, who are they? How many itinerant ministries identify themselves as primarily teachers? How many Church leaderships have a resident teacher?
Leadership teams might struggle handling a strongly prophetic person on the team if he/she is not the main leader – how does everyone cope with an opinion that seems to be backed up by God himself, if that opinion is not followed? Churches might find the prophetic a little unsettling.
In my personal experience, Apostles are being talked about more than in years gone by. I consider this to be a good thing, although I find it disturbing to see more and more people who seem very happy to identify themselves as an Apostle, and to print their business cards and post on social media in a way that proclaims their status boldly. That said, Apostles seem very clearly to be at the apex or sharp end of the Ephesians 4 ministries. How well are our Churches doing in the job of connecting well with apostolic ministry? Where are the Apostles?
Maybe it is too easy for a Church to dodge important questions that flow from Ephesians 4 by pointing to membership of a denomination, or affiliation to some other kind of network. Churches that see themselves as totally independent face a different set of challenges here. Whatever your particular Church situation might be, if you are in any kind of leadership and you want your people to grow, you must be prepared to address the question of how you are connecting with Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers, and Evangelists.
I summarise Structure like this: we connect. I will, of course, return this summary of Structure in Part 6 of this series.
In Part 5, I will move the fourth and final of the 4 key areas of Church life – ‘Purpose’.