I love strategizing church ministry structures–deciding the most effective way to apply Biblical principles in our current church situation and cultural context. However, a danger lurks in this expression of Biblical leadership. Pastors (and church members!) can sometimes decide that their preferred ministry structure–not the goals, the principles, or the practices mandated by the Bible–but their particular church schedule or emphasis, is as Biblical as the Bible itself. We canonize our structure.
Here’s how it works:
- Teaching is crucial to the people of God. People need to hear more of God’s Word. A church that doesn’t provide multiple corporate teaching contexts a week is being unbiblical.
- Christians of every maturity need to evangelize. Our teenage Christians need to evangelize. A church that doesn’t prioritize evangelism in their youth ministry structure is unbiblical.
- Christians need to grow in their study of the Word. Non Christians should not be burdened with deep Biblical studies, they need to focus on the simple gospel. Allowing non-Christians or young Christians to attend discipleship meetings undermines transparency and sanctification or burdens unbelievers and is therefore unbiblical.
- Christian singles have extra time and energy to focus on discipleship. Singles should experience the full life of the church. A singles ministry that does not provide for every aspect of the christian life is unbiblical.
- God created families. The gospel is for every generation. A Church that creates ministries focused on specific seasons of life is unbiblical.
Of course the examples could be numerous. The tricky part is that we might never actually verbalize the italicized conclusion, even to ourselves. But functionally, relationally, we hold that conclusion with a grip that should be reserved for the Bible itself. For a given church, in a given time in its own history and culture, to structure their ministries in accordance with the italicized accent could just be wise, discerning leadership. But the leaders must carefully inform their own hearts and their people of the difference between a choice of accent and an unchanging Biblical truth. Such as…
- Biblical teaching is crucial for God’s people. We’ve chosen to accent that priority by providing multiple teaching contexts in our church schedule.
- Christians of every age need to evangelize. To highlight that truth, we’ve chosen to accent evangelism in our youth ministry.
- Christians need to grow in their study of the Word. Non-Christians should not be burdened with deep Biblical studies, they need to focus on the simple gospel. We’ve chosen to provide ministries that focus on rigorous Bible study, better for mature Christians, and others that focus on the basic truths of the faith, better for non-Christians.
- Christian singles have extra time and energy to focus on discipleship. Singles should experience the fullness of the Christian life. We’ve chosen to create a singles ministry that provides many of the aspects of church life with a schedule that conforms to Singles’ typical availability.
- God created families. The gospel is for every generation. We’ve chosen to minimize age-specific ministries to highlight the value of families worshiping and learning together.
Of course, a wise pastor will recognize that every ministry structure is a choice to emphasize one accent rather than another—most ministry structures create unintentional vulnerabilities that should be acknowledged and eventually addressed. A wise church member will also appreciate the value of one ministry without turning it into a permanent idol. There may come a day when a different accent may be needed in this church and in order to reach this culture. In that moment, the pastor that differentiated between legitimate accents and canonizing his structure will find it easier to lead his church toward a transition. Church members who have appreciated the difference will likewise be open to legitimate change while maintaining a firm grip on the unchanging Biblical mandates.
It’s also important to recognize that some practices do receive emphasis in the Bible. We should make sure that those practices receive priority in our structure as whole (Thinking here of things like Biblical preaching, congregational singing, prayer……). But these practices may be highlighted in a number of different ministry structures. And we should be honest with ourselves. All of us have particular burdens and gifts, and our structures (and Bible references!) normally tend in those directions. This is part of God’s sovereign care for his church. But in order to serve the next generation and the next leader in his Biblical gifts and burdens, pastors should distinguish between accents and the Bible. Members should applaud this distinction. We should not canonize our structure.