The church existed long before modern organizations and it will outlast them. That said, organization frameworks are powerful tools for fulfilling our calling.
Sadly, they are too often in the hands of leaders who understand little about them. Sad because these tools have the power to hurt as well as help.
Why are we not talking about this?
This is personal for me. I struggled through many years of ministry trying to understand the organizational side of church.
I believed that many church problems could be solved or pre-empted through sound organizational practices. But I had a hard time finding the help I sought.
In my quest, I found that a simple, basic understanding of the origins of modern organizations created a shift in my perspective.
A very brief history of modern organizations
Organizations as we know them are relatively new. They were birthed out of the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century.
The inventions of mechanical devices for making cloth and of steam engines for powering machinery started a wave of new businesses that were able to employ large numbers of people for the first time in history.
Organizational structures emerged as a way of managing large manufacturing plants to increase efficiency.
In a short time this approach became hugely popular, which created a need to study the more successful ones in order to describe their characteristics. Terms like division of labor, hierarchy, chain of command, and flow charts became associated with them.
Initially, organization structures were a business tool to improve working conditions and increase production for lowering costs to the customer. But as the advantages became obvious, other entities like government and educational systems started using them.
Churches also began adopting some of the ideas into ministry approaches.
The job is easier when you have the right tools
It’s important to understand that organization itself is not the essence of the church.
Organizational structures and systems are tools we use to fulfill our mission. They are like wineskins that serve a purpose for a time but eventually become useless and must be replaced with new ones.
In the spirit of St. Paul who said, “I become all things to all people so that by all means I might win some”, we utilize organization concepts to conduct ministries in the most effective way possible in our time and place.
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