the weblog of Alan Knox

The Church or the Organization?

Posted by on Mar 20, 2009 in community, elders, fellowship, office | 9 comments

Two years ago, I wrote a post called “The Church or the Organization?” In this post I was beginning to discuss the differences between the church (the people of God) and the ways in which the people organize and structure themselves. There is a difference. I also give one example of the organization becoming more important than the people. I refer to a few other blog posts that you may be interested in reading.


The Church or the Organization?

In my previous post, “What does a bishop oversee?“, I suggested that elders/pastors/bishops should focus on the church – that is, the people – instead of any organization formed around or by the church. This was my concluding paragraph:

But, what difference does it make? Why does it matter whether our pastors/elders “oversee” an organization or “are concerned about” the people of God. Well, for me, it makes all the difference in the world. As an elder, I want to know what God requires of me. Does God require me to run the church like a well-oiled machine? Or does He expect me to “look after” and “be concerned about” those believers around me? I believer God’s focus is people… and so, our focus should be people as well. If my focus is on people, I will respond differently than if my focus was on an organization. My priorities will be different if my focus is on people instead of an organization. My time, resources, and effort will be spent differently if my focus is on people instead of an organization.

In the great discussion that followed in the comments, there were some questions about organizations and the church. David Rogers, from “Love Each Stone“, made the following statement:

I agree that a “bishop” should focus more on “overseeing” people than an organization. However, I think we would be hard-pressed to find those who would say no, they should neglect people, and focus more on the organization.

I do not quote David to point out a disagreement. In fact, I believe that we are probably very close on this issue. Instead, I want to use this statement as a starting point in to further discuss the difference between focusing on people (the church) and focusing on the organization.

First, I do not believe that it is wrong or evil for the church to organize itself for particular purposes. I think we see this in Scripture. For example, as Paul was travelling around the Roman Empire, he travelled with several people. I’m sure there was some type of organization involved. We know that Paul made tents at times in order to provide for himself and his travelling companions (Acts 20:34-35). One person working to provide for himself and others demonstrates some type of organization.

So, organization is not wrong or evil in and of itself. My good friend Theron from “Sharing in the Life” (Who is finally blogging again!), has a great post on organization called “The Role of Organization in a Body of Believers“.

Though we might agree that organizations are not bad, and may even serve a good purpose at times, this does not mean that we will be “hard-pressed to find those who would say no, they should neglect people, and focus more on the organization”. Unfortunately, in today’s “Church Growth” literature, we find just this: a focus on the organization at the expense of the people involved. Here is one example:

Mark Driscoll is an interesting figure. He is at times accepted and at times excepted by emerging/missional believers. Some praise him and the Mars Hill Church which he started in Seattle, WA. Others claim that he is not truly “emerging” but more accurately reflects “evangelicalism” or the seeker church movement. Similarly, some evangelicals say that Driscoll is emerging, while others (like the Southern Baptist Convention, which appears to be wooing him and his Acts 29 Network) welcome him as a fellow evanglical. In other words, Driscoll somehow represents both the emerging and the evangelical flavors of Christianity – loved by some in both camps and hated by some in both camps.

In his 2006 book Confessions of a Reformission Rev: Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church, Driscoll describes the phenomenal growth of Mars Hill Church. In one chapter, he explores some of the decisions that he had to make in order for Mars Hill Church to grow from 350 people to 1000 people:

We had to quickly reorganize all of our systems and staff. Our administrative pastor, Eric, left, which we all recognized was God’s call on him. And our worship leader was a great guy and great musician but was unable to coordinate the multiple bands in the three locations, so we let him go. This was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made because he was a very godly man who had worked very hard and would have been fine if the church had not gotten so crazy so quickly, and he and his very sweet wife were both close personal friends of mine. But I needed a worship pastor who could lead multiple bands, coordinate multiple services in multiple locations, and train multiple worship pastors while keeping up with a church that was growing so fast that we had no idea exactly where it was going. [135]

Now, just in case you think that Driscoll may have made the decision to let his close personal friend go because of his concern for other people, please continue reading:

A very wise friend who is a successful business entrepreneur, Jon Phelps, shared an insight with me around this time that was very clarifying. He said that in any growing organization, there are three kinds of people, and only two of them have any long-term future with a growing organization. First, there are people on the rise who demonstrate an uncanny ability to grow with the organization and become vital leaders. Second, there are people who attach themselves to the people on the rise as valuable assistants who rise by being attached to someone on the rise. Third, there are people who neither rise nor attach to anyone who is rising, and they cannot keep up with the growing demands of the organization. These people fall behind, and the organization can either allow their inability to slow down the whole team or release them and move forward without them. This is difficult to do because they are often good people who have been partly responsible for the success of the organization. But the needs of the organizational mission, not an individual in the organization, must continually remain the priority if there is to be continued success. [135]

From what I have read, none of the people who commented would agree with Driscoll’s approach. However, I also do not think that Driscoll is alone in his priorities. There are many who say that the organization should be placed above the people involved.

What Driscoll describes is the exact opposite of my position. The pastors/elders/bishops must focus on the people before the organization. However, we should all admit, even if we do not go to the extreme that Driscoll went to, it is much easier to put the organization above the people. But, according to Scripture, the people should always come first.

Our desire should be to grow the people (edify the body), not to grow the organization – and this includes those “stubborn” people that God has placed in our path. In fact, our purpose should be the growth of the whole body, not just 2/3 of the body. When people begin to be sacrificed in order to further the “organizational mission”, then the organization has the wrong mission. And, when pastors/elders/bishops begin focusing on the organization instead of the people, then they are not acting as the pastors/elders/bishops that Scripture describes.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-20-2009

    Great post… I fully agree. It brought tears to my eyes, reading what Driscoll had said about the growth process of the organization. Why is there an organization in the first place, if not for the people? Sadly, it’s become about the organization.

  2. 3-20-2009

    I don’t see this as an either/or situation but a both/and situation. The organization must serve the people and the people must serve the organization. St. Paul rightly compared the church to a body which is incredibly well organized, with Christ as the head and we as the “many parts.” Each serves one another in charity, and charity of its very nature is sacrificial. Sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice your own needs for that of the body and this sacrifice results in growth. You see this with fasting. But I think where the problem arises is that ultimately the Church is not simply a human institution, it is also a divine one, and ultimately the author of the church is divine, so we human beings who are members of the body must submit to the will of the church’s divine author and discern his purpose above our own.

  3. 3-20-2009

    I fear that Mark Driscoll will one day learn, as have others, that his people have learned the lesson he has taught them, and one day that organization will decide it needs to move on without Mark.

    Without people there is no organization, but the needs of the organization often overshadow the needs of the people, especially people who are on the fringes of the organization or who are not part of the organization.

    The needs of the organization may eliminate certain people in leadership positions whose “vision” for the organization differs from that of the majority. But what of some poor, lonely soul who comes in contact with the organization? My observation is that they quite often get lost in the organization, unless the organization thinks they would be useful in accomplishing the goals of the organization (provide services, money or status to the organization).

    Then the organization, in my opinion, is a religious organization. It may be called church. But it is a different organism, to my way of thinking, from the ekklesia we find in the New Testament.

  4. 3-20-2009

    brian, aren’t we called to serve one another, not an organization? the organizations are only useful insofar as they facilitate our service to one another. unfortunately we have evolved to a place where the organization has become an end in and of itself, rather than a means.

  5. 3-20-2009

    Arthur, the church as an organization is a living body and in serving the organization we serve one another and in serving one another we serve the organization. You cannot separate the Christian from the Church because the Church is the body of Christ, and to be in Christ, one must be a part of the body. That is what St. Paul means when he uses the analogy of the body. Apart from the rest of the body, an individual part dies, i.e. if you remove your hand from the body, it withers and dies.

  6. 3-20-2009


    All true, but is the institution we think of, the organized, local assembly of believers “the church”? There is general confusion among the body as to what really constitutes the body. As Christians, you and I are in the same church, the same Body even if we never meet even once this side of the new heavens and earth.

  7. 3-20-2009


    And through the “magic” of the internet and our good brother Alan’s blog, you and I have in a way “met” this side of the new Jerusalem. 🙂 Praised be Jesus Christ.

    Honestly, I don’t have a confusion as to what constitutes the body of Christ. It is a visible institution of living stones founded on the faith of the apostles with Jesus himself being the cornerstone. It is not some abstract and vague concept of believers. It is a tangible and definable entity, and because it is tangible and definable, it must be (and have) an organization. But the organization serves the community and the community serves the organization and both of these are done in caritas. One must not suffer at the expense of the other because then charity is lost. If one suffers then all suffer. If one is elevated, then all are elevated.

  8. 3-22-2009

    Thank you, again, everyone for carrying on an excellent discussion in my absence. I hope to be able to respond to individual comments in future posts now that things are a little less busy for me.


  9. 3-23-2009

    Hello Alan:
    All – The problem becomes where does the organization and the individual start and end.
    I have started or been a part of very large churches(in excess of 3,000) and very small(barely 20).
    The problem always becomes "We need more Professionalism." I have been to church after church and this is always the case. One church I was at we would put the "non-professionals" in a Wednesday night service. This worked out well until the church grew some more and the "Leadership" decided we could no longer put these people in front of a public that may be offended by their "unprofessional" appearance or demeanor. We may try to make it sound nicer by using biblical/biological terms – divine institution, churches divine author,living organism, living organization etc. Then,we further try to muddle the mix by saying the programs and growth which the church body(divinely instituted) is one and the same. The logic goes this way. I, as part of a divine institution, make a decision it must also be divine.Therefore, if the programs outgrow a person working in a divine institution, it must be God's will. Believe me I have seen this at large and small churches. The funny thing is I have never seen the head pastor/architect/leader step down from this and say THEY don't have the skill to keep things going and this is actually the case sometimes.
    We might as well quote Spock and say " the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or one."
    There used to be a movement to split and start like minded sister churches when a church reached 300-400 people. Then it become larger and larger numbers, before trying this. If these were truly "Living Organisms", then we would see some of these unwieldy organisms shed some pounds from being overweight.This would be inline with our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit.
    See, I can spiritualize with the best of them. Or is that twisting Scripture or both(<: