the weblog of Alan Knox

The Whole Church = All Church Leaders?

Posted by on Jan 12, 2011 in books, missional | 9 comments

The Whole Church = All Church Leaders?

I’m reading the book To Transform a City by Eric Swanson and Sam Williams as part of a “blog tour” sponsored by Zondervan.

The book, as the title suggests, encourages churches in a city to work together in order to “transform” their city. I agree with many things in this book (as I will write about in a later review), and I think the author’s points about the kingdom being bigger than any particular localized and organized group of believers is a very important lesson for today’s church to learn and practice.

There is one point in this book that is causing me to struggle. Throughout the book, the authors call for churches to work together. In fact, one of the chapters is named “The Whole Church.” In that chapter, the authors point out that God sees the entire church in a city as a single church, even if they meet in various locations and at different times. They call for these different churches to put aside their differences and seek to serve others in their city in the name of Jesus.

But, this is where I’m concerned. In every example (unless I missed one), the authors describe church leaders (primarily “senior pastors”) getting together in order to work together. But, senior pastors are not the church in a city any more than a single localized, organized group of believers (local church) is the church in a city.

Why must we limit “working together” to pastors and other leaders?

Why not encourage all believers in the city to work together?

Instead of groups of pastors coming up with ideas to help the community, why not include the people that are actually in the community?

Encourage neighbors to work with other neighbors (who are part of different churches) in order to transform their neighborhoods. Encourage employees to work with other employees (who are part of different churches) in order to transform the people in their work places. Encourage students to work with other students (who are part of different churches) in order to transform other students in their schools.

I’ve noticed something similar in other books on this subject. Cooperation between local churches is almost always focused on pastors and other leaders working together. Then, each pastor/leader gets his or her people involved (if the pastor/leader so chooses).

It’s almost as if we do not trust the people to work together themselves. Perhaps there’s another reason that I’m missing.

What do you think?


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

  1. 1-12-2011

    Maybe it is like the idea I’ve heard many times that the pastor should screen the people who want to speak to the congregation to make sure that person is not a heretic. Maybe the thought is that the pastor should screen the other local churches to make sure they are legit to somehow protect the congregation from inadvertently getting involved with people who think differently than themselves.

  2. 1-12-2011

    It’s because in their heart they do not believe in the ‘one church in a city’ truth. They believe ‘their church’ is the one church and all the others lack something. They half hearted subscribe to unity, but really they are building their own kingdoms. They do not trust co-operation of the ‘laity’..they might ‘stray’! Desperately sad. Roll on the revolution….!

  3. 1-12-2011

    I agree with Alan, they don’t want “their” sheep to realize how much bigger the green pastures of grazing land really is, in fear that they might wander off and not pledge allegiance to the “pastors” own personal empire. It’s about control and money.

    I believe the one church and the one church in a city doctrine is accurate and today we are much more mobile than they were in 35 AD. Meeting super local with only infrequent larger gatherings was necessitated back then by the lack of mobility of the populace. I think it very acceptable to meet primarily with a super local group in order to build each other up in deeper relationships and be knit together in love, but it’s also valid to meet with various gatherings all across ones city.

  4. 1-12-2011

    It’s almost as if we do not trust the people to work together themselves. Perhaps there’s another reason that I’m missing.

    It may be the more common assumption that work should be specialized and delegated for the sake of efficiency (and to get it off our own plates!). The “leaders” function more like bureaucrats, hired to plan, organize, and implement the vision that was somehow conjured up.

    I sometimes ask my kids why they think businesses that are losing money (such as the Post Office) cling so tenaciously to life. The answer is that even failing businesses generates many, many paychecks. We need to remember that the unending stream of questionable visionary programs like this one is mostly a full employment program for professional visionaries.

    Why transform a city? Isn’t it rewarding enough to transform a neighbor? Can’t we leave the transformation of the rest to their neighbors?

  5. 1-12-2011

    I believe it is much like Dan says. There will be no interaction between churches unless there is interaction between the pastors. That doesn’t happen very often because there is too much competition involved.

    Too much at stake for pastors. Their livelihood is dependent on keeping their congregations intact. It’s a sad but true reality of the current system. I truly believe most people would be happy to mix with other congregations if it wasn’t for the reluctance of leadership.

  6. 1-12-2011

    This situation reminds me of a group I used to contribute to when I was living in Stoke-on-Trent. It was called Seedbed and the organisation was committed to financially and structrally supporting ministries under the condition that it was birthed and lived out done by the ‘laity’ in cross-denominational partnerships. As in it had to be a partnership of more than one denomination As in no ‘church leaders’ were to be involved at leadership level. Kinda makes it sad that initiatives have to start up that way, when the gist of the Body building requires the parts to just join up together.

  7. 1-12-2011


    I think that’s definitely part of it. The pastors/leaders are seen as guardians of the truth and protectors of “their” church.


    I’m afraid there’s an element of truth in what you said. It’s like some are saying, “I’ll work with you because I’m supposed to, but don’t expect me to like it. And, if some of MY PEOPLE start working with YOUR PEOPLE, then I’m nipping this thing in the bud.”


    I love to encourage the people that we meet with (and for whom I am one of the elders/pastors) to meet with others and work with others.


    That’s true, too. I think it works from both directions. The pastors/leaders feel they know better than others how to “transform” a neighborhood/city, and non-leaders are waiting for someone to tell them what to do.


    Wow… livelihood is a big issue, isn’t it? I can tell you it has been very freeing for me not to rely on others to support me and my family.


    That’s an interesting (and different!) plan. How did it work out?


  8. 8-25-2011

    Alan. you have asked the right question once again. Of course the church is the Christian community in the town or city and not the individual organisations/buildings/ or leaders. We do need to get people to work together across denominational lines. So far that is all a no-brainer.
    Two points however:
    Para church organisations serve this function and unite Christians from different “churches” to work together, (street pastors, youth for Christ or whatever)- these organisations can add to the sum of what the whole church is doing in the town – but often have the opposite effect simply because they also need to be organised, funded and led! (Duplication of effort)
    Leadership is not the whole story, and I absolutely agree that we should work together at every level, but leadership is needed if new ways of working actually work. It is leadership that needs to set the example, see the potential, introduce people to the possibilities, take the risks and clear up the mess if it all goes pear shaped!

    When it works best the leaders lead, and the people follow, and that means into working together as much as anything else!

  9. 8-25-2011


    I think the question, “What did ‘leading’ mean to Jesus?” would be a huge factor in this discussion.