Sunday, January 04, 2009

Think again: church organization

There are a lot of good reasons to rethink the way we've organized our church -- but there are some bad reasons too. Here are a few:

"Our church's denominational structure goes back to horse-and-buggy days."
It would be more accurate to say it goes back to the days of trains and trolley cars -- and outside of rural areas, pastors would have found it just about as easy to get around back then as they do today.

"Modern technology allows us to eliminate local conferences."
We've seen a revolution in finance and communications -- and certainly this ought to make us rethink how we handle tasks such as running payroll or training church officers. But no one has found a way for leaders to develop relationships with more than 120 people or so . . . and that means we'll always need something about the size of a conference to place, evaluate, and mentor both pastors and teachers.

"Union conferences essentially duplicate the work of local conferences."
A quick look at the NPUC directory indicates roughly a third of its employees work in finance -- and a large share of those are auditors. Another third are evangelists, or specialists in fields such as Information Technology, communications, religious liberty, or ministry to ethnic groups. As a result, there doesn't seem to be much overlap between the work of the NPUC and that of our Conference.

"We need to cut the fat and put more money into front-line workers."
The two largest departments in the Oregon Conference are Treasury, and Trust Services; together, they employ roughly the same number of people as the Children's Ministries, Community Outreach, Family Life, Ministerial, Women's Ministries, and Youth departments put together. Cutting jobs in Treasury and Trust Services could put us in a world of hurt. As for the rest . . . let's be honest: most deal with ministries that pastors know little about (not least because their local leadership is often provided by women) . Just because we don't know what
someone is doing, in other words, doesn't necessarily mean their work is un-necessary.

"Our church's organizational structure hasn't changed in a hundred years."
As Jeff Crocombe and others have pointed out, the Adventist church did not really have much in the way of local church pastors until the late-1940s. Evangelists, yes. Pastors, emphatically no. The creation of an Adventist pastorate, in other words, has been one of the biggest changes and one of the biggest forces for change in our church's structure -- all the more for the lack of notice it has received.

"Changing our church's structure puts us on the road to congregationalism."
Consider the way we hire and fire teachers -- a process that is neither top-down (hierarchical) nor bottom-up (congregational), but a little bit of both. Just because it's not Christmas, in other words, doesn't mean it has to be the 4th of July.

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