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Structures and Programs Are Important But People Even More So

By Jason Morrison, M.A.C.M

Focus on people not programs

When we begin the process of either planning a new faith community or restructuring an existing one, it is very easy to lose focus.  We naturally begin to look for programs and structures that will enable our local expression of the body of Christ to be effective at carrying out his mission. His mission includes both the great commission (preach the Gospel and make disciples) and the great commandment (love God with all our heart and love our neighbors). Structures and programs are very important. They can either enable or hinder our mission. However, they are not the most important aspect of our ministry. 

Ask yourself this question. When you leave your leadership position what will be the work that remains (I Cor. 3:13)? All of the beautiful organizational structures, the cutting-edge programs and the exciting ministries can be dismantled by your successor overnight. Within a year or two you may even be forgotten and the ministry forms you built may be completely erased. The one thing that will last is people. Who have you won to Christ? How many disciples have you trained to step into the role of apostles, pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets? That is the true fruit of your ministry. Ministries and structures are the means to that goal.

Leaders facilitate

Leaders only facilitate the activity of God through his Church. They do not create life, nor do programs and structures create life. It is only God, who creates life. The leader looks for the life and activity of God and subsequently develops structures that facilitate and enhance the release of God’s life-giving activity. The leader needs to identify the activity of God in a particular area and then work to facilitate it. This means honing his own leadership skills and becoming adept at facilitating the personal growth and the ministries of those in his care. 

Build programs toward the mission of God

Every ministry activity has a propensity to shift its focus from God’s mission to human need. Even something simple like a prayer meeting may begin with the goal of praying the will of God into our community. However eventually, if left unchecked, it will shift to praying for a list of prayer requests from the church. So instead of praying that God would push back the gates of Hell and save souls from eternal damnation, we begin to pray for our mother’s sore back or the test our children have in school. It is a natural part of our nature to stray from God’s mission. 

Leaders continually look at the mission of God and ask if their ministry programs and structures are facilitating God’s activity. Is the current ministry structure helping the people to experience God and fall in love with Him? Is it building spiritual community that encourages and heals? Does it enable us to communicate effectively to the world around us? Does it build mature believers that become the muscle of our church? Every structure and ministry program that drifts from Christ’s mission into human need needs to be reevaluated. 

Contextualize methods and structures

Finally our structures and methods may be focused on God’s mission yet out of sync with our context. I was born in North America, and I am Pentecostal in doctrine. I believe that Pentecost is not a style that fits one culture. In Acts 2 it spoke to all cultures that were present. So if I were coaching a Pentecostal church, I would encourage them by saying that we need to set ourselves up to shift through culture. We can keep the values like prayer and spiritual gifts without insisting on the methods of early American Pentecost that featured services that lasted 3-4 hours, cottage prayer meetings and tent revivals. Leaders should never hand off doctrine to a new generation or new culture without re-interpreting it and re-contextualizing it. This is especially critical in the unique setting of an international church where there is a unique blend of cultures. 

When our methods are not adjusted, de-spiritualization occurs. Likewise, when values are not clarified and explained in new language that fits the context, de-spiritualization occurs. Let us ask what works to release the Spirit’s activity in each international community. Refusing to re-contextualize and adapt from an American model, a Swedish model, a Finnish model, etc. ensures failure. God wants our faith communities to produce healthy disciples from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Australia the Middle East and Europe.  Finding structures that enable the life and activity of God in each of these communities within the international church context is a daunting task, but we believe that Jesus is the head of the church. When He shows us what He is doing, He will also enable us to join with his activity to do it with him. (Jn. 5:19)

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