It’s Not the Structure, It’s the People

In 2011 my church was going through serious, high level, internal conflict.  We had government by eldership, and underneath the eldership there was a board of management.  I was on both groups.

Our problems became so great that our senior pastor called on the State Executive of the Assemblies of God to make some recommendations and help us sort out our mess.  The State Executive sent along Ps Ian Kruithoff, who is in charge of church health and church planting in Victoria.  This means that Ian spends half of his entire working life travelling around the state putting out fires like ours and the other half of his time goes to church planting.

After church one Sunday Ian took the Board out for lunch.  As soon as we had him in the car he was peppered with questions about what the best structure for church government is.  Where do the eldership, the Board, the senior pastor, the congregation and everyone else fit in?  Who should be accountable to whom?  If anyone was going to have an opinion on this subject it would be Ian.  His answer stunned me.  He said, “It doesn’t matter.  It’s not the structure, it’s the people.”

He went on to say that he has seen all sorts of systems used and every variation of them – and his conclusion is that they can all work well, and they can all blow up.  The thing that makes the difference is the people.  Where there is holiness, humility and submission then the structure will work.  Where those are absent the structure will fail.  And that is true for every single structure that exists.

I was stunned.  I was sure that in his role Ian would have seen so many different systems that he would have an opinion on what works best and what does not.  I mean even if it is ultimately the people, surely some systems work better to facilitate people being at their best, and others would be unhelpful?  I actually didn’t believe him, so I pressed further.  “But Ian, after all that you have seen around the state surely you would have a preference for one particular model?”  No.  All I got was, “It’s not the structure it’s the people.”

I am someone who finds church government very interesting.  If you have been following this blog for the past 17 weeks you have probably picked that up.  I could not believe that someone with so much experience of church government could have such a view about the different ways it is done.

It’s not the structure, it’s the people.  It’s so blunt, it leaves no room to move.  I keep thinking that there must be an exception to the rule, some sort of scenario in which yes, the structure is finally to blame.  But not according to someone who has seen a lot more church conflict than me, or anyone else that I know of.

So what your church needs is not the right system.  You don’t need to re-work your constitution, or re-jig the organisational flow chart.  If you do those things, don’t expect the changes to transform the place.  What your church needs is people who love God, love each other and are filled with holiness and humility.  That, and that alone, is what will safeguard you from conflict.

Do you agree?


3 Comments to “It’s Not the Structure, It’s the People”

  1. And my answers to Craig’s questions…
    Getting the right people. In terms of the whole congregation you simply get those who come – a whole mix of people who came to Christ last week and people who have immense maturity from walking closely with God for decades. Some will be very Christlike and some will be very worldly and many will be somewhere in between. In terms of getting the right people in leadership roles, then the right people to appoint are those that meet the criteria Paul lays down in 1 Tim 3 and Tit 1, and also what the apostles say in Acts 6:3. (To save you looking them up here’s a summary – character is paramount, giftedness is second.)

    Accountability depends on what system you have. If you have a bishop, then people are ultimately accountable to the bishop (and the bishop’s appointed leaders). The bishop is accountable to God. If you have elders then likewise people are accountable to the eldership and the elders accountable to God. If you have congregational government then the leaders are accountable to the congregation who can vote for there retention or removal as they see fit. And the congregation will give an account to God for their decisions. In every system someone (be it an individual or a group) is the one who has the leadership role and accounts to God for how they have performed in it. The bible acknowledges this in Heb 13:17 where it describes the role of leaders as, “Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God.”

  2. 2 good questions posted by Craig Watson on facebook…
    How do you get the right people?
    And what about accountability – what role should it play?

  3. Interesting post John. Management Theory’s basic assumption is that the internal conflict or interpersonal friction can best be managed by structural changes to the management system. It seems that Ian was indeed, very familiar with the different types of structure that he had seen employed in his time assisting the church. His conclusion about this breadth of experience with different systems? They are all capable of working – and they are all capable of not working! I think he’s trying to isolate the critical variable – the essential element – that can make ANY of the systems you might choose solve the problem of internal conflict. The importance of morale, trust and a shared goal is easy to ignore because it is so often assumed to be there. I don’t think his answer leaves no room to move. I think his answer is subtle – Pick whichever system you like. They all work. Ignore trust, respect and a shared goal any you’ll find you might never find the ‘right’ one. I think your time with Ian was well spent by the sound of it!

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