A couple of years ago I was telling a friend about a church with an organizational structure that would look relatively flat if drawn on a diagram. Its size and demographics made it impractical to use a democratic system of making decisions where everyone has a vote on even the smallest minutiae. But it also sought to avoid the great American temptation of running it's affairs like a corporation, where there is a guy at the top "casting vision" and making decisions, a few people under him executing that vision, and a mass of followers. Instead, the people of this church chose to live life with each other and sought to move as one. If a picture was needed, he could just imagine a group of people traveling on a path together, heading in the same general direction. Occasionally small groups would decide to fan out onto smaller trails, but would eventually converge back with the larger group. Rarely were large unilateral decisions concerning direction made by one person, or even a small group of people. When they were, everyone was in on the scoop, because everyone was together, as one.
My friend gave me his nicer, more measured version of "Hogwash!" He insisted that it was a universal fact that when people got together, someone would inevitably emerge as the shot-caller, the prophetic voice with the bull horn leading the people out of the wilderness. I refused to budge, telling him this may be his experience, but some churches do actually exist outside the box of Corporate Christianity.
Since that conversation I've had moments when I doubted my assessment of the church I was speaking of. Maybe Machiavellian royalty, even with the best intentions, will always emerge out of a congregation. Perhaps this is the way it should be. It's possible I was describing to my friend an imaginary place that was more wishful thinking than reality.
But one can dream, and if such a place does actually exist, I think it might look something like this...
Every congregant's view of each other would look similar to that of Paul's in the beginning and ending of the letters he wrote to churches. This is to say, though differences inevitably exist and personalities clash, love and mutual affection will always be the primary template.
Knowing that, while a church is not a business, business does need to get done, there would be a few people who walk to the front of the path to look ahead and every now and then tell their fellow travelers "Hey, what do you say we go this direction?" Everyone, trusting these people because they actually know them, and live their days together trying to figure out how to be Christ's people, will more or less say "Ok," even if they disagree, because being with each other is more important to them than being right.
Every now and then the whole congregation would gather together to have a heart to heart about the journey-- celebrating where they've been, assessing where they are, and dreaming about what is to come. Everyone's voice would be heard, because everyone is equally important. It should be understood that, because everyone has an opinion, these gathering may be contentious, something like a meeting of British Parliament. Egos may become bruised, hearts disappointed. At the end, though, no one would have to guess what was going on with the journey. Everyone would know, because the process was transparent. If they felt strong enough that the direction wasn't a good one, they would be free to leave. Yet few would exercise this option, out of deference to the loyalty, love and affection they have for the group of people they are traveling with. At the end of these difficult meetings everyone would make a trip to the local watering hole and enjoy each other's company over their beverage of choice.
There would be no "Shot-Caller" or "Decider."
The phrase "Behind the Scenes" would hold no relevance in this church.
The church would hold in high regard, and seek to continue moving in the direction of, it's original mission. Yet it would also recognize the absurdity of refusing to change and be molded by the ideas of new travelers it has picked up along the way. This delicate balancing act would be continually acknowledged and the subject of frequent conversation.
Children would be held in the utmost regard in this church.
Every traveler would be encouraged to do whatever it is they do with excellence. When this happens, celebration should occur. When other groups of travelers, heading in the same general direction, take notice of this, they will begin to ask what is going on. What was cause for celebration-making with the original group will be cause for celebrity-making with those on the outside. When this happens, careful attention should be paid to ensure that celebrity doesn't unduly elevate.
Everyone, over time, from those at the front to those at the back of the pack, should have permission, and access, to speak into each other's lives.
This church would think itself special and unique, yet not exempt from the trappings and downfalls of other churches. It shouldn't be so arrogant to think that other congregations, traveling in close geographical and philosophical proximity, have nothing to say to it. From time to time it would reach out to these fellow pilgrims, asking for prayer and guidance.
People in this church would be encouraged to practice what they are good at, what Christians call their "gifts."
And finally, although the church may be meandering in and out of the orthodox trails, it should continually recognize a few orienting principles-- namely the preeminence of Christ and the necessity of his perfect life, death, and resurrection. It should be understood that the journey should ultimately lead to Him.
That's a church I would recommend to anyone looking for a place to call home.