A movement cannot grow in a low-trust, high-control environment.
But a dictatorship can. (Cuba)
A corporation can. (McDonald’s)
A gang can. (Al Capone)
In a low-trust, high-control environment leadership is supreme. Decisions flow from top to bottom. A high value is placed on replication and copying and perfecting. Efficiency is more important than individualism. And the everyday worker has virtually no voice. In fact, the less voice the worker has the better.
You want to see what church growth looks like? Remove the money. Learn about the Boxer Revolution and how that changed the church in China. All the western missionaries and their hierarchical structures went away. (Or were killed) And the church went underground.
Thus, a low-control and high-trust structure was forced to emerge. When the church went from an Augustinian mindset with paid staff and buildings and budgets and fake-butts-in-seats to an underground movement of unpaid pastors on the run, meeting in house churches, and people risking their life to be a part of it… the church became a movement again. The Gospel spread neighbor to neighbor because it is Good News. People risked their lives to be called a Christian.
And it became an unstoppable force. (I’ve heard estimates in the hundreds of millions of converts during the 20th century in China.)
Jesus designed the church as an insurgency. Looking at church history, the times when the church has been most effective have been in a high-trust, low-control environment. The Roman Empire conquered every people group in its path but was conquered from the inside-out by an insurgency of the heart.
A core problem in America is the rapid embrace of a low-trust, high-control leadership structure. “Church growth experts” (and their books and conferences) encourage church leaders to remove the voice of the people and go to staff-lead models. To generalize, the staff become the local experts on everything from discipleship to sex and the people become relatively voiceless, idea-less, worker bees in support of the vision of the leadership. These high-control, low-trust leaders proudly say things like, “This is the type of church we are. If you don’t like it, you can leave. There are plenty of churches out there.”
I’ve heard leaders say that at leadership events. And people in leadership write that down. And underline it. As if asking people to leave who disagree with you is a sign of a powerful leader. (Hint: Surrounding yourself with people who agree with you makes you a wimp of a leader.)
So many people have left the church. Sure, there are examples of big churches you can look to and hope for growth in that model. But I can schedule a tour of a 25,000 square foot church for sale 500 yards from my house that says there is no hope in that model.
You can’t create an insurgency of the heart with a low-trust, high-control model. People will die for Jesus but they won’t die for you.
The church will grow when we give power back to the people. Not just the power to serve leaders vision, but real— actual power over their day-to-day church life. We give lip service to the Priesthood of all Believers but we don’t live it out. In 1520, Martin Luther wrote On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church:
How then if they are forced to admit that we are all equally priests, as many of us as are baptized, and by this way we truly are; while to them is committed only the Ministry (ministerium Predigtamt) and consented to by us (nostro consensu)? If they recognize this they would know that they have no right to exercise power over us (ius imperii, in what has not been committed to them) except insofar as we may have granted it to them, for thus it says in 1 Peter 2, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom.” In this way we are all priests, as many of us as are Christians. There are indeed priests whom we call ministers. They are chosen from among us, and who do everything in our name. That is a priesthood which is nothing else than the Ministry. Thus 1 Corinthians 4:1: “No one should regard us as anything else than ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God.” Source
Friends, our lips say we believe in the Protestant doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers but we fund a priesthood among us.
Are you saying we have to fire people?
Listen. I’m not saying that we need to eliminate church staff. I’m saying that if we want to see the church grow again, in a post-Christian America, we need leaders to lead towards decentralization of power. We need paid staff to see their job as expert equippers and not expert speakers. We need to measure leaders on their ability to replicate Jesus and not themselves. We need leaders to unleash an insurgency and not continue an occupation.
So indeed, we probably need to fire some people who won’t embrace the present reality we live in. But new leaders will emerge. The Holy Spirit has always provided. Indeed, there are leaders in your pews today who could do this if only you allowed it.
And which people should we pay? Probably the ones who don’t want to be paid.