Year 3: Structure isn’t Sellout

This is the third and final installment of Matt Chewning’s three-part post on church planting. In these posts Chewning, Lead Pastor of Netcast Church in Beverly, MA–a suburb of Boston, walks through the first three years of planting a church, offering practical insight and wisdom from his experience as to how we all should rethink mission and strategy in church planting.

If you missed part one (Don’t Plant a Church) or two (Generosity is the New Evangelism), feel free to click on the links to catch up!

Year 3: Structure isn’t Sellout.

I’ve always been considered a “Get things done” kinda guy. Whether it was being responsible for generating $2.5 million dollars of revenue in the business world, or making disciples in New England, I’ve always attempted to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission to the glory of God. In the business world, this would lead me into bypassing a process or procedure so I would have a better opportunity at generating profit. In the church planting world, it often leads me to bulldoze people in order to take steps in seeing our church plant thrive. The problem as a planter is that people are our mission. So, using people as a means to our end, is not an option.

The answer? Structure.

For many, you may think I just said a dirty word and I don’t blame you. As a planter, I need to make decisions on the fly, come and go as I please, be led by the Spirit and allow things to organically progress. Structure means being held back from doing whatever’s necessary to accomplishing the goal. The thought of organizational processes and systems seems dirty, as if I’m selling out to a system that puts process above people and sees souls as a number on a spreadsheet.

Today however, the Lord is opening up my eyes to the value in being more organized so that our church plant can mature. No longer can I fly by the seat of my pants, wait to the last minute or do everything myself. There is too much history, too many people involved and too much at stake to not grow up as an organization. At some point, every church planter needs to recognize that structure is not selling out, it’s healthy shepherding. Peter tells us to,“shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3)

Church planting isn’t just gathering a crowd around the gospel message. Church planting is exercising oversight of the body so it will grow spiritually, relationally and missionally; and demonizing structure works against that.

Here are a few things that we learn as we fought to love people and organize our church plant.

1. See people above process. In order to stay healthy, structures need to be driven by people who are shepherds first and organizational second. Structures are not meant to make up for relational connectivity, they are meant to help us have more time and intentionality for relational connectivity. If a process fully eliminates a persons ability to be connected to people, it has failed because processes don’t make disciples, people make disciples.

2. Health is priority, not size. I have been a part of churches who’s goal was to get bigger before it got better. In order to do this they would focus all of their organizational attention on growing and the outcome was a large church with shallow worship. Numerical growth should never take priority over spiritual health when you begin to work towards organizational structure. Planters must understand that raising up healthy disciples almost always leads to seeing more disciples made because healthy disciples make disciples. On the flip side, if we focus on growth, it will kill our ability to be healthy because our goal is bigger bodies, not better worship.

3. Hold tight to process but tighter to Jesus. The times in which I have seen processes, systems and procedures work against us, is typically when we allow them to be used as boarders rather than arrows. Structure is meant to guide decisions, not make decisions. No process is ever perfect because imperfect people are always behind the process. Because this is true, we have to be willing to regularly come back and re-evaluate “what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how it’s being done.” To do this correctly, there must be a deep conviction to be led by the Spirit, remembering that God’s voice is not the same as man’s procedures.