The church of Christ as a body really has two identities.
The one is the institutionalized, formal exterior church that many “attend” weekly. It is a business, with all the trappings of hiring, paperwork, committees, schedules, professionals, slogans, publicity, programs, properties and holdings, top-down communication, events intended to produce cohesiveness and motivational, self-help teachings. It is charismatic in mode in that it operates on the personal charisma of the pastor, who, as long as he can keep things interesting and exciting, holds this kind of church together. When he is not there for a “service” or when he fails in his motivational input, people do not attend; when he is at the top of his game, people attend and are supportive.
Efficiency of organization requires that sub-ministries be in place and that each be managed by an associate pastor who is in agreement with the vision of the senior pastor. Goals and/or standards are set for each ministry that are intended to contribute to the overall growth plan of the church. And evaluation assessments are scheduled to ensure that goals are on track for success.
This is a numbers-driven business. Minimum attendance and giving supports basic salaries, a mortgage, utilities and maintenance for a building planned to accommodate an optimum number of seats (temporarily optimum, until growth requires expansion). Attendance beyond the minimum number supports salary increases, vehicle expenses, travel and upgrades to facilities. And if the maximum attendance is reached, there may be funds available for missions and benevolence.
Tithing and giving into the general church fund are the lifeblood of this model, because without steady cashflow, it cannot be sustained. This model spawns mega-churches whose major focus is producing a culture of worldly prosperity, so that the manufactured needs of this model might benefit.
The Spiritual Church
The other church model is the vital, interactive and dynamic, living church that exists in a network of interpersonal relationships, all connected intimately with the Holy Spirit of God. It survives sometimes inside the institutionalized model, and sometimes, completely outside it. But, to be sure, the institutionalized church is not, of itself, the true church.
This true model is personal, relational and driven by love for God and love for one another. Love energizes faith to produce good works that further the kingdom culture. Love is simply the lifeblood of this model. Everything, from meeting the needs of its members to spreading the gospel, results from the vitality of the members’ love/faith/works character. Finances are merely a tool in true church, serving primarily to feed the hungry and further the preaching of the gospel, done with as little diversion to buildings and programs as possible within the bounds of love and compassion.
Exhortations with regard to money are toward a culture of giving freely what one has received rather than consuming resources on one’s own lusts, and specifically such giving as may be done as freely through the congregational coffers as through giving directly to the need because the focus of the leadership is the same as that of the individual giver: love a and compassion toward others.
In the organization of this church exist pastors, teachers, elders and those whose giftings involve evangelism, administration, giving, teaching, prophecy and helps. All are encouraged to use their gifts as the Holy Spirit directs, whether within the congregated body or in individual daily walking. The focus is on body ministry with oversight by leaders rather than on leadership ministry with no interaction by the body.
Because of body ministry, people do not so much “attend” church as “be” the church. If body ministry is not allowed to occur, it is because leaders feel they must maintain control, which means they have not done the job of training people, but have, instead, spoon-fed them, to maintain charismatic individual ministry.
Sub-ministries do indeed exist, but with the primary oversight of the Holy Spirit and without lofty titles and inducements to serve that necessarily rely on salaries so much as liberal provision by the congregation.
The latter model may seem to some to be too far from present realities to be attainable, and so they do not set it in their sights. However, it was far from realities that existed under the Mosaic law, and yet the Holy Spirit was enabled to accomplish it among the first church because of willing and obedient hearts.
Will people accustomed to the first model resist the second model? Certainly. Will numbers drop? Probably. Will buildings have to be sold! Possibly. But one has to ask, Is it more important to build fewer people even though it requires great love, patience and trust through the Holy Spirit, or to build large crowds that require large amounts of money to perpetuate facilities?
Jesus focused on building a few people who, each, would, in turn, build more.