Nelson Searcy was in the Portland area a few years back for a seminar on evangelism and church growth. If you are not familiar with Nelson, he is the Lead Pastor for the Journey Church in New York City and runs several networks to train pastors through his Church Leader Insights. As part of the seminar, a bunch of us sat down for a round-table discussion and began a conversation about systems in the church.

To those of us who are intrigued by “organic” church growth, the idea of systems can leave us cold. Yet, as the conversation progressed, Nelson used a wonderful analogy that helped me reconcile my own internal conflict between the world of “organic” with the world of “structure.” I took Nelson’s analogy and put together some thoughts on how systems work within the church organism.

The human body is an organism made of many different parts; hands, feet, head, heart, appendix, etc.. None of these parts can function together unless it has healthy systems. What are some of the systems that keep our physical bodies healthy? With the help of Wikipedia, I offer these simple definitions.

  1. The Skeletal System: Determines the shape of the body and protects the organs.
  2. The Circulatory System: A collection of organs that moves nutrients, gases, and wastes, helps fight disease, and stabilizes both temperature and pH to keep the body stable.
  3. The Digestive System: An arrangement of organs that takes in food, digests it to extract energy and nutrients, and expels the remaining waste.
  4. The Reproductive System: An arrangement of organs within the body that work together for the purpose of creating new human beings.
  5. The Endocrine System: An integrated system of small organs that involve the release of hormones. (Okay, this system reminds me of my old Jr. High youth group—enough said,)

When these systems shut down, the human body begins to die. In the same way, the church is an organic entity that demands healthy systems to keep it from dying.

What are some of the systems that keep our local church Bodies healthy?

  1. The Organizational System Every church, from House Church to Mega-Church, has some kind of organizational structure. An Organizational System is like the Skeletal System.  The Pastors, Elders, Paid Staff, Deacons, Apostles, Overseers, etc.; all work to give the Body shape and offer both spiritual and physical protection (Acts 6:1-7is one good example).
  2.  The Leadership System: The Leadership System determines how leaders connect with the rest of God’s people.  A Leadership System is like the Circulatory System. A healthy Leadership System filters out the waste, responds to the heartbeat of YHWH, and enables the individual parts of the Body to imbibe the life giving “nutrients” of Jesus Christ. And just like the veins in our human bodies, the more servant-leaders in a church, the healthier the Body will be.
  3. The Assimilation System: The Assimilation System moves people from outside the church into fully committed participants of the local church.  A system for assimilation is like the Digestive System.  A healthy Assimilation System ensures that every person involved in the church is using their Spirit-giftings, and talents, to nourish the Body.
  4. The Evangelism System: The Evangelism System enables the Body to fulfill the great calling of Christ to make disciples. A system for Evangelism is  like the human Reproductive system.  The Evangelism System connects all the members of the Body and uses their energy to create new life in Jesus Christ.

These are just 4 of the organic Body-systems that come to mind, but there are many more.

A clear understanding and healthy use of systems is biblical, and it enables the natural growth of the Church. Anyone who is planting and/or leading a church without the necessary systems is not building a viable church.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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