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Growing Healthy as an Extended-Family Church

We at Peddie Church are at a stage where we need to make a mental shift in our self-understanding as a church, from a family church to an extended-family church. The growth is never about gathering a crowd of spectators but about making disciples of Jesus Christ and doing so in a spiritually and emotionally healthy way.

A family church is organized around the pastor and a few key families who carry on most of the ministry. The primary orientation is relational. While the emphasis on personal relationships is a strength, it can also brew an insider mentality, which is a barrier to newcomers.

An extended-family church is small enough to foster personal relationships but big enough to have the capacity for reaching out to the local community. It is organized around ministry groups. You may not necessarily know everyone in the church, but you know people in your ministry groups. Newcomers are readily invited to be part of small ministry groups. A healthy extended-family church combines the relational intimacy of a small church and the organizational capacity of a larger church for the sake of mission.

How, then, do we grow to become a healthy extended-family church?

The key is to build on trust and to work together intentionally toward building trust. Trust is both the foundation and the fruit of organizational health. Let me explain, starting from the foundation of the pyramid in the diagram.

(1) Foundation: Christ-like Character

What makes us distinct from secular organizations is that we are a community of disciples who have been redeemed by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and are following Him as His apprentices. To believe in Him means to trust Him. Without trust, it would be impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Trust is fundamental to our relationship with Christ.

Then how is trust related to the Christ-like character in the above diagram? Christ-like character is not something we can attain by trying harder. It is the fruit of our ongoing relationship with Christ as we continually put our trust in Him. We are transformed only through a personal relationship with Christ, of which trust is the foundation.

Without such a foundation, our sinful nature takes over, and our community would become sick, with symptoms such as disrespect, unkindness, meanness, jealousy, and rage. If we allow our sinful nature to reign in our community, then it doesn’t matter what kind of structure and system we have; our church will be dysfunctional.

But imagine, each one of us striving to put on Christ by trusting Him, walking with Him moment by moment, and seeing others through the eyes of Christ. Surely, such a church will be built on a solid foundation!

(2) 3C’s: Commitment, Competency, Communication

On this foundation, we need to build organizational disciplines that would strengthen our trust of one another. The 3 C’s of organizational disciplines are Commitment, Competency, and Communication.

Commitment means bearing the burden of responsibility, instead of staying on the sidelines. It means keeping the promises we’ve made and showing up on time so that others can trust us to be present. It means investing our time and resources to solve problems, not just making suggestions. In biblical language, commitment is faithfulness, one of the essential characteristics of Christ’s disciples.

Competency is the capacity to accomplish what God has called us to do. Competency is not inborn and must be developed. Anyone who is teachable can grow in competency through study, training, preparation, and practice. Our teachable heart is the soil in which our competency in ministry can grow.

When we exercise our spiritual gifts with competency, we build up the level of trust in the community because others can trust us to do the ministry in ways that honor God.

Communication creates clarity and strengthens the cohesiveness of the church around a common vision. Imagine an organism where one part doesn’t know what the rest of the body is doing. The lack of communication breeds misunderstanding, confusion, and chaos, all of which undermine the sense of trust.

Moreover, communicating well is an act of love. In order to communicate well, we first need to place ourselves in other people’s shoes, think about what might be important to them, and communicate to them in a timely manner. By communicating well, we are implicitly telling them that they are important to us.

At Peddie Church, we need to learn to over-communicate in a timely manner. If there is an important project that your department is planning, be generous about sharing it with others in the church. Even though your department is entrusted with the authority to make the decision, invite feedback and be open to listening to the rest of the community. Communicate repeatedly in different settings and forms. Learn to communicate with clarity. Foster timely discussions.

Imagine an organism where each part communicates freely, generously, and frequently with the rest of the body. The body will be healthy indeed!

(3) Structure of Accountability

On top of these, we need to build just enough structure of accountability – just enough bylaws and policies – to reinforce the mission of the church.

On the one hand, too little structure leads to confusion and aimless drifting, allowing each person to do whatever seems right in his or her eyes. On the other hand, too much structure leads to legalism and rigidity, restricting the church’s ability to respond to changing situations.

A prudent accountability structure makes ministry easier because it gives us clear guidance in most common situations while remaining easily adaptable.

(4) Systems (Processes)

Finally, we need to develop systems (or processes) for doing various works of ministry more effectively.

Without a system, there would be confusion, inconsistency, ineffectiveness, and missed opportunities. We need just enough system to make it easier to fulfill the mission of the church. A few examples of such systems would be:

  • a system for reaching out to newcomers
  • a system for the care of the sick and the bereaved
  • a system for worship planning
  • a system for training new leaders
  • a system for equipping people for spiritual growth

With a clear outline of how the ministry process flows, we can minimize confusion and encourage participation. Again, prudent systems make ministry easier.

(5) Trust

If all of these are working well, what emerges is a strong sense of trust within our community. We start with the foundation built on our trust of God. But trust within the community doesn’t happen automatically. It takes wisdom, intentionality, and effort for trust to emerge.

When we trust one another, we are able to resolve conflicts with respect and kindness. When we trust one another, we don’t care who gets the credit. The only thing we care about is the glory of God and the work of God’s Kingdom. When we trust one another, we are much more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

In sum, the key to becoming a healthy, extended-family church is to build on the foundation of trust and work together intentionally to nurture an environment of trust. Then we will be a channel of God’s mighty work and a blessing to the city of Newark and its vicinity.

–Pastor James