Urban Churches Suffocate Under WWII Era Government Structures

It seems every time Eagles In Leadership is asked to come and help an urban church, one of the key issues strangling the life out of that faith community is their church governing structure. Notably, you will find the current version of their constitution dating from the 1940s or 1950s – usually the post-WWII years when church planting was in a growth surge.


This is understandably so; polity is usually cultural and often tied to the origins of the congregation – we reproduce what we know. However, as someone wisely pointed out, “This isn’t the ‘50s anymore!”


How can you tell if your governing structure needs a retool?


  • Everybody wants to be in charge! (This is often known as congregational rule.) The problem is, you can’t find this structure in the New Testament and urban ministry isn’t about being in charge – it’s about touching lives with the hope and healing of Jesus Christ. It’s about deployment not government!


  • The Pastor is an employee! Since a post-WWII structure made everyone the boss, they have to have someone to boss! That “someone” becomes the pastor(s). In an urban church, where the lead pastor is often a community leader, organizer and influencer, such a model simply stifles the progress of the Gospel. Look in the New Testament and seek after words that catch this idea: “And Paul and Barnabas told the community leaders, ‘We will check with our congregation and reply to you after the next quarterly business meeting, after the congregation discusses the matter and come to a majority vote.’” Obviously, you won’t find it! Urban ministry is about making decisions on the fly – understanding that the pastor(s) – like the people – are already authorized for ministry and don’t need a majority vote to do it!  Pastors are leaders of sheep, not employees of companies!


  • The people are to be served! Part of the constitution (and the ethos) of the shrinking urban church is the fundamental idea that those people will never grow up; that they will always need a baby-sitter, i.e., the pastor. Essential to the WWII-era constitution is the idea that, “We deserve and expect the pastor to serve us!” Read: Marry, bury, visit, coddle, placate and care for us in any way we so deem. (If you’ve ever been to a business meeting in a “congregationally ruled” church, you totally understand.) Urban churches need to become armies of men, women, teens and children who transform their neighborhoods with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as you see happening in the book of Acts! A nursery can’t do this. Only a trained, equipped army of willing workers can! A church’s people are the workers of the ministry, not the babies of the nursery!


  • The community exists for the growth of the church! Often we have the wrong target in the urban center: We believe the whole purpose for our existence is to grow the church! So, when someone visits, we begin sizing him or her up for a much-needed infusion of help in our children’s program, our music ministry or committee because the constitution demands we have these! Yet, urban ministry is all about bringing the love and leadership of Jesus to the broken all around us – out in the community – in an effort to see them changed through the work of the Spirit so that they might help others who need such similar rescuing!


  • Whatever else you do as a new person, don’t change anything here! Part of every struggling urban church is the non-negotiable truth that the constitution and the culture it birthed and built should never be changed. It is almost as holy as the Bible itself. When someone suggests that we no longer need 4 business meetings a year, three or four bullies will pull down Heaven and Hell to stop such change! Any change is to be stopped at any cost. This creates a real problem because every new member brings change and affects the very DNA of the church! One of the reasons urban churches die is because new people often want to accomplish something for Christ, but realize change and growth isn’t possible in this WWII-era church! Church ministry isn’t about the procedures of the past; it’s about the people in the present!


Urban churches need a structure that addresses where they are now! If we can be of help to you in structuring your church for the 21st century, please, let us know!


You can email us at transformed [at] eaglesinleadership.org

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