General Characteristics Describing the Church
Trying to understand churches and functioning can be perplexing and difficult when ministers do not understand the social dynamics of church life and the culture that exists within the culture of the organism. Unfortunately, most churches do not operate at an organizational level based upon a purely spiritual model in what the church should be. Therefore, I am writing the following material as a compilation of ideas about the way churches as a type operates. This is not to say this is a scientific once-and for all answer for every church. Instead, this article is a description of patterns that characterize behaviors of a type of church called a “Family Chapel”. The discussion that follows is a discussion of an organization not people and how organizational behavior occurs within the organization.
The Family Chapel
Demographics and Social System:
1. Size is about 100 and below regular attendees.
2. Predominantly rural.
3. Single-cell in organization.
Even though there are patriarchs and matriarchs, a family system paradigm limits the social design of the church to one controllable system that does not multiply from the outside, but maintains power and management from the inside of the single cell family unit.
A Snapshot of Expectations: What is Valued in the Culture of the Chapel
1. Quality more important than quantity:
Language about the church ministry is spiritualized with statements like “the church does not count nickels and noses”. Statements like these are symptomatic of a core belief that minimizes the importance of reaching people with the gospel and maximizes investment in the native group to emphasize quality. The focus is upon the quality of the group not the quantity of the people. In addition, the small group identifies with remnant theology that spiritualizes and magnifies a small closed-loop culture as the norm, as if small groups are the only people that God works through.
2. Their history is very important:
Nostalgia is the spiritual placebo that reinforces family centered control. While there may be discussion of the Bible and its teaching, history, culture, social norms are in place that reinforce “sacred cows”, cultural beliefs, and in many cases a clear departure from Biblical standards, because of selective theology built on family system cultural beliefs that are grounded the culture of the past. The favorite song of this group could be, “I shall not be moved”.
3. Meeting personal needs is high priority.
“Ministry” is a keyword used selectively and primarily directed toward the family system or historical icons. Ministry is applied as mercy by placating “complainers” through a method of “management” that reinforces dysfunction within the church and suppresses God’s work of maturing people in the faith and genuine change from happening. Pretense is the deception that spiritualizes evangelism as an ideal discussed in religious conversations rather than being a central goal or activity of ministry.
A Visual of the Face of the Congregational Gathering
4. Attendance is a “gathering of the clan”.
Looking around at any gathering you can see the clan leaders very clearly, where they sit, stand, or congregate, as well as, their followers. When the clan leaders demonstrate dislike, the members of the clan follow the emotional cues, facial expressions, and words because no one is can disagree because it will compliance is required. The clan leaders are the opinion makers who determine who can be the appointed leaders and what will be done in the organization at the cultural level not on a spiritual level.
5. There is a resistance to growth.
Growth, resources, or people with skill outside the loop pose a threat and are viewed as source of resistance to maintaining the “status-quot”. In fact, assimilation of new members into the body meets with resistance through imposed rationalization of cultural rituals that require submission to clan leader’s ideals and control to gain acceptance. As a result, family members are the primary internal focus of activity within the group. Because small churches are internal and family relationship focused, people who live in rebellion and open sin, are overlooked because of the family dynamics. This is observable even when behaviors are a direct violation of Biblical truth. At the same time, outsiders are held to a higher ritualistic standard that keeps them on the outside the loop. In this type of church, there is no plan for growth, evangelism, or discipleship, only a plan to maintain the core family group.
6. Worship spirit more important than style.
In this church the theme of worship is not an encounter with God, hearing from God, evangelism, or life change, but a focus upon family community, a corporate feeling of happiness, hand shaking, smiles, and just feeling good about the family being together. The acts of worship are diverted into fellowship activities, shaking hands, and activities that place attention on people and distract attention away from God.
7. Annual events, not long-range planning, is the focus.
Function of the church ministry is built on a sense of family community amongst the clan –Insiders. The people join in functioning as a family unit in panning annual events, special days, fellowship suppers, homecomings, and funerals. They are high holy days and events that magnify the past through planning annual events and the celebration of what has been. However, the fellowship suppers, homecomings, Bible Schools, and other events are design to reinforce nostalgic ideas about conformity, instead of inspiring outreach, evangelism, and growth. When these special events are conducted, people group up together while outsiders are separated from the core. After the events, the crowd goes away and the remnant clan is left until the next event. The component that missing is planning strategically for the future, planning outreach, and developing a tangible, attainable vision beyond the family chapel.
8. Relationships more important than programs.
The most important issue is fellowship, community, and interacting with the family. The cemetery is what holds the church together through thick and thin and is of primary importance. For example, the cemetery, building, furnishings, fellowship hall etc. are all symbols of primary relationships, history, and present goals understood in the life of the congregation. Because programs are de-emphasized, organization is not maximized as a functional part of Biblical ministry goals. Existing programs are internal and maintain the existing family unit, but have no external motivation or purpose apart from supporting the family system. This type of organization is a fellowship of people who gather with common values and many times Biblical values, but are governed by family values in the culture that is present. However, an important observation is that selective family values isolated from the great commission does not make a New Testament Church in a theological –Biblical sense. In contrast, New Testament principles are rationalized and applied to fellowship activities as a primary focus. However, there are no intentional ways to program evangelism and discipleship because ministry is about family and not about community not about redemption of the lost. As a result, the rate of numerical growth is low and next to nothing, baptisms are nonexistent; except where there are children of young families. Consequently, programs that exist are rooted in traditions to hold up the ideal of the past and do not enhance nor promote new relationships, they function to maintain relationships until the there is failure.
The Role of a Pastor in Leadership
1. The pastor is a chaplain.
The task of the family Chaplain is not to lead, but rather to provide counsel, preaching, officiating at events, funerals, or weddings, but must confine his activity to pastoral care as a primary function. The best definition of the chaplain is that he is a preacher, not a spiritual leader in the church ministry. In contrast, the role is a service position to the family group and the “chaplain” is always an “outsider” except at times when something difficult needs to be negotiated, confronted, or managed. He typically is not a decision maker, but rather a focal point of the gatherings who is expected to smile a lot and make the congregants feel good through what he says and does. His chief role is as an adviser, counselor, and affiliate to the system of relationships that govern the family chapel.
2. Major task is ministry of presence.
It is not really important what the pastor says, it matters that he is present and validates the family. The importance is filling the role, not what is said, or the results. People very seldom remember what the pastor said, but they remember whether he was there, what time he arrived, that he spoke to everyone, and how he made them feel. This type of church does not need the chaplain’s theological background or education; they need the chaplain to affirm them with his presence the members of the Family Chapel.
3. The decision-makers are patriarchs or matriarchs.
This church may ask the advice of the chaplain, because in most cases they are going to make the decisions about important matters affecting the family. The opinion leaders may even allow you to think you are leading, but when it comes down to the critical moment, you are the chaplain and they are the decision makers.
4. Pastor works with their administration.
Even though the constitution says they regard you as the one who plans worship, leads the ministry, where the rubber meets the road is with the line managers who are called clan leaders. The culture, not the pastor, not the Bible, nor the Spirit drives this type of church because it is limited to the way the native church culture defines spiritual matters contextually. Consequently, the matter of administration rests within the clan leaders of a Family Chapel and not from a clear understanding of pastoral leadership, what the pastor believes is God’s will, nor what the Bibles says.
When there is Conflict What Happens?
1. It is seldom open.
Most conflict in dysfunctional churches is never direct until it comes to a boiling point, because secrecy and ignoring the problems have become the norm. Secrecy and silence is the pattern of the family relationship in matters of conflict. It is because people do not know how to discuss difficult matters openly and there is the fear that addressing the dysfunctional person will fracture the fellowship of relationships and families. Instead of having a healthy discussion, the issues are pushed down, hidden, talked about in private, and fester until the explosion occurs. If you examine the history of churches like this, you will see a pattern of control, controlling people, hurt people, abuse, and avoidance, because dysfunction is hidden like a skeleton in the closet.
2. Conflict is usually suppressed or ignored.
The suppression comes because people try to control the problem by ignoring the feelings and the facts. One reason is that conflict feelings count 90 percent and facts count 10 percent. The facts are usually ignored because of the high value placed on emotional consequence and the lack of true intimacy among people in the family. In fact, because people deeply feel the fear of disruption in relationships, like the fear of divorce and abandonment, conflict is suppressed and ignored. As a result, the this motivates this church to look for a chaplain-type pastor, is because the Family Chapel wants him to manage feelings and provide pastoral care for terminal conditions rather than create life sustaining actions to bring change to the situation.
3. It arises when their system is threatened.
When control, secrets, dysfunction, family relationships are challenged, by the pastor, or groups in the church; conflict is the result and it is usually ugly, damaging, and sometimes fatal for everyone. When the control of the clan leaders, the hidden secrets, family or system dysfunction is raised, the potential for conflict is heightened by the threat of exposure and a fear of loss of control. The result is organizational anxiety and tension that results in a greater effort to control.
4. Conflict that does surface is usually between families or personalities.
Conflict characterizes this type of church because it is also a pattern in the families in the church. Church life is often a mirror of what is within the personal family experiences of those in the system. What is witnessed in many family chapels is simply a magnification of controlling people who need someone else to control. Because people do not have healthy ways of communicating, many times a disruption in the church is a way to validate and vent personal anger that reflects general problems in life with relationships in individual families.
5. The pastor cannot win without understanding the organizational type and clarifying his role.
Unfortunately, for many pastors who are idealists, they become a scapegoat for failure in this type of church and will leave demoralized or blamed by one group or the other. The explanation is related to a clear understanding of the conditions that contribute to the type of church and social structure within. A problem for pastors is their passion about the gospel and belief that people will obey God’s word willingly. As a result, a problem for the church is that they do not understand their own identity; then they call a pastor who is a mismatch for the culture and social paradigm of the church. The result is disappointment on both sides with conflict, pain, and people who are personally damaged by a fundamental lack of understanding. As a result, in the wake of distorted perceptions and expectation, which are unfounded, unrealistic, and unbiblical; God is not glorified, people are not edified, and many walk away disillusioned wondering why this happened.
Materials contained in this document were a compilation of Norris Smith
Speed Leas, Moving Your Church Through Conflict
D. G. McCoury, Understanding the Single-Staff Church and personal observations from psychosocial research