Structure is meant to serve life.
Organization is meant to serve the organism.
When I was planting a church in Nashville TN, and we were growing at a rapid pace (doubling almost every year), I would often quote Peter Drucker who when questioned about the whether a particular organization had gotten too large replied, “The skeletal structure of an elephant is sufficient!”
Size was never the issue to me. Whether we were 40 people or 4000, what mattered was whether there was sufficient infrastructure (or organization) to support the life. Too little structure and the organism would become a lifeless blob. Too much organization and the structure would crush the life of the organism it was created to support.
I’m no longer convinced. Size does matter. Organizations are by nature inefficient and the structure created to support most organisms seems to inevitably feed upon the very LIFE it was created to support.
People become a means to an end to serve and support the organization. The good of the organization becomes a higher value than the good of the individual (not necessarily a mutually exclusive proposition). An inordinate percentage of resources are allocated to sustain the organization justified by reasoning that the perpetuation of the organization ultimately serves the individual (also not a mutually exclusive proposition).
Size does matter. Small is not necessarily good. Bigger is rarely better.
Case in point:
Last week some of my good friends helped me repair the aging deck on the back of my house. Since it was not a new deck, I didn’t think I needed a permit from the municipality. Upon finishing the project, I was informed I DID need a permit.
Over the next three days:
- I made three trips to the Anchorage Municipality.
- I met with twelve different people from four different departments.
- I signed my name seven times.
- I drew building plans for a deck that was already built so I could get approval to build it.
- Three different people from the city made visits to my house.
- The first person who came to my house came to inform me that I indeed needed a permit.
- The second person came to make sure the picture I showed them of my completed deck was in fact my deck on my house (30 second visit and $105).
- The third person came to make sure the plan I showed them and the pictures I presented to them were not photo-shopped (two minute visit and $295). The only question he asked me, “So how come there aren’t any dandelions in your neighborhood?”
At one point when I was at the Municipality offices being informed about who needed to come to my house and how much all of this was going to cost me, I asked, “Can’t the same person who comes out to make sure these pictures are really my deck be the same person who verifies that this plan you asked me to draw up here in your office of the deck that is already built is the same deck?”
Answer: “No. That’s zoning. We’re codes.”
If I had not seen the mother of one of my kids classmates working in the zoning department, the whole process could have taken up to ten days.
I kept thinking to myself, “THIS IS JUST A DECK REPAIR! How does anyone get anything significant done in this city?”
Grand total paid to the city of Anchorage (not counting the cost of my time, gas, or the three trees cut down to create all the papers signed, copied, stamped, and filed): $400 U.S. Dollars!
The skeletal structure of an elephant is sufficient only if you are an elephant.
The New Testament describes a significant but limited role for government. As it relates to the local church, it's no surprise to me that the New Testament says so little about the organization of the church but says much about relationships and the life of the church.