The Problems of Departmental Divisions in the Church

I’ve been thinking about how local churches are organized, and I found myself troubled by the divisions that have been made for ministry. We create departments for the major areas of ministry (for instance, our church has "Worship, Community, and Mission"). It has taken me a few days to figure out what’s been troubling me. Here it is…

When I think of the “Church” (that is, a local manifestation of God’s People, not the “church universal”), I think of the people who are set apart for a purpose: to be God’s redemptive community on earth, especially in a specific locale.

This people are a Missional Community, living in the midst of people and loving and serving them with a view to be a redemptive blessing in their lives. Our redemptive work is the proclamation of the Gospel to our culture.

This “incarnational view” of church informs what we should be doing with our local congregations. each church is to be the incarnation of the body of Christ for their local community. The ministry is to be indigenous to this community, made up of people in this community to reach people in this community with the good news of Christ.

So, what are we supposed to do? We are to be a “Missional Community.” It boils down to this.

So, when we split up (in a very modernist way) our ministry into separate spheres (Worship, Community, Mission, etc.), we are pulling apart that which needs to be a cohesive unit.

I cannot imagine “community” without it being “missional.” I cannot imagine “mission” without it being by a community and for a community. And I cannot imagine “worship” outside the definition of Romans 12:1, where our lives are lived out sacrificially for others, as our “spiritual act of worship.”

In my view, the departments of the church need to serve the one purpose of Missional Community. This will ruffle some feathers in our churches, but the church’s departments all feed the overall purpose: to create and sustain a Missional Community.

The “Worship Department” is really just those in charge of the musical portion of our gathering time, where we come together to praise God.

The “Proclamation Department” is really just those in charge of preaching the gospel of joining in the Missional Community of the Church and instructing those involved in the Missional Community how to live out that calling.

The “Global Missions Department” extends our mission beyond our locality to those areas of the world that need our help to be reached.

The “Kids,” “Youth,” and “College” Departments proclaims the gospel of joining in God’s Mission to the younger generations, giving them purpose for their lives.

The “Adult Department” nurtures in adults the yearning to be Missional in Community.

The “Care Department” intervenes when members of the Missional Community are hurting.

But the overall goal is to create a cohesive ministry of people working together to live out the gospel in the midst of the people we are trying to reach. When we are a Missional Community working for the redemption of all things for the blessing of those in our cities, we are being the incarnation of Christ for their sakes.

We need to think about the implications of isolating up our ministry into these three separate divisions: Worship, Community, and Mission.

This post is mirrored at Missional Tribe.


Great Googly Moogly! said...

I appreciate your "incarnational" view of the church and how that understanding "informs what we should be doing in our local congregations."

It's easy to talk about the church (even the "local" church) as the Body of Christ, but as you suggest, as the Body of Christ we are the "incarnation of Christ" in this world...in this local community that we find ourselves in. And as such, we should think in terms of "wholeness" of ministry within our local congregations.

Departmentalization may be beneficial in some respects (especially for larger congregations) in detailing specific areas and methods of communicating the Gospel, but we should not think in terms of separate "ministries" since all that we do as a Body needs to be done in the same "wholeness" or "completeness" that we see in the ministry of Christ and His disciples.

I'm not sure if what I've just written is making as much sense on the "page" as it does in my head, (and knowing the difficulty of communication to begin with, I guess this is usually the case with all of us); but as I understand what you're saying, I say, "Amen". I appreciate the challenge to think holistically about ministry within the local church.

davidksmith said...

Great thoughts Bob...and always a danger within the megachurch environment.

Would love to add a few thoughts...but first, a quick question: Why do you use the word "missional community" instead of "community?"

Bob Robinson said...

I understand what you're saying - I think! ;-)

In a large church, departments are needed, but what often happens is that these departments don't intentionally work toward the integration of what they do into the whole, which is what I'm calling the "Missional Community."

I post this so that I can start thinking and dialoging toward a solution - one in which the departments are truly integrated into the overall mission.

Bob Robinson said...

Great question. As I was thinking about the three separate categories of ministry at the church, I was struck with how we cannot really have "community" without "mission." "Community" by itself suggests small groups and mid-sized Sunday morning Bible studies, where people get together to learn and care for one another. They'll have a social once in a while and an occasional service project.

But is that what God is calling us to be? A community is one with a purpose -
1. To be incarnational- living in the midst of people in a particular location,
2. To be loving and serving to those people, being the body of Christ,
3. To bring redemption to every aspect of life for those in the community, and
4. To proclaim the gospel in word

A community without mission is a nice group of people enjoying the blessings of God, but they are not the church - they are not living out what it means to be blessed to be a blessing.

What do you think?

Bob Robinson said...

See today's post where I offer a visual representation of what I'm talking about.

Bob Robinson said...

For more on "Missional," check out "Friend of Missional" and "Missional Tribe."

davidksmith said...

Thanks for the other links Bob.

I have appreciated in particular Hirsch's lastest article from Leadership on buzz term "missional" bringing it back to its richer meaning. (I'm assuming you have read stuff from Frost, McNeal, and of coarse Keller, that all speak on this issue very well too).

I liked your answer to the question, as it helps me maybe speak to some possible confusion.

As you state, "As I was thinking about the three separate categories of ministry at the church, I was struck with how we cannot really have "community" without "mission.""

I think that is what we agree on. And why we believe you really can't have a healthy church without the realized values of community, mission, and worship...just like you determined you can't have "community" without "mission." (some would say your categorizing of community in such a manner is modern or systematic, but I simply view it as being explanatory and illustrating key values)

I see what you are getting at when you state, ""Community" by itself suggests small groups and mid-sized Sunday morning Bible studies, where people get together to learn and care for one another. They'll have a social once in a while and an occasional service project."...and that is why we desire our church not to just be Sunday service only church, but a "missional, worshipping, community-oriented" church. (yes, we are now getting into semantics!)

I like when you say, "A community without mission is a nice group of people enjoying the blessings of God, but they are not the church - they are not living out what it means to be blessed to be a blessing." I guess all I am saying is that maybe those "departments" are really core values in which to ensure the macro-community (your church) lives out a holistic and well integrated version of the church.

The hope is actually not to pull apart, but to emphasize our core values for our meta-community, ensuring holistic integration that permeates all ministries (those some specialized ministries will lean heavier on some values than others as to be expected).

Does that mean better integration is needed?...No question, as every department must filter all of thier ministry initiatives through our core values.

Just wondering if the confusion lies in seeing our values and ministry model as an organizational chart, and viewing the meta-community, as a mirco-community?

Probably a longer discussion and would be good to chat about it sometime in person.

Thanks for your feedback and always send any critical thought like this my way as I value your opinion and we are in need of your expertise!

Bob Robinson said...


Yes, I think that Hirsch's commentary on the correct definition of "missional"is very helpful. I've been around pastors who say that their churches are "missional," but they are just saying that they are still operating out of an attractional paradigm with a little more community service thrown in.

I get what you're saying and I completely agree that these are great "Core Values."

I think that we should keep them - I'm not saying that they are not very valuable. And I'm sure that all departments at the church are doing their best to integrate the three into all that they do.

Here are some questions for us as we move forward:

->How is each value defined? (i.e., Is "worship" just the singing that we do on Sunday morning or is it sacrificial living for God's glory for the sake of others? Is "Community" just the ABFs and small groups or is it missionally-minded incarnational groups of people? Is "Mission" evangelism, or is it also redemption and justice?)

->Should we organize the church (create an organizational chart) based on these core values? In other words, will there be a pastor of Worship, a pastor of Community, and a pastor of Mission?

->If so, how do we make sure that there is holistic ministry and keep from staying in too-narrowly defined categories? How can we keep from institutionalizing a separateness to these values that actually limits our effectiveness at holistic ministry?

What do you think?

davidksmith said...

Yea, I see what you are saying.

I guess some of the things we have instituted the last two years is to have every department align their goals through the filter of our core values, striving for holistic integration. (But we need to always get better at this).

So as our "mission" team is thinking through how we as a corporate community join God's mission personally, locally, and globally, they are also thinking through how their area affects worship and community (& how those areas effect theirs)

Another example would be our community team is not only thinking about building strong environments for biblicaly understanding and spiritual growth, but also how their growth groups are places of worship owning God's general mission and our church's specific vision.

These are some new systems in which departments have to present their yearly goals to all of staff, receive feedback on alignment issues, revise, and then have mid-year check points as well.

Our values were defined by a series of sessions with staff and laypeople over a six month period. We finally came to defining them in a fairly general way, but I think the process was more important gaining a cohesive, mutual understanding of what our values are and how we are striving to actualize each of them in all the facets of our ministries.

Worship: Responding to God as creator and redeemer

Community: Loving & equipping as one.

Mission: Being Christ's body everywhere.

Not how I would define them...but sometimes I feel you have to bow to the collaborative process and allow the community to define them for you.

pahiles said...

I loved your answer to daividksmith's question! i myself have seen the effects of a church that have not lived out the "missional community!" the end result is that they have fallen apart as a body because they became "a nice group of people enjoying the blessings of God but not living what it means to be blessed to be a blessing!"