Church leaders love them some ministry models. They love to read about and study what other churches do and how to replicate those models in their own church. They love to debate the merits of the model. But guess what? Ministry model doesn’t matter. Just about any model can be successfully implemented in a church. How could this be? Doesn’t contextualization matter? Yes, contextualization matters. But healthy leaders matter more!
The underlying principle which makes a model successful is healthy leadership. A church can have the best model available. But an amazing model cannot compensate for poor leadership. It is the people ministering within the model which actually do the ministry. For example, does it really matter if your small goup ministry is based on age or geography? Not really, if you have good leaders. Good leaders will make the ministry thrive.
But what about shifting trends and culture? Isn’t it important to contextualize the gospel message? If you don’t adapt the methods to the culture, won’t you be irrelevant?
Here’s the deal: healthy leaders naturally contextualize the gospel. Contextualization means trying to make the gospel as clear as possible in a given culture. The key is to invest in leaders and then give them the freedom to work within a loose system. Some structure, or model, is necessary for a church. Just like a skeleton gives shape to a human body, so a ministry model provides structure for a church. But just like something is drastically wrong if one of your bones is showing, so it is that if your model “shows” and takes precedence, something is seriously wrong with the model.
Furthermore, just look at recent history. The Catholic Church which has the most hierarchical model known to humanity has its scandal, while the Southern Baptist Convention, with its much looser affliation model, also has its scandals. Model didn’t save the SBC. Model also didn’t save many Presbyterian churches from liberalizing. What matters is the character of the leaders in the meeting room!
There are healthy churches with seniors pastors because the senior pastor is healthy. There are toxic churches because the senior pastor is toxic. There are healthy churches with team leadership that are healthy. And unhealthy ones with team leadership, because the team is sick. Certain models, like team leadership, may have some built in “guards” to certain things (like a domineering senior pastor). But they don’t totally protect the church from dysfunction.