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Radical Restructuring for Church Ministries
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By Ellie Green

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By this definition, our church in Charlotte, North Carolina, might have been considered insane, because it seemed that we were doing the same things over and over and always hoping that something would change! 

But then Minner Labrador accepted a call to pastor our church. And our church did begin to change! Through his leading, we began to catch glimpses of the power of the Holy Spirit. With each glimpse we wanted more. We prayed. We prayed more. We were impressed that the Holy Spirit could work more effectively in our church if we changed our organizational structure. 

There were no job descriptions, no policies, no mission statement, and no clear-cut lines of authority. There were no plans for specific ministry growth. Every two years the nominating committee might (or might not) re-elect a current church officer-holder so nobody really cared much about their “here today, gone tomorrow!” church positions.

Facing these facts seven years ago, Labrador invited me, the head elder, to join him in brainstorming how our church might be restructured to overcome these challenges. Having spent 18 years of my nursing career restructuring healthcare organizations, I was no stranger to this process. We concluded that a radical restructuring was necessary if we wanted to live in the fullness of the Holy Spirit’s power as outlined in the book of Acts. Without the Holy Spirit palpable in our midst, church seemed nothing but empty religiosity.
We began by clearly defining what we were trying to achieve by “operating” the Sharon Seventh-day Adventist Church. A committee was formed to develop our mission, vision, and values. Without going into the details, let me just say that our mission became “To Know Jesus Christ and Share Him.” That mission began to drive every decision.

Next, we brainstormed the vision for our church and agreed that based on our values of Bible study and evangelism, our vision should be “A passion to reach people and grow believers.” To accomplish this, all church activities were partitioned into ministries. We wanted these ministries to be directed by men and women possessing spiritual gifts and passion for the ministry of their choice. It quickly became obvious that without a radical restructuring this goal was unattainable!

Labrador was not to be deterred — he envisioned our elders in a management role as overseers of all the church’s ministries. These ideas were accepted and voted by the church board. The board further voted that elders would only be added when new ministries were formed and needed someone to manage them. This was based on the model Jethro suggested to Moses in Exodus 18, as well as the New Testament model in the book of Acts.

We talked it up, wrote it down, and here’s how it evolved: each elder was assigned to supervise one or two ministries. (We had nine elders at the time. We now have 16). The directors of the ministries were instructed to take all their ministry problems to their supervising elder rather than the pastor. A ministry flow chart was drawn to present a visual image of the new church structure.
But there was a problem! This vision would only be possible if elders and ministry directors maintained their church offices over a period of time. The traditional turnover of church officers every two years by the nominating committee would negate the desired continuity of ministry leadership. So we moved away from the traditional every-two-year nominating committee and, with the church’s approval, made the Board of Elders our “standing” nominating committee. (Many Adventist churches now have adopted a standing nominating committee. See the Connections curriculum available at AdventSource.com.)

By doing this we took a human resource approach to the election of officers in that every ministry selection would be gift-based and every member, insofar as possible, would be matched with an appropriate ministry as part of our overall strategy.

Not too many weeks into this program we saw a decided rise in church attendance. Suddenly everyone was interested in joining a ministry or starting a new one. We made a “spiritual gifts test” available and emphasized that those who had the spiritual gift for a particular office would be asked to serve. We also made a "rule" that nobody would be asked twice to fill a church office. We believed that if a person had a passionate call from God they would be eager to serve, and we could safely turn them loose to flourish in a ministry compatible with their personality and passion.

People became excited that they could join a ministry and invest their time and money without fear of being dropped by the nominating committee the following year! The church began to prosper and grow.

A quick glance at an early ministry flow chart compared to our present flow chart will demonstrate the enormous ministry growth over the past five years. This growth is 100 percent attributable to the Holy Spirit, who has moved among us like we’d never before experienced. We believe restructuring opened the way for the Holy Spirit’s work.  

Just one example: an announcement informed the church that, following each quarterly Communion service, all elders would be anointing those who sought spiritual, mental, or physical healing or who desired a fuller measure of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This had never been done before! Certainly elders anointing, while the pastor prayed for those coming forward, was a new concept.

We had no idea what to expect. We wondered if, at the end of the Communion service, the elders might be left standing alone, holding their little jugs of oil, while all the members left for home. But something amazing happened that brought tears to our eyes. Approximately 150 people attended that Communion service and about 125 remained to be anointed. Long lines of people patiently waited their turn. The anointing attendance has not lessened in the past two and a half years and, we believe, testifies to the hunger people have for the Holy Spirit’s power in their lives.

Through this radical restructuring we are convinced that the Holy Spirit is anxious to come and work among God’s people to prepare them for His coming—especially when they intentionally seek Him and provide an opportune setting.

And He most definitely is working! Our church went from 450 members to more than 900 in five years. But that’s not the best part! The best part is that for the first time in our church’s history, there is visible excitement and energy in our congregation and because of our 35-plus ministries, almost every Sabbath people walk in, uninvited, and say, “I’ve heard about your church and decided to visit.”

I will be supporting Minner Labrador in conducting a seminar at the Equipped for Ministries convention this August 28-31, 2014 in Frisco, Texas. The seminar will be about our radical restructuring experience with special emphasis on the development of an expanded role for elders.

If you think that definition of insanity might fit your church, as I thought it fit mine, pray! Then pray more! I encourage you to make plans to attend this upcoming convention and our seminar!

Find more information at: www.equippedforministries.com.

Ellie Green is a nurse whose career included 18 years restructuring healthcare organizations to meet accreditation requirements. She co-authored three books on management, served as editor on several journals, and published over 300 articles. After retirement Ellie completed the Southern Union Lay Pastor Assistant course and then teamed with Sharon Church Pastor Minner Labrador, Jr. (now VP of SWU) to develop a church structure that would enable every member to use their spiritual gifts to expand church ministries thereby growing the church.

Reprinted from the May 2014 Southwestern Union Record