I‘ve been thinking about Diane Zemke’s work in Being SMART about Congregation Change when she pointed out that churches are either founded on the concept of common identity or common bond. She explained that churches founded on common identity tend to form around a shared vision of the founding members.1 Churches that start like this might emphasize social action such as helping the poor and the marginalized in society.
On the other hand, churches founded on common bond form because of strong relational ties existing among the members. Examples of these kinds of churches are ethnic and minority groups who choose to worship according to ways they feel comfortable growing up in their native land. They tend to be primarily composed of families, friends and members who are known within their close networks.
What I’m wondering about is whether or not these are the only two ways of looking at how church plants form? I’m assuming no one is arguing for this dichotomy. It’s not that clear cut and perhaps might be a combination of both. However, what ought to give pause for pastors is to figure out the driving motivation behind these models. Do we form churches based solely on someone’s vision or a shared one? Do we take into account the Holy Spirit’s promptings to lead and guide our thoughts and actions when it comes to founding and leading churches? What about any thought to what the mandate of the church should be? Will the answer to these questions differ depending on whether it is the local or universal church in question?
These questions are not easy to answer because it’s not exactly spelled out in Scriptures. That’s the challenge. One could try but there is no section in Scriptures that contains an exhaustive list of activities the church ought to engage in such as what one might find in an articles of incorporation document. This phenomenon has helped form the basis of what we observe church to be. Physical building structures, denominational distinctives, church polity and policies, contemporary, liturgical, seeker-sensitive types of churches and so on, all seem to have its proper place and satisfies the purposes for which Jesus Christ himself instituted.
So it appears God was pleased to provide some latitude in how believers conduct church. While worshipers may enjoy this freedom it could be a source of conflict as well. Consider a typical Sunday service. One group might prefer one style of music over another. Others might insist that expository preaching is the only way to preach versus let’s say, topical preaching. How do we adjudicate such matters? We might be tempted to find solutions in leadership books, wise counsel, prayer and other helpful resources. Those are helpful, especially prayer, but I think Zemke has given us some practical clues already.
In general, I propose that when difficult issues arise within the congregation, pastors and other church leaders must closely examine both models of church plants. Not just focus on the common identity to the exclusion of common bond, and vice versa. Rather, consider the merits of both and work toward unity (contra uniformity)2. Unity in the body of Christ is so integral in the life of the church that our Lord made special mention of this when he prayed for us in John 17. There is a certain synergy, the outcome of which is greater than the sum of its parts, when we focus on people (common bond) and principles (common identity) in interoperable ways.
Leadership expert John Maxwell said “The more people you develop, the greater the extent of your dreams.”3 I find this true in my experience hiring people for in our department. Our greatest work related resource and asset are people. This is true for churches as well. Jim Collins in his research shows this synergism to be true that successful companies actually proactively recruit good quality employees regardless of whether or not there are positions open.4 In the end, good people create good principles and vice versa. The same is true in reverse, common bond worshipers create common identity and vice versa.
1 Diane Zemke, Being SMART about Congregational Change. Kindle Edition. Loc. 665.
2 Ibid., Loc. 1170.
3 John C. Maxwell, Developing the Leader within You (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1993), 113.
4 James C. Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … and Others Don’t (New York, NY: Collins, 2009), 41.