The personality of a church becomes far more apparent when we start thinking of the local church as a group of people rather than a building or what happens in it at any given moment. For starters, it is easy to see that a church tends to reflect its leadership. What the leadership deeply cares about is regularly shared as a dream, vision, or goal and the people of the church tend to get behind and care about the same dream, vision, or goal. The methods, style, and depth in the way pastors teach and preach tend to dictate the style and dept of the church and how the entire body approaches the Bible. The leadership actually shapes the family and this is a good thing (if the leadership is good).
But the shaping doesn't end with the leadership. The body, that is all the people in the church also have a strong influence upon the make up of the church. Attitudes shape many things as do the personalities of the people among the body. When members share the gospel with their friends and co-workers, similar people join the body, often with similar jobs and personalities. Churches tend to have a lot in common from the leadership at the top all the way down to the newest believer, no matter how much they try to diversify. The people give shape to the family that God has brought together and often (but not every time) that family has much in common.
Thinking about this, I conducted a little thought experiment. At Risen Life Church, where I am on staff, we have a team of 12 which includes pastoral staff, administrative staff, and interns. We also have three church planters and pastors who have partnered with us and often join us for our staff meetings. I started imagining that myself and one other pastor were planting a church in another part of the valley. I would image how we would work together and what the leadership would look like. As I got this picture in my head, I would imagine what the body would start to look like given the area where we might plant.
After getting one picture, I would image that the plant were in another part of the Salty Lake valley, then another, and another. Each time the church looked different, sometimes really different. Then I would think about what shape the church would take if specific members in the Risen Life Church body were to join us in the plant. Each time, the picture looked a little different. Then I changed the pastor who would plant with me. With each change, things started looking very different. How interesting I thought.
My experiment continued as I worked through each member on the team. Then I paired up other people and saw some changes with myself out of the equation. Then I added a third or fourth person to the leadership mix. I couldn't believe how different each church plant looked. As I imagined these plants growing to maturity, each seemed to have a completely different appearance as they aged.
From here I thought about what Risen Life Church might look like without some of our more involved members. And as I thought about this, I realized that we've gone through some changes as people have joined our family or moved away. It truly is remarkable how different a church body might look with different people among the body, each with different gifts.
But the truth is Christ builds his Church. It doesn't matter how we might pair people together or try to engineer a church plant; if God is not behind it and the personality of the body is not what God intended, it will not succeed. Therefore, we should be reminded as we see all kinds of different churches with different sizes and styles, types and teaching, depths and denominations, that God is sovereign and it is his hand that shapes all these different churches as they gather. It is by God's will that a church has the personality it does for the season God gave it. In addition, each local church body is part of a larger body and we will all one-day be together and see the final picture Christ is painting with us. The church is not a building, it is a living organization, a body with many parts, and each part is there for a God-given reason. How amazing, indeed!
*Photo by Hong Change Bum is registered under a creative commons license and used with permission.