Relationships in the Local Church

Dr. Jerry Back, Pastor
Lynnwood Bible Church
February 27, 1989


When an individual or family seeks a church home, the most important ministry the church can provide is an opportunity to build close personal relationships around the word of God with like-minded believers.

It is becoming more and more difficult to establish quality relationships. As society becomes more impersonal, family values which form the basis for these relationships are continuing to erode. These values which were founded upon the Scriptures are being replaced with fear. Fear of failure in relationships.

As individuals come into the church, many come with a history of fear of failure in relationships. Add to this the problem of long commutes to work, both parents working, and the myriad of pressures upon families today and the task of building relationships in the local church becomes more difficult.

As a young adult, I was the product of two broken homes. I had never known a lasting relationship. Fortunately, as a new believer, I found a local church that enabled me to form relationships which drew me closer to my Lord and provided the stability in my life that enabled me to grow.

In seminary, I was taught the basic doctrines of the Christian faith; how to use the original languages to interpret the Scriptures and the basic organizational structures of a local church. I came away with strong convictions about what I believed, but few practical tools for integrating what I believed into everyday relationships.

The first problems I encountered as a pastor, I attributed to problems in organization. My reaction was to attempt to change the organization. After much frustration and being unable to make these changes, I resigned.

I was invited to become a church planter to start a new church. The prospect was exciting because I would not be building "on another man's foundation." I was free to organize the church as I saw fit, and I organized it with a vengeance. We were not going to have any of the problems of the previous church.

In a Pastoral Theology course at seminary, I was given a Constitution and By-laws from a large church that was considered successful. We adopted this for the new church. Every willing member was given a title, a task as specified in the By-laws, and a detailed job description. We purchased property and built a building. Before long, I ran out of things to organize. Others viewed me as a successful pastor. But I began to grow restless and eventually resigned.

From there, the Lord led me into two short ministries in established churches. Each time, my first act was to announce the need to reorganize the church. Each time the congregation dutifully followed my leadership and adopted the same complicated organizational structure I used before.

Each ministry seemed to flourish at first but, soon become stagnant, and I would become frustrated. We had the organizational structure, and individuals holding office with detailed job descriptions. But nothing was getting done.

Something was wrong. I read numerous books on church management, yet the more I tried to solve the problems of the ministry with management and organizational principles, the more frustrating the ministry became.

Then the Lord led my family and me into a situation where I was not the pastor, and we were faced with the need to find a home church. As we visited churches, we recognized our need to be ministered to and to build relationships which had nothing to do with church organization. However, we found that what was offered to us was the same thing I had been offering others in the churches I had pastored—an opportunity to join and become a part of an organization.

My wife and I were both working full time. We had little energy or interest in church organization and even less time to serve on committees or boards. The only thing we felt we needed was a relationship with other Christians around the Word of God. However, as we looked around us, we discovered that those with whom we desired a relationship were too busy because they had board and committee meetings to attend.

This experience caused me to reexamine my approach to ministry. Instead of defining ministry as tasks to perform as a part of an organization, ministry became that which was done to build relationships around God's Word.

When I was called to my present ministry, the Board of Deacons requested that I immediately initiate a revision of the organizational structure of the church. The Constitution and By-laws, I agreed, were much in need of changing. However, I was determined not to fall into the same trap I had set for myself in the past.

I challenged the board and the congregation to wait a minimum of two years before making any changes. Instead, I wanted time to build a relationship with them, to get to know them, and to earn their confidence in my leadership. We chose to ignore the existing Constitution and By-laws unless doing so violated a principle of integrity.

While we recognized that organization was important, in order to avoid the problem of having organization become a stumbling block to relationships, we determined to first establish our relationships, then we would develop ministries within these relationships. As we became more effective in these ministries, we then proposed to establish objectives for additional ministry.

These objectives for future ministry needed to be carefully formulated so as to not disrupt the relationships and ministries already established. They were to be an extension of present relationships and ministries. Then, with careful evaluation of our relationships, ministry, and objectives, we would organize the church so as to enhance the relationships and ministries already established and to aid in accomplishing the objectives. Organization would be kept to a minimum.

I have been the pastor at Lynnwood Bible Church for four and a half years. During this time, a complete revision of the Doctrinal Statement, Constitution and By-laws, and Church Covenant has been accomplished. There has been a complete restructuring of the church's finances, including the refinancing of all existing indebtedness. We have grown numerically and have seen major improvements in the physical plant. Recently the church, recognizing a need for relationships beyond our local fellowship, voted to join the Independent Fundamental Churches of America.

Every decision has been unanimous, not because unanimity was required, but because through our relationships and ministry, we understand and appreciate each other. Clear objectives are established well in advance to allow communication to take place. In this way adjustments in those objectives can be made so that the interests of the people are taken into consideration.

This is by far the most positive ministry I have experienced in over nineteen years of ministry. Instead of feeling exhausted trying to make the organization work, I feel refreshed each time another objective is accomplished because I see how it is improving our relationships and enhancing the ministry. As I look forward to my fifth year of ministry in this church I feel as if we are still beginning. There is so much to do because there are always new relationships to establish and more needs to be met.