I have been thinking about an article that appeared in Time Magazine (December 19, 2011), describing the extreme makeover of auto manufacturer, Chrysler. The article, “Power Steering: How Chrysler’s Italian Boss Drives an American Auto Revival,” has a key parallel to a major roadblock that challenges the impact potential of most American churches – and denominations.

It’s interesting that this Time article, written by Bill Saporito, uses the word “revival” in the title of this report. You may recall that the American automakers and the region of Detroit, were in the economic toilet a few years ago. In a controversial move, the U.S. Treasury lent Chrysler $5.1 billion in 2009. One of the recent markers of the Chrysler “revival” is that it has repaid the government in full, with interest, six years ahead of schedule.

Obviously, there are many significant changes that contribute to such a turnaround. The hiring of Sergio Marchionne, the boss of Italian automaker, Fiat, and Fiat Industrial – and now Chrysler – is key. Leadership is always important to revival – even in the church. However, among the many automotive and marketing changes (remember the Chrysler Super Bowl ad, “Imported From Detroit,” featuring Eminem?), one of the big changes made at Chrysler was structural. It was a massive overhaul in the way decisions were made. This is a huge lesson for most churches, and the origin of these changes, from the Christian worldview, is not Italy, but New Testament biblical culture.

Pay close attention to what CEO Marchionne says about Chrysler: “We flattened the organization out. We reached out and brought people on the management team who had been buried underneath the classic hierarchy of corporate America” (page 38). Want a name for this type of organization? It is called “low control.”

Low control is only one part of the equation, however. The balance is equally important. In this Time article about Chrysler, the author describes it this way: “It’s sometimes known as loose-tight management, meaning Marchionne is also unforgiving in holding people accountable for executing their ideas.” There is a name for this balance. It is called “high accountability.”

Effective Church

Neither Chrysler nor an Italian CEO are my source for this approach for organizing the church. My source is the biblical approach of Jesus, the Apostles, and the formation of the New Testament Church. The work of the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, the royal priesthood, the style of the Apostles, and the concept of making disciples are all biblical factors that speak to the “low control” aspects of the New Testament Church and the Christian Movement.

The New Testament cultural practices of following Matthew 18, “speaking the truth in the spirit of love,” and the tone of the Epistles all relate to the issue of high accountability. How ironic is it that most churches (and most denominational structures) operate under cultural systems that are high control and low accountability? Boards and committees micromanage church staff. Denominations legislate rules. This approach cripples effective ministry. This organizational system demotivates Christian workers. This reversal of New Testament culture roadblocks the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Healthy and thriving churches are liberated from this non-biblical form of organizational structure. Changing structure is not an easy task. It is not a matter of “rewriting the Constitution.” It is a paradigm shift of cultural values and a restoration of biblical worldviews. It is a major shift in church culture. The change must be guided carefully and skillfully, and engineered as a movement. It is not a management program. It is about spiritual renewal. It requires “a complete renewal of our minds” (Romans 12: 1-2) – the way we think about how Kingdom work gets done. The church is a volunteer organization. The CEO, top-down approach Chrysler used won’t work. The bottom-up, movement approach Jesus used will work. When it happens, a church is measurably liberated. It is not the only transformational paradigm shift necessary for the 21st century church to experience “revival.” It is, however, one of the essential ingredients.

As a church leader, don’t you know, deep in your gut, this is right? Then why don’t you do something about it?

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