The Horizontal Church
Vertical structure is competitive by nature. It is human nature to want to climb a ladder.
Aspiration breeds competition. Competitors are tempted to employ fear for their own advancement. We must all wear our game face all the time.
Employees weigh their financial and social security against using their freedoms. The higher you climb the more there is to lose if you express an unpopular opinion. Fear becomes a tool.
Vertical structure tempts people to think constantly of their place on the ladder. Collaboration is applauded but competition squeezes it out.
An organization established in collegiality can quickly become cut-throat. Vertical structure is self-destructive!
This applies to the vertically structured church. Congregations compete for the skills of professional leaders, laity compete for status, and clergy compete for fewer plum assignments.
The competition is all the tougher because of isolation. Most lay Christians know little of other congregations and exist in their own world—always cheerleading for their communities when there is interaction with other congregations.
Clergy exist as unchallenged leaders in these isolated communities. Woe to anyone that challenges. Clergy know very little about other congregations accept what they hear from other clergy. Often, this news is shared by disgruntled clergy. It is rarely positive.
There is also competition for dollars.
In simpler days, this worked. But vertical structure requires measurable growth for validation. The higher the position in the Vertical Church the more critical the need for visible, measurable success.
If a church is not entrepreneurially minded, there is only one source of money. The people in the pew.
Church members must fund their own congregation’s property, pastor, and other paid leaders. They must also fund the regional body and the national entity. And that’s not the end of their burden. They must fund social service agencies. This starts out with coming from the congregation’s support of the regional and national offices. But they can always use more resources and with the pooled money from many churches, they have the resources to do something about it.
The dollars that filter up to the regional bodies and their agencies and seminaries provide sufficient resources to fund professional development offices. It is their full-time job to approach the most affluent church members, encouraging them to contribute directly to them. Fund us now. Fund us in your wills.
Congregations, the foundational support of the entire church, can’t afford this expertise.
It’s a huge burden for every church of every size. The people who at one time would have naturally endowed their congregations are enticed to direct their wealth to the bigger entities who can afford to have someone keeping their cause in front of them and give them a more visible legacy in the process.
It is no wonder that congregations are struggling. And unethical leaders can use their position on the vertical church ladder to bolster their status and their pocketbooks. It happens. More and more.
In our next post, we’ll look at how the Horizontally Structured Church might change this.