Organizational Structure to Support Listening
Congregations need to be intentional about adopting organizational structures that affirm the asking of questions, facilitate the act of listening, and communicate that listening isn't just crisis management, but a fundamental commitment to be responsive.
That means, to the extent possible within the denomination, a non-hierarchical leadership structure.
- Leadership focused on power and control isn't conducive to listening.
- Members sense when they are viewed as "foot soldiers" of someone else's agenda. They prefer to be co-workers in ministries that reflect their questions.
Instead of a standard pyramidal structure where power flows up to top leaders and directions flow down, a healthy church operates "horizontally," with a network of self-organizing groups and individuals who pursue a broad array of ministries on the basis of shared interest and autonomy.
Leaders serve by providing a supportive environment where people feel free to take initiative and to function independently but within congregational norms.
The focus should be on small covenant communities where people can form significant, faith-centered relationships. (See Membership Development section on Small Groups.)
- People do a better job of listening than institutions do, because institutions tend to be deaf except to signals like money and complaint.
- Personal needs, yearnings and desires to serve are more likely to be expressed freely in a setting with some intimacy and trust.
- Small groups might not have the heft to undertake solutions or initiatives, but they do provide a free-thinking environment where ideas can be floated, tested, refined, and then passed along for others to consider, as well.
- Authentic listening is a "call and response" process, in which questions are encouraged and honored, and then made part of the group's life. A hierarchical institution can rarely do more than harvest one-way communications.