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Are you building an organization or a missional family? | What America can learn from the European Church | Part 6

April 16, 2012

[This is the 6th and final post of a 6-post series titled “Letters to America,” written by Paul Maconochie, the pastor at St Thomas Philadelphia. Paul was the pastor who followed me at Philadelphia and now, 8 years later, it is one of fastest growing churches in Europe, doing some incredibly imaginative things in a truly post-Christian context. I hope you enjoy the series, and if you’d like to read a little on the history of St Thomas, check out this blog post on how I chose Movement over Mega.]


One of the things that impacts an Englishman most when visiting American churches, particularly megachurches, is the sheer size, scope and excellence of the organisations that make them work. If you are a gifted and anointed Pastor in the UK you might see a church of several hundred grow under your ministry, but rarely more than this. Of course this means that you never learn the skills of the American megachurch Pastor, who typically leads a multi-million dollar set-up with multiple employees and teams. In fact, one of the things that we have began to learn over in the UK from you guys is that good business principles can equally apply to church leadership. At St. Thomas’ Church, our world was rocked when we read Jim Collins’ ‘Good to Great’.

However, in the bid for excellence and in the process of building well-run and professional organisations, I wonder if something has been missed.



I have spent time with several teams from churches in the USA over the last few years and in general I have been really impressed with the way they work. However, team members sometimes talk about feeling discouraged about the level of pressure they are under to perform well. To be honest, in some instances, they can seem overtired and even somewhat disconnected from the Senior Pastor. In our celebrity culture, Senior Pastors can sometimes seem to be remote and unobtainable ‘super-people’ living in a different world.

As we try to provide an excellent experience for the people who come on Sundays, we can put a level of pressure on our staff members that makes them vulnerable to discouragement, temptation and burn-out.

But if they are already teetering on this level of discouragement, temptation and burn-out, what happens when you start talking about starting new “missional” things outside the four-walls of the church building?

When we look at the ministry of Jesus, he also had a discouraged team at times. As His ministry built there was increasing resistance from the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. The work with the crowds was relentless and the disciples all became pretty tired. Being with Jesus and seeing His perfect walk with His Father also brought them face to face with their own sin; at one point Peter even said “Get away from me Lord; I am a sinful man.”

 Jesus could easily have seemed remote and unobtainable. But this was not the case. Why?

When His disciples began to get discouraged and tired, He drew them in. If you look at the second quarter of the synoptic Gospels, you find Jesus going to great lengths to get away with the twelve and spend time just with them. He even dismissed the crowds while the disciples sailed across the lake of Galilee and then walked on water to get to His disciples before the crowds could reach them! (John 6: 16-24)

He gave them His time when they were discouraged and He spoke vision and grace to them. He said: “Don’t be afraid, little flock; for the Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

In doing this, Jesus demonstrated to His team that He was not just a boss, but a Shepherd that would lay His life down for the sheep. He built a level of relationship with them that moved them past being a group of workers trying to achieve a task (however worthy the task was) into a tightly-knit family who could be vulnerable with each other and who had a huge level of loyalty to Him and to each other. He got them to the stage where He could say “Here are my Mother and my Brothers” (Mark 3:33) and “I used to call you servants, but now I call you friends.” (John 15:15)

Back when I was a more junior member of the team at St. Thomas’ Church responsible for one of the morning services, I remember getting really tired and discouraged. At that point my Senior Pastor, Mike Breen, seemed to get a sudden interest in cinema. He kept asking me to go and watch movies with him. Of course the way it worked was that we drove to the cinema, had a drink before the movie started, and drove home again afterwards, talking all the while. What he gave me during those times was absolutely key: Vision for the future, a reminder that our success depends on God’s grace and a level of relationship with him that meant that I was not isolated.

During the difficult times and the discouragement when we are all tired, team can become family.

But only if the leaders are prepared to make the sacrifice and change their schedule enough to coach us through.

Hey, Pastors – are we managing an organization or building a missional family?


Paul, along with Rich Robinson, are spearheading much of the 3DM efforts in the UK. To check out their blog, click here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Nikolaj Christensen permalink
    April 16, 2012 4:54 pm

    This “European Church” is a very particular European church isn’t it? 😉 I think Europe could learn a lot from this too. Thanks for a great series!

  2. Ian permalink
    April 17, 2012 3:35 am

    Paul (& Mike) – this was an excellent series of posts. This last one was particularly relevant & reflects something that has been on my heart for a little while. I think we can spend too much time trying to emulate the “good bits” of business, eg, always having the latest technology, great slideshows, etc & modelling ourselves on the mega-CEOs. I’m not suggesting business is bad, yes, there are learnings we can take from it, but let’s not lose sight of the gospel that continues to be very relevant 2,000 years later.

    I liked how you summed up the post – are we building an organisation or a family? Jesus built a family of followers not a business….

    Well done gents..

  3. April 19, 2012 8:39 pm

    This series of posts has been very encouraging and filled with important insights. I particularly appreciate the way in which the DNA comes through what is written. As a pastor in America (with previous experience in mega-churches), I think the series is as timely as ever.

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