Taking care of the spiritual needs of church members on a personal level inside a megachurch with a weekly attendance well into the thousands can be a reality, says Pastor Mark Driscoll. However, following the biblical pattern for church leadership is vital in order to do so, the leader of Mars Hill Church based in Seattle stated in a recent blog post.
"Having been the pastor of the same church for what is now 18 years, I am very certain we take much better care of our people today than we did when we were small," writes Driscoll.
Driscoll shared how the leadership team at Mars Hill is "sheep-focused" while he remains "flock-focused," which has been a successful strategy for the 14,000-member church, despite the assumption that larger churches "do not care for people as well as smaller churches."
The principle of "flock-focused" and "sheep-focused" leadership derives from the concept that lead pastors oversee the entire church while delegating pastoral duties to other leaders. Then, the assigned leaders can focus on more personal duties, such as hospital visits, officiating weddings, and praying for individuals.
Driscoll writes that all Mars Hill campuses also model after the teachings in the New Testament about leaders and their responsibilities within the church, as a way to create a culture and environment that allows members to feel connected.
"Our situation is similar to New Testament churches scattered geographically with both local leadership in each church and leadership across the churches helping them to coordinate their resources and efforts as one church," said Driscoll.
However, managing to make a member feel personally cared for takes wisdom and attention to detail, he notes. Part of his church's effort includes connecting members with small groups throughout the week where they "learn about God, pray, eat, laugh, and live."
Community groups, as they are called, are considered to be the heart of Mars Hill and they have proven to be successful in making members feel a sense of belonging among the thousands of others they worship alongside every Sunday.
He explains that they particularly focus on 14 key points as noted in the book, Elders and Leaders, written by Gene Gentz, a former professor at Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary. Gentz writes about turning biblical principles into practical methods.
Ultimately, caring after a church while meeting the individual needs of its members does not depend on the matter of size but rather the church's state as a whole, Driscoll says.
"Churches, like children, have in the complexity of their DNA a natural size they will reach if healthy and then not grow beyond that," said Driscoll. "Because of sickness, churches, like children, can also have their growth stunted. The issue is not whether a church is large or small, but whether it is healthy or unhealthy."
Read Gene Getz' 14 observations about elders and how they work together in the New Testament:
1. The term "elders"
In the early years of Christianity, spiritual leaders in local churches were consistently identified as "elders" (presbuteroi).
2. The term "overseers"
As Paul and his fellow missionaries expanded their church-planting ministry into areas that were heavily populated with Gentiles, spiritual leaders were eventually also identified as "overseers" or "bishops" (episkopoi).
One of the basic terms New Testament writers used to describe the overarching function of elders/overseers was "to manage" (proistemi).
The second term New Testament writers used to describe the overarching function of elders/overseers was "to shepherd or tend [poimaino] the flock of God."
5. A noble task
When Paul outlined these overarching functions for elders/overseers, he made this opportunity available to any man who desired this "noble task" and who was qualified spiritually (1 Timothy 3:1).
6. Specific functions
In order for elders/overseers to carry out the overarching responsibility of "managing" the church effectively and "shepherding" God's flock as faithful and sensitive leaders, New Testament writers described and prescribed at least six specific and essential functions.
The New Testament outlines very specific qualifications for serving as local church leaders, but they were not revealed in writing until Paul wrote letters to Timothy and Titus following his first imprisonment in Rome (1 Timothy 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9).
8. Human responsibility
As the biblical story unfolds, we see more emphasis on human responsibility in selecting and appointing "qualified leaders."
9. Apostolic representatives
Though Timothy and Titus assisted Paul as apostolic representatives in selecting and appointing leaders in Ephesus and on the island of Crete, we're not told how other churches in the New Testament world carried out this process.
10. A unified team
As the biblical story unfolds in the New Testament, it becomes increasingly clear that each local church was to be managed and shepherded by a unified team of godly men.
11. A primary leader
The New Testament definitely teaches and illustrates that when there is a plurality of leadership, someone needs to function as the primary leader of the team.
In the early years of the church, there was accountability for elders/overseers among themselves and also beyond their local ministry.
The New Testament teaches that elders/overseers must maintain their priorities by delegating responsibilities to other qualified men and women who can assist them in managing and shepherding the church.
14. Function and form
The biblical story on local church leadership does not describe specific "forms"-only "functions" and "directives."