The Church as a Network
The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.
The Church as a Network
Gambold discussed the Church as a network, stating “One individual formed a network of 12 associates and they ‘networked’ the organization to its current size of roughly 2.5 billion followers… …despite the tremendously hostile environment at the time… [and] …the organization has remained relatively intact for over two millennia.” He also referenced the fivefold ministries cited by Paul and described “some infighting” within the Church. These observations strengthen Gambold’s argument that the Church is a network.
Of course, one must be mindful that the Church is a unique entity. Jesus established the Church as a supernatural organization which He designed to fruitfully operate in this natural world. As such, there are factors to its growth, such as the work of the Holy Spirit, which one should not attribute to its organizational or network structures. However, conceptualizing the Church as a network offers benefits for those saints laboring for the kingdom.
Scott and Davis defined a network as “a system of relationships among parts.” While these systems are present within the organizational structure of the Church, they also extend beyond these boundaries. The fivefold ministry provides an example of one such network.
Within Organizational Boundaries
In Ephesians 4:11 (NKJV), Paul explained Jesus’ formation of the fivefold ministry: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” White noted that these positions may be functional or official. White went on to explain that some believers view the fivefold ministry as “the five leadership or governmental offices given to the church by Jesus Christ for the edification of the church and for the purpose of church administration and decisions on doctrinal and spiritual issues of the church.” Such a network of church leaders is appropriate and important. Merida acknowledged that the apostles decided to “appoint some leaders and allocate responsibilities for effective shepherding.”
Beyond Organizational Boundaries
However, several of the fivefold ministry positions go beyond the organizational structure. Apostles serve as interlocks which tie geographically separated churches to one another through their shared leadership. Evangelists take the gospel outside of the organization and bring converts into the organization. They are perhaps the most environmentally interactive of the fivefold ministers. Finally, many pastors are nodes within at least three networks – their churches, their denominations, and their locations. Pastors are central to their church networks as caretakers of the local flock, they participate in denominational activities such as committees and conferences, and they engage with other pastors and community leaders on a civic level.
Beyond this, there are other networks that extend ministers beyond their organizational boundaries. There are chaplaincy networks, benevolence networks, missions networks, and major crusades. More explicitly, Resane described the New Apostolic Movement as “assimilating [pastors and unaffiliated churches] through cell group meetings, church planting and rapid cytokinesis… …into the formation or membership into some form of loose network.” These various networks of fivefold ministers keep local churches connected to the global Church.
Denominations and Ecumenism
Christianity in the 21st century consists of the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant branches and the Church divides beyond this into around 45,000 denominations globally. These various churches align themselves into denominational and geographical networks to share resources and for ecumenical purposes. Denominationally, churches will pool their resources to fund foreign missions and moral activism. Within the denomination, those things which matter most to the organization are prioritized.
However, geographically churches often function as industrial districts. Tanaka discussed the rise of faith-based organizations and church agency in solving global issues of inequality: “The agency of churches… …raises a broad on the importance of cooperation between different faith traditions to combat forms of exclusion such as anti-Semitism and racism. International ecumenical organizations began to work in countries in poverty and social conflict, strengthening their commitment to the transformation of unjust structures of power around the world. This movement is accompanied by links with theological elaborations that support the political agency of organizations for equality and justice. For these organizations, questioning and challenging the structuring mechanisms of inequality is part of the commitment to faith and Christian witness.”
These ecumenical efforts take place both locally and globally. There are nondenominational agencies and institutions that help facilitate this cooperation. Some examples within the United States include Christian radio, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Focus on the Family, the March for Life, the National Day of Prayer, Samaritan’s Purse, and countless others.
Gambold, K. (2021, April 29). Network organizations and the environmental process [Discussion post]. https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/announcement?method=search&context=course_entry&course_id=_723076_1&handle=announcements_entry&mode=view
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. (2021, May 2). Center for the Study of Global Christianity. https://www.gordonconwell.edu/center-for-global-christianity/research/quick-facts/
Merida, T. (2015). Christ-centered exposition commentary: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Kings. B & H Publishing Group.
Resane, K. (2016). The New Apostolic Reformation: The critical reflections on the ecclesiology of Charles Peter Wagner. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 72(3). https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v72i3.3240
Scott, W. R. & Davis, G. F. (2016). Organizations and organizing: Rational, natural, and open system perspectives (6th ed.). Routledge.
Tanaka, S. (2019). Ecumenism and inequality. Sur International Journal on Human Rights, 16(29), 169-176.
The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.
White, P. (2015). A missional study of Ghanaian Pentecostal churches’ leadership and leadership formation. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies, 71(3). https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v71i3.2865