This is not a new issue, of course. For more than 200 years we Americans have wrestled with what role the government should play in light of our strong beliefs in freedom. Last century's Cold War, in fact, was primarily about the balance between individual freedom and governmental authority. Communist nations argued that a central command structure was more reasonable and that everyone could benefit if a select group of people had all the power.
Most Western nations took the opposite approach. We said if people were allowed to be free, with as little central control as possible, they would improve themselves. We argued that when individuals are given the freedom to improve their own lives, the entire group is improved.
The unintended consequences of both streams of thought have been remarkable. The centrally controlled system stifled innovation and productivity, resulting in things such as massive poverty. Those who defended personal freedom and liberty, though, discovered a miracle: In freedom, the human spirit becomes creative, innovative and productive and finds powerful and genuine reasons to build community. Thus, those who gave individuals the freedom to live their own lives ended up creating so many products and services, and so much wealth, that the standard of living was raised for virtually everyone, and the opportunities created seemed endless.
So, what does this have to do with church leadership? Everything. As church leaders, we're wrestling with the idea of freedom in our churches every week: What do we do with the people in our churches who want to be involved? What do we do when people have their own unique ideas about ministry?
We have a profound choice to make in the administration of our churches: Do we "fly airplanes" into the innovative, creative people in our churches, or do we embrace the ideals--and live with the risks--of freedom?
I do believe we need order. I believe we need systems. But the purpose of order and systems is to enable people to produce the wonderful things God has inspired them to do by His Spirit and His Word. The systems we create in our churches should not restrict people but liberate people. Systems should set people free to fulfill their callings.
When we make the people in our churches jump through too many bureaucratic hoops, it won't be long before they stop jumping and figure out we're essentially just forcing them to do things the way they've always been done. Systems that are too rigid produce discouragement and poverty in our churches because people soon learn that creativity is not rewarded.
The church I pastor doesn't grow because I've figured out how to make people do church my way. Our church grows because the people have something great within them that, when unleashed, produces awesome ministry. I'm not trying to get people behind my vision; I'm trying to get behind their vision.
Simply put, when the individuals in our churches prosper in their personal ministries, the congregations as a whole prosper. So don't fight against those who want freedom; instead, encourage them.