A shared ‘something’ that makes one a part of something bigger, is what defines culture. Webster defines culture as a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization. Webster defines structure as something (as an anatomical part) arranged in a definite pattern of organization. The arrangement of particles or parts in a substance or body, (molecular structure): organization of parts as dominated by the general character of the whole.
Organizational structure and culture work together to form the fabric of an organization. Combining these separate yet coexisting entities, the contemporary church of today can learn a great deal from the early Christian church.
Organizational Structure and Culture
Structure is the way in which we look at the internal characteristics of an organization.
Culture is defined by many scholars, but specifically by Gareth Morgan (2006) as “shared values, shared beliefs, shared meaning, shared understanding, and shared sense making”. He continues, “A process of reality construction that allows people to see and understand a particular event, actions, objects, utterances, or situations in distinctive ways”. Culture is a component of the contextual dimensions of the organization which describe the whole organization and the environment. Culture is powerful, it gives individuals a sense of identity and commitment to beliefs and values larger than themselves, a strong organizational culture creates agreement between members.
Although structure and culture are separate concepts, in many ways they overlap. They complement and weave themselves together and occupy the same space, metaphorically speaking, as though they are part of a tapestry. As we explore the early church we will see this phenomenon much more clearly than simply by definition.
The Early Christian Church
The early church understood that they were living in the last times and “considered that, [this] knowledge provided them with a missional impetus that they saw as the heart of the church’s life”. Jesus had ascended and reappeared to the faithful followers several times, proving He was alive (Acts 1:3, ESB). They had been told to wait for the Holy Spirit, the Comforter to descend on them and give them power, before ‘going out’ (Acts 1:3-8). Following the arrival of the Spirit, the early church grew rapidly, supporting each other communally and worshipping together (Acts 2:41-47). In spite of Peter and John’s arrests, the Apostles, emboldened by the Holy Spirit, continued to preach and pray with the nearly 5,000 converts to the faith.
Early signs of organization and structure of the church began to emerge. The leaders were Spirit filled (Acts 4:31) and included anyone who was interested in hearing and believing the message of the Gospel. They acted with holiness and integrity, love, and acceptance. Their mission from the beginning, as given to them by Jesus, was to spread the Gospel to all nations (Acts 1:7-8). The early church, small and centered around Jerusalem, had a “collectivist” approach to church structure. It wasn’t until later when the church began to grow and spread out geographically that they had to take on a more organizational structure. They took their mission very seriously including crossing cultural boundaries, being flexible, and still responsive to internal and environmental change. It was at this point that leadership and organizational structure began to evolve.
By Acts 6 the church was growing rapidly and spreading outward. There became a need for organizational structure to facilitate efficiency of service (Acts 6:2-4). Seven men were chosen by the entire assembly; all of who were Spirit filled, wise and of good character (Acts 6:2-6). As a result of appointing overseers and servants more was accomplished for the kingdom; with assignments to the “home church” as well as the mission field (Acts 6:7).
Servanthood was not depicted by being lesser than the “dignity of office”, but rather a part of the church body that functioned as an important part of the whole. In fact, servanthood was never a reflection of domination, overpowering, or a “top-down” structure as used by the Sanhedrin (Matthew 2:4). Instead it was a reflection of a community of brotherhood which allowed creative decision making, church wide involvement, avoidance of hypocrisy, and most importantly the spreading of the Gospel (Acts 6:2-3). Perry Shaw (2013) agrees that the idea of a “distinct ‘clergy class’ was foreign to the early church but refers to Harding Stricker’s (2011) idea of brotherhood as a “familial system”. This familial system or brotherhood enabled each person (servant) to do their part in the Kingdom work according to their God given gifts, to mature the body of Christ.
 (Merriam-Webster, n.d.)
 (Morgan, G., 2006)
 (Daft, R., 2010)
 (Shaw, J., 2013)
 (Packer, J.W., 1966)
 (Shaw, J., 2013)
 (Packer, J.W., 1966; Shaw, 2013)
 (Lingenfelter, S., 1992)
 (Stricker, H., 2011)
 (Shaw, 2013)