“ Unless the LORD builds the house those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain"
--Psalm 127: 1--
Friday, March 11, 2022
I am confident that when people go looking for a church to join one of the very last concerns in their mind is how the church is governed. I cannot recall ever hearing from a friend about that their search for a new church home was based on the model used to make decisions. Ordinarily it is about the programs, or the preaching, or the music or something that seems more fundamental to what church is like.
What is more fundamental to the muscles of the body than the bones those muscles are connected to? Apart from the connections themselves? Nothing.
And so it is that the system which governs everything a congregation may or may not do gets little attention and is allowed to decay decision after decision all the while threatening the very soundness of the body as a whole. This is probably why the Apostle Paul compared the universal church to the body of Christ in the first place. To give us insight into how everything is connected not how everything is separate.
The quality characteristic of Functional Structures doesn’t concern itself with how the body is ordered. It concerns itself with how well that order supports the work of the body. Does it provide the leverage to allow the muscles to do the heavy lifting they want to do? Are the connections strong enough to allow competing muscle groups to relax and contract in a harmonious way so that the body may bend and move to respond to the service it desires to offer? Are there enough bones and connections to do everything? Are there too many bones and not enough connections or muscles? Does the bone protect vital organs?
What we see on the surface is not the whole story to tell obviously, there are enough proverbs and fables that make it clear that we cannot tell a book by its cover or determine the centre of a potato by the strength of its skin. But we also know that rot, if it starts deep, will end up destroying everything. On the surface it is a blemish we can remove. At the core it wrecks all it touches. For this reason, Functional Structures are so vital to the overall health of any and every congregation.
It is also not enough to have a structure, a skeleton. The bones and connective tissue need to connect to muscles so that those muscles can exert their strength and be developed to become stronger.
A quick survey of our natural world shows that certain animals have developed bodies that are built for their specific needs. The skeletons of birds and flying mammals differ from the skeletons of birds and ocean-going mammal and those in turn differ from the skeletons of our tiniest mammals to our largest. Similarities in structures help us to understand how the bodies work and how they support the differences in musculature which enables a bat to fly with such precision or a whale to dive to incredible depths. Toss a whale in a cave and that would be disastrous for the whale. Release a bat deep below the surface of the ocean and that would be disastrous for the bat. Both would suffer simply because their structures are designed for different ways of being.
The Church is different from a Bank or even a Bakery so it makes sense that it would look different and be structured somewhat differently. And it also makes sense that when a Church or a Bank or a Bakery run into difficulty, they need to examine themselves to use what they must get themselves out of difficulty. That may mean an adaptation of some kind is required. The Church cannot become a Bank or a Bakery it can shift the way it functions as a church and to do that the structures that give the Church its strength and leverage may need to shift ever so slightly.
Historically we know that there was a time when the Church divided into Eastern and Western components. And then the Western Church split into Roman Catholic and Protestant bodies. This led to changes in thousands of congregations around the world that would allow them to support their mission and continue to grow the Church of Christ in the world. Creatures that cannot adapt become extinct. Adaptation means finding new ways to function in the world that surrounds us. Which illustrates why this unsung component of church health can be so vital.
Grace and peace to you and may you keep one another safe.
-Reverend John Maich