Obstacle 2 // We Have Created Church Structures that Hinder Needed Change

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Humans need structure. It's how we attempt to make sense and organize our world. Some people's structure is perhaps less rigid than others. But we all operate with structures and guidelines.

Creation itself has structure. Our bodies have a structure to function. Ecosystems exist in structures.

So naturally, our churches have structures to help us function cohesively. 

As a local church begins, a system and structure is established. Generally speaking, it's effective and meaningful in moving forward with God's mandate in that community. The congregation is on the same page, working together.

Over time, things change. People change (whether because they get older or because they move). New people (hopefully) are joining the church. As some of the original congregation members move on and new members join, how we understand the church changes. The communities which that local church serves changes over time as well.

The problem is when we see structure more as a building and not as an organism. After all, the church is called the body of Christ (not the building of Christ). 

When we see structure as a building, it's perceived as rigid and inflexible. Making some superficial changes is easy. Trying to change the foundations of a building is extremely hard. When our structures are firmly trenched like a building, we tend to hold firm on the structures. We may even see it as an entity in and of itself. We may inadvertently view the structure as the "biblical approach" in operating as a church. Yet most of our structures are constructs for a specific time at a specific place among a specific people. They are not meant to last for eternity.

Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the church is the body of Christ, a growing organism. A person doesn't remain as a baby for all of its life. That person's body grows with bones and muscles (and fat). When a body grows, it changes to operate well within that environment. It will not look the same; it will look different. 

Over time, our church structures need to change because the people within the congregation and in the community change. What is required of and from the local church changes.

As we tackle obstacle #2, here are some questions to guide that discussion:

  1. What specifically is God's mandate in that community? This goes beyond "making disciples of all nations" (what Os Guinness would call our primary calling). Why is that specific congregation in that particular area for that particular time? Too many times, we assume our structure is fulfilling that mandate when the structure may be impeding the mandate over time.
  2. What channels of communication are needed to effectively move forward? This includes the process of decision making and publicly communicating to the community at large. Distrust builds when transparency is lacking. 
  3. What are the non-negotiables within the church structure? hich parts of the structure are biblically universal? Which ones are required by law? Be aware, this is where we tend to claim non-negotiables that likely don't have to be non-negotiables. Be very clear what defines a non-negotiable and be open to discussing and revising that definition.
  4. What are those "growing pain" structural changes anticipated in the next 5-10 years? While we can't predict the future, we can try to discern how the congregation within and the community around may be evolving. This is where we need to be willing to let go of past structures in order to grow into an expression of his local church situated in this place at this time.

While this list is not exhaustive, it's a starting point for discussion. Given the rapid rate of change, these questions need to be regularly reflected upon prayerfully by the leadership of the church and the congregation at large. 

At the end of the day, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to continuously shape us so we can effectively bring the love and grace of God to those around us. It requires a humble spirit from EVERYONE in the congregation (don't read this as "they need to be humble" but read it as "I need to be humble").

"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

Alvin Lau // CBOQ

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