! Functional Structures
When we moved into our house, one of the first things we needed to do was organize the kitchen so we could prepare food.
As Carla looked at the kitchen cabinets, she was puzzled by them and she had a hard time knowing how to set up the kitchen.
Later we found out that they were not designed for that kitchen so it was not surprising that some of the ways the doors were and some of the configurations were rather strange.
A kitchen is designed to help us effectively prepare and serve food.
When it doesn’t work well, it isn’t long before we have ideas about how to do it better.
A while later, I was finally able to set up my garage so that I could have my tools at hand and could repair things.
After 8 or 9 months of operating out of a tool box, it was good to do this.
I built a work bench and put up a peg board to hang my tools.
I set up my grinder so I could sharpen knives.
A shop is designed to help us effectively build and repair things.
When it is not functional, we like to change it so it works better.
The purpose of structure is to allow things to happen effectively.
Most people are quick to develop a kitchen or shop that works well.
What about a church?
Do we ever think about the structure of a church?
What happens when the structure doesn’t help us accomplish the task God has given us?
This morning, we will look at the last of the quality characteristics, which is functional structures.
Then we will conclude the series on the healthy church as we talk about the next step in becoming a healthy church.
Today, you get two sermons for the price of one.
!! A. Structures in the Bible
As structure provides order and effectiveness to much of our lives, the church also must have structure.
Although the head of the church is Jesus Christ and the one who guides the church is the Spirit of God, the Bible also indicates that there is to be structure.
One example of structure in the church is found in Acts 14:23.
As Paul and Barnabas completed their first missionary journey, they returned to each of the places they had first visited and in each church they appointed elders.
As we read through the New Testament, we learn that there were several different types of offices in the church.
This passage speaks of elders.
I Timothy 5:17 indicates that there are different kinds of elders.
It speaks of elders who rule and also elders who preach and teach.
In I Timothy 3:1, we hear about overseers.
The other role that is mentioned is that of deacon.
The word deacon means "servant."
What we learn from this is that the church structured itself to put into place servants to do the needed tasks.
In I Corinthians 14:26-33, in the context of talking about the enthusiasm of the Corinthian church and the way they handled their worship service, we see that there was to be a structure to the way they conducted worship.
Paul encourages them when he says, “What then shall we say, brothers?
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.
All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.”
Then at the end of that section we read, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.”
The key concept is contained in this passage when it says, “All of these must be for the strengthening of the church…” Whatever structure we have in the church, whether it is hymns, instruction, revelations etc. as in this passage, or in any of the work of the church, it must be for the effective work of the church.
There was structure and it was there in order to help the church do its job well.
!! B. There Are Few Prescribed Structures
Although there is a structure, there is very little in the way of a prescribed structure.
In the OT, there was a very clear structure which told them which sacrifices to offer, which festivals to keep and an order for priests and Levites, but in the NT this is not so.
Order is prescribed, the task of the church is prescribed and the presence of leadership is prescribed, but beyond that there is considerable freedom as to the exact structure of the church.
Some have understood that the New Testament prescribes a hierarchical form of government as in the Catholic church.
Some have perceived an elder led system of government as in the Presbyterian church.
As Mennonites, we have tended to emphasize the “priesthood of all believers” and have therefore developed congregational forms of church structure.
None of these forms are prescribed in the Bible.
What that teaches us is that as long as we are doing what God wants us to do in an orderly way, we have considerable freedom in the way we structure it.
Structures are like tools which are there to serve the purposes of the church.
All of us know the value of a good tool.
If you are baking bread and your mixer is temperamental, you can make it work, but it is hard to work with.
The essential item, bread, will get made, but it will take a lot more work and frustration than it needs to.
If your tractor is always breaking down, you can limp along, but I have heard the joy of having a machine which works well.
With the old tractor, the work eventually gets done, but there is a lot of waste of time and frustration.
The structures of a church are like a tool.
They are not at the center of what happens in the church but without functional structures, the work of the church is inefficient and frustrating.
!! A. In the Bible
Sometimes the structures we have do not work well.
We have several illustrations of that in the Bible.
After Israel came out of Egypt, Moses, who had led the people out, was their teacher and judge.
He taught them God’s way and he judged all the disputes between them.
Moses father-in-law, who was a leader in his own nation, came to visit and to bring back Moses’ wife and sons.
As Jethro looked around at what was happening, he noticed that Moses was operating with a dysfunctional structure.
In 18:19-21 he says, "Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you.
You must be the people's representative before God and bring their disputes to him.
Teach them the decrees and laws, and show them the way to live and the duties they are to perform.
But select capable men from all the people--men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain--and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens."
This is good advice because Moses was wearing himself out.
If he was wearing himself out, imagine the frustration of trying to get an appointment with him?
The people would also have been frustrated.
The structure was not working and Moses made a change so that the whole nation worked better and the result must have been a happier nation.
In Acts 6:1-7, we have another example of a dysfunctional structure.
As the church grew, more and more people were involved and it became difficult for the apostles to do all the work.
A complaint revealed a dysfunction which was partly a result of growth and partly a result of racial concerns in that Hellenistic widows were overlooked because Hebrews were looking after the distribution of food.
The result was that they appointed other leaders to deal with the problem and the work of the church progressed.
!! B. The Church Today.
We have not yet perfected the functioning of the church.
Today we still run into ways of doing church that are dysfunctional.
One writer speaks about some of the modern churches dysfunctions as “demeaning leadership structures, inconvenient worship service times, or programs that do not reach their audience effectively…” He also speaks about “de-motivating financial concepts.”
For example, I heard about a church which had run a boys club for years.
It was becoming more and more difficult to maintain the program.
There were few boys in the church in that age group, it was hard to get leaders and the program was not as effective anymore.
The church decided to develop a different type of a program, which would still invite boys from the community and disciple the kids in the church.
They developed a combined boys and girls club that was more interesting for the kids.
The result was a more effective ministry that met the needs.
When structures are not functional, change is required.
Yet this is one of the most difficult things to do in a church.
A lot of anxiety and fear accompanies change.
Some people recognize that things aren’t working well and push for change.
Others think that things are just fine and push for things to remain the same.
Some recognize that things aren’t working well, but are so overcome by the fear of change that they resist it even though they know it is necessary.
Change is one of the most difficult and controversial things a church can do.