We completed a long day of planning on Thursday. There were several take-aways, but the one has really stuck in my mind as I have meditated on our work was "form vs. function".
What does that mean (and why are you thinking about that in the first place)? Kind of cryptic, I know, so let me see if in a short blog, I can define the terms a bit. (OK, it turned out this was not a short blog; my mind started racing.....sorry.)
Function - the core reasons that you exist (basically your mission). Form - the methods that you choose to use to meet or perform your core function. Function should be immutable; it should never change. Form should appropriately change to address needs, changes in culture, etc.
This is especially poignant in church work. The core function/mission of the church should never change - it always should be about making more and more obedient disciples (there is a whole lot of discussion that can be had on other things that people have moved into the core functions of the church as an organization that I really don't think are Biblical, but we will leave that for another time). What should change are the methods (forms) of how we use to meet our mission/core function.
The problem is that sometimes people turn the "form" into a "function". The function of the church is to have weekend services, the function of the church is to have small groups, etc. No, those are forms that we use to meet the core function.
It is appropriate to stand up for, argue for and even die for the core functions of the church, because they are rooted in Biblical commands from our Savior and Lord. However, when we move a form to a function and stand up for, argue to and even die for, we are mis-informed and our zeal is mis-appropriated (think Pharisees here).
Worshiping forms (a form of idolatry one could say - ouch), results in a couple of things as I see it:
- The devil, who is a pretty smart guy, changes his strategy and we begin to lose ground because we are using an old form to combat a new strategy.
- People begin to leave the church because because they begin to intuitively understand that truth and life is not found in forms and they cannot connect with our mission through old forms.
- Arguments erupt over keeping form of ministry the same year after year.
We have all seen it; a church that had a vibrant ministry 50 years ago is dying because they are using out dated forms that don't connect with the culture they are trying to reach. It is a sad reality of many churches that are unwilling to change because they have too much invested in a particular form - they are dying. The devil has moved on to a new strategy: they haven't.
Just an aside; Paul changed his form of ministry. When he was in a Jewish synagogue he used one teaching strategy (rooted in the Old Testament); when he was in a Greek place of learning, he used another strategy (see Acts 17). He made an emphatic statement: to the Jew I became a Jew, to the Greeks I became a Greek in order to save some. He understood that he had to change his form in different settings in order to meet the mission of making disciples.
OK, here is the tough part. Where am I (and you) worshiping a form of ministry? What program, strategy or tactic are we holding onto as sacred because we have so much invested in it? Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of our past where our forefathers held onto a form of ministry as a core function, instead of constantly looking at the core function and openly and honestly asking the question "Is this form the best method to accomplish the core function?"
I am afraid to ask this question sometimes because it could, and probably should, rock my comfortable and historically defined church world as I know it now.
OK, more hard work and something to keep in front of me so that we can remain effective in our ministry.