the weblog of Alan Knox

What Church Structures Hide

Posted by on Dec 3, 2008 in community, fellowship, service | 24 comments

Our church has structure, but it is a very flexible – almost invisible – structure. In fact, some suggest that we have no structure and no organization. In fact, this is impossible for a group of people. However, we try to make sure that our structure does not dominate or dictate how we meet or how we interact with one another. We try to have a structure and an organization that encourages relationships – almost forces relationships.

Because of this, we’ve noticed a problem. People do not know how to live and serve in relationships with one another. While almost everyone agrees that believers are to live in community – relationship – with one another, it is becoming obvious that very few actually do this.

In fact, it is becoming clear that many church structures allow people to think that they are living and serving in community, while in reality there is no relationship, or at best very shallow relationships.

Let me give you an example. A few years ago, Margaret and I were part of a children’s ministry. I was director of this ministry, while Margaret was one of the teachers. We had several other teachers and leaders and helpers that served within this ministry. In the eyes of the church leadership, this ministry was “successful” because we involved large numbers of adults and served large numbers of children.

But, in reality, looking back, we did not have strong relationships with either the adults involved in the ministry or with the children that we served. (We did have a strong relationship with one family, but that relationship existed before we served together in this ministry.) Why were we able to serve “successfully” without relationships? Because the structures propped it up. We each had a position and a job description. We did what we were supposed to do. It was fun and rewarding for the kids, so they came.

A few years later we are not involved with that ministry and we are not involved in the lives of any of the people involved. We did our thing, now its over. So what? Was the body of Christ built up? I’m sure God did many good things through this ministry, just as he often does. But, honestly, we did not experience the fellowship of the Spirit with one another. We did serve because we knew one another and knew how to encourage one another toward maturity in Christ. We served because that was our ministry responsibility.

Church structures hide the fact that believers – for the most part – do not know how to live and serve in relationship with one another. We know how to do our duty, but we don’t know how to accept, listen, love, and serve one another. We know how to run our programs, but we don’t know how to get to know one another so that we can meet one another’s needs. We know how to hold Bible studies, but we don’t know one another well enough to know what we need to teach or to learn.

So, what happens when those church structures are removed? What happens when there are no programs or ministries or Bible studies? For the most part, people do not know what to do, because the do not know how to have relationships with one another, and serve through those relationships. We know how to live with our structures, but not with one another.

Our church structures are hiding our lack of fellowship with one another, which is indeed a lack of fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 12-3-2008

    Well said brother.

    Regarding structure, in a recent conversation a dear brother likened a proper church structure to a skeleton: essential, but meant to be unseen. So does the institutional church have an exoskeleton?

    Regarding relationship. In our community we too struggle with this same issue. I wonder how much American culture plays into it – and disdain for transparency due to previous wounds from disingenuous “christians.”

  2. 12-3-2008


    Not only do institutional church structions hide the fact that real fellowship is not taking place, but, I would go as far as to say that, in many cases church structure actually PREVENTS real fellowhip from taking place.

    For one thing, if real fellowship took place amoungst believers in institutional churches, then ultimately real ministry would take place within those relationships. That would ultimately make the institutional church pastor position, as it currently exists, unneccessary.

    I believe it is this way by design.


  3. 12-3-2008

    Another timely post, Alan. I think our churches have often become coach and team-oriented (striving to win an award), rather than cooperative workshops (interaction focused on building up each other as we work together). And for countless others, the church has become a spectator sport, disassociated from their real lives. The media “church” really encourages that mindset.

  4. 12-3-2008

    If we are required to model Christ who better to look to for encouragement than the leaders within the local church in how they are living out Christ?

    It gives leadership the responsibility and accountability if they are known within the church, what their roles and responsibilities are, and how others can turn to them for leadership, for guidance, encouragement and coaching.

    It is a large task and responsibility, but to those in leadership much is required.

    You may be judged in heaven and on earth by a higher standard but if you are in leadership, so be it. Churches that hide the structure and therefore the servant leaders do a disservice to those who need to seek these people out to aid their own walk, their own growth anf further maturity in Christ.

  5. 12-3-2008

    Excellent post and observations, Alan. I have been thinking about this alot lately. It really resonates with me.

    When people “leave” our church we never see them again. They might just live down the street or around the block or just a mile or two away, but we never “see” them again. We might bump into them at the grocery store or see one another at a school band concert and exchange pleasantries, but it is never anything more than that. Although we all still live in the same community we no longer have any relationship.

    Could it be that we never really had a relationship of any substance? Did they just fill a slot at church? Do we?

    I hate to admit it, but I think so.

  6. 12-3-2008

    In most cases we have better relationships with our neighbors than with those we see on Sundays.
    The church structure is more like the corporate world. We are all employees per se without the pay. We come and do our duty then leave as soon as the time clock buzzer goes off.
    There are no real relationships being formed in meeting 2 hours a week.

  7. 12-3-2008

    Hi Alan,
    Great post! What really hit me was when you wrote: “Why were we able to serve “successfully” without relationships? Because the structures propped it up. We each had a position and a job description. We did what we were supposed to do. It was fun and rewarding for the kids, so they came.”

    Perhaps we tend to think that if the structure is in place then fellowship will follow. As you pointed out, that is most often not the case. People can hide behind the structure, knowingly or unknowingly, and carry out their duty while appearing to be successful. You have given me much to think about, as usual 🙂

  8. 12-3-2008

    Like Scott mentioned, this is most apparent when people leave a church. Relationship that we thought were deep and meaningful (as in we shared very personal prayer requests with them) came to an abrupt end as soon as we left the church. Was it all fake from the get go?

  9. 12-3-2008

    Good post. I’ve been extremely troubled over these very issues myself the past year or so. It led to the point that it caused me to change the local church I’m attending, because lack of a familial like atmosphere of the church allowed for sin to creep into the body unchecked. How can you possibly perform church discipline if you have no contact with your brothers and sisters within your local assembly? I think the idea of the church being a family of families is one that has been lost and desperately in need of being recovered. It’s refreshing to see that others share this concern for the body.

  10. 12-3-2008


    We have experienced this first hand. You know many of the details, but the truth is we were just church members, much like rotary club members. Sad indeed but I do still have relationship with a couple out of 100 plus! And like you I already had relationships with them before the structure was ever involved.

  11. 12-3-2008

    When the Lord saved me in 1992, I was 23, had never been to church. I used to break into a local church to find some solace from my life as a kid and alcholoic parents, but hadn’t attended anything resembling a “church service”. In 1992 I started attending a local church starting this journey of mine with the Lord. They were very nice, warm, friendly people. Yet, I was an outgoing, extrovert ambitious about Jesus. Not alot of people like that in new Christians.

    My grandfather always told me “like birds flock together”, how true I have found this to be.

  12. 12-3-2008


    No doubt at all!

    Looking at the highly structured denominational scene I was in many years ago, reminds me of the Find Wally books.

    Sometimes one has to look very long and hard to find genuine SERVANTS, who serve because they love, as Christ loves them.

    As churches fight to maintain their traditional structures, SERVANT Wally’s will become harder to find.

  13. 12-3-2008


    Unfortunately, I think alot of church organizations are mostly bones with very little life left at all. If you remove the structure and everything falls apart, then there is a big problem.


    I think that you’re right. Many structures do prevent real fellowship and relationship among the believers.


    Cooperation and interaction seem out of place in most churches – especially during church meetings. Spectator sport seems like a better description.


    I don’t think limited structure also means limited leadership. I do think it means that leadership would function alot differently than we normally see it today.


    “When people ‘leave’ our church we never see them again.” Yes, this is a good indication that there were no real relationships to begin with.


    I think its good that we have relationships with our neighbors. The problem is that we also think its okay to call ourselves a church without any true relationships. So, I agree completely with what you said.


    I’m glad that you’re thinking about this issue more. I hope you decide to write about it later. I know that I would love to read your thoughts on this.


    Yes, Scott’s example perfectly illustrated what I’m talking about here. I think the problem is that we confuse mutual attendance with relationship.


    I agree that church discipline is impossible without relationships. I also think that discipleship and even teaching are impossible without relationship.


    Thanks for sharing your experience!


    Have you found any “like birds” that you can flock together with?

    Aussie John,

    In the US, the book is “Where’s Waldo”. Good illustration! Thanks!


  14. 12-3-2008

    Amen…. (a little late, but it still counts, yeah?)

  15. 12-3-2008

    We always have each other man.

  16. 12-3-2008

    Like a Mustard Seed,

    Not late at all. Thanks for the comment.


    Flock here anytime. 🙂


  17. 12-6-2008


    This is a why believe that you would find Jesus and the disciples always eating and just chilling together. Not to hold to some certain paradigm but just get to know thiongs about each other.

  18. 12-6-2008


    I agree. We tend to treat relationships and community as secondary. But, without relationships and community there is no church.


  19. 7-11-2011

    You’ve hit the nail on the head!

  20. 7-11-2011


    @missiogibby passed this post along to me today. My wife and I have had a mountain-top and valley-filled 7 years with friends we’ve shared the @christjourney with, and today, I was feeling exactly as Julie Clawson remarked in her comment. Thanks for churning out words (and a story) that resonate so deeply and so well with where I’ve been and where I found myself today.

    “For the most part, people do not know what to do, because they do not know how to have relationships with one another, and serve through those relationships. We know how to live with our structures, but not with one another.”

    Someday soon, we (the church) must deal with this, because it’s eating us and intent on destroying us and we do not even realize it.


  21. 7-11-2011

    Nick and Chris,

    Thanks for the continued discussion here. Sometimes I struggle with whether or not to post links to old posts like this on twitter and facebook. But, from the feedback that I get through comments like this, it’s obvious that they’re still beneficial.


  22. 8-19-2011

    So glad you posted this one from 2008 today on your facebook. This was a great entry. and I wholeheartedly agree, see it & feel it.

    I think my take away is that yes I don’t know.. and I don’t know how to teach people… so I need to pray for GOd to bring me into fellowship with others.. keep my eyes out to who He has in my life.. and then take steps to relationship with them…

    what a slow process! 🙂

  23. 8-31-2012

    Alan, I rarely miss reading one of your posts. Please do continue posting entries from the past — they are still relevant today. This one speaks to me as we are already part of a small organic gathering here and points out what and where we are coming from and out of. Keep going, dear brother!

  24. 8-31-2012


    Thank you. I occasionally wonder if I should continue linking to these old posts. Then, I get a comment or message like this one. I really do appreciate it.