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)