The church is not its structures

ASBO Jesus is singing my song.

While the church needs to be structured in order to carry out its mission, we often make the mistake of elevating the structures above their actual importance. What do I mean by structures? (This is the clever bit.) When I am ranting about structures, we’re talking about church buildings and committees / staff / institutions.

Buildings are often “thin places” but they are not temples. That role, for Christians, is filled by people. Likewise, denominational or diocesan program staff are the tail, while the people of the church are the dog. (For catholic Christians, bishops fall into a different category, but because of their office rather than their paycheck.)

This should be enough to get the conversation going. Talk amongst yourselves. Go!

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2 Responses

  1. John F. Miller says:

    While I agree that the building and committees / staff / institutions are not essential, I must protest the dichotomy you place between a community and its institutions. The Church’s building and institutions are a reflection of the way the community functions and their beliefs.

    My parents generation wanted to tare down the institutions because they were seen as preventing social change. In fact what we have seen is that we have torn apart the communities that formed those institutions. Faith is not inspired by a community that stands no where and for nothing. Nor do people want to be part of a community that is constantly in crisis because there is no leadership, direction or organization.

    uildings and committees / staff / institutions are not the church, but without them the church is naught.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    John, while I agree that there is a bit of a false dichotomy, I differ with you on how to read the importance of buildings and other structures. If they were mere reflections of a luminous church, I would be delighted. But too often the church becomes the building, and the people are merely caretakers of an edifice.

    Also, we don’t really need complex hierarchies to have a church. The early church was quite successful with local bishops, a few presbyters and a load of deacons. Presumably there were some groups of lay leaders too. But we have not yet run across ancient meeting minutes. In other words, the structures supported the church rather than strangling it.

    I agree with you that the church needs to stand for something and that we need leaders. Obviously we need a physical space to gather (though we do not need to do that in purpose-built church buildings). There are lots of ways to do church.

    All I’m saying is that we want the dog to wag the tail, not the other way around. We need a dog and a tail, but let’s not confuse them.


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