Churches as Systems

Churches function as systems and so they bring limitation and problems, just like any other system. It’s about time we looked at Churches as Systems and came to some understanding of how they curse their followers and blind us to what God may really want to do.

Systems Reviewed

I reviewed systems recently in a post titled The Curse of Beneficial Systems. I suggest you review that article for insight into how systems, which are created to regulate process and outcome so consistent worthy output can be achieved and maintained, have the side-effect of limiting other possibilities and even blinding people to better options.

If the church is a system then it too is prone to cursing its adherents by regulating due process which is not necessarily ideal or worthy of widespread application to all.

What is a Church?

Church is the Bible term for two general entities: all of the people who are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ (what is called the Universal Church because it encompasses All believers); and the local group of believers in any particular place, as a sub-set of the universal church.

We are told that Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25), speaking of it as a single entity. Yet we also have reference to the “church that meets in his house” (Colossians 4:15). Either way, as the church universal and the groups of local believers, the “church” is not an institution, nor a system of processes leading to outcomes. It is a community of “called out” people, since the Greek word translated as “church” is ekklesia, meaning “called out ones”.

The church is people. Groups of people who are joined by their faith in Jesus Christ comprise the church in any of its expressions. So why do systems have anything to do with churches?

Churches and Systems

While any church is a group of people that group functions as a society. Consequently there are social processes which need to be administered. Some of those processes are expressions of worship which God has prescribed and so they are quite important. Other processes are matters of necessary administration, to facilitate effective social interaction. Things need to be done ‘decently and in order’, so that people are given appropriate opportunity to do whatever it is that they are supposed to do. Then there is the need for people to take and share responsibility. Administration involves all those organisational decisions and practices which enable facilities, programs and resources to be provided, while also adjudicating social interaction when the actions of one or more impact the actions of others in an adverse manner.

Even in their simplest form churches are benefited by the application of systems. Who is to tell who that there is a meeting in someone’s home? What time will they meet and for how long and for what purpose? What will be done about catering, or cleaning the room? Who will lead the meeting and how will it be directed? Are we to bring along friends or is this meeting for those who are already involved? Will there be singing? Who will provide musical instrument or vocal leadership?

If there are several meetings, at different times and with different focus, some elemental systems will begin to emerge.

The New Testament Church Had Systems

The initial days of the early church were quite organic and unstructured. But issues arose, demanding attention. Provision was being made for the needy, but one group, the Greek widows, was neglected in the daily handouts. Appeal was made to the Apostles, who were the natural leaders of the movement, for a solution. They decided to appoint administrative people to oversee the process and they gave instruction to the fledgling church about how to identify appropriate candidates.

“Wherefore, brothers, find from among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, who we may appoint over this business.” Acts 6:3

Leadership was established, through elders and deacons. Letters of introduction were used to certify a person’s bona fides. Councils were called to resolve issues in dispute. Key people were sent to specific locations to deal with specific issues. Letters of instruction and doctrine were sent to various churches to clarify beliefs and process.

So the early church had systems. And churches have systems today. But, as I have already pointed out, systems have an inherent risk element. That was seen in the early church and it is seen today.

Dangers in the System

As early as New Testament times there were disputes and abuses of process. Some people used letters of introduction, being commended by one another, but were intent on opposing the work of Paul the Apostle. Paul warned that trouble makers would come forth from the group of appointed leaders. Jude described the activities of certain teachers who exploited the churches. Peter compromised the gospel message when he was intimated by one of the Christian groups.

Within a few centuries the church was beset with heresies, power struggles, competing doctrines, fake documents, deception and so on.

Since the early church experienced such things it is foolish to imagine that today’s church is immune from such abuses of the systems which it employs.

Audit Your Systems

So, what systems do you operate by? How does your church protect you against systems that frustrate the call of God on your life? Are you helping to perpetuate systems which are ineffective, but which you give undue credence to? Are you bound to what you know, as if has divine imprimatur? Are there better ways for your group of believers to function together? What is being limited by your set of processes and your targeted outcomes?

More seriously than these questions are the issues touched by the following questions. Is your church a dynamic expression of the Kingdom of God or a self-serving institution? Do people become empowered to serve God or are they expected to serve your programs and processes? What evidence do you have that your church liberates and empowers people to become effective functionaries in God’s Kingdom? Do you entangle your members in maintaining process for your prescribed outcomes, so they are unable to love God and love their neighbour?

Programmed Up to the Eyeballs

I recall reading of one chap whose family was religiously devout about attending every meeting held at the church. They would walk, single file, down their front path, dressed in Sunday best, black Bibles in hand, heading off the to the church, multiple times each week. They saw this parade as a public testimony to their faith and commitment.

Yet their neighbours saw it as religious slavery. Their whole life was consumed by an institution down the road with its peculiar set of meetings and events. They had not other life. They had no real contact with their neighbours, because it was more holy to be at church than socialising with heathen.

Has your church created anything like that kind of environment? Are you intent on locking your people in to more confirmation of their commitment to your program, or are you freeing them to take Christ out into the world?

We’ll look at this issue again.

Regaining Domestic Authority

How does a hen-pecked husband regain his rightful authority? If he is under his wife’s demands and rebuke, how does he restore his rightful place of headship in the home?

This a pretty challenging issue for many husbands, especially those who do not have their wife’s permission to be the head of the home.

The Wife’s Permission

Some Christian ministries handle this by suggesting that the wife’s ‘submission’ is a precursor to the husband’s headship. I object to such nonsense. They arrive at this case by noting that in Ephesians 5, where the Apostle Paul tells husbands and wives about their respective roles, the wife is advised about ‘submission’ before the husband is addressed about his need to love the wife.

The suggestion that a person can only have authority once their subordinate gives it to them is ludicrous on several accounts. Real authority comes from being under authority, so how can one who is a subordinate assign authority to their leader. The leader gets his or her authority from someone with more authority than them, not someone with less!

There is no place in society where true authority is determined by the response of those under authority. What happens in reality is that those who don’t wish to be under proper authority face consequences for that stance. They do not gain power over the authority but are dealt with by the authority.

Husbands are not dependent on their wife’s permission to hold their position of headship over the wife.

God’s Assignment

Husbands have headship over their wife. They have that headship whether they want it or not. They have it whether they use it well or not. They have it for as long as they have a wife. They have it whether they are smarter or stronger than their wife, or whether she outperforms them in every way. They have it because it is God’s assignment to them.

God assigns authority, as the principal authority figure in the universe. No-one has more authority than
God. No-one has the power to revoke God’s authority. No-one has a voice that has the right to speak against or challenge the authority of God. And that God, the Almighty God, our Creator and the sustainer of all things is the one who gives husbands headship in their home.

The attitude, opinion and actions of the wife are inconsequential to the fact. The man carries the responsibility of headship whether his wife likes it or not. He carries it whether his wife approves or not. He even carries it while his wife is vigorously rebelling against it. She has zero power over the man’s authority and headship.

The Wife’s Part

The wife is responsible for herself and her attitudes and actions. She will give account for her words, actions and attitudes to God. She has no authority over the husband’s role. She cannot veto it, negate it, overturn it, modify it or otherwise subvert it in any way. It is outside her power.

The wife did not assign the husband’s role, God did. The wife did not make the husband her head, God did. The wife did not elevate the man by her approval of him, but God placed a mantle of responsibility on him whether the man and woman knew about it or not.

Oh, and it doesn’t matter whether either of them or Christians or not. This is not the Christian order for marriage; it is God’s order for marriage. It applies across all cultures, all ages, all socio-economic situations, and all parts of the globe.

Restoring Order

The first step in restoring the godly order for the marriage is to know the order and how serious it is. It is not something the couple need to agree on in order for it to become real.

Once a husband realises that he stands accountable before God for the place of responsibility which God has given him he can then take the matter to God for divine wisdom about restoring that order in his home.

There are several practical insights that will apply in that process, but I’ll leave the subject for now, so you can absorb and mull over the implications of what I have outlined here. And my prayer in that God give you wisdom and grace to empower you to stand before Him, fully accountable for your actions and completely ready to honour Him ahead of all else.

Australia’s First Female Governor General

For the first time in Australia’s existence as a nation it is to have a female Governor General. It has been announced that Queensland’s Governor, Quentin Bryce, has been appointed to replace Major General Michael Jeffery when he retires at the end of his five year term, in July this year. This gives Mrs Bryce the privilege of becoming Australia’s first female Governor General.

The role of Governor General in Australia is often seen as purely ceremonial. Quentin Bryce’s term as Australian Governor General will be filled with official functions. Any Australian Governor General, male or female, carries a high-profile surrounded by pomp and circumstance. But the role is much more than ceremonial. An Australian Governor General is much more than a rubber stamp to the decisions of the Australian Parliament.

In simple terms there are three entities who wield political power in Australia. The first level of political power in Australia is the people of Australia. The Australian Constitution enshrines the right of each Australian citizen to nominate who they will allow to exercise government over them. That is why, at each election, Australian politicians must come, hat in hand, to woo the support of the most powerful political entity in the nation. If the people do not assign authority to a politician then that politician is just another citizen. The second level of authority, then, is the elected representatives, politicians. They can exercise political privilege, delegated to them by the Australian people, on various terms, such as a limited duration of their tenure. The laws they can pass are limited by the Australian Constitution.

Since power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, those who created the Australian Constitution sought to find an effective balance of power. With the British and American experiences to draw from the drafters of the Australian Constitution sought to find an effective balance between the people, who own the land, and the politicians those people elect to govern the land. Since two competing parties could always come to a stalemate a third party was created to protect the most important element of Australian society – the people.

In the British system the Monarchy, which once ruled with absolute power, had been forced to share power with both politicians and the people. Huge social landmarks were crossed in the process, such as establishing all people equal under the law, including the King. The new (in relative terms) role for the monarch was no longer to govern, nor to yield absolute power, but to be the protector of the people who they once ruled, defending them against the potential abuses of politicians. The Monarch (King or Queen as the case may be from time to time) had long had to acknowledge that his or her place was a privilege they held under God’s authority. They could not take office until they had sworn to honour God and to uphold the Bible as the book from which society was to be governed. In so doing, the King or Queen became God’s agent for the protection of the people.

Little more than a century ago, when the Australian Constitution was drafted, the relatively new role for the Monarchy was appreciated and built into the Australian governmental model. A representative of the British Monarch was to be appointed as the Australian Head of State, extending the British Monarch’s divine mandate to uphold the Bible as the rule of law and the basis for society. This person who functioned as the Head of State, designated the Australian Governor General, stood to protect the Australian people from their elected politicians.

Once an ordinary citizen has become a politician and been elevated to a place of political power over others that person ceases to be ‘ordinary’ and may be tempted to exploit their privilege by abusing the very people who placed them in power. They might decide, for instance, that they should have privileges others do not have. So, every law that Australian politicians can legally make has to go through a final vetting process. The only ones empowered to make such rules are the politicians. To protect the Australian people from abuses of that political power, the Australian Governor General must give authority to those rules by signing them into law.

It is convention that the Governor General of Australia do just that, sign the laws that have been crafted by Parliament. But this is not to suggest that they are a mere rubber stamp. Any true Governor General recognises their place as a protector of the Australian people and upholder of the Bible as the rule of law. If they see any law being promulgated by an elected parliament that opposes the Biblical mandate for social law and order, they have the authority, right and responsibility to oppose that law and refuse to sign it into existence.

Further than this, an Australian Governor General can even take the drastic measure of removing a government which they deem to have exceeded its privileges and to be acting in a manner that is damaging to the people of Australia. Such actions are rare to the point of near extinction, except for the amazing example of Sir John Kerr, Australian Governor General between 1974 and 1977, who dismissed the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam.

So Mrs Quentin Bryce, in becoming Australia’s Head of State, as the first Australian female Governor General, becomes a hero of the Australian people. She is their protector. She is the one who has the power to protect them from their elected parliamentary politicians. She is the one who must weigh each law against the Bible and determine whether it upholds or contradicts what God has charged her to live by.

Let us all pray that she does what she is being given the privilege to do. 

Order – the Torch

Having waxed lyrical about ‘order’ I realise I need to bring you up to speed on why the subject has caught my attention. As I travel internationally I look for simple ways to communicate important ideas. In speaking about Family I realise that many people have lost sight of God’s intended design for the family. So I looked for an allegory which would convey the importance of ‘order’ in the family.

The allegory I came up with was that of the battery powered torch. If  I were to pull a torch apart, the pieces are few and relatively simple. There is a casing. There are the batteries (assuming 2 batteries in the average torch). There is the lens at the front which focuses the light. Then there is the tiny globe.

If I were to spread the torch pieces on a table would I have a torch? If you say, “No”, I could protest and say that I have all the pieces, so what is missing? If you say, “Yes”, I could protest and say that I can’t get any light out of the pieces. You see, a torch is More than the sum of its pieces. A torch (and many other things as well) involves a set of pieces, but also the all important Order !! If the pieces are not in the right order then the torch simply will not work. It will not be a torch, but something that resembles a torch.

Assume, then, that I take the pieces and set them in order, except that I put the batteries in the wrong way round. When I turn on the torch there is no light. Why? Because I have the wrong ‘Order’. So, the missing ingredient in a set of torch pieces is the unique arrangement of those pieces in a special order that causes their sum to be much more than the mere sum of the parts.

Applying that same observation to a family, a dad, mum and kids could be sitting together in church. To all outward appearances they are a ‘family’. But a true family is not the collection of the parts. A true family is the parts configured in a divinely appointed ‘order’ that causes the lights to come on.

The children sitting with their parents may be in quiet rebellion. The wife may despise her husband. The husband may have lost all commitment to his wife. There may be little reality of true ‘family life’ among the family members. The marraige may be a farce. Yet to all who look on the appearance of a family persists.

If your family is nothing more than a collection of people then you are missing the wonder and the powerful result of establishing divine ‘order’. So, ‘order’ is a pretty big deal for me. But then, that’s where the messy part comes in. Order, which leads to productivity, then produces mess. And the two must survive in happy counter-balance. Interpersonal relationships mean that we bump into each other. Our self-interest bumps into another person’s wishes. Our impatience and intolerance hit those around us. It can get quite messy.

If you would like to see more how I have applied the concept of ‘order’ to the family check out my book, Family Horizons – Creating Families of Destiny. You will find it at the Family Horizons website – www.FamilyHorizons.net

Order – the Japanese Garden

I made comment recently about “Order & Mess” pointing to Solomon’s wisdom from Proverbs 14:4. The point is that we need order, especially in productive systems and processes. Order is very powerful. Yet productive processes create mess, which interferes with the order and presents us with management challenges – the workload of dealing with the mess. 

Solomon’s allegorical reference point is the beast of burden, the ox. He notes that you can have a squeaky clean barn and work area if you don’t have an ox in there. There’s no need to hose the barn, or shovel sticky brown stuff. Life is so much simpler when the ox is dead and it stops producing its natural biological output. However, Solomon points out, that an ox gets a lot of work done.

The down-side is the mess, but the up-side is the productivity. The mess-making ox has strength that far surpasses ours and there is much productive output from the labours of an ox. The point, therefore, is that order, without mess is simply sterile. There is no output. And that leads me to the Japanese garden.

I have visited elaborate rock gardens and seen some delightful geometric features composed of raked stones, carefully placed boulders, and so on. But I recall my surprise on my first visit to a Japanese garden – that it was not a ‘garden’ at all. Compared with my grandmother’s vibrant back-yard jungle, with its diversity of plants, fruits and pungent blooms, the Japanese garden was sterile and uninviting.  

I am sure that there is great artistic merit in the painstakingly constructed rock features and the seas of swept stone. Just like a painting on the wall, the Japanese garden speaks of serenity, turbulence, loneliness, or whatever the designer planned to convey. But I can’t pick vegetables from a painted garden, even if painted by Constable or Monet. Mood may be evoked, visual delight stimulated and heart-warming memories stirred, but there is no productivity from the order. 

A garden that will feed your family needs to have more than delicately placed stones. It must have more than the image of vibrancy. It must have life that produces fruit. But, alas, in so doing it will also gender weeds, dead leaves, spent plants, insect infestations, litter, odour and similar “mess”. 

“Lord, bless this mess!” Learn how to celebrate the mess. Celebrate the signs of life and fruitfulness. Celebrate the productivity that the mess represents. Then, of course, control the mess. Grab your shovel and deal with the dirt. In fact, create an ordered system for dealing with the mess that productive order and systems produce. It’s the cost of doing business – or, more accurately, the cost of productivity.