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.
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.