December 1, 2009

Structure: Design vs. Longevity

The primary task of physical architecture is stability. All buildings need to stay up. Unfortunately, the sheer weight and straining against one another of pieces within the construction increases the already inherent drive towards self-destruction. All buildings want to fall down. Such is Physics on Earth.

Effectively designed structures redirect these destructive forces and channel them into the ground. Gravity is satiated. Stability depends on redirection of conflict and stress. (That should start your wheels turning...)

The primary challenge for physical architecture is longevity. Design to one set of standards and the building can last for a century. Design with less rigor and the place is going to be vacant much sooner, but suitable for a while. A house made of stone can be lived in for thousands of years. A tent made of leather and poles isn't meant to stay in one spot for so long. Either could work. It depends what the resident wants.

As with physical architecture, so with group dynamics. The way a group structures itself largely determines how long it remains stable. Experts report that large, long-lived, heterogeneous groups eventually institute some kind of permanent order... or else they die. Therefore, the question all groups churches struggle with is - Which of these four options is less tragic: being small, being short-lived, depending on commonalities, or fighting against institutionalism?

We all have to consider these options. Size is relative. Time gets away from us. Differences are always a struggle. Organizations are not always as strong as they seem to be. But the least challenged factor may be the all present one: Time. A question presents itself, perhaps rarely asked:

Does group structure have to be permanentized?

By the way, this is much more important than HC vs. IC. Whether House Churches pack up when the wet season ends or whether Institutional Churches embrace dry spells and constantly pray for revival [or whether we find some other mix, or some middle ground] we might all want to consider that longevity is strictly a variable, and stability is rarely infinite.

Any group practice repeated two times has been "instituted", but should all helpful habits become everlasting? Should any institutions become permanent?

If we permanentize institutions, do we not make them greater than God?

The only permanency on this earth is not of this earth. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but his Spirit blows where it will. Does it help much to pray for a "fresh move" if your group won't let the Mover do any actual moving? We humans covet stability. God likes to shake every thing that can be shaken. We humans need institutions, but we need God Himself oh so very much more.

In this fleeting life, change is a constant. What, then, in the Spirit? What then, for the church?

Liturgy is good. Structure is good. Leadership is good. Oversight is good. Change itself can be bad or good. But following Jesus (by definition) requires some change. Such is Physics on Earth.

Assuming God wants to move, God therefore wants to create change in position and time. Successful Renewal occurs when a people stays fixed on God in the present. Those who attempt to safeguard established institutions for all future time are aiming straight at a rut. Protecting the church from all change may as well be protecting the church from God Himself.

The fact that a Temple stands for a long time does not mean God is there. He does not live in houses maintained by human hands.

In all types of churches, it seems a desire to permanentize institutions is what ratchets up the negative side-effects of institutionalism. Meanwhile, social stability continues to depend on constant redirection of conflict and stress. It is possible to maintain a church structure that is never threatened by interpersonal traumas, but then where shall we direct our destructive energy? If God Himself cannot move in our church, how can God be the one to absorb all our drama? We might wind up maintaining stability but destroying the key pieces in our well crafted construction.

All church groups must learn how to balance dynamics and structure. Unstable people need some degree of stability and some degree of institutional longevity. In most cases, extremes are probably to be avoided. But God's own vision appears to be Unique.

All buildings need to stay up. All buildings want to fall down.

The house in the heavens that God showed to Moses could do both!

Consider these things...


Anonymous said...

Good post, Bill. Lot's to think on.
I'll be back...

Bill Heroman said...

You do enjoy my philosophical side more, don't you Johnny? :-)

Anonymous said...

Yeah..., but probably cause I'm not really wired for history, much...even though I like your philosophy on why history matters so much.

I think that 'understanding' is way underrated in much of Christianity.
(And probably overrated in some circles).

Neil mentioned that N.T. Wright spoke at one of the events in La. Is that right? Did you attend?
Any reflections?

Bill Heroman said...

As it turns out, Johnny, I'm only philosophical about the church. Theology isn't my thing.

As far as I understand, Neil and Tom only talked about Mike Morrell. Go figure. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like they were the ones gone figurin'

C'mon...*no* thoughts about God?
I'll be back with mine on your post.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like they were the ones gone figurin'

C'mon...*no* thoughts about God?
I'll be back with mine on your post.

Bill Heroman said...

I believe everything the scripture says about God, so far as my feeble mind can comprehend it. I just don't feel the need to extrapolate.

Same with Paul - if he said it and it's not very clear, it must not be overly vital. Deep explications (which probably won't be very precise anyway) won't tell me any more than the widow's mite, the publican's penitence and the adulteress' alabaster.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with Him.

When I've got that all worked out, I might have room to worry about the precise nuancing of "justification", "predestination" or the "millenium".

Capice? ;-)

Anonymous said...


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