Are We Replacing Faith With Structure?

When a church is established, it’s easy to begin depending more on the structures in place than walking by faith.

There’s a problem I’ve seen in churches.

It’s a problem I could see us having in the churches I have pastored—if we weren’t careful. It’s a problem I see in families, in individuals and in myself.

If we aren’t careful we can depend more on the structure of our life than on an utter dependence on God.

Let me explain. Most recently I pastored a church more than 100 years old. The church knew structure well. Really well. In my experience with established churches, for every issue they experience in 100 years they probably have addressed it with some sort of policy. This church had a committee that could handle everything when I arrived. This was a structured church.

Don’t misunderstand. I appreciate structure—to a degree. I once planted a church that ran from structure, but we discovered soon that without it not much got accomplished. We had lots of enthusiasm and growth, but we couldn’t sustain it for long. We needed more structure.

Structure helps build systems and processes that help us meet the demands of a growing church. So I appreciate structure.

Also, don’t misunderstand and think that I run to structure either. I don’t. My basic DNA is to resist it more than embrace it. A “wet paint” sign usually makes me want to touch it and see. I’m more a big picture, risk-taking, defy establishment type person in my temperament.

I have simply learned by experience the need for structure. Structure, at least healthy structure, helps organizations and churches maintain excellence. It’s designed to be an asset not a hindrance. I’m reminded of the structure Jethro shared with Moses. This was gold. I used it to this day. Joseph created great structure to carry out the work of God that would ultimately save Joseph’s family. And the Israelite nation. Invaluable.

The problem with structure is when we begin to rely on structure as the answer, more than the vision God has called us to attain. Ultimately, if we aren’t careful, we can begin to rely on man-made structure more than we rely on the King of Kings to guide us into the unknown.

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Let me say that again.

If we aren’t careful, we can depend more on our structure than on an utter dependence on God.

If you’ve been in church very long you know this is true. In some churches, if God were to call us to move in some new area, even if we were certain we had direction from God, it would take us months to get the idea beyond the committees of the church and to a church vote.

We have often allowed systems and policies to navigate us more than relying on the Spirit of God. We can do it in budgeting, in planning and in carrying out the traditions and work of the church. Of course, this can happen in any church, regardless of the age or structure, but the longer we’ve been doing something the more comfortable we seem to get at doing it. The longer we rely on our structured way of doing something, the easier it becomes to continue that structure and the more challenging it becomes when we are called to new levels of walking by faith. (This is true in our personal life also.)

Am I wrong? Have you seen this?

It’s a conviction I consistently lived with as a pastor of a very highly structured church with a rich history of seeing God do incredible things. I was keenly aware that generations before us had walked by faith to get us where we were at the time. But again, in an established organization I lead now, I feel the same tension. We have a history of doing good things. We can quickly begin to rely on the “structure” we have built.

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When you lead in this context it’s a constant balance between the practical issue of the structure in place and the calling to walk by faith God has placed on your life. And, just being honest, it is sometimes a tightrope walk between the two.

As a pastor I was haunted by the question, “What is the church I pastor doing now that is totally dependent on God?”

Frankly, it was often a tough answer.

If we aren’t careful, we can depend more on the structure than on an utter dependence on God.

Thankfully, for that balance, the scales are already tipped in my personal life and calling. When God called me to ultimate surrender do him he called me to say, “As for me and my household, we will serve The Lord.” We will walk by faith. We will not rest on what we have achieved.

So, my consistent prayer is that God will show us his will—so we can continue to walk by faith.

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