The Structured Removal of Faith

This is an opinion post.

In fact, this is an opinion blog. Unless I’m quoting Scripture you can dismiss everything I write as one person’s opinion. Mine.

But this is an opinion post about a problem I’ve seen. 

It’s a problem I see 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. Real 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.

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.

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.

Pastors, weigh in to this discussion.

Have you felt the tension between structure and faith? How do you deal with it personally?

What is your church currently doing that is totally dependent on God?

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Ron Edmondson

Author Ron Edmondson

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  • Cherie Beth Wilson says:

    I feel at times (not always) structure reduces faith to being formulaic, predictable and a way to control. God is none of those things. A relationship with God is not…if I do this or that, I will get this or that outcome I desire. God wants our hearts…and will at times ruthlessly help us identify that thing that is preventing complete devotion to Him. If leaders are not careful – it is easy to focus on the “how-to” and the “structure” instead of walking beside and encouraging people to follow God and listen for how the Holy Spirit is leading them. In Scripture, God asked people to do some pretty crazy stuff – if they had been a church member, I’m not sure they would have found much encouragement to follow God’s call, and be fully devoted to God…especially if that thing doesn’t support the structure and growth of the church they belong to.

  • Michael D Ross says:

    Certainly Blackaby would have echoed this sentiment Ron in his Experiencing God books. It’s hard to know where the “line” is between faith and structure, at least for me.

  • Thomas says:

    This is what people should learned. To rely more on God vision. Since the real meaning of church is not structured alone but people that follows the will of God.

  • L. Newcomb says:

    I have a great problem with the ever-changing church society. It seems everyone has a different opinion, a different version of the Bible, and many church leaders take matters into their own hands without dealing with the membership. Now it seems that the Baptist, (I am one) organization seems to try and force HCSB literature on the classes. In fact, the Baptist (again, I am one) consistently requires their SS writers to use the HCSB and they even advertise in the SS books. I would be interested in your opinion. If my posting disappears in this process I will have my answer!

    • ronedmondson says:

      No problem with the question. It's a good one. You come at it as if you expect me to have an issue with it, that's probably from your experiences, but I have no problem with discussion.  I'm not sure I've fleshed it out enough for a good answer. I am Baptist too and don't always agree with everything we do. Even many things we do. I'm with you on wanting more unity in the body. I'm not sure I have the answer to that either. I certainly want the Bible to be our guide and not necessarily a certain version. All of them are essentially translations of the original language. As for church leadership, I believe some things have to change. Many of the practices we have aren't Biblical but traditions of man. If that gets in the way of advancing the Great Commission then I'm good with doing something different. For me I want to see the Gospel advanced. I'm less concerned with popular opinion and more concerned with Biblical truth.  Again, I don't have all the answers. I'm still learning too.  Thanks for the dialogue. 

  • You have provided me with some really touch things to think about.

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