Church Structure vs. Freedom

Justin at Radical Congruency had an interesting post about the tension between traditional church structures - any structure really - and the room to freely express, explore and expand our relationship with God. The Emergent Church (First time I've used that phrase here. If you're like me, you'll need some help figuring out what that means.), that is those trying to emerge from the doldrums of traditional Christianity to live a full life that Jesus promised us, is attempting to throw off the old ways and explore new ways of building a church community. At Justin's suggestion, I've decided to post my response here:

What I hear from the 'emergent' (I'm only beginning to understand what that means) is a longing for something more. More than a prayer ritual and a Bible reading schedule - a real connection and relationship with God. More than a Sunday service and midweek Bible study group - a real community of believers. More that a set of rules and regulations - a real life that's free, exciting and fulfilling, not restrictive and dull. So we abandon tradition in pursuit of real, meaty Christianity. No pastors, no buildings, no structure - just live as a disciple! (correct me if I've missed what the Emergent Church is about)

There's a fallacy in that thinking. We need the structure. We need a worship schedule to remind us to go and worship together regularly. We need a prayer list to remind us to pray. We need a Bible study schedule to keep us going. And on and on. Perhaps you are good at one or two of those, but none of us are good at all of them. The challenge is how to have the structure, the accountability, the discipline with out that system becoming the focus. It seems that we take our eyes so easily off of Jesus and onto the system. Then it becomes more about the doing then the why we are doing.

My church is wrestling with this now - and have been for over a year. We've spent the last year or so dismantling the structure that our church was based on and trying to recapture the heart underneath. It's been immensely challenging. We're discovering how much of who we are spiritually was tied to that structure. We had disciplers that advised on nearly everything. We had mandatory meetings and expected levels of giving. At one time we had input on nearly every aspect of your life. We had a pretty radically committed group as a result, but take it away and make them stand alone and their knees get wobbly and they're not sure what to do. Structure can build us up, but can also be a crutch.

I'm not sure how we're going to get to where we need to be. Some structure is needed but many are fearful of it and it's empty results and lack of God focus. With the structure gone, there's a void. The easy answer is to fill that void with a new structure. A different method. What needs to fill that void, however, is God, but how do we set up - structure - a church, a community, to do that?

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