Soul-Sapping Structures

It’s easy (and deadly) to focus on structures rather than friendships.

A student of mine recently wrote: “God is asking me to build relationships that will eventually need organization, not the other way around.” What a clarifying observation.

Jesus modeled something entirely different from our usual infatuation with institutions. Despite three years of ministry, he did not write a Constitution and Bylaws. He did not establish a Board of Elders and/or Deacons. He did not formulate programs or erect large buildings. He did not negotiate a personal contract with financial terms and conditions. He did not buy property or organize a movement—no publicity, no marketing, no promotional pieces, no advertising.

Quite simply, he wouldn’t make it today.

Instead, he went to the people; lived among them; ministered in the ditches with them; touched their lives; ate in their homes; listened to their hearts; shared their hardship; and pointed them to God.

We have grown so accustomed to structures and structuring that the simplicity of Jesus feels naïve. And we have a thousand misdirected but well-rehearsed reasons to justify our complexity.

In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella is a corn-farmer who hears the words “If you build it, they will come.” In what seemed like craziness to his family and neighbors, he built a baseball field where a cash crop once grew. The movie finishes with touching scenes of Shoeless Joe Jackson and other (dead) greats of the past coming to play baseball.

Somehow, that whisper “If you build it they will come” defines the mentality of our culture. So, we busy ourselves building it—policies, procedures, facilities, staff, etc.

In reality, however, the structures slowly sap our souls. They incrementally absorb our attention until we have energy for little else. They can enslave us. We become workers for programs, participants in events, “giving units,” statistics in attendance counts, consumers and customers. Subtly, indiscernibly, we grow more concerned with sustaining the vision of the organization than nurturing the people within it. “The show must go on.”

We need structures. No society exists without them. But we distort the priorities to our peril. “God is asking us to build relationships that will eventually need organization, not the other way around.” Does that ring true for you?


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12 Responses to Soul-Sapping Structures

  1. Kimberly Timms says:

    A zinger Babe!

  2. Judi Murdoch says:

    Sad, but very true! I’m witnessing an organization (that was built to serve people in God’s name) implode, for this very reason. We become “ok” with a change in our priorities as different pressures and needs arise, rather than holding fast to our faith in His leading. What have we done to Isaiah 64:8 … We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand?
    I thank God for His grace and mercy that is available to us every day. I pray I can see the warnings in my own life as clearly as I can see it happening in the world today.

  3. Tom Leatherby says:

    Wow! Great Points that really do rise to the level of “Zinger.”

  4. As always, terrific insight and gentle direction towards resting in the energy of Jesus. Among our leadership circle here, we’ve adopted the view that we’ll build big people and let God worry about how many to build. The structures evolve from the overflow of lives invested in others. They are “just-in-time” systems that find us holding on to each other as we together present ourselves to the Lord. We seldom worry about the state of our structure, but we are always praying towards wholeness for God’s people entrusted to our care. Keep reminding us of this!

  5. Judith Nye says:

    As always David you manage to put into words what I feel in my heart. We get so burdened supporting the institution that we have no energy left for ministering to the person. Everything these days seems to require a “March” or a meeting to discuss, or a seminar or a book to read. My emails overflow with information about what I “should” be doing. I have recently withdrawn from all my commitments following surgery and have been fighting the feeling to get involved again and praying for God’s guidance in what I should do. I give Him thanks for this direction.

  6. LEE says:

    Excellent Article!

  7. Tim Ross says:

    David, You have this knack for hitting the nail on the head in our society. I see our culture as more removed from each other every day by things like facebook, twitter, cell phones, email, etc. We rely on those structures or mechanisms to communicate but it’s not real communication. These things are ok but we start to rely on them and we don’t see each other as much any more. God made us for face to face relationship. Slowly, incrementally we are disconnecting from each other. This makes me push even harder for face time with people so they know I care about them.

    • Tim Ross says:

      With that said, I created a facebook page this week (sound hypocritical?). These structures are not evil themselves. It is the place that they take in our lives and it is the time they consume that makes them a problem in our life. A friend needed help and put his request on facebook. No one replied. I asked if he had called anyone…no. Calling may not be face to face but it is more direct. As we build relationships…let us keep them at the core of our priority.

  8. Chuck Mihlbauer, MA Min. says:

    It rings so true for me. Today I am moving out of my office to make room for a newly created position at our church. The priority is structure not discipleship, and here is the inherant problem. So much time and energy toward a bigger church, but not functioning to help those who need Christ, and his life-giving word. People who are hurting from , depression, grief, abandonment, and illness are all being looked over, because of the larger picture. All the while hoping that small groups will take care of these folks needs. It is through relationships that Christ built His church, but we seem to be ignoring this vital part of what we should be about.

  9. Ed says:

    I agree.

  10. Mike Spradlin says:

    Spot-on, David! It’s so funny how you wrote this as our elders were finalizing a necessary update to our By-Laws! However, I really saw God’s hand at work teaching us the same lesson – people matter more than structures. These men decided on their own to bring the reasons for the changes to the people and value THEM over the process and policies. I was so humbled by their focus here, not willing to create a mess. As a result of this focus, not one negative comment emerged and the changes passed unanimously. God saw fit to teach the congregation through this, as well, and many people remarked how THEY were valued more than the changes. That’s a first for us! SolI Deo gloria!

    • David Timms says:

      Mike, I love the way you continue to faithfully serve and lead the folk at Valley. You have he kind of pastor’s heart that honors Christ. Blessings, my friend.

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