Form vs Function: Our Programs are to Serve, Not Be Served


Scott, you are an artist par excellence.

At times, churches are so connected to certain ministries and programs that they remain long after their effectiveness is gone. Part of it is a leadership issues, but part of it is a resuscitation or even a resurrection issue–that is, it either needs new life breathed into it, or it needs to die and be brought back in another form all the while keeping the function.

This is nothing new.  In Mark 2:27, Jesus told the religious leaders, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The religious leaders had developed so many rules as to what you could or could not do on the Sabbath that it failed to extend grace, even to the point of where they struggled in seeing Jesus heal someone on the Sabbath. The form (the Sabbath) was to feed the ultimate issue, which is the function (rest and recharging by remembering God’s good grace). The religious leaders, however, set this on its head: people were serving their rules of the Sabbath, thus oppressing rather than releasing them to enjoy their life in God.

In churches today, we see this happening, say, with music. Though styles have changed over the years, we see some gravitating to a preferred style.  That preference, if one isn’t careful, turns into a test of faith for others. As a result, those who prefer hymns or choruses in a specific way impose that preference on others. The church suffered much through worship wars, rather than seeing that there were both good hymns and bad hymns as there were good modern songs and bad ones. Take the best of both: those that honor Christ, encourage the church, and are singable.

In our Southern Baptist culture, missions in another. I grew up with various missions programs that mean a lot to me during the years. But I also came across other missions programs (forms) that were just as impactful in getting the Great Commission in our children’s heads (function).  Let me give you a more pointed case that’s happening now at our church.

My associate pastor, Scott Morter, has long sensed a call to missions in Ireland. Our normal lane of sending is through the International Mission Board (IMB). Our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions goes to help the IMB put missionaries in place all over the world–sort of.

You see, the IMB is focusing on the 10-40 window (10 degrees north latitude to forty degrees south latitude), which is mainly North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.  You don’t have to be a geography scholar to realize that Ireland is not in that window.  Yet, where Scott and his family will go is the least evangelized area in the English speaking world (0.2% evangelical).

Our form (IMB) did not provide a lane, but another group, WorldVenture, did.  Remember, the function is to get the gospel out to areas where the gospel ain’t. If we were married to the form, we would say, “Scott, we will only support you go via the IMB.”  As Jesus taught the religious leaders, that would be legalistic and, yes, sinful. But, we say, “Scott, the goal is for you to get on the field to get the gospel where the gospel ain’t, so we will pray and support and help all we can.”  Yes, he will have to do his own partner development (i.e., fundraising), as opposed to the IMB which provides what’s needed through our giving to the Lottie Moon Offering and the Cooperative Program.

Even so–it’s an example that when our programs reach a tipping point to where we are serving them, even if it’s not accomplishing what they set out to accomplish, rather than the programs serving the Great Commandment/Great Commission function, it’s time to evaluate. Perform CPR, and if that doesn’t work, there’s no sin in letting a program (form) ride off into the sunset so another form can come in to perform the Great Commandment/Great Commission function needed.



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