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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Let's imagine a creative future with God and each other together. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Spirit vs. Structure

Readers of this blog with good memories will recall that I have dealt with today's topic before: spirit vs. structure when it comes to God and religion. Here is how I often encounter this question.

A person who goes to the congregation I used to serve runs into me at some event or place. They ask me what I am doing now, and I tell them...depending upon how much I perceive their interest to be...a bit about what we do at Prairie Table. Then they ask if we have a building or a flyer or how we organize stuff, and I tell them we don't do any of that...they then look at me kind of funny, nod their heads, and in good grace wish me well...before they can turn away I know, without a doubt, that even were they the greatest Christian in the world, Prairie Table Ministries would not work for them. You see, for some of the people I meet, God and religion needs "structure." At Prairie Table, we focus more on "spirit." And there is a huge chasm between structure-people and spirit-people, and even though my tradition tries to balance the two out as well as any religious tradition, at PTM we fall more and the "spirit" side of the gulf...and for Christians who stand on the other side we might as well be a different religion for as well as they comprehend us...(and to be fair, "spirit" folks don't do well with "structure" religion, but that is for another blog.)

Structure is how we know about religions...the buildings, the constitutions, the regularized patters of worship, leadership development, and all the other things that go into maintaining a structure are how many view religion. And that is fine, and for me this "old-school" (I was raised as a structure person) approach has many merits. But it is not what we do at Prairie Table Ministries...for us the"new-school" is to focus on the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and how that Spirit calls and guides us into the world, and into the mission God has for us in this time and place. So, structure, such as it is around Prairie Table is pretty minimal (It is not as if we do not have structure, we have some, but it is not what we focus on...just as the usual congregation, focused on structure, still tries to follow the Spirit.)

I believe it is legitimate to follow the Spirit over structure because no one has ever been saved by a structure (although I will admit is has helped guide people to better lives), and we always need to keep that in the forefront of our faith...all Christians are people of the Spirit, no matter how diverse (and sometimes polar opposite) their structures...And it is that unity we share in Christ Jesus that propels Prairie Table Ministries...blown by the breezes of the Spirit...into the many and various structures of the world.


Anne said...

Scott, I find your conversation about structure, Spirit, and church interesting, and I get it. As a person being caught up into the Spirit-winds of late, I do wonder about the structure of relational being within the Triune God. There is a generative structure of relationship of necessity I think so that as God, Son, and Spirit be-in-communion with one another as the three and when they live into their individual nature as well they can communicate with one another. So, while the church today, in all forms, struggles with the tension between structure and Spirit, how does the Triune "being as communion" inform these relationships (which are structures in and of themselves at some level, I believe)with God and one another? I think of a glass blower blowing a structure of glass into a tangible object. What is the relationship between creation and structure? Can we have a tangible church structure in today world? I am very interested in a Spirit-blown structure that is a transitional place of grace for those seeking a Spirit-led community. Ideas? Just some rambling thoughts.

Pam Brewer said...

I'm fed up with structure and would welcome your community's style of worship and relationship. I'm a lifelong front-row Lutheran who rarely attends worship anymore because I'm afraid I'll get snagged for a committee. I feel like my relationship with God has grown away from religion and into a spirit-led life and my church hasn't kept up with me. I wish PTM were in my town!

Scott Frederickson said...

The question is one of the eternal verities of Christianity. As Pam notes, so often structure questions dominate our religion as to actually drive people away from the Spirit they are encouragin us to attend. Anne, has caught the drift of what makes PTM such an intersting case-study for what a "church" is--if structure is removed from the equation from the beginning. This is not to say there is no structure--(Friday's post, July 9, 2010 relates this issue at greater length), but that structure is not the first question answered...and maybe not for a long time. Peace.