Structure and Spirit

Author: Pr. Joseph Khabbaz
July 11, 2019

Have you ever stopped to think about the city you, your friends or family live in? Recently I read about Jane Jacobs, an urbanist and activist whose writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building.[1] Her work caused city planners to ask thoughtful questions such as, “How wide should a sidewalk be? How can new buildings or projects capitalize on the city’s unique qualities? Does the city have a waterfront that could be exploited? Ultimately, will the city be fun?” What sounds like almost rudimentary questions to us were revolutionary during Jacobs’ time. In essence, she wanted cities to be more about people than buildings. Reading about Jacobs influence on the structural development of cities like New York caused me to consider the structure of my own denomination.[2] How can structures help aid church mission as we seek to be a missional community?

It’s certainly worth celebrating that the organization and reorganization of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in our early history saw extensive worldwide growth of members and church institutions. A consistent emphasis on structure, decentralization of “kingly ruling power” and an emphasis on worldwide mission saw our denomination mature into one of the fastest growing churches in the world.

But there are also a number of challenges facing various denominational structures today that are significant. In the book, Structured for Mission, the author highlights some of these difficulties including, limited funding for national programs, lack of leadership development as full-time pastors have become a luxury fewer congregations can afford, our ability to engage the plurality of perspectives while inviting the loyalty of church members, the challenge of engaging emerging generations and the predisposition to look for solutions inside established methods.[3] We can be tempted to conclude that church structure and God’s Spirit are diametrically opposed but the role of structure in the church is not polarity between the Spirit and the structure, as if the Spirit gives life but structure denies the life of the Spirit. Rather, as Jacobs used urban structural design for human flourishing within cities, how can our church structures retain its legitimacy as our church continues to grow around the world?

What Jane Jacobs was able to do was capture a narrative that spoke to the longings and dreams of people’s hearts and reminded them that cities are about people, not buildings. Jacobs’ narrative still impacts the way cities are structured and designed today. Ultimately the value and legitimacy of structures are based on the narratives they are built on.

The church that I love is the church that stays faithful to its God-given narrative. In Ephesians 3:10 Paul writes, “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display His wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” This same Biblical purpose is expressed by Ellen White, “The purpose which God seeks to accomplish through His people today is the same that He desired to accomplish through Israel,” namely that “by beholding the goodness, the mercy, the justice, and the love of God revealed in the church, the world is to have a representation of His character” (6T 12). One of the reasons I love being at Sligo Church is because this Biblical narrative rings true to all our hearts. As God seeks to build His Kingdom may we further allow Him to restructure and redesign our own hearts through grace.

[3] Roxburgh, Alan J.. Structured for Mission: Renewing the Culture of the Church (p. 105). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

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