“Well, we can try that as long as we are still able to do AWANA.” I sighed, but at least we were getting nearer to the ability to ask a very important question that was making everyone uncomfortable. We were, after all, discussing a whole new approach to the way we were going to do our budget at the church. “I know it sounds scary, but the desire is to begin our budget with no strings attached. Start from nothing and then invest and fund a program that would be the best way to accomplish our mission through our values.”
“But AWANA brings in so many kids from our neighborhood and we have so many volunteers who invest into this and it does not even take up a lot of our budget because everyone volunteers!” Honestly, all of these things were true, but all of those “good things” were potentially getting in the way of what could be the best.
“All that is good, but we are asking what is the best use of our time and money. After we address what we believe is the best use we will move on to what remains with our budget asking the same question.” This was question we were asking: “what is the best use of the rest of our time and money to accomplish our mission through our core values”?
“We may very well get to the same conclusion about AWANA. In fact, I would be surprised if we did not do it, but we want to have no strings attached.”
And then the dreaded words came: “But We Have Always Done AWANA…”
One of the most prolific and detrimental problems a church can practice is a confusion over what is a form and what is a function of the church. A form is a method. A function is the goal and the purpose. There are many forms to accomplish a function, and some forms can be more effective than others. The danger is when we elevate a form to the place of the function. At that point we have made the way we should do it more important than what we set out to do.
Let’s take teaching as an example here. The goal of teaching is for a student to learn. Sounds straightforward, right? There are many ways for us to teach, these are called “forms”. Yet there are items that NEED to happen to have learning, these are called “functions”. Some forms for teaching would be lectures, showing videos, telling stories, using powerpoints, going on a field trip. These are ways learning can be caught. Functions that go with learning are presenting material clearly, verifying learning, and correcting misunderstandings. Functions directly relate to the goal while the forms are ways to get a student to the goal of learning. Now, what would happen if we elevate a form of teaching over the function of what teaching should be doing? It would be like a teacher who will only lecture for his classes regardless of how his students learn. Yes, some learning may be accomplished, but some students may need to be captured and taught in more ways than pure lectures, especially if they are 7 years old.
Sadly, we elevate certain forms over the functions of the church. And we all could probably pinpoint moments where we have fallen guilty of doing this. I will list a number of things a church does and tell me if this is a form or a function. Oh, I should mention that the goal of a church is to make and grow followers of Christ. Here we go: teach the truth of scripture. Sunday morning church service. Share the Gospel. Sunday School. AWANA. Small group meetings. Sing with a piano or organ. Worship God.
What do you think? Let’s break this down: Teach the truth of scripture: function. Sunday morning church service: form. Share the Gospel: function. Sunday School: form. AWANA: form. Small group meetings: form. Sing with a piano or organ: form. Worship God: function.
How did you do? It is easy to slip into seeing one of our favorite ministries as a function. And with good reason, that ministry has impacted us and has drawn us closer to God. We have experienced a more intimate and effective relationship with God through that program. We are able to worship God more effectively when we have hymns and the piano, we were saved through Vacation Bible School or AWANA, we always look forward to the fellowship at the New Year’s Eve party. These forms have helped us and we want them to help others. We never intended to elevate a form over the function, but here we are.
But now that we have found that we have elevated forms over functions, what should we do? Well, the first big deal is to identify that we are living this way. Many times we refuse to acknowledge how we are treating our favorite programs or traditions at our church. Secondly, are you willing to hold your form loosely in your hand? Yes, this is scary because it may mean you may not get your favorite thing, but being a follower of Christ is not about you, is it. It is about the one who has saved you through his life, death, and resurrection. Are you willing to adjust your forms to be doing the functions of the church in the most effective way possible? Are you willing to give up a preference or tradition to encourage, empower, and develop spiritual growth in your teenagers and young adults in the church? We want to be a church who has a firm understanding of who they are and what they believe but also have an open hand to the method or way it gets done.
After all, there are a lot of forms that accomplish the functions.