Monday, September 21, 2009

Breaking Out of the Machine

Have you ever felt trapped in the mechanism of a bureaucracy? You feel like you are just a cog in a wheel, a thing being used to serve the organization's purposes. While it should never happen, sometimes the Christian church can become like that. People can be put in the position of feeling they are merely warm bodies recruited to fill some slot to make the organization work. How can we avoid this?

We need to start by asking what is the purpose of the Christian church. The purpose of the church is to bring people to know Jesus Christ and to grow in Him (Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 1:28-29), resulting in their becoming like Christ (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 4:13). The logical conclusion of this is that people should be encouraged to love God and love people (Matthew 22:37-40), resulting in their carrying out God's purpose in their lives by ministering to others (Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 6:9,10). This does not always mean giving people what they want, but it does mean having in mind their ultimate welfare. This can be a delicate balance of speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but our goal must always be to build up people in Christ (Ephesians 4:12; Colossians 2:19). In this, the leadership must act as servants working for the welfare of others (Luke 22:24-27). This is not always easy. I know from hard personal experience that there are times you need to weigh the welfare of one person against the welfare of others. Nonetheless, we must keep the goal in view.

But the machine mentality is not like that. Rather, it puts the welfare of the individual below that of the welfare of the organization and expects people to fit in with the structure rather than seeing the structure as being there to serve the needs of people. And the goal very easily becomes the perpetuation of the machine and its systems and programs or even building up the status and egos of its leaders. And it is easy for even well-meaning people to get trapped in the machine.

The solution is not tinkering with the mechanism. The machine is like the Borg on Star Trek; it is very good at assimilating things and making them its own. You want small groups, the machine will produce small groups. You want a greeting ministry, the machine will produce a greeting ministry. Nor is the solution to eliminate or minimize the organization. The Scripture does call for a degree of organization (1 Corinthians 14:40; Titus 1:5-9; Hebrews 13:17), but. more importantly, does not, beyond that, make the degree of organization of the church a major issue one way or the other. Also, I have seen even minimal organization take on the character of the machine. Rather, what is required is a difference in attitude. This is often difficult to acquire and maintain. But only then will we be able to break out of the machine.

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