It seems clear to me that we need structure if we’re going to see organisms flourish. The structure exists to support the life that’s there, and is only good in as much as it helps the flourishing of that life. I wrote about this in Part 7 of my Missional Communities series:
As things grow, some form of organization or structure is necessary if we wish to see things continue to grow… some kind of structure is actually necessary for the ongoing flourishing of life.
The assumption I’ve made in this regard is that structure follows life from a chronological standpoint. Life emerges, and we put structure in place to support the life that’s there. But something I read in an advance copy of Mike Breen‘s upcoming book Multiplying Missional Leaders has me wondering about that.
Commenting on Ezekiel 47 and 37, Mike writes:
In this passage, the temple is rebuilt and reformed, incidentally in precisely the same order in which the army is reformed from dry bones. Both receive new life from the first task of reforming. Ezekiel 47 says that the temple must be rebuilt before the water can flow, just as Ezekiel 37 indicates that the bones have to be drawn together and covered with flesh and muscle before they can receive the breath of God.
The chronological order is exactly reversed. First comes structure, then comes life. First the bones are formed into bodies (structure), then the breath fills them and they come alive (life). First the temple is rebuilt (structure), then the river begins to flow (life). And, to evoke another biblical image, first the wood is arranged on the altar (structure), then the fire falls (life).
So I wonder if there are times to work hard at putting structure in place before there is much evidence of life; in essence creating structure in the expectation of life filling the structure later. You build the house first, anticipating what kinds of structures you’ll need to support your life there, and then you move in. You build a trellis first, then you plant your cucumbers so they can grow into the structure you’ve put in place ahead of time.
Much like a business would secure enough bandwidth on their website before launching a major ad campaign, I think there are times for re-forming our structures in the expectation that when the renewing power of the Spirit comes, it will have appropriate channels to flow through. The river doesn’t do much good unless it has a channel to flow through. The breath of life in Ezekiel 37 would just be a lot of wind unless it had well-structured bodies to flow into and enliven.
The goal is always life and blessing, of course. The breath of life wants to inhabit a well-ordered structure so it can animate a body toward love and good works. The river of life wants to inhabit a well-ordered structure so it can carry the blessings of the temple out into the dry places.
I’m sure you get the picture. Perhaps well-ordered, life-stewarding structure needs to be put in place before life fills it. Perhaps structure precedes life in an important way.
It also makes me wonder if one of the reasons we don’t see more renewal in the church is that we haven’t yet prepared the structures that could receive it and multiply it for the blessing of the world.
What are your thoughts on the implications of this for church leaders? What are the structures we need to put in place for life to flourish?