I understand that rules are necessary, really I do.
Even as an individual, we set guidelines and directions for ourselves. Lines we won’t cross. Values that are important to us.
When we put to people together, they set boundaries and rules, conventions that help them work and live together. Most of the time those are unwritten. Sometimes we put them down on paper (or on screen.)
A more formal structure becomes important when a group gets larger than can know one another well. Larger than, oh, a dozen, let’s say.
When those little groups become larger groups, and when those larger groups become groups separated by a number of variables – distance, culture, gender, language, theological understanding or economic realities might be a few – that structure is part of shared identity.
All of my life I have been part of the structure of one part of the Body of Christ – The United Church of Canada. In some ways, it’s part of not only my religious identity, it’s also part of my personal identity. I’ve been an interpreter of the rules; as a minister in congregation, as a parliamentarian, as an arbitrator and conflict resolution facilitator, as one who has chaired committees and Presbyteries and gatherings of a Conference.
I’ve seen the Spirit move in and with and around and through those rules (and the interpretation of them.) I believe that God works with the structures we have created to help us live out our covenant relationships.
There is a “but” here.
But I’ve also seen places where the values espoused by the structure of the church and the values espoused by part of its body are radically different. Institutional structures tend to favour stability. They tend to favour actions that maintian. They tend to look for ways of building conformity.
Sorry. We tend to favour stability. We tend to favour actions that maintain. We tend to look for ways of building conformity.
But, what do we do if the Spirit moves us (and with us) into a place that is not stable? Where maintainence means constant change. Where conformity means stasis, rather than safety?
What do we do with our rules when our rules were built around a different reality – when our structures are built around a certain way of living out those rules, and that way of living out doesn’t work for the reality we seem to be living?
I think we need to recognize that our structures are not immoveable objects and our ministries are not irresistable forces. The ability to change is built into both our structures and our selves.
If we don’t get entrenched in this or that being the only way. It may be the only way we can see. That’s ok. Each of us has our own blindspot. But we need to recognize that there are almost always possibilities we can’t see – possibilities that can be played with to speak to the concerns of structure and ministry.
I also think we need to recognize that neither our structures nor our ministries are perfectly understood. That whole, “through a mirror, dimly,” thing. We need to find the places where our core values mesh and the places where they don’t… and we need to find ways of trusting one another in the process of discussion and action.
We need to be ready to dive into each other’s vision – and to be overwhelmed by each other’s hope and each other’s pain.
But we also need to be ready to be changed, mightily, by that pain, hope and vision.
Our rules need to be tempered by prophetic challenge, at the same time that the prophet needs to be willing to see God’s presence moving and hear God’s voice speaking within the structure itself.
Life is change.
Abundant life is abundant change.