Function vs. Form – Some Things Never Change
By Certified Church Consultant, Dr. Michael Rackley
Today the church faces seismic shifts in culture and in the marketplace. Presently it resides in technology with Artificial Intelligence, a rise in price inflation, a war in Europe, post Covid-19 pandemic, and a plethora of many other challenges.
The Bible does however provide everything we need to know in order to plan for our ministry’s future in a rapidly changing world. One of the healthy and simplistic ways to view change in the local church is through the lens of functions and forms.
The church’s functions are what it’s supposed to accomplish. They are biblical mandates that answer the what question, namely, what are we supposed to be doing? Each function has a meaning, and one needs to discover the so-called function’s meaning in the text. These functions are (Baptism, Prayer, Fellowship, Ministry, Evangelism, Discipleship, Study, Equipping) just to name a few. Many of these functions are located in the following passages of scripture:
- Acts 2:38, 41-47
- Ephesians 4:11-17
- Romans 6:3-4
- 2 Timothy 2:15
- Baptism – This is a personal and public identification with Christ’s death and resurrection.
- Prayer – Communication with God
- Evangelism – Understandably communicating the gospel and encouraging unbelievers to accept Christ and become responsible disciples of His church.
- Discipleship – Believers are growing in Christlikeness, maturity, and discipling other believers.
- Study – Preparing and diligently examining the scriptures.
- Equipping – Training Believers for the work of ministry.
The forms are how the church accomplishes what it does, namely, its functions or activities. Forms serve the functions. They answer the how question– that is, how will the church accomplish its functions? The forms consist of the church’s methods for ministry. The methods would include an activity such as the mode of baptism (whether immersion, sprinkling, or pouring). Another example is the different styles of worship in the church (blended, traditional or contemporary).
In other words,
“Methods are many. Principles are few. Methods may change. But Principles never do.”
It is said “culture often dictates the particular forms that the church uses (1 Chron. 12:32),” however, forms or methods do expire.
For example, in the 1960s Jack Hyles was known as the visionary of the church (buses) ministry that was instrumental in bringing thousands of people to church. Today, that method has expired, and most people are driving some sort of vehicle to services as a whole.
One can discover a ministry’s form by asking whether the form or model in question is an end or means to an end. Forms are the means to ends.
The church has the freedom to make changes in its forms of ministry or how it conducts its ministries. God gives all churches freedom under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to choose the forms or methods that best accomplish their functions (for example, evangelism, discipleship, etc.). These forms are non-mandated and therefore non-absolutes.
The first principle teaches that the church has the freedom to change its ministry forms. The second says that when exercising this freedom, the church must never change its functions. Of course, the church may change and, in most cases, must change its forms over the years so that it’s able to communicate intelligently within its culture to its constituency.
A Theology of Change
Time won’t allow for an exhaustive study of the topic or subject. For further information please refer to the resource.
Sources: Doing Church a Biblical Guide For Leading Ministries Through Change by Aubrey Malphurs