“Christian ministry is about people not structures” is probably a fairly familiar imperative. A kind of evangelical Motherhood And Apple Pie statement.
The thought is that our structures should serve people. They should help them become disciples, grow in maturity, and make other disciples. And when they stop helping people like this we should stop pouring resources into keeping them running.
And it’s a great thought as far as it goes. I’ve certainly encountered ‘mothers’ groups’ full of octogenarians (I guess they’re still mothers) and ‘youth groups’ with an ever-expanding penumbra of young adults — as well as some not-so-young ones!
Someone’s got to start asking hard questions about these structures at some point — especially if they’re sucking up significant time and resources without helping anyone move forward very much.
But I suspect this idea could also sabotage us. Especially when it gets drawn into the ministry Time Management Vs Open-Endedness nexus I’ve been posting about recently.
This happens where it functions as a fig leaf to cover up our own failings in leadership, administration, or strategy — even justifying these failings to ourselves.
When we start saying to ourselves (as I have in the past): “Oh. Ministry’s all about people not structures. Making phone calls to newcomers is just a structural responsibility (one I don’t particularly relish or feel very good at). So it’s no big issue if I don’t get around to it — my plate’s already full enough of good ministry things like pastorally significant conversations with key leaders.”
What happens if we let ‘people not structures’ thinking like this side-track us from our structural responsibilities like calling newcomers? Before long there won’t be any people for us to do ministry with!