I have been contemplating recently how God is both a God of spontaneity and a God of structure. Spontaneity and structure are opposites—how could they ever go together?
Structure in itself has no life in it. But it does provide the context for life to flourish in. If our lives or churches are over-structured, life can be squeezed out of them. But if there is no structure at all, we will be out of order and lack direction and purpose.
A great example is the way that God made the human body. The skeletal system provides a structure that enables the rest of our body to function. If we were just a skeleton we would be dead; but without a skeletal system we would be a blob! The skeletal system provides just enough structure to foster movement and life. Structure and spontaneity work together.
Below are a few examples of things that provide structure in the Christian life and/or the life of the church:
1. Spiritual disciplines- Spiritual disciplines such as prayer, fasting, and reading the Word are great examples of structure in the Christian walk. These disciplines are not an end in themselves; they are a means to intimacy with God and spiritual growth. Spiritual disciplines provide a context for relationship with the Lord to develop.
Having a regular time of prayer and study of the Word is an essential spiritual discipline. In these structured times, there should also be room for the Holy Spirit to lead us to pray for certain people or things, or for Him to highlight specific passages and truths from His Word. Here we see structure and spontaneity working together.
2. Order in a Church Service- When the Apostle Paul was addressing spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church, he established a proper order for the gifts to function. He wanted to make sure that the gifts of the Spirit were being exercised in such a way as to bring edification to the whole body.
In closing his comments on this subject he gave this instruction: “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40). Here is a classic example of structure and spontaneity working together. “Let all things be done” speaks of the spontaneity of the gifts functioning in the congregation. “Decently and in order” implies a proper structure and order in which the gifts should function.
3. Sound Doctrine- Being grounded in sound doctrine is critical, especially in the days in which we live. Sound doctrine however should not be seen as an end. Good theology should lead us into walking in the things we believe and encountering God in our actual experience.
Sound doctrine provides a framework of protection and grounds us in truth. But the goal is to know God Himself; not just be able to recite correct doctrine or make mental assent to biblical beliefs. Sound doctrine is structural; like the skeletal system it is absolutely essential. But by itself it is lifeless.
It is important that we place proper value on both structure and the spontaneous. Structure is necessary for life, and therefore we must value it. In its proper place, structure facilitates life and growth. Too many Christians believe that any form of structure or organization is “un-spiritual.” They are usually reacting to the error of over-structured church systems, but in the process they lose a vital part of God’s ways.
We must also be careful not to allow our lives or churches to become so structured that there is no room for the spontaneous. While proper structure facilitates life, over-structure quenches it. We must find the proper balance here. Like a good song that has structured verses and choruses yet leaves room for improvisation, we must learn to walk in this balance of structure and spontaneity.