In our one-day events for pastors, we always start the day with a story from Scripture. You’ve probably preached on it. And you likely know it well.
It comes from Ezekiel 37:1-14. (I’ve copied it below, but you can click here to continue with the article.)
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.
Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”
In this story, Ezekiel is experiencing a vision of a valley of dry bones. And God tells him to prophesy to the bones so that they may live. There have been a variety of interpretations for what this passage ultimately means (though it certainly is a message of hope); however, my intention in this article is not to provide an exegesis or analysis. But I do want to share an observation.
If you read the passage, the order in which life comes in to these dry bones is crucial: First the bones. Then the sinews and flesh. Then the skin. Then the breath.
The first three are structural, right? Perhaps this seems obvious, but the structure has to be in place before the breath of God can bring them to life. The breath doesn’t precede the structure.
Do you see where I’m going?
How often in our churches do we pray for the blessing of God on our ministry? How often are we asking God to bring more people and resources? Yet, if we’re honest, we wouldn’t be able to handle that kind of blessing if God really brought it.
We don’t have the structure in place.
If we build a vessel, God will fill it. If we create a small vessel, God will bring small increase. If we create a large vessel, God will bring large increase. (And no, I’m not talking about the size of the building or the amount of people in the church.)
We have to be structured for where we want to go instead of where we are. We have to be prepared for expansion. And we have to desire the growth of God’s Kingdom enough to structure for it.
Because hope can be restored in the most discouraging circumstances if we are willing to structure for a miracle.
So how do we structure our churches for a miracle? Here are a few places to start:
1) We have to set our churches up the way God asked us to.
I think we all agree that our ministry should be founded wholly on Scripture. Well, in Ephesians 4, God tells us exactly how He wants His churches to be structured. And it’s clear: Church leaders are intended to equip the saints for ministry. They are not intended to do all the ministry.
Here’s what that means: Church leaders need to have enough leadership freedom to effectively lead and empower their people. Congregations don’t exist to equip their pastor for ministry; it’s the other way around. And leadership teams need to strive to adjust their ministry model to better reflect the command in Ephesians 4.
2) We need to have systems in place.
So often we hold on to our ministry systems and methods, because “we’ve always done it that way.” And so often those ministry systems and methods are exactly what are holding us back. As church leaders, our job is to implement and update systems to sustain our ministry and prepare for God’s blessing.
We need to be able to answer the question, “Why?” for everything we do as a church. If we don’t have an answer to that question, it’s probably not an effective system, ministry, or process.
3) We need to know why we exist.
Your mission and vision are the foundation of everything you do. If they’re not, then whatever feels urgent will be the foundation of everything you do.
We have to know who we are (mission) and where we’re headed (vision). What is the purpose of your ministry? Why do you exist in your community at this time? What are you trying to accomplish? These questions are the foundation of your structure.
4) We need to make next steps clear.
We call it a discipleship path. (Here’s a recent podcast and an article that discusses developing one.)
If people don’t know where they’re at on their spiritual journey, they won’t know where they need to go. As a ministry, it’s crucial to lay out the next steps on someone’s spiritual journey with Christ, so they can always be taking steps forward in their relationship with Him.
Structure matters. All throughout Scripture, it’s clear that God desires for His name to be known. And it’s our job as church leaders to implement the structure for God to bring His blessing on.
Will He sometimes bless a ministry with poor structure? Absolutely. But if that’s what we’re going for, we’re missing out on a world of opportunity to change our communities for Jesus.
Breath doesn’t precede structure. And as 1 Corinthians 3:7 says, it is “only God who gives the growth.” So let’s take the steps necessary to build a healthy, biblical foundation and watch our God work.