Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Form vs Function

Photo by beasty . on Unsplash

In the course of meeting with clients, whether in homes or on commercial construction sites, I often witness the very real, the very often frustrating (though not always calamitous) clash that happens when an architect's design meets with the constraints of gravity, angles and deductions.  It is a tension I often find myself holding both ends of.

In my world of selling window coverings, I almost always start with function.  Do you want sun control?  Insulation?  Privacy?  Room darkening?  Knowing those answers allow me to better recommend different treatments or products.  Once we look at the options, clients can settle on a form: a roman shade, plantation shutters, or a drapery.

This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with a friend about tensions we feel in church, about the natural tendency to go from small, natural and organic to large, structured and programmed.  Or the pull to make something as relational as spiritual development into a curriculum or a one-size-fits-all program.

Tim Woodroof wrote about this in A Church That Flies.  In it he describes the tension between form and function.  In very simple terms, form is the shape a thing takes or the way it appears in the world.  Function is the purpose for which a thing is in the world.

The author uses the situation that we read about in Acts 15 where the church in Antioch was beginning to take on legs of its own and the baby was not looking as much like the parents as the parents wished.  The leaders in Jerusalem were concerned because what they thought was important or essential was not being taught or lived out like they thought it should.  The church in very Gentile Antioch was experiencing things that the church in very Jewish Jerusalem was not.

One Gospel.

Two contexts.

What to do?  What began as rigid demands that someone adhere to old ways or comply with legal standards ended in grace, wisdom and freedom.  What had the potential to snuff out a growing movement of men and women being transformed by the Gospel was challenged and changed.  What we see is the incredible trust the Father has given his people to take the function he desires and to let it take on the forms necessary to take root in the nations of the world.

Where do you see form and function at play in your world?  In your church context?  What forms are taken for granted?  How and when do we stop and examine the function behind the form?  And what could the church look like in your context if you had the courage to let it?