Dan Reiland on Navigating the Tension Between System and Spirit

The church is a unique combination of the natural and supernatural.

  • The natural brings systems and structures.
  • The supernatural brings the Spirit of God.

When the two are balanced, the church can operate at its best.

  • All structure with no spirit can result in a lifeless organization.
  • All spirit with no structure can result in chaotic inspiration.

The goal is to bring the two together for spirit-filled Kingdom progress.

All of that is easy to say but challenging to live.

There is understandable tension wherever system and Spirit are expected to live in tandem.

When we combine natural and supernatural, we invite the unexpected.

Every church begins with a vision breathed by God and birthed by the power of His Spirit. However, the larger it gets it requires organization to move forward.

Churches and church leaders naturally resist systems and structure for three reasons:

  1. They don’t feel spiritual. (Like money doesn’t feel spiritual, but of course, it is significantly spiritual in nature.)
  2. They seem to contradict a relational approach.
  3. They demand a certain level of discipline that does not allow us to do whatever we want to do.

Let me offer a classic example we can easily connect with regardless of your personal church experience.

During a Sunday morning worship service, you sense the Spirit of God doing something special.

The worship is powerful, and the sermon is “extra-anointed,” so the pastor keeps on preaching, and the worship kicks back in for a few more songs. Many come forward for salvation and baptism.

The congregation walks out with their hearts filled, saying to everyone in the lobby and on social channels, “The service was powerful. It was like a modern-day book of Acts.”

This is what you pray for, right?!

Except that the service was supposed to end at 10:30 am so the next service can start at 11:00 am. And it’s 10:50 am.


Enter holy chaos.

Guests are unhappy, and volunteers are frustrated.

The parking lot can’t empty because new people are trying to get in. The volunteers in the children’s ministry are so ready to be done, but they can’t leave, and their families are getting frustrated because they made plans for lunch!

People who did get in the parking lot are trying to check their kids in, but the kids in the previous service haven’t been checked out yet, so they can’t. The lobby is filling because they haven’t opened the doors to let the first group out yet.

Perhaps this story isn’t yours, but I’m sure you can substitute your story to fit. The leaders are emphatic that “somebody” needs to fix this because it’s the third time in five weeks.

Let’s take a very different situation.

The church board needs to make a major decision, but church policy and governance are blocking the heart and discernment of the board.

1/3 of the board is justifiably adamant about the rules, by-laws, and constitution. 1/3 third of the board is passionate about the heartfelt decision they believe is led by the Spirit. The final 1/3 third of the board remains silent because of the tension.

The larger the organization, the church, the greater the difficulty in integrating the freedom of the spirit and the structure of systems.

The marriage of system and spirit is a tension to manage, not a problem to solve.

Problems must be solved, and tensions can’t be solved.

If you achieve a “pseudo solve” to real tension, you have unintentionally tamed or neutralized an essential part of your culture.

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