In one workshop at the Missio Alliance conference, JR Woodard and Tim Keel discussed successful churches needing both structure and spirit. They used Ezekiel 37 and the Valley of Dry Bones as an illustration. What I took this to mean was that a church needed both a grounded tradition which provides the structure, and an entrepreneurial charisma led by the Spirit.
This was eye-opening to me.
My own Episcopal Church has plenty of tradition and structure. Similarly, my personality lends itself to highly-structured environments. I think in “systems” and want things done the “right way.” However, I’ve also helped start a company and launched a new office in the business world, so I also understand that structure only takes you so far. At some point, charisma (or charism, or the Spirit) plays a role in building something “new.” This led me back to the Valley of the Dry Bones. In many ways, the American church is in a valley with lots of dry bones. There is no shortage of churches that are stagnant. However, many of these churches (primarily those within my Mainline Protestant tradition) have structure. That is, after all, what bones provide. Bones provide the structure for the body. Systems and structures of traditional churches can provide the bones for the body of Christ. But bones by themselves are just a skeleton.
The dry bones in Ezekiel needed something else. Even when the bones came together and had form, they had no breath. They had no life. The prophet then called upon the wind to fill the bones and bring life. In the same way, traditional churches need to call upon the Spirit to bring life. We need the Spirit to fill the church, the Body of Christ, and bring us out of our grave.
In Ezekiel, neither bones nor breath were enough on their own. The bones by themselves were just structure without spirit. They were empty and formless and not able to do what bones are made to do. Similarly, the breath by itself was wind with no sail. The breath was blowing but had nothing to move. The bones needed the breath to bring life. The breath needed the bones to bring life.
Traditional churches, with all their structure, need the Holy Spirit to bring life. However, missional communities and church plants likewise need structure in order to let that life flourish.
The conference as a whole, and this workshop in particular, reinvigorated my desire to bring the traditional and the modern, the ancient and the future, together.
I want to help the bones find breath, and I want to help the breath find bones, so that the Body of Christ may thrive.
[image: Michael Caven]