It was the American architect Louis Sullivan who coined the phrase in his article The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered in 1896. Later one of his students, Frank Lloyd Wright, would revise it to say, "form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union." I remember the quote first entering into my academic life as a sophomore enrolled in an industrial design class in college. I recall names like Herman Miller, Charles Eames, and the Bauhaus movement. My appreciation for great furniture, spectacular gadgets, and soaring architecture grew. The Eames Lounge Chair captures the concept of form following function perfectly. From shape to materials and even to the process by which it is manufactured, the function of the object determines so very much about the form that it takes.
I have been struck how much this concept drives the way I think about the church, or my ecclesiology. I very often find myself turning to fundamental ideas about why we do a thing when I am asked about how we might do that very thing. Consider these examples:
- Preaching - is intended to build up, teach, and inspire us as members of the body of Christ on earth. While those functions can each demand their own devices from time to time, are there particular ways and methods for how we can best achieve effective preaching in the church that help us to achieve all three? What role do trust, relationships, knowledge, and authenticity play? What about style, attire, length, and even location?
- Stewardship - was the topic Jesus taught upon in his conversations with the disciples, the crowds that followed him, and even the critics that challenged him. It is one of the most delicate subjects to deal with still today, yet it remains at the center of how we relate to God and each other. What details about how we talk about stewardship and go about leading each other to excel in this area are important? Honesty, fairness, truth-telling, and confidentiality come to my mind. How about yours?
- Welcoming Guests and Members - is something about which we pride ourselves. It functions as a way to learn names and connect in deep ways with other people's lives. Some forms are in place: greeters at the door, nametags in the hallway, passing the peace in worship, connection cards, and follow-up from the pastor for new visitors. What other forms should we consider in order to achieve the function of helping people know our great desire for them to feel welcomed by God into Epworth?
As I read some of the most important sections of the New Testament, whether in Matthew 28 on disciple-making, 2 Timothy on teaching, or Matthew 6 on prayer, so much of the Bible describes functions for the church and the forms they should take.
Are their areas and forms in your life that no longer serve their purpose or function? Have you audited your forms lately to see that they still balance with the purpose and functions you are called to achieve? This is a good question? Peace to you on the journey.