How You Say It Matters: Thoughts on Form & Function

There was competition for my kids’ attention as we were reading the Bible last night. But I couldn’t get rid of the competition. Instead, I needed to embrace it. Because the competition came from the Bible App for Kids… the very app we were using to read the Bible in the first place!

You see, the Bible App for Kids takes the Bible stories and animates into interactive stories for your kids as the story is read out loud to them. My kids love it. I’m a little torn… because they half listen and half play.

They love the many Bible stories to choose from, the animation is great, and they especially enjoy touching the screen to see what the characters are going to do next. But are they listening to the story? Are they actually learning what the Bible says? To me… that’s not totally clear. There have been moments when the form (making the Bible stories fun and interactive) has overshadowed the function (teaching the Bible stories to children).

 

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Why the Church Must Prioritize Function Over Form 
It raises the question of which matters most: Form or Function?

  • Form is the shape of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.
  • Function is what you’re trying to accomplish.

Form and Function should never compete. When they do, you lose. Without good For
m, the Function isn’t accomplished. The mission fails. The message was sent, but no one was paying attention. And without prioritizing Function, the Form received more attention than the thing it was trying to accomplish. For this reason, Function needs to have priority while valuing Form enough to give it the skill and attention necessary that the mission is accomplished.

Example: The Bible App for Kids

Back to the Bible App for Kids. Is it successful? Probably, because the mission of the
app is to engage kids with the stories and message of Scripture. It certainly does that! The app is a wonderful way to engage children with the Bible stories in a way that is fun and helps them learn about God’s Word.

Is it perfect? No, because there are certainly times when the entertainment distracts from the actual Bible story. But it provides an opportunity for parents to discuss the Bible with their kids. My children aren’t given much time with electronics, so when they choose to spend some of their screen-time on an app that tells them Bible stories, that’s a major win!

Where else is this a Temptation?

  • Preaching: Are your illustrations and jokes so memorable that people remember those instead of the message God gave you to deliver? Illustrations that overshadow the message are bad illustrations, no matter how clever or funny or memorable they may be.
  • Worship: Is the expression of musical ability overshadowing the invitation to worship during your services? Is worship a performance, or an invitation to participate?
  • Youth Ministry: Are you more interested in drawing and keeping a crowd than you are in building students who will follow Christ for the remainder of their lives? I’ve written some about this here.
  • Evangelism: Is there so much emphasis on pre-evangelism and justice-ministries that actual evangelism (“Jesus Christ died to forgive you of your sin. What do you believe about Jesus? Will you confess your sin and repent by faith, trusting him from now on?”) doesn’t happen? If you’re always focused on “winning the right to be heard,” then you’re never going to say something worth listening to.
  • Fellowship/Community: Is there so much emphasis on getting people together to have fun that they aren’t actually talking with each other? If your fellowship-building programs are so busy that people can’t talk to each other, then somewhere along the way you’ve changed your goal.
  • Church Ministry Philosophy: You craft our mission statement to chart the course of your church, but if it’s bogged down by multiple other statements and values and strategies then eventually you find yourself struggling to explain what your church is all about. If you can’t summarize the mission and priorities of your church in one or two minutes, and if your church members are unlikely to give the same summary of mission that you’d give, then you probably need to simplify.  Simple Church and Designed to Lead have recently opened my eyes to this danger. You can read my book review of Designed to Lead HERE.

Boiling it Down
Your message and your audience should determine how you say it. For that reason, Form is the servant of Function.

I’ve seen examples where so much time and attention was given to Form that it overshadowed the Function. Of course, it was all phrased in a way that it was meant to strengthen and reinforce the Form. But in reality, the Form got so much attention the Function got overlooked.  In other cases, especially among theologically Reformed folk like myself, there’s a tendency to undervalue form because God will do the work regardless of our abilities.

There needs to be some healthy tension here, with a preference to Function (lest the Form bring you somewhere other than your original goal). Strategy and excellence are good and healthy things. But let’s remember they serve the mission… and when we’re not careful, mission drifts.

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