This is one of those questions that has been rolling around in my head for a while, but in order to actually engage with the idea… we should take some time to understand what I mean by the words “Function” and “Form.”
When I say Function what I am talking about is a desired outcome from an action or thing. The desired outcome of hitting a hammer into a nail is that the nail goes into the wood. The desired outcome from singing music in church is that people would worship God. The desired outcome from an alter call (inviting people to come down front during a worship service if they have received Jesus as their Lord and Savior), is to encourage people to take the leap of faith into the arms of God for the first time. The desired outcome of guitar lessons is that the student would learn to play the guitar. The Function of a thing is the reason why the thing is done or why the thing is… sometimes… Let me define Form and we will come back to this idea.
When I say Form what I am talking about is the way a thing is put together. A hammer has the Form that will aide the Function of putting a nail into wood. Music in church should have the Form that helps the Function of people worship God. Billy Graham found that an alter call was an incredibly effective Form to fulfill the Function of encouraging people to make decisions to follow Jesus during his time. Guitar lessons are a great Form for some people to help them learn guitar. The Form is the way a thing is put together and should aide the Function for which the thing was made for.
But sometimes you don’t have a hammer. Can the Form we call “screwdriver” be used to hammer in a nail in a pinch? Sure! Forms can be used for different Functions! Which can be good and bad at the same time. Sometimes we can create Forms that serve more than one Function. Music in church can serve the Function of helping people feel at home in church instead of worshiping God. Guitar lessons could push a student away from ever learning guitar. An alter call could feel like emotional manipulation and push people away from God. The very same Form could serve a Function that is the opposite of why is was created!
Why does all of this matter? As we grow, both individually and as a community, there will be things (Forms) that we used to do that no longer serve the first reason (Function) we started doing them. These can be very good things like prayer, reading your Bible, going to small group, singing in church, or even the call to action. But the thing that we need to keep in our minds as we make decisions about how we follow Christ today, tomorrow, and the next day is that what we should chase after is perfection of the completion of Functions (the desired outcomes) not perfection of the Forms (the things we are doing).
Function should never marry Form because Forms serve many different Functions as times change and Forms serve Functions, not Functions serving Forms. (That is a fun sentence! Hit up the comment section with questions or thoughts about how you have seen Function and Form play out in your life!)