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  • Writer's pictureRichard A. Jones

Circles of Life—Part 2

Circles of Life—Part 2

My last post in Reflections of Faith, spoke of circles as a pattern woven into creation. This is evident from the shape of galaxies and the orbits of planets, to the contour of human fingerprints and the concentric circles of the human eye, as well as the growth rings of trees.

For ancient civilizations, circles have symbolized wholeness, original perfection, the infinite, and eternity. The ancient Greeks, expressing the infiniteness of God, even said that, “God is a circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”

It is interesting that the Greeks attributed this statement to their god, Hermes. Maybe they innately knew that there had to be a God beyond the gods that they worshipped.

Scripture says that the creation reveals the eternal power and divine nature of the Creator. I suggested that maybe these circles of life are a whisper from the God of all creation. But what are these circles telling us?

As I have said before, Jesus lived his life on earth in concentric circles of relationships. I don’t believe that this was just random chance or coincidence. Jesus was not haphazard; he lived this way on purpose. Here is the visual, if you need a reminder.

Jesus moved in and out of these circles bringing good to the lives he touched, receiving strength and encouragement from others. And In his center with his Father, he retained his passion for God’s hope and purpose for the world.

I think this was instrumental to his living a life of balance, purpose, courage, and hope. It reflected his deep relationship with God, and his intimate connection with others. It also expressed and encouraged such values as equality, harmony, equity, love, and friendship.


On the other hand, I have written extensively about the human attraction to, and desire for power. I think that this is what creates the structures of human institutions and organizations. And the model this creates is not circles but pyramids.

You can fill in the various titles: CEO, Vice Presidents, Middle Managers, and Employees (Although employees are now often called “team members,” maybe for public relation purposes.)

The titles and the structure will vary with Governments, banks, retail companies, insurance firms, schools, military, and other institutions, but the pyramid is the way that the kingdoms of man are organized.

I’m pretty sure that the reasons given for this pyramid structure would be efficiency, accountability, control, establishing authority, and accomplishing goals.

Generally speaking, pyramids do not foster equality, equity, or friendship, but instead form hierarchies, authorities, chains of command, and social caste systems.

Social Caste System

NOTE: To give one example of inequity in the corporate pyramid—For 2023, the basic Walmart employee earned under $28,000. The 2023 income for Walmart’s CEO was a little over $24,000,000.

I don’t deny that the pyramid structure may fit the power-driven and goal-oriented world we live in. It is how things get done. I do think it is encouraging that some current institutions seem to be exploring other models such as employ-owned companies.

…But, why has the Christian Church in America (using different titles) mimicked the pyramid model? Are the reasons the same: control, efficiency, accountability, authority, and accomplishing goals?

Does the church use similar methods, marketing strategies, and leadership forms as those of business? Has the church simply modified the kingdom of God in order to accommodate the kingdom of man?

Consider the terminology. When a pastor resigns or retires, it is said that he (or she) steps "down." Down from where? The vocabulary implies a position above others. And I don’t think that this issue is resolved by over-using the term “servant leadership," or adding that title to the hierarchy.

I don’t mean to be harsh. Good and faithful people will further the kingdom of God in spite of all types of structures. A government, a business, a school, or a church will only be as good as the people involved.


I realize that traditionally, the modern model of the church originates from Paul and his letters to the early church. It is thought that he started at least twenty churches and sent out men he had trained to start others.

I also realize that what I’m going to say next, will cause many evangelicals to scream “FOUL,” but I have questions, and I have to ask them anyway.

Paul was a former pharisee. His conversion led him to give up his self-righteousness. However, In His letter to the Philippians, He himself acknowledged that he had much to learn. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”

Does it surprise us that Paul, like all people, needed to grow up in his faith? He had been steeped in Jewish culture and Religious protocol. His entire life had been training for hierarchy, authority, and vertical relationships: men over women, husbands over wives, religious leaders over people, and teachers over those they teach. He would go on to appoint elders over the church, the authority of teachers, and restrictions on women even speaking in church.

Maybe in Paul’s life, his training in power and authority did not yield as easily to faith as his self-righteousness had. Paul interpreted his conversion experience as somehow confirmation of him as an apostle. And he obviously thought of apostle as a position of authority. He claimed that his authority over the churches came from his untimely appointment to apostleship.

While I truly believe much of what Paul says in Scripture, I am left to wander how 50% of the New Testament comes from one who did not meet the criteria of an Apostle as put forth in Acts 1:21-23. Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

Paul had much influence in the establishment of the early church. Some believe that Paul, and others whom he trained were instrumental in establishing the seven churches spoken of in the book of Revelation. Why were five of them on the verge of collapse by the end of the first century?

Problems had crept into the churches: the loss of a spirit of love, sexual Immorality, putting forth a false image, and a misguided view of wealth (this all has sort of a modern ring to it, doesn’t it?). We can’t know for sure, but could it be possible that a structure of hierarchy and the human propensity for power and control may have contributed to these problems?


In this post I want to offer an alternative to the hierarchy model of the church. I am not saying that it is the only way. But could it be a possibility? It is based on the relational life of Jesus and his words to his apostles.

In Matthew 20, The Mother of James and John, understanding the power structures of the world, had asked Jesus to seat her sons on thrones next to his own in the kingdom. The other ten apostles, also understanding how the world works, were indignant.

In response, Jesus called them all together, and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. (Emphasis mine)

In Matthew 23 Jesus criticizes the pharisees for placing themselves above others, seeking honored positions, and using their position to exercise authority over people.

As he does, he turns to the crowd and his disciples and says, “You are not to be called `Rabbi,' for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth `father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called `teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ.”

Jesus, in one bold throw, flattens the authority structures of human hierarchy and seems to forbid any idea of a pyramid model for his followers.

NOTE: After what Jesus said, It is interesting to me that today, catholic priests are called fathers, and evangelical preachers and pastors are often called teachers.


As I have said many times, I make no claim to absolute truth but only attempt to explore possibilities.

A Circle of life church

I know that this graphic does not actually show the reality. It is only an approximation to indicate interconnectedness.

Imagine twelve people (not a magic number, but it would probably remain small), all living as Jesus lived (see previous graphic). Their relational lives would overlap in many ways: A person who was in the circle of twelve in one person’s life, might be in another’s circle of three. One who was a more casual friend with some people, would be closer to others.

Within the closer circles, each would find love, acceptance, comfort, support, encouragement, and hope. Deep trust would develop with a few. Preaching, counseling, and other gifts, would emerge, as organic community developed.

Since there would be no need for buildings, budgets, or monthly bills, money would not be a focus of the church. Sharing within the group could help meet the needs of all, and more could also be given directly to meet needs outside the church.

In the outer circles, without committees, boards, or “special” ministry programs, all the people would be engaging the ‘crowd’ with the love of God, the good news of Jesus, and the hope of new life. Being salt and light, they would do this in genuine and natural ways, by example and spoken words, in their work, as well as all other areas of involvement.

Jesus implied that salt and light would attract enemies. We are called to meet opposition with grace and love, yet without compromising truth,

And each one would, at appropriate times, enter into the innermost circle, to be alone with God. This would be for times of silent reflection, the reading and contemplation of Scripture, and perhaps what the Quakers once called centering prayer, to gain focus, shape vision, and affirm purpose.


More could be said, and of course, I am painting an ideal picture. There are no perfect people, therefore there are no perfect churches. This church also, would have to deal with all the issues of being together as flawed humans .

It seems to me however, that the traditional church today has become top-heavy with hierarchies, facilities, committees, programs, and money, all of which must be organized, managed, and maintained.

Is this the best use of our time, energy, and resources? Maybe there are alternatives to the often un-questioned forms of the institution that we have come to call the church.

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