They Love the Church, But Not the Institution

Out of Ur has offered a great two-part post about the nature of the believer’s relationship with the local church. The idea is that the church spends a great deal of time equipping people to serve the local church rather than the church and the community. Think about it, how hard do we as ministers push to see new members join in an area of ministry within the church rather than discovering their gifts and passions, then putting them into consistent practice outside the church walls? The heart of the call on every believer is to love God above everything else and to love their neighbors as themselves. When Jesus gave this command He was asked shortly afterward just who are our neighbors. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Take that one to heart.

Read Part One of the Post Here.

Read Part Two of the Post Here.

Some choice quotes:

Sometimes I wonder if we have so confused these two entities—the church and the institution—that our mission becomes the growth and advancement of the later rather than the former. When attendance at a church program is large we say, “the church is growing,” and when attendance is poor we say, “the church is failing.” But is that really accurate? Is the church growing or failing, or merely the institution? Can we even tell the difference anymore?

I believe structure is necessary. Structure is good and even God-ordained. We see organization and structure from the very foundation of the church in Acts. But these structures always existed to serve God’s people in the fulfillment of their mission. Today, it seems like God’s people exist to serve the institution in the fulfillment of its mission (which is usually to become a bigger institution). Most of the curricula available to pastors on spiritual gifts and service focus on getting people to serve within their institution. Rarely does a church recruit, equip, and release saints to serve the mission outside its own immediate structure.

It simply recognizes that people are both the instruments and objects of God’s mission in the world. Human beings are the vessels of his Spirit, not organizations or institutions. This would mean asking new questions when the church (the community of believers) seeks to advance the mission of the Gospel:

Not: How do we grow the institution?
But: How do we grow people?

Not: How do we motivate people to serve in the church/institution?
But: How do we equip people and release them to serve outside the church/institution?

Not: How do we convince more people to come?
But: How do we inspire more people to go?

Not: How many programs can the church start?
But: How many programs have other churches started that we can help support?

Not: How many people have a committed relationship with our institution?
But: How many people have a committed relationship with another brother or sister in Christ?

Not: How do we make people dependent on the institution for their growth?
But: How do we equip people to grow independent of the institution?

Not: How much revenue can the institution generate?
But: How much revenue can the institution give away?

Not: How many buildings, pastors, and programs are necessary for the institution to have maximum exposure in the community?
But: How few buildings, pastors, and programs are necessary for God’s people to have time and energy to engage the community?

Now, tell me what you think


~ by bchatcher on March 20, 2008.

2 Responses to “They Love the Church, But Not the Institution”

  1. Personally, what do I think? Nope. Not buying the end of what he’s selling. I know he peppers his posts with comments about how he doesn’t hate the institution, or that he acknowledges the need for structure, but I think he’s seen a problem and suggested a solution that’s worse than the problem he saw in the first place. Pushing this ends up going to places where the Word of God gets twisted and contorted into ways you don’t want to see. Essentially, the experience of God becomes subjective. There’s no check, so you end up with stuff that looks like Unitarian activism and snake-bite Pentecostalism, both from the same well. True Christian Unity dies and is replaced by a thousand different perspectives of “God as I see Him/Her/It.” While an Institutional Church (which I’m not pushing here, oddly) can lead to clericalism or seem stifling, and I agree with his contention that it leads to programming for programming’s sake, the church can *not* be a democracy, or just a spiritual training ground to get folks to do whatever they feel the Spirit is leading them to do. Ever read Dulles’ Models of the Church? He says it has to be the sign, symbol, and true presence of God on earth, which may look a great deal like what Kimball wants and yet still is the product of a Jesuit Cardinal.

  2. Bull, great to hear from you. I have been trying to keep up with your trek across Texas with bikes in tow. Hope things are going well.

    I catch what you are saying in your post. Given the history of the church, which is filled with numerous church councils in early years to right the path of the ship, we must recognize the need for a duel emphasis for our people. We ought to be committed to serving and growing in the context of the local body while reaching out to the community and beyond through missional service in order to bring others into a relationship with Christ and that local body. Focus on the local body and you get institutional segregationist fundamentalist polity. Focus on the community and you get unchecked emotionalist liberal sensationalism. Find the balance in the middle and I think you find the New Testament Church.

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