the weblog of Alan Knox

Church or Institution (Part 2)

Posted by on Mar 12, 2008 in blog links, definition | Comments Off

Earlier today in a post called “Church or Institution“, I linked to an article by Skye Jethani concerning the differences between the church and the man-made organizations and institutions that are often called “church”. Skye has written a follow-up article for “Out of Ur” called “They love the church but not the institution (Part 2)“.

In my original post, I gave a quick and simplistic (that is, unexplained) example: people filling a position or role instead of people serving from their passion and through their gifts. Skye discusses this same distinction in his follow-up article:

Without doubt there are numerous factors behind our exaltation of the church institution above the community of saints that created it, but one critical component may be cultural. In our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that institutions are the vessels of God’s Spirit and power. (The reason for this is a subject I explore in more depth in my book due out next year.) The assumption is that with the right curriculum, the right principles, and the right programs, values, and goals, the Spirit will act to produce the ministry outcomes we envision. This plug-and-play approach to ministry makes God a predictable, mechanical device and it assumes his Spirit resides within organizations and systems rather than people.

You often see this mindset after the death or departure of a godly leader. A man or woman powerfully filled with the Spirit’s breath demonstrates amazing ministry for Christ. Others are attracted to the leader and over time a community forms. But once the Spirit-filled leader is gone, those remaining assume his or her ministry can and should be perpetuated. The wind of the Spirit may have shifted, but they want it to keep blowing in the same direction. So, an institution is established based on the departed leader’s purpose, vision, and values. If these are rigorously maintained, it is believed, then the same Spirit-empowered results that were evident in the leader’s life will continue through the institution. Many ministries and denominations originated in just this way–with success defined not merely by faithfulness but by longevity.

To me, this is a great example of people serving in positions and roles within an institution instead of serving out of the passion and gifting that God provides. The original, godly, respected, and popular leader probably served out of a God-given passion and gifting. Then, upon his absence, the people attempt to continue his “ministry” by filling his position with someone to do the same things. Again, read Skye’s complete article for a great discussion of the differences between the church and the institution.