the weblog of Alan Knox

Church or Institution

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

Skye Jethani has written a very good article for “Out of Ur” called “They Love the Church but Not the Institution“. In this article, Skye examines the differences between the church as the people of God and the church as the institutions and organizations built by and around the people of God. He says:

I genuinely love the church; the community of God’s people who are together striving, and often failing, to pursue Christ and his mission. I love the men, women, and children that I share my life with, worship with, and serve alongside. I have even found myself feeling an unexpected love (although not always) for a critical church member complaining in my office, or the cantankerous person who seems to delight in disagreeing with my perspective on even mundane issues. Admittedly, mine is an imperfect love of the church, but it is real.

What I don’t love is the 501c3 tax-exempt institution we incorrectly refer to as “the church.” For decades we’ve heard the old adage, “the church isn’t a building, it’s the people.” We’ve come to recognize that the brick and mortar structure isn’t the church, but somehow we haven’t had the same epiphany about the intangible structures of the institution. In many peoples’ imaginations the church remains a bundle of programs, committees, policies, teams, ministries, initiatives, budgets, and events. Most people speak of “the church” the same way they refer to “the government” – it’s a hierarchy of leaders managing an organization that they engage but remain apart from…

I am not anti-institution. I am not one of those rabid fluid-organic-anti-linear-pomo-loosy goosey-anti-establishment church people. 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).

Please read the entire article. I think it is one of best articles I’ve read which describes the difference between the church and the institution, between focusing on people and the organization. I think that Skye does a great job of pointing out the differences between the church – which is a people birthed by God – and the institution – which is a creation of man.

I’ve written a few times on the differences between the church and the organization (“The Church or the Organization“, “Am I against church programs?“, “Models and Methods and Forms, oh my“, “Creating Church Organization“). I think it is very important to recognize that the church and the organization of the church are not the same thing. The “one anothers” of Scripture drive our hearts toward other people, not the models and forms and organizations that we create.

Like Skye said, I am not anti-organization. It is impossible for a group of people – even two people – to meet without some type of organization. However, if organization is allowed to continue unchecked and unquestioned, it will tend to replace the people as our driving force (i.e. people filling a position or role instead of people serving from their passion and through their gifts).

Do you agree or disagree? Can the organization replace the people as the driving force? Is this a problem? Should we be concerned about it? What do you do when people love or serve the organization instead of the people?