the weblog of Alan Knox

When institutions get in the way

Posted by on Apr 17, 2008 in community, discipleship, edification, fellowship, gathering, service | 3 comments

A couple of days ago, as part of a synchroblog, I published a post called “Give a little bit?” In response to that post, an anonymous commenter left the following comment:

Considering your concerns with “how we do church,” do you think this has an affect on how much we do for the poor, downtrodden, needy, etc?

For example, it is a well known fact that for most churches the offerings they receive are spent mostly upon staff and buildings. In my church approximately 85% of our annual giving goes to these things. This leaves only 15% for ministry in our church and for missions efforts. We do almost nothing for the poor.

And of course most people feel very obligated to support their church first, before anything else. I’d like to give to some other organizations that do work with those in need, but I feel bad about neglecting the “budget of the church.” And since I give about $600.00 a month of my income already (I know this isn’t really a great amount and would really like to do more eventually), it is hard at the time to find other money in my own budget to support other ministries besides the church.

Additionally, because the ministries of the church must run smoothly, most people are encouraged to give their time to the programs (aka ministries) of the church. Although these programs are not in and of themselves bad, in fact many of them are really good, they are mainly geared to those in the church. This leaves people very little time in an already busy life to show concern to the “outside” world.

Alot of the time it seems our resources are all used up (time, talent, and treasure) to “build” the church. But I sometimes wonder what we are really building and if it is really what Jesus had in mind for us to build.

So by the way we “do church,” it seems we have diminished people’s ability to share their time or their money with those in need outside of the church.

Does this make sense? There seems to be a corrolation to me. Maybe not always, but at least often. What do you think?

To answer the questions raised by the anonymous commenter: Yes, this does make sense, and yes, you are making the connection between “doing church” and believers’ abilities to model their life after Scripture.

Let me put it this way… I’m often asked if I’m against church programs or structures or organization. I’ve written about this before, but its worth another visit. I am not against church programs or structure or organization. I am concerned when programs, structures, organizations, and other institutional elements become equated with being the church or obeying God’s will for his children.

Let me explain… As the anonymous commenter described above, church organizations often encourage (or stronger) their members to give in order to maintain the organization. They are asked to give toward building more buildings, buying more literature, purchasing more equipment and supplies… and the giving is associate with giving in Scripture. But, in the New Testament, giving is always associated with people, especially people in need. Giving is not associated with church structures and organizations in Scripture. Thus, a person who gives to a church institution is not following the scriptural commands or the scriptural model of giving. Plus, if giving to a church organization means that the person does not have any money to give to people in need, then giving to the church organization is actually causing people to disobey.

But, this goes much farther than the realm of giving. Think about spending time with neighbors, coworkers, friends, family members, and others who need to see and hear a good news witness. If almost every moment is spent on “church activities”, then when do people have time for others? If we meet on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night… then Tuesday night for “evangelism training”, then Friday night for “youth activities”, then Saturday for “children’s activities”… do we actually ever get around to spending time with the world – the ones who need a child of God in their lives the most?

When do we have time for fellowship? – not sharing a meal with 1000 other people, but sharing your life (and a meal) with a few. When do we have time for discipleship? – not listening to a professional teach for 30 – 45 minutes, but actually impacting the lives of other believers by spending time with them. When do we have time to teach and train our children? – not dropping them off in the nursery or children’s church or Sunday school, but actually taking the time to demonstrate a life of faith for them.

I am not against church institutions. However, institutions tend to become an end to themselves. When this happens – when the structures, organizations, meetings, and programs of the “church” become more important than edifying, discipling, fellowshiping… living a life of faith… then the institutions become dangerous and damaging to believers. The child of God thinks that he or she is obeying God and growing in maturity because he or she is taking part in the institutional programs. Instead, he or she may simply be growing closer to the institution. Being involved in the institutions replaces living a life of faith – trusting God for everything.

I am not against church institutions. But, I am much more in favor of believers living their lives in a manner that demonstrates their faith in God in everything that they do. Sometimes, church institutions hinder that kind of life.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-18-2008

    Oh that our churches looked like this:

    42They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

    It seems they resemble it little if at all.

  2. 4-18-2008


    Even though you are on the other side of the planet, you can probably hear my applause for your post.

    The denominational churches with which I have been involved for most of my life have been sold the lie that what our forefathers decided, and entrenched in the ” authorized version of The Constitution”,is the way the church must operate.

    Even Scripture is subservient to “the-way-we’ve-always-done-it”, consequently, a review of “The Constitution” is viewed as seriously as rewriting Scripture.

    Someone once said that the famous last words of a church is, “We’ve never done it that way before”!

    My last ten years of eldership responsiblity was with a non-denominational independent church who met in rented premises and gave away every penny above the rental costs (which were very small).

    What a difference!

  3. 4-19-2008

    It also seems that the NT church had no demands on what they give. It was given freely and the Apostles (later I assume the Elders) determined the need. So if a Body determines that the common good is to fund a ministry, is there really a violation of any biblical command?

    And if it is, then what then should the individual do? Is it right then for the person who does not agree with the leadership to simply find a local Body that shares their values and by common consent their money would go to that body’s agreed upon need?

    But is it fair to judge one church’s faithfulness to the Gospel based on another church’s budget? Is that not left to the Spiritual leadership of each church?

    What do you think?