The “Church” vs. the institutions (For church and ministry workers)

Two weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a Kenyan church-worker friend of mine, and we were discussing the problem of getting involvement in church programs. This has been a problem with every church I’ve worked for and known.

As church workers, because we sacrifice so much of our lives for our churches or ministries, we subconsciously tend to measure spirituality in terms of church involvement. The new generation sees right through this. If we want to engage them spiritually, we need to use the structures of the church to encourage them spiritually and engage society rather than using them to prop up our own institutional dreams.

Here are some excerpts from a recent posting that addresses this problem. “They love the church, but not the institution.”

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 see this dichotomy most clearly when it comes to volunteer service. As church leaders we often feel compelled to draw more people into the institution’s programs to serve. . .

. . . 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. . .

. . . 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). 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.

. . . This is the heart of my dilemma. I sometimes feel the energies and time I pour into the institution doesn’t translate into God’s people being more equipped for the ministry of loving God and neighbor. Could my spiritual and personal resources bear more fruit if poured into real people (the church), rather than into the institutional trough they feed from on Sundays?


. . . In our consumer culture we’ve come to believe that institutions are the vessels of God’s Spirit and power . . . 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.

. . . Rather than focusing on reproducing a leader’s methodology by constructing an institution, we ought to focus on reproducing his or her devotion to God—but that is a far more challenging task. As Willard writes, “One cannot write a recipe for this, for it is a highly personal matter, permitting of much individual variation and freedom. It also is dependent upon grace—that is, upon God acting in our lives to accomplish what we cannot accomplish on our own.”

. . .

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 do we make people dependent on the institution for their growth?
But: How do we equip people to grow independent of the institution.

One thought on “The “Church” vs. the institutions (For church and ministry workers)

  1. coldfire says:

    This is a great point. Recently, the youth pastor I help out with was frustrated because almost none of the students wanted to go to Mexico to help us build a house. They all went to a David Crowder Band concert instead. This tells us very little about their spirituality, but my pastor is very upset about it. I think there needs to be a balance, because there are a lot of things the youth pastor might not understand or other variables and he is so frustrated.

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