The role of institutions in the Kingdom: A short philosophy.
Innovation is rarely embraced with eagerness within religious institutional contexts. This is because the nature of institutions are fundamentally predisposed to self preservation. The prophetic critique that often creates the combustible environment for innovation is often snuffed out by the aristo and bureau-crats of the institution. This has made for an interesting dilemma for the apostle. Often scorned or perceived to be a threat to the established order, they have no other choice but to launch out with entrepreneurial passion, founding new, and often more relevant, communities, ministries and churches. This bold and courageous venture is commonly entered into without the blessing of the institution, both in word and in resources. This makes for a difficult start. (But it sure empowers faith in the living God who supplies all our needs!)
It seems that when we approach this dilemma, we always assume the existence of the IC is a given. Sort of a taken for granted notion that the IC is always a part of the equation, that apostles always emerge from with in the institutional context. Almost as if the institutional church (IC) is the mother environment from which these giftings owe their emergence. It is true that the apostle is teased into action by the frustrating dynamics of the institutional context. But these vital gifts in the body do not have to have such a dysfunctional, reactionary beginning.
I want to suggest that apostles can emerge out of organic communities in a much healthier way. Simple Church is a great environment for the apostolic gifting to not only operate, but flourish. In my past experience with the IC, apostles emerge only after they are vomited out by the institution. This happens for various reasons, but primarily because the institution can not stomach the kind of innovation that apostles seek after.
An organic community is much more conducive for the apostolic function for several reasons. In an organic, simple community, there is no building to keep funded. There is no paid staff to keep. There tends to be less concern about self preservation of an entity or established order of things. In this type of environment, apostles are free to innovate, explore and pioneer new and exciting things for God without threatening every ones "stuff". Without the institutional dynamic of self preservation at work, new and innovative efforts can move forward without bureaucratic opposition from the powers that be. The institution is not there to call into question and frustrate the efforts of apostolic innovation.
So where does that leave institutions? Do they still have a place in the Kingdom? One of the major faults of the IC is it tries to embody the full spectrum of the Kingdom within the confines of an institution. This is impossible! Most of the metaphors used by Jesus to describe the Kingdom are organic. Fruit, Yeast, Seeds, Trees. As such, the Kingdom can be expected to find its most vibrant expression in organic environments.
That being said, the Kingdom, by its very nature as the rule of God, requires engagement with all aspects of life. Institutions are a reality that will never go away. This means that the Kingdom will interact and utilize institutions. So I am not promoting an anti-institution approach to Kingdom life. What I am promoting is a repositioning, a re-framing, or as my buddy Patrick would say, a re-aligning of the institution as it relates to Kingdom tasks.
Instead of viewing the role of institutions as the primal facilitators of the entire spectrum of Kingdom activity, they should take on a more focused role of specialization in Kingdom tasks. For example, starting a Hope Pregnancy Center, a Community Garden, a Youth Center for at risk youth etc. As institutions, they will be susceptible to all the trappings of institutional dynamics. But they key difference is that they are not trying to be the end all expression of the Kingdom. They are nor broadcasting themselves as striving to be the full embodiment of the Kingdom. They are specific, focused efforts to embody the Kingdom in specific ways.
What I am saying is that we need to turn the whole thing on its head. The spontaneous, organic, fluid environment of Simple Church can be a breeding ground for the birth of new and innovative communities, including institutions that have specific Kingdom tasks. Apostles do not have to be the step children of the IC, or the refugee poster children of missionary societies. Institutions do not have to be shunned or hopelessly tolerated by Simple Church. They can be an expression of Kingdom tasks, having their origins in the fertile evironment of organic communities.