Tuesday, December 11, 2007

31. The Role of Institutions in the Kingdom

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.

Monday, December 10, 2007

30. The Process of Institutionalization

The Process of Instiutionalization (PI) is a complex phenomenon. While looking into this topic, there have been several times that I have sat back and wondered "How deep does the rabbit hole go?" This topic can be approached from so many different angles and has so many nuances that it is difficult to give a "one size fits all" description of the PI. For example, an individual may experience the PI on a personal level long before the group takes on an institutional feel or look. This personal dynamic requires a whole different diagram and discussion. (forthcoming hopefully.) This is also true from the other perspective. An individual can remain "uninstitutionalized" well into the life of a group that has been officially institutionalized.

Having said all of that, there are some fundamental elements to the PI that have a somewhat universal presence. This diagram is an overly simplified view of some of these elements in the process. The PI can happen on an individual level far before it manifests itself and is embodied in a group context..The pyramid is inverted to represent the small beginnings of a group of about 10-15 people. The increase in group size is represented by the expanding width of the pyramid as it moves upward. The next level would be 15-50 people. The next would be 50-200 and so on. Use your imagination.

The size of a group is critical to the development of the PI. As a group expands in size, it is propelled into the different phases of the process. This increase in the size of a group brings with it certain needs that demand a response from the group. Who is going to be responsible for __________? How will we accomplish __________? What about ____________? When the needs of the group reach this level of complexity, it forces the group to divvy out the work to preassigned roles. As a result, a hierarchy is either formally, or naively, informally created. As the group grows even larger, the needs of the group outweigh the capacity of the individuals to address them. (hi amanda) This is when the need for full or part time staff arises. This is usually accompanied with a central facility out of which to operate, if that has not already been acquired.

This process outlined above, though vague and lacking all the elements of this complex phenomenon, gives us a good framework to discuss the tipping point of institutionalization for a community. From a sociological perspective, once habits are formed by the group, with a certain degree of frequency, say once a week, then they are already flirting with institutionalization. Repetition is the fertile soil from which the seeds of institutionalism sprout. This is an important factor to keep in mind when we talk about the "institutional church" as opposed to the "organic church."

I would like to suggest a subtle, yet significant word to introduce into the conversation.


This term acknowledges the fact that, despite our best efforts, there will always be an element of the PI in our communities. Because we will undoubtedly develop patterns, habits and even rhythms of behavior in our communities, we will always be flirting with institutionalism. There will always be, from a sociological perspective, an institutional element in our communities. This is true without even addressing the size issue and all the complex dynamics that surface when a house church goes from one group to three groups or goes from 10 to 20. I think we would all agree that when we say "The Institutional Church" (IC) we are coining a term to describe what churches have become as a result of the PI. For most of us, our experience with the IC has led us to encounter some of the worst repercussions of institutional dynamics. Hierarchical control, abuse of authority, money centered, self-preservation, ritualism, traditionalism, corporate-ized ethics and methods in discipleship and evangelism etc. To call this type of church an IC is exactly on target in my opinion. But my word of caution to us is that we not become naive to the fact that there are also elements of institutionality in our own communities. Naivety on our part in this area will make us susceptible to becoming the very thing we have fled. Instead of being a traditional IC, we will be an IC with a different look.

The discerning question then is not "Are we institutional?" but "What degree of institutionality is our group experiencing?" Or more specifically, "What is the tipping point, and how do we stay organic and fluid enough so that we do not fall prey to the monstrous demands of the institutional dynamics?" (Maybe some one needs to come up with a top 10 list of "You know your institutional if....) The real goal is to avoid the constraints and limitations that come from being institutional. This will of course mean that we will want to avoid becoming a full blown institution. But the distinction I am calling for has to do with identity and focus. Our focus and identity come from the gospel and embodying this gospel in the world, not from being "non-institutional." I may be stating the obvious, but it is worth saying none the less. Being organic and non-institutional is a tool for the mission, not the mission itself. There is a big difference.

This tipping point in the PI will be different for every group. It will not be a clear cut and predictable line that can be laid over top of random communities in a universalized fashion. It will ultimately need to be communally discerned through objective analysis, intuition, and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Trust me, those who are phobics about institutionalism, of which I am one, will sound the alarm when we have begun to progress (or should I say digress) into heightened levels of institutionality. You know the deal.

As rule of thumb, staying small goes a long way in safe guarding the PI. I don't say this as a cry for huddling up in our own little worlds and not engaging the mission of God. But can't we be on mission with God and still be organic, fluid, flexible and free from institutional constraints? I would say yes! Thank God yes! This is what the Simple/House Church movement is saying at this moment. It is an experiment for us personally, and I am loving every minute of it!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

29. The Bureaucratization of the Church

Check out this quote from Peter Berger's book The Sacred Canopy. This guy even fore casted the seeker sensitive movement and the "marketing" of religious goods by churches to a pluralistic society. He was writing in the 70's!!!!

"The contemporary situation of religion is thus characterized by a continual bureaucratization of the religious institutions. Both their internal and their external social relations are marked by this process. Internally, the religious institutions are not only administered bureaucratically, but their day to day operations are dominated by the typical problems and “logic” of bureaucracy. Externally, the religious institutions deal with other social institutions as well as with each other through the typical forms of bureaucratic interaction. “Public relations” with the consumer clientele, “lobbying” with the government, “fund raising” with both government and private agencies, multifaceted involvements with the secular economy (particularly through investment)- in all these aspects of their “mission” the religious institutions are compelled to seek “results” by methods that are, of necessity, very similar to those employed by other bureaucratic structures with similar problems. Very importantly, the same bureaucratic logic applies to the dealings of the several religious institutions with each other.
Bureaucracies demand specific types of personnel. This personnel is specific not only in terms of its functions and requisite skills, but also in terms of its psychological characteristics. Bureaucratic institutions both select and form the personnel types they require for their operation. This means that similar types of leadership emerge in the several religious institutions, irrespective of the traditional patterns in this matter. The requirements of bureaucracy override such traditional differentiations of religious leadership as “prophet” versus “priest”, “scholar" versus "saint,” and so forth. Thus it does not matter very much whether a certain bureaucratic functionary comes out of a protestant tradition of “prophetic” ministry or a Catholic tradition of “priestly” one – in either case, he must above all adapt himself to the requirements of his bureaucratic role." Berger, Peter. Sacred Canopy p. 139-140

Especially interesting to me is his observation about the nature of intstitutional demands for personnel. If we apply this to the gifting in the body of Christ, just think about how many gifts are being wasted and under developed in the institutional church. the very nature of the institution does not allow giftings to operate. It is a black hole that is concerned about self preservation and maintenance. Doesn't it strike you odd that an institution can pretty much function without ever drawing on the rich fund of APEPT giftings?