The Church Institution


There’s a an old joke that says something like:  "Marriage is a wonderful institution established by God.  But then again, who wants to be in an institution?"

Some might say the same about the institutional church.

6 thoughts on “The Church Institution

  1. Anonymous

    I am glad that you posted this! I’ve been feeling a lot of what you’ve been feeling and for some time as well.

    Firstly, something hasn’t “felt right” about the way we’re currently doing church, but the only thing I’ve been able to pin point is the segragational way it’s outlined at our particular church. I’ve spent a lot of time complaining and not a lot of time searching it out within myself and with God.

    So, then Dave got cancer and for a whole year people came in and out of our ‘cancer fog’ with food, encouragement, prayer, ears to listen, rides to chemo, and money when we were down and out towards the end of the journey.

    That causes one to pause and reflect on the complaints one has so frequently had.

    I don’t know that I’m at a conclusion yet. But I am in agreement with the tone of what you’ve quoted and posted here in the sense that you can’t just throw it all out because something doesn’t fit with what is preconceived or ‘comfortable’ or ‘right’ in your own eyes. Well, I mean you can, but who is that really benefiting?

    There is good in the institution, and there is bad. There is good in the individuals hearts and motives and there is also the self serving bad.

    The thing that I keep comign back to is that anything man puts his hand to is eventually going to crack under the layers of pride that he’s inevidably built with. Humility is all to uncommon in the institution and in our hearts. Being real and vulnerable is uncomfortable and scary. It’s much easier to hide behind routine and programs.

    The thing is, we can be real, and in the moment and vulnerable and humble WITHIN the programs. Wherever God has us, we can flourish. I don’t think the answer is looking at the bigger picture, I think the answers are found with God as we seek Him intimately on our own before we enter the ‘institution’ for those 2 or 3 times a week.

    Think of it as a grass roots movement….if it started small and was passed through kindness, love, service, and selflessness- well, how could it not contageously spread throughout the institution and thereby changing it?

    Or maybe I’m being unrealistic?

    I surely haven’t concluded this or profess to know the answers either….

    But again, thanks for this opportunity to get that out of my craw.

    God bless you Burt as you seek authenticity in Christ Jesus!

  2. Mike M

    My jaw is on the floor! Seriously! I’m doing back flips, PB! I’ve read every single book you mentioned in the last three months!

    I don’t know if you’ve also got wind of a ministry called “The Free Believers Network” founded by Tommy Barnett’s former assistant pastor, Darin Hufford? Google them and get their podcasts. Awesome group of people!

    We started a group on facebook for “free believers” and had over 100 people join in the first week. This thing is going to explode and no-1 is at the center running this thing. The Holy Spirit is just setting people free from the trappings of the the institution.

    One pastor in our group left the following comment in the forums and just blew us all away!


    Since I was a Senior Pastor for 30 years, perhaps I can shed some light on ?the man? and his relationship to God and the institution. When I was around 14 years old I prayed that God would help me, because when I left home I wouldn?t be going to church anymore. It was too boring. Apparently not much has changed in the past 40+ years.

    I?ve participated in a few of the great movements of God in years past–movements that God used to draw us, ignite us, purify us, and transform us, but after a few years, the institution won out. People were changed, but not the institution. Whatever life God brought to us in those spiritual revolutions eventually became analyzed, formularized, published, packaged, and sold for consumption. ?If you want revival and renewal, this is how you do it? Really?!!

    Unfortunately, nearly every pastor I?ve met over the years has either succumbed to the institution or admitted that he had done so. Regardless of how hard we try, how much we pray, and how aware we might be of that seduction, we pastors eventually fall prey to the institution and become ?the man.? Though many pastors hate being in that position, some actually embrace it and think of it as the true christian culture. How tragic.

    How does that happen? I can tell you that most pastors I?ve known over the years have begun with the same hope and desires as you. They were bored out of their mind with the endless chatter of pastors, wanting to be creative in sharing who Christ is and imparting who Christ had become in their hearts. They wanted to see life, and did all they could to practice the disciplines, follow God?s leading, and be obedient to their call. Yet, in the end, the institution seductively absorbed them into it?s programs and patterns.

    The institution has no regard for the spiritual. The structure and practice of the roman catholic church may be significantly different than that of evangelicalism, yet the foundation of the system is much the same. Institutions take what is alive and seek to clone it. They find the reproducible elements and replicate it as best they can. They produce materials, workshops, conferences, and speakers to perpetuate it. But it eventually dies because what is alive is of God, and only God. No one can replicate the life and work of God, though institutions do their best to imitate it and bring life into it.


  3. Mike M

    Think for a moment about what you would like the ecclesia (church people) meeting to be like. What have you done? Programmed what you think would be stimulating, meaningful, God-honoring, and especially God-welcoming. When I began pastoring, Acts 2:42-47 was my image of ?real? church. I did everything I could to make it happen. ?I? is the big problem. Only God can make it happen.

    So If we start with the right ingredients; Starbucks, Bible Study, personal sharing, open heart, etc. what keeps this from eventually becoming institutionalized. It worked last week so let?s do it again. After awhile, you and all your good, honest intentions eventually become institutionalized.

    How do we avoid it? If we knew the answer to that we could analyze it, publish it, sell it, etc. See what I mean? The closest I?ve come so far to the answer is this; we?ve got to let God be God. We?ve got to quit expecting and demanding that our leaders (whether it be of a coffee shop gathering of 6 or a mega church assembly of 6,000) conform to our image of ?pastor.? We?ve got to encourage our leaders to seek God and God alone. The ?Emerging Church? is seeking to be authentic and real, yet they will face the same fate of an institution if they fail to keep their focus on God.

    The demands upon a pastor for stimulation, creativity, organization, personal attention, conformity to our ideas, and fruitful results are much of what distracts pastors from the same hope and goals we all have for the ecclesia, and shoves him down the path to become the man. When pastors fight it and say ?enough,? they are urged to leave and find a new church.

    Perhaps the Brethren exemplified it best when they met to be quiet before the Lord and speak only when God had truly spoken to them. Their only expectation was that they would humble themselves in solitude to listen to God, speak only when they should speak (Prov. 13:3), and apply the truth that came during their meeting. Yes, they didn?t have Sunday School, or youth group, or nursery, or Jet Cadets, or a host of evangelism and discipleship events, or even a Starbucks, but they did have the essentials; solitude and quietness before the Lord in order to be refreshed with His Life.

    If you?ve stayed with me this far, I admire your ability to stay awake. Forgive me for rambling and roving. I don?t have the answers, but I can certainly identify with those who are tired of ?church? and desiring what is ?authentic.? May the Holy Spirit impart to this generation how to His Voice and follow His lead. Even if we give up on the institution, let us remain faithful to the ecclesia. By God?s grace she continues to become more beautiful as Christ Jesus fashions her into His image. And you are that image. Grace and Peace to you.

    Bob Bethke

    You’re welcome to join us PB.

    Oh, and BTW, are you ready to be exiled from your denomination? Cause this is probably heresy as far as their concerned. And you will loose all of your funding wherever it’s coming from. And you will be free to know and love God!

  4. Burt

    g: Thanks for sharing. How powerful and wonderful that you and Dave got to experience people being the Church during this last year. Beyond the confines of institutional thinking, it sounds like people really stepped up in love and authentically were the Body of Christ. That’s great!

    Mike: Quite an interesting comment from Bob Bethke. I appreciate you posting it. One of the things that I believe that I work hard at in my local setting is trying not to portray myself as “the man,” or “God’s man” as some might put it, as if I’m the only one in the local church who is truly “anointed” or capable. To that end, we have worked for some time to provide opportunities for mutual sharing, mutual prayer, mutual input, etc. How this develops…how I continue to develop and grow…will be an interesting journey for sure!

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