Why We Need Christian Institutions, Part 4: Why We Need Both Movements AND Institutions (and Why We Need the SBC too)
As I have said before, my theological training out in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 90's at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary helped shape me from an organic, missional church perspective. I became enthralled with church planting movements and starting new things. I came to believe that the flatter the organization and the looser the structure, the better. Network Theory, especially in relation to Social Networks, dominated my thinking instead of Hierarchical, Linear, Authority-Driven structures. I still think that I am right about most of that, but I have come to realize that every great movement and organic impulse needs a place to stand and it needs shape and form and direction. We can learn from biology and botany. Nature is incredibly organized and structured and planned - to the smallest detail. Things don't just emerge or evolve out of nothing. That is actually a rather pagan view. There is a Creator with a Grand Design and Narrative and He is always at work to make things new in every possible way. He calls us to join Him in this work.
A book that was very influential to me was Roland Allen's Missionary Methods: St. Paul's Or Ours? Allen was an Anglican missionary in Africa in the early 20th century and he observed the weakness of the European and American missions there because they were fostering dependency instead of reproduction. Everything had to come back to the central head of the missionary from the West in the missionary compound. Africans came to Christ, but they were forever dependent upon the ways and means of the missionary and thus, the advance of the Gospel was bottle-necked by whatever the missionary could do or approve of. Having grown up in the Institutionalized Church of the American South where everything had to go through a committee who either said "yes" or "no" and worships and practice was pretty strictly regulated, this all seemed like a massive breath of fresh air. I thought that Allen was right. I still do. His work has been incredibly influential. However, just taking his theory and transplanting it into the 21st century American radical individualism that we now are experiencing might not be the most complete approach.
So, what do we do? I think that we need both Organic, Relational Movements as well as Christian Institutions.
1. We need our Institutions to be relational, Gospel-saturated and driven, grace-filled, Spirit-led and empowered, journeying, risking, believing, movement-oriented coalitions of followers of Jesus surrendered to live under the Lordship of Christ together in a broken world.
2.We need our Organic Bodies of Christ to be organized, structured, and well-led so that we can be equipped with vision and wisdom to carry out God's Mission together.
3. We need both - a marriage of the Institution and the Movement/Mission of God.
4. We need a place for people on the edges of the Institution to experiment and innovate and speak back into the middle and we need leaders on those edges.
5. We also need central leaders who will facilitate strength, growth, longevity, and perseverance as the community of faith learns what it means to submit to one another and work together in a mission bigger than themselves.
6. We need to be planted in our communities for the long-run and not just run off after every idea that we have about doing something new, but together, we need to do new things as the Spirit leads and as we agree to engage a lost world with the gospel together where we are.
7. We need both Institution and Movement, with the Institution serving the Movement instead of the other way around. From both perspectives, we need processes and strategies that help to foster relationships and flexibility so that both aspects of the Church and/or Christian Organization can rapidly and effectively carry out its mandate to apply the Gospel to every aspect of life.
8. We need to stop apologizing for trying to build and grow something that will exhibit the love of God through Christ to a dying world. We need to stop reacting against the mistakes of the past and move forward in joy and faith - together.
9. We need a positive vision for the future that embraces both Institution and Movement in a culture where Christianity is being moved to the very edges of society and where many are attempting to push it off the cliff. Both aspects will give us strength and stability as well as movement and innovation to go deep and create new realities that are Kingdom saturated and that tell God's Story instead of the World's or our own.
10. Finally, we need to replicate what we are doing when it is working well and release the people of God to be salt and light everywhere they go through engaging in their own Vocations and spheres of influence. That movement is already underway and whatever institutions exist need to alway be serving what God is already doing in the world through His people.
A Place for Denominations and Cooperative Mission
I amgoing to finish this series up with a perspective that I have had, but that needs to be developed further. I see real value in denominations and larger networks of Christian fellowship and work beyond the local level. I am a Southern Baptist and I cooperate with other Southern Baptists in mission through the Cooperative Program. I think that cooperative work is not just a good thing, but it is essential. We always need to be calling our denominational institutions to serve the movement of God and not have the movement serve them, but we still need these organizations to help us work together and to focus what we are doing. The problem has come in when people wrestle for control over the organization/institution and forget the movement. But, both are needed.
I have not always been the biggest supporter of denominational work because, like I have said, I am a fringe guy and I see almost everything through a relational, organic, movement lens. But, I have been wrong about some of that and more and more I see the need for larger groups, like the SBC, to work together to do more than we could do by ourselves. The SBC still needs to be led more from the edges, which is where I find myself (yes, I would like to influence from where I am), but the edges need to be influenced more from the center as well - or from leadership that sees the bigger picture. And, we all need to support each other in every possible way. I have more thinking to do here, but I guess that I am saying that I think that cooperative mission is way more important now than I used to. We'll see where that thinking leads me in the future.