Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Is Christianity a movement or an institution--lessons from the health care debate

There has been much talk about those who have shown up to "tea parties" and town halls to protest government spending and the current health care bills. Principally, the question has been, is this a genuine grass roots movement? Or are these merely events manufactured by political groups.

I'm sure that there are elements of both. But for my part, I see people who have never gone to political functions going to them. I don't condone rude behavior, such as shouting people down, but the people I have seen speaking on the news seem to be very genuine in their concern. I am interested in going to a tea part or town hall myself to get a feel for people's moods first hand.

Bussing in protesters, whether from political groups or unions, would not be a genuine movement. But providing information on where to go? This kind of "organization" does not mean that there is not a genuine movement going on.

So now let's turn to Christianity. Certainly, it began as a movement. There was no massive "institution" organizing them, no manufacturing of responses. The movement was a Jesus movement, a spreading of the message and way of life of Jesus and the kingdom of God. As people heard about this Jesus and responded to him, they passed this on by word of mouth and in the public square. Their primary public spokespeople were passionate believers, willing to die for their faith. As these Jesus followers engaged in mission together, they naturally bonded, coming together to encourage one another, break bread, and pray.

In other words, the church was the result of the movement, not the other way around. When we start with Jesus, we get a church. When we start with a church, we miss Jesus. The faith becomes all about structure, organization, following the rules, and top down management.

So what are we today--a movement or an institution? Certainly, the church has largely become institutional--inflexible, bureaucratic, and hierarchical. Consider the following:
- A movement flows wherever the message needs to go. An institution says that you must go through "government forms" and a lot of hoops to do anything.
- A movement is innovative. An institution is primarily concerned about preservation of established ways of doing things.
- A movement has natural leaders who surface as the message is being spread. An institution requires a person to run for office and have an official title, designated by the institution.

Not convinced? Try changing your assembly times each week in response to the needs of the message or community. In many churches, try doing something religious (hold a Bible study, outreach, or worship) without getting approval. Try ditching Wednesday night service for Saturday night neighborhood outreaches. What would be the response?

So you tell me--is the church a movement or an instituion?


Scott said...

I Love this quote from your blog, "When we start with Jesus, we get a church. When we start with a church, we miss Jesus." Thanks.

I believe God designed the church as an Organism (living body) not an organization. Your post fits right in line.

James Nored said...

Scott, glad you like the quote. It just seems to be so true!

Glad you found the blog, and hope you will contribute. You might also be interested in my site, the
Missional Outreach Network.