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Church: Movement and/or Institution?

by Dave Miller

You have influence or you don’t. Influence is based on relational trust.

The radical individualism of our culture means individuals who grant influence expect exclusive attention. Social media masquerades as exclusive attention, and in turn, garners influence.

The same individualism accuses “institution” with the charge of relational neglect, though good organization is a by-product of good relationships. In seeking to dismantle insititution under the battle cry of change and equity, we have now created two ironic outcomes:

  1. Historic social structures have been replaced by digital institutions that fail in the core role of historic social structures, namely, core identity and longevity. These roles provide a place for purpose, expectation, forgiveness, and restoration. Identity to clarify purpose and expectation, longevity to allow forgiveness and restoration the time necessary for growth in purpose and identity.

  2. The lack of social institutional trust has created a perpetual tide of anxiety because individuals fighting for identity no longer have one.

I grant that institutional trust will not be arbitrarily given. The foundation of institutional trust was a societal trust in our relationships to others. That societal trust is vanishing. However, the path forward is not perpetuating the radical individualism that got us here, nor is it a wholesale demand to trust institution from distant leaders. As many of my movement minded friends now say, “It is relational, before it is organizational.”

So I propose three simple ideas:

  1. Commit to deep friendships built on common foundational purpose.

  2. Commit to organizing, so others can commit to those purpose driven friendships with you.

  3. Commit to family, so children can be brought into these purpose driven friendships that build on foundational purpose for generations.

In so doing, we will find that relationships, driven by these foundational purposes, will need institution to provide the pathway for others to:

  1. Take on the core identity

  2. Provide longevity for growth and eventually leadership for the next generation.

The eventual bomb in the mix…

Leadership forgets purpose and people, defaulting to selfishness and individualism. Foundational purpose is then compromised, relationships strain in values struggles, mission drift occurs, trust is lost, organization looses its relational glue, restart is required.

However, if “institution” stays enemy #1, the fundamental desire for deep relationships of influence and trust for affecting change will continue to be undermined. We are then, still left with more grief over the loss of what we are really after; a personal community that gives us identity and purpose.

The church can be and must be, both movement and institution. If, and only if, both are built on our relationship with Jesus as we follow him as individuals AND we follow Jesus together as the church.

Institution must create movement and movement must create institution, so that the church can have influence based on relational trust.


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