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The Church: Embassy or Institution?

Updated: Feb 10, 2020

The church has two great temptations that steal her identity as embassies of the king. The first is institutionalism. By institutionalism, we mean that mindset which relies on the cultural expectation of church participation once enjoyed by Christianity in the United States. Like a community school that everyone inevitably attends or at least supports - the institutional mindset says “we’ve always been here, people will come.”

The institutional mindset assumes that people are looking for a good church. If they’re looking for a good church, we just have to be the best church (in the area, or of that specific tradition) to attract people. It’s the Field of Dreams - build it and they will come. The reality is that this mentality largely trades Christians from one church to the next like rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Just having the best programs, theology, music, preacher, or people isn’t enough. Why? Because The church doesn’t have institutional and cultural clout any more.

The fastest growing religious group in America is “none.” People with no religious identity or background aren’t looking for the best church. To think that they are is like telling someone who is looking for a cup of coffee that you happen to have a left shoe that they might enjoy. You are answering a question that they aren't asking.

Institutionalism makes two false promises to people trying to do #churchrenewal and #churchrevitalization. First, if more people are coming we must be doing it right. But where are people coming from? Are you largely growing by Christians being rearranged from another church to yours? Or is Jesus using your church to gather his lost sheep and bringing them home? Are you steeling sheep from another Christian shepherd, or are you steeling lost sheep away from the Kingdom of Darkness for the Kingdom of Light? Are you growing by Christians moving around or by conversion? 

The second false promise is that you can do it on your own: build the best church and people will come. Just get everything right and you’ll be fine. But it’s a false gospel. We can’t save ourselves by being the best. You can read the right books and articles and come up with the right programs to get people into your church. You can't convert people's heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Only the Spirit can do that. The institutional mindset doesn't need the Holy Spirit it needs tactics. The embassy mindset says we have to go out there where it's hard. Those tactics can be the best doctrine, music, or program. Real #churchrenewal takes Jesus seriously when he says:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

If “nones” are looking for anything it’ll be the gospel - even if they don’t know it. This is a world full of false promises and hopes. People are hungry for the gospel.

If nones have to come into your church to hear the gospel most aren’t going to hear it. They’re going to hear it in their lives and relationships. Institutionalism says they have to come here. The embassy mindset says “we’ll come to you.” 

Jesus has sheep in other folds and he’s going to get them. The ordinary way he does that is through the preaching of the gospel and the witness of the church. If we don’t go to the other pens to gather Christ’s flock, we aren’t taking serious the mission he’s given us. If we sit back in our pen and think “oh, the good sheep will just come” we’ve fallen into the institutional mindset.

The good news is that Jesus invites us to join him in his mission and by his grace and repentance we can recover that mission. Are you struggling to recover the embassy mindset and fight off institutionalism? We'd love to hear your story. Contact Flourish or find us on Facebook or Twitter to open up a dialogue.


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