What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-23-20

What’s Up with Pastor Todd 1-23-20

The above video is from church planter and consultant, Neil Cole. He is talking about a distinction between “movement” and “institution” that I first encountered in a talk by pastor, author, and activist Brian McLaren when my wife, Nicole, and I were church planters in Indiana.

I forget the details of McLaren’s talk, so I will give you my version of it. A social movement is a “loosely organized but sustained campaign in support of a social goal, typically either the implementation or the prevention of a change in society’s structure or values” (Encyclopedia Brittanica).  An institution is a set of rules, norms, patterned behaviors, and organizational structures designed to sustain the social gains of movements and pass them on to the next generation. 

McLaren argued a dynamic relationship between movements and institutions. Each needs the other. Social movements without institutional structures cannot sustain themselves. Institutions that are not periodically disrupted by social movements eventually lose their vitality and die. A powerful recent example of this dynamic in America is the Civil Rights Movement. 

McLaren’s point is that Christianity can be understood in terms of movements and institutions. The Gospels tell us that Jesus started a movement. It was only many years later when the early Christians came to understand that Jesus wouldn’t be returning within theirs or their children’s lifetimes that the instituional forms of the church began to emerge. And since that time the movement-institution dynamic has been at play in Christian cultures.

Congregational transition engages this movement-institution dynamic in a complex, improvisational way. Often congregations in transition are dealing with institutional structures that are falling apart because they just don’t “work” anymore. Instead of working harder and faster to patch up what is no longer functional, transition work allows much of that structure to fall away. Some of it, however, may have value for the church that is emerging. So we sort through what we’ve inherited and decide what to keep and what to let go of. 

Meanwhile we shift into “movement” mode. We focus on relationships and vision: that is, we build authentic relationships with people who are not yet members of the church, and we share a vision of changing the town of Granby for the better.

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