There is an incredible distrust of institutions these days.
Where can we turn to find an institution that people believe is out for their common good? Church? Government? Banks? Newspapers?
According to Gallup only 32% of Americans have any confidence in the 14 major national institutions to perform their necessary duties. The bottom line according to Gallup is
Americans clearly lack confidence in the institutions that affect their daily lives: the schools responsible for educating the nation’s children; the houses of worship that are expected to provide spiritual guidance; the banks that are supposed to protect Americans’ earnings; the U.S. Congress elected to represent the nation’s interests; and the news media that claims it exists to keep them informed
Is Life Together Falling Apart?
Everywhere we look, the major institutions that give shape to our common life together seem to be falling apart. Or at least they are making a huge mess of things. Because of the failure and hidden pain hiding in so many institutions (seen clearly in the #MeToo movement that feels similar to the church sex abuse scandals before it) it can be tempting to think the only solution to the abuses of power seen in institutions is to stay disorganized.
Hugh Heclo in his excellent book titled, On Thinking Institutionally sums up this modern impasse really well:
Institutions can evoke our distrust because we need them so much…We moderns have a culture-based distrust of institutions both because they get in our way and also because we cannot get out of their way. In the modern mental landscape, institutional distrust goes with the territory.
However, to allow the failures of institutions to shape our imagination or determine our capacity for wholeness in our common life is to shut out the potential movement of the Spirit.
When the Church First Organized
In Acts 6, Jewish widows from different origins or cultures were being treated differently in the daily distribution of food. The early church was growing rapidly and the mission seemed alive but inequality was growing alongside of the numbers of new disciples. So, the early leaders of the church stopped, recognized the inequality, discerned and chose other wise leaders to take on the responsibility for providing for all the widows regardless of their cultural background, and better organized the distribution of food.
Getting organized is not anti-mission. Getting organized might actually be a sign of the Spirit at work for those whom are most easily left out. Getting organized might be a sign of justice being practiced for the sake of the community. Getting organized might just be a sign of the Spirit of God bringing equity to all people regardless of their nation of origin or culture.Getting organized is not anti-mission. Getting organized might actually be a sign of the Spirit at work for those whom are most easily left out. Click To Tweet
Don’t let the prevalent attitude of distrust and anger keep you from also being organized. By all means, please, please recognize the inequality and injustice happening by the institutions and side with the victims and marginalized humans whose lives are impacted by institutional failures.
But don’t throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Get organized. Put practical steps to your mission and relationships so that those who are experiencing inequality will experience justice and tangible hope like the early church and leaders did with the Jewish widows.
Institutions have failed us. Institutions will fail us. However, getting organized isn’t a governor on the mission of God. Getting organized helps create intentional space for different kinds of leadership. Getting organized could very well be a sign that the Holy Spirit is at work for our shared life together and one more step towards the Kingdom being on earth as in heaven.
Four Practical Ways to Get Organized
A couple practical things missional leaders and church planters can do to get organized are:
- Measure outcomes not outputs. My friend Chris Folmsbee says that “Programs are portals for relationships.” Activities, events, running a food pantry, even formational groups can be good portals for relationships. But, are you paying attention to the kind of people being shaped by the programs? What are the outcomes (widows being fed and included, neighborhoods more connected, less polarized relationships, etc.) from your outputs (food program for underserved families, book studies, small groups, etc.)? Lots of things going on doesn’t mean that goals are being accomplished.
- Practice good administration. If you don’t feel like you can think about this aspect of being on mission, find someone (or consider hiring someone) who is good at administration and ask them to help you put together a small team to tackle one area of work that is causing people you feel called to serve to be left out of your mission. Don’t try to fix everything at once. If this isn’t a systemic issue, but one area of work, consider getting a coach or take someone to lunch who can help you ask better questions to create better outcomes.
- Ask yourself: “What can I not NOT do?” JR Woodward asked me this question one time and it has been a helpful sounding board when I feel like there are too many things going on and the mission my church feels called to participate in is drifting out to sea without any bearings for where we are. What can you not NOT do?
- Don’t reinvent the wheel. There is a quote often attributed to Picasso and used by Steve Jobs, “Good artists copy, great artists steal” that helps relieve the pressure to always be original. Don’t be too proud to learn from other organizations that do things better. Find out who is doing the kind of work that resonates with your mission and is more organized and learn what you can learn and then put those lessons into practice.
It seems to me that when the early church called the first deacons they were getting organized so that they could be more hospitable and bring equity in relationships so that no one was left out. So, slow down and get organized so that the people who you feel called to serve are actually served.
In a cultural moment when distrust of institutions is at an all time high, getting organized is a signpost of hospitality that points to a Kingdom where “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7, NIV).” Getting organized is not anti-mission. Getting organized can help your mission to flourish.Join a Fall ’18 Learning Cohort
 Hugh Heclo, On Thinking Institutionally, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 37.
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