The Intensive Care Unit in any hospital is where the most critical care necessary to sustain life takes place. Patients in the ICU are usually lingering between life and death. Very often, they are sedated to the point that they are completely oblivious to their surroundings. Their life is being sustained by a plethora of artificial means. The doctors and medical personnel monitor the patient, and work around the clock in an attempt to keep them alive.
The church is often referred to as a hospital. It is supposed to be a place where those who are broken and damaged can go and be healed. But what happens when the hospital itself is fighting for survival?
Gradually, the level of patient care becomes motivated by the needs of the hospital. If the hospital is attempting to sustain its own life, I would like to suggest that, its patient care and life-support systems (as elaborate as they may be) have become more self-serving than patient healing.
Those who worship in church, as we most commonly know it, did not label themselves as the institutional church. Maybe some have referred to the ‘institution of the church’ to describe its long history. However, the moniker ‘institutional church’ seems to have been popularized by those who have left it in search of other forms of worship. I have read many statements, articles, and blogs from those who attempt to expose all of the ‘evils’ of the Institutional Church. Within those groups there is, usually subtle and, at times, overt negative connotation associated with the term ‘institutional church’.
The Lord saved me in an institutional church setting and I suspect the same applies to the great majority of you reading this article. Yes, there are problems that need to be addressed, but there are just as many problems within the organic, house, and simple churches, too. As long as people are involved in any form of church – there will be problems.
I believe that the large corporate gathering, commonly known as the institutional church, is one component of the tri-part nature of the church. It is incomplete without the organic house to house gathering of believers, combined with the 'equipping of the saints' by ascension gift ministers. The large corporate gathering without the latter two components is like trying to ride a tricycle with only one wheel. This month, I want to take a look at the Institutional Church. I want to look at it on three levels as being Unplugged, Uncovered, and, most of all, Underestimated.
The Institutional Church Unplugged I have one of those cable company bundles. My telephone, internet, and television cable are all interconnected. Occasionally, there is a problem and I need to contact customer support. It is amazing that many times I am instructed to disconnect my system from its power source – wait a few moments – and then reconnect it. What is more amazing is that this simple procedure often corrects the problem.
What is powering the institutional church? Most would declare their power is from the Lord Jesus Christ. Others would say they are powered by the Holy Spirit. And still others will cite the Word of God as their power. May I suggest that although Jesus Christ is in their messages, the Holy Spirit is recognized, and the Word of God is used, that none of these are the source of their power? Most are using alternative power sources to stay alive. What are these alternative sources? Churches are creating more and more programs and events to attract new members. More time is spent entertaining than evangelizing. Space will not allow me to write of the many quirky things being done to fill the pews.
The only source of power should be the preaching of Jesus Christ alone (Romans 1:16; 1Corinthians 15:1-6). Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). If people are not being saved, equipped and set free, it may be a reflection of what we are preaching. Yes, I am an advocate of the house, simple, and organic church. But my prayer is that I spend more time preaching Christ - His death, His burial, and His resurrection - more than I preach ‘it’ – a church methodology.
The Institutional Church Uncovered There is times that what you see on the surface does not reflect what lies underneath a thing. Very few churches would openly say that their primary goal is to survive. It would appear disingenuous for them to admit that everything they do is framed to insure they remain in existence.
A few years ago I sat in a board meeting of a mega-church as they grappled with advertising strategies. They were intending to release a series of television ads designed to reach various segments of their immediate area. The thing that stood out to me was a comment made by one of the associate pastors. “After all,” he said, “The real issue is to get more butts in the pews!” It soon became clear to me, that to them ‘more butts in the pews’ equated to ‘more dollars in the coffers’. It was a graphic illustration of survival. Throughout the meeting, there was little or no discussion of the impact of the gospel in the lives of men and women.
Although this example was a poignant one for me, I suspect that many churches are having similar discussions behind closed doors. The pressure to meet the weekly, monthly, or annual budgets is intense. Salaries, mortgages, and operating expenses must be met. Churches silently compete with each other, each one trying to find their niche to out-perform the church down the street. On the surface, we boast about the number of souls saved and the number of baptisms we had. Underneath, we are calculating the financial gain new people will produce.
The danger in all this is that often the gospel is in jeopardy of being compromised. These institutional churches are in a Catch-22 position. They walk a tightrope of not offending existing members, while at the same time being provocative enough to attract new comers. They want to appear relevant without being religious. It creates the danger of turning a blind eye to the infractions of big tithers. Sanctification is, at times, sacrificed on the altar of survival. This has unwittingly created a culture where those who attend our churches have very little desire to do more than come and be entertained. "Going into all the world and making disciples" has become the task of professional clergy rather than the body of Christ as a whole.
The Institutional Church Underestimated Whether or not you agree with what I have written, we must never lose sight of the power of the institutional church system. It is a system so ingrained into our religious psyche that the very thought of changing it creates a sense of fear. For those of us who are pursuing organic, simple, or house church, we often find it difficult to use language that expresses our current paradigm. It seems as though everything we say evokes images of familiar patterns and practices found in the institutional church system.
What do you think of when you hear the word church? Do you think of a dedicated place of worship or a covenant gathering of believers doing the work of ministry? Do you think of where you go rather than who you are? Your view of the church determines whether or not you believe it needs to be changed. If you agree that there are problems that need to be addressed, then your view of the church will determine how you approach these issues. If you underestimate the power the institutional church system has on the mindset of most believers, it will be impossible to change it for the better.
So what do we do?
As radical as it may appear, I believe we need to do three things. First, we must not underestimate what the power of all we have learned in the past has on our minds today. Change is not easy. It requires effort and courage to admit that you may have been doing this ‘church thing’ wrong. Second, we must be honest with ourselves. We must uncover our motives for doing what we do. Does my need to keep our church alive supersede our mission to make disciples? In other words, are disciples equated to new members for our church rather than believers who are going to all the world?
This article appeared in the March issue of The American Church Magazine. Get your free subscription today!
I was recently in a mall in Indianapolis, Indiana where one of the major anchor stores was remodeling a section of their main floor. The area was cordoned off and covered to the ceiling with a tarp to protect shoppers from the construction taking place. We may have all probably seen signs that read, ‘PLEASE EXCUSE OUR DUST WHILE WE ARE REMODELING’, or ‘CAUTION: THIS AREA IS UNDER CONTSTRUCTION’. The store was still open, but clearly there were improvements being made out of view of the shopping public.
The improvements this store was making were physical. Yet, often these same stores spend millions of dollars implementing new policies and procedures they believe will enhance their business. Such changes address how the employees think about the business. They are unseen because the implementation begins in what is understood over what is done. While new policies and procedures are being formulated, the store remains open using the old policies and procedures.
My ministry work at this time is spent transitioning the church my wife and I founded twenty years ago into a network of interdependent house church gatherings. The finished product will, undoubtedly, be different from what most of us have ever seen. We have been ‘under construction’ for nearly eight years, because like most, we are ingrained with the traditional church system and change is not easy. At times it has been challenging, but it has never ceased to be exciting. Like the store in the mall, we remain open in a traditional manner while the construction is going on behind the scenes.
For those who don’t understand what we are doing, I wish I could post a sign that says, PLEASE EXCUSE OUR DUST, OUR CHALLENGES, OUR ISSUES AND OUR MISTAKES – WHILE WE ARE BECOMING THE CHURCH JESUS WANTS US TO BE. For those who are trying to figure out the difference between house church gatherings and cell church, I want to post a sign that reads, CAUTION: THIS AREA IS UNDER CONSTRUCTION. I would like to enclose this area of our work off so that passersby and curious onlookers won’t wander into the ‘construction area’ until it is ready for view.
But the reality is we remain open to the public until the work is complete. My brother once stated our situation this way, “While we are building the unusual, we must keep the usual in order.”There are two types of renovations – the physical and the policy and procedural. We are doing both. The physical renovations are the house gatherings we are developing. It is easy to gather a few people in a living room to sing, pray, and share with each other. But the policy and procedural changes are more challenging. It is more of a challenge to teach why we are doing this, and to equip people with the purpose over the practice. I find that people tend to measure any new idea against old practices.
In each article I write, I state that Jesus is still building His Church – His Way – in the 21st Century (Matthew 16:18-19). Jesus declared to His disciples that He would build His Church. He is still building His Church today with lively stones that have a revelation that He is the Christ, Son of the Living God. His building plan requires that Christ be formed in every member in His Church. When this happens, the glory of the latter house will be much greater than the former.
He is building her after the values from which she was birthed on the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is leading believers to resurrect the simple methodologies that were so effective in the first century. These methods must include the ‘policy and procedural’ changes necessary to sustain our outward activities. These are expressed in the core values we embrace. That is the purpose of this article, to outline the five core values that I believe is the heart of the New Testament Church. I believe values are the foundation of sound doctrine. In our ministry, these are the ‘policies and procedures’ we are learning in our renovation project.
In my book, No Longer Church As Usual (Second Edition), I give greater detail to each of these values; but, I pray, this brief summary will give you a glimpse of the heart of our Lord’s glorious church.
This article appeared in the February issue of The American Church Magazine. Get your free subscription today!
Whenever the Lord does something new in the earth – why is it that only a few people seem to understand it?
And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:17-18)
Fresh revelation never fits into the current status quo. Fresh revelation often challenges our religious comfort zones and forces us to re-think patterns and belief systems. True revelation often produces conflicts. Those who have a vested interest in the current traditions and religious system are many times the most vocal against the new revelation. It was the religious leaders who resisted Jesus and the apostles (John 11:47-48; Acts 14:1-4). Jesus himself pointed out that there is only one force, one stronghold that “sets aside” and “nullifies” the revealed will of God – human traditions (cf. Mark 7:1-23; cf., Frank Viola, Reimagining Church, p. 42).
To some, fresh revelation is no more than ‘religious information’. These people often have a ‘take it or leave it’ attitude. They ‘take it’ if they receive some personal benefit, but ‘leave it’ if they have to leave their comfort zones. They forget that God does not give suggestions. He expects us to obey His Word. Our comfort is not His motivation – the accomplishment of His will is.
In the last days, God promised that He would pour out His Spirit upon ALL flesh. The evidence will be dreams, visions and prophecy. Some of the prophetic utterances is the release of fresh insight into the purposes of God for this season. Pouring out His Spirit is 'God-Speaking' His purpose for the His Church. His purpose has already been revealed in scripture (Genesis 1:28; Ephesians 3:10-11), however how it will be manifested is being released as we are able to handle it. What we consider 'fresh revelation' is in fact the unveiling of God's already established will for this generation. The problem is that we often become so enamored with the last revelation that we become blinded to any new truth.
Again, fresh revelation that is new to us has always been in the mind of God. He desires “…to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:9). Our carnal nature, our traditions, our fear of losing our position in the church, and satan often blinds us from seeing what God is saying. God will never stop revealing His purposes and His will. You must decide if you will hear and obey.
The church as we know it is in transition. This is a prophetic fact. The Barna Group has done research showing a growing restlessness among believers in the traditional church. Two of their articles that explore church attendance and the growing house church attendance are recommended reading. In the mind of many, there is something missing in the church. People are seeking a more meaningful experience in church.
Is there something we are missing? Yes, it is the New Testament Church. It is the church we see demonstrated in scripture. It is a church that is governed by elders, developed by ministry gifts and where the believers primarily gather in homes rather than dedicated buildings (Acts 2:46; 14:23; Ephesians 4:11-12). It is a church where the Kingdom Mandate is a lifestyle (Genesis 1:28). This type of church has always been in the mind of God, even though to us it may seem to be new.
What causes us to miss all that God is pouring out? It is our traditions and our flesh. For the natural man is not able to take in the things of the Spirit of God: for they seem foolish to him, and he is not able to have knowledge of them, because such knowledge comes only through the Spirit (1Corinthians 2:14 Bible in Basic English). Fresh revelation regarding the structure of the New Testament Church is being released by God through apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:5). I am one of many with a mandate to release this revelation in the earth. You must determine how much your traditions rule you. Only you can determine how you will respond to what God is speaking.
The Apostle Paul prayed that your eyes will be open to see all that God is doing in the earth today (Ephesians 1:17-20). Are you committed to obeying God at all cost. I believe you are. Yes, the revelation being released in the earth regarding the Church may be new to you, but rest assured that God has your best interest in his heart. How will you respond?
Ask yourself: If you found that you were not doing something that the bible said you should be doing – what sacrifices would you make to obey God?
Tim Kurtz is the founder of The Center for New Testament Church Development. The ministry was formed in 2010 with the mission to plant regional churches that reflect the values and structure of the first century church.