Institutions are anxious, Movements are prepared to take risks.

Institutions are anxious, Movements are prepared to take risks.

The ministry I have worked with for 20 years, Fusion, has prided itself on being a Kingdom movement rather than an organisation. We would often talk about the danger of becoming like the YMCA, which started with a clear Christian ethos and evolved to simply be a community service organisation.

I am loving reading David Bosch’s book “Transforming Mission: Paradigm shifts in mission theology”. In it he says:

“There are essential differences between an institution and a movement, says H.R. Neibur (following Bergson): the one is conservative, the other progressive; the one is more or less passive, yielding to influences from outside, the other is active, influencing rather than being influenced; the one looks to the past, the other to the future. In addition we might add, the one is anxious, the other is prepared to take risks; the one guards boundaries, the other crosses them.”

I have enjoyed listening to the chairman of Y.W.A.M. talk about the danger of organisation and wrestling aloud with how Y.W.A.M., which is effectively a Christian Multi-National, copes with the dilemma of how organisation can kill the Kingdom impulse. (You can listen to the talk here: Avoid the Institutionalisation of Leadership – Lyn Green) His basic message is that as soon as you start to structure things, the heart can go missing. He affirms that structure is necessary but it needs to be a fluid structure that is regularly changing in response to needs, and even then there is a danger.

As Lyn Green points out, it is human nature to want to create structure and for that structure to determine influence, however Jesus very clearly avoided doing that. I continue to chew over the passage that I mentioned a couple of days ago:

“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matt 23:9-12)

I completely understand the desire to create structure. Without a structure, relationships become the structure and that is quite scary. There is no safety net without a structure, and as Bosch later points out, no movement that hasn’t morphed into an institution has lasted beyond it’s founders. Institution provides certainty and longevity… it just doesn’t have the same kind of impact of a movement.

Towards the end of his life, John Wesley wrote:

“I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”

The second generation of any movement face a dilemma: will they create an institution that might last, or will they hold on to the original dream that birthed the movement? History shows that most of us opt for the former option.

2 thoughts on “Institutions are anxious, Movements are prepared to take risks.

  1. But, if Bosch is correct, then by trying to stay as a movement we’re bound to kill it?

    If you take his quote to it’s fullest, the only way to save a movement is to make it an institution?

    1. He seems to be clear that a movement is not an institution, but that an institution carries the legacy of the original movement… its not a movement anymore but it seems to be the only way for it to be sustained… so yeah, not many movements have survived as movements beyond one generation…

I'd love to hear what you think...

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