Missional Institutions?

An idea has been rumbling around, if ill-formed, in my mind for the past couple of months.

There we were, seminary professors, church pastors, and Christian leader types, having some pretty awesome and fun and challenging conversation about the missional calling of the church. And something about the setting, the gathering of folks I was truly honored to be on stage with, made me wonder if we were the group of people whom folks should be listening to about the church in mission.

Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.

Yesterday’s stop on the blog tour raised questions about how definitive cruciformity is of our Christian calling. The fact of the matter is (moving on from yesterday’s conversations) that my attempts at fidelity to Jesus very rarely, if ever, look like the cross. Many folks have influential positions and large followings–they have power. Well… I guess I might say, we have power, to a certain extent.

And as I reflected on this yesterday, I wrestled with the impossible possibility of cruciformity being institutionalized. Self-giving, self-sacrifice, death–these are not the principles of faithful administration of a large organization.

Let’s see if we can put these things together.

During the Newbigin conversation, N. T. Wright brought up the need for the church to speak truth to power, to which Pamela Wilhelms replied, “We can’t do that because we are power–or at least, dependent on it.” Our churches, our denominations, our seminaries are funded by the very power dollars that everyone complains about getting the free ride during the financial crisis; the 1% underwrite the very possibility of our having such a meeting, of churches sustained to the extent that we can have large buildings, multiple persons on staff, heavy educational requirements, and the like.

So here’s where I was sitting somewhat uncomfortably, and would love some discussion with you: to what extent can those of us who work within, depend upon, and serve through large Christian organizations speak meaningfully about “the mission of God”?

Are we free enough from the needs of self-preservation to tell the church that the mission of God is a holistic, cosmic mission of reconciliation that the church is too small to contain?

Are we free enough from the power of wealth to speak the prophetic word that, at times, needs to be spoken when an economic system becomes a source of injustice? or a hindrance to justice more generally?

Does the fact that are already filled, already rich, already kings (to paraphrase Paul’s mockery of the non-cruciform Corinthians in 1 Cor 4) render our voice mute when it comes to awakening people to the call of the mission of God?

6 thoughts on “Missional Institutions?”

  1. From a series on “Theses on the North American Church” at my blog:

    Until the church in North America stands in the world community, acknowledging it lives among the 1% of the world, and honestly answers as to whether it has lived in the simplicity, and with the hospitality and generosity of Jesus Christ toward the 99% of the rest of the world, and acts in accord with the answer given, all our other disputes over doctrinal and ethical matters are secondary. To think or act otherwise is to engage in perverse mystification of reality and constitutes a failure to “occupy” the “new creation” that is our reality since the resurrection of Jesus.

  2. I just helped lead a session in a business setting where the statement was made that you cannot pursue an organizational mission and focus on preserving your own job at the same time. That’s what a secular leader said. Why can’t we get that right in the church?

  3. this is an important conversation, and there is much that should make us uncomfortable the farther removed we are from injustice and suffering. we can’t be prophetic in word without practice, and in many ways our institutions are holding us back.

    but…having money, power or privilege shouldn’t disqualify anyone from serving in the Kingdom either. our community needs to be big enough that we can recognize privilege and identify one another’s blind spots–individually and culturally–that we may repent of what’s wrong and grow into where God is calling us.

  4. Thank you, Daniel, for this post. I think there is no simple answer to your question. But I also think that the place to start is to acknowledge that our power (be it socioeconomic and/or other forms of power) can be an obstacle for us to live a cruciform life (individually and corporately). What I often find is that people create a sophisticated theology so that we can feel comfortable with our power. Power, of course, is not in and of itself evil. Neither is money. But power has a “power” to blind us. I think the Corinthian correspondences have much to teach us. The outworking of cruciformity is found in those letters, where Paul shows us God’s power in our weaknesses.

  5. “Does the fact that are already filled, already rich, already kings (to paraphrase Paul’s mockery of the non-cruciform Corinthians in 1 Cor 4) render our voice mute when it comes to awakening people to the call of the mission of God?”

    It certainly means that we can’t say with Peter, “Silver and gold have I none…”

    1. To me this question is a question of which narrative we are more in. If our religious institutions are a part of the public sphere and require all in participation in the story of capitalism then I find it almost impossible to be missional. In the story of capitalism we are all in competition, there is distrust between consumers/members, and all that we are producing is valued based on its economic return. In my experience prophetic ideas, art, and dialogue are not welcomed if it does not provide a mutually beneficial economic return. Ya know? Certainly there are parallel models that could be created but we must publicly confess they ways that things are convoluted because of the economic metanarrative that our institutions participate in.

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