Tim Keller – Movements vs Institution
March 6, 2013 1 Comment
Tim Keller is an American Christian apologist, author, speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. I met him once when at a ministry conference in Glasgow. I had no idea who he was at the time. I thought he was a tall bald American pastor who preached very very well.
Turns out that he is quite well known in Reformed circles. In 2011 he spoke at the Anglican 1000 Mission Conference in the USA. Being on the other side of the pond sadly I could not go, but praise God for technology as I was able to listen to his talks. And one his talks was about Movements and Institutions and the difference between them and he also spoke about how this applies in an Anglican context.
One of my favourite parts was the Q & A at the end. Here are my notes below.
Question: Is there a Biblical warrant to distinguish between a movement and an institution?
Yes, they are both aspects of the church. In the Book of Acts there is movement movement movement. The Word of God multiplied, the disciples multiplied. Romans 1:16-17 is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
So there is power in the gospel and in the book of Acts you see this power of the Gospel being unleashed. It is just happening. So those who are hungry for the movement dynamic see the books of Acts and say “That is what ought to be happening”. However; even when Paul was in a town for a very small amount of time, he appointed elders when he left. Why did he not wait and let it be organic and movement; and let is just happen?
The answer is that the institutional aspect of the church, the need for authority and leaders who can guard the Word and guard sound doctrine actually is important. For all of our talking about how we are wanting to be a movement, we can see that when Paul did that the church also must be an institution.
There are two dangers in our culture right now:
- 1. A lot of young people are absolutely allergic to anything institutional at all. They don’t want any kind of authority; they don’t want any kind of tradition, they don’t want any kind of policy, or pattern. They don’t want any kind of constraint. They almost want to re-invent church every week. They want to get together and see how they feel.
- 2. The equal and opposite error is to have the problem where the church becomes institutionalised and we lose our movement dynamics.
There is a spectrum from movement to institution. A dynamic church that stays organic and growing must find a way of navigating between the two. A church can never stay a pure movement. It also has to be careful because churches tend to become institutions over time. So we have to always push back to renewing ourselves as a movement because inevitably we will become institutionalised
We live in a culture that views institution in completely negative terms. Yet there is no society that does not have institutions (Hugh Hecklo, Durkheim write about this). Eg we have institutions in the supermarket. This is why we get mad when they take too long in the queue. Everybody knows, there is a certain set of expectations. Without institutions nothing would work. We should not see institutions as bad things.
Movements that arise always institutionalise otherwise they cannot move forward.
Characteristics of a Movement:
- Held together by a compelling vision
- Is characterised by a culture of sacrificial commitment
- Is about the non-members
- A culture of innovation, risk and flexibility is welcomed
- Decisions made quickly by the whole
- Leaders are appointed because they produce results
- As a result movement attract energetic and ambitious young leaders
Characteristics of an Institution
- Held together by rules & procedures
- Is characterised by a culture of rights & obligations.
- Is about the members
- A culture of predictability, risk and flexibility is not welcomed
- Decisions made slowly
- Leaders are appointed by tenure & connection
- As a result movement don’t attract energetic and ambitious young leaders
- Because Institutions don’t attract young energetic leaders, nor people who also want to give sacrificially. They are always running out of money and out of ideas.
- And they cannot generate their own leaders
There is a tension of a unified compelling vision and innovation. If you are changing the vision every week it does not work. But if you say we are not changing the vision, you seem to be stifling innovation. It is a hard tension to hold together. You have to institutionalise if you want your movement to move forward.
Question: So how do you maintain movement dynamics in your church and in our networks?
- Maintain constant Spiritual renewal – if your people receive a white hot spirituality that is life changing. This will keep them being sacrificial. White hot grace based spirituality. ( I see this as the key – if people are not gripped by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will not receive nor understand this white hot grace based spirituality – JB)
- Have a vision that is distinct, simple and compelling
- Create a culture of innovation (inside your church, find ways where everyone’s ideas are listened to – but if you hear them and ignore their ideas, will destroy the culture of innovation. Say yes or say no). Hang out with other Christians from different denominations. They will keep you sharp and will teach you and show you your blindspots.
- Have a leadership pipeline – Have organic systems for producing leaders. (Eg, Church of Scotland 80 years ago had some EV preachers in churches right near two major universities. Over a period of time they attracted a lot of students, many of them went into the ministry. When they retired they got EV pastors in their positions, but they were not gifted towards Uni students and therefore the pipeline broke. And twenty years on, they realised that they had no leaders were coming through.)
- Church planting enhances movement dynamics in a church. Why? Because new churches have no traditions so they are keen to try X, Y, Z. Whereas the mother church could not do X, Y, Z.
- Have a season of covenant renewal, vision, mission week – times of prayer, a week of mission. Campaigns for mission are also good ways of renewing your movement dynamics. Rethinking what we are doing as a church, how we are going about reaching out to our suburb/town/city
Lots to think about!