Grace Emerges

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blueprint of an Anti-Institutional Church

by Brad Duncan

Blueprint of an Anti-Institutional Church.  What would it look like?
In my last post I described my optimistic view, my hope for the church, that it could re-create itself as an "anti-institution."  Here are some things you might hear in an anti-institutional church service, or read in the church bulletin, or hear people say about the church.  See what you think, maybe add some phrases of your own?
  • Sunday is no different than any other day.  This is building is no different from any other place.  People are people, and the church is people.
  • We enthusiastically welcome you here!  Especially if you are different!  If you have anything YOU think we won't like in your life, please don't worry.  We are a safe haven for you here.
  • We're up here singing and talking, but we're nothing special.  The point of this meeting of fellow Christ-followers is YOU.  This service is for you.  It is to give you an opportunity to participate and explore faith with each other.  What can we as the church leadership, do to help you follow Christ better?  Not a Christ follower?  Just a looker?  It's for you too -- take a look and see what you think.
  • God is not going to be impressed with anything we can do for him/her today by having a church service.  So we're not going to try.  Instead, we will focus this service on YOU, the people whom God wants to give love to.  Worship songs?  Today they're for you, not God.  They are to help you, encourage you, lavish God's love on you, not the other way around.
  • Certainly, God is here with us today.  But God is also present in the homes, streets and ditches of our town at this very moment.  We should not deceive ourselves.  By declaring God's goodness within these walls, we may be doing nothing at all.  God already knows.  The question is, what CAN we do here today that will have value to you.  What can you take with you?
  • If I tell you "the Bible says so" that's not good enough.  Much harm has been done throughout history by apply scriptures with no context, thought, or understanding.  To do good with scripture, means digging for deeper truth.  It's not the easy out.  Like love, like hope, and like faith, it's not complicated, but it's not easy.  You be the judge of truth between you and God.

Maybe sometimes we mix up the agenda of a Sunday morning service.  Maybe you would hear this announcement:
  • Today, there will be no program at all from the stage.  Volunteers will be circulating around the room to start conversations.  Please relax and enjoy the food and music, and participate in meeting some people if you feel like it.  You're in good company here.  You're with family.
  • This Sunday, during our service we will hear from 10 local community organizations that need volunteer help today or in the next week.  Then we will end the service and invite you to meet these organizations and see if you are interested in helping out this week.  There will be no requests for donations, only ways you can give your time to help our community.
  • Today, we will have a panel discussion from the stage.  We have invited experts on human justice causes to the stage today to take your questions about what can be done and how.
  • Today we will have a whiteboard brainstorming session on discipleship.  YOU get to teach.  The question is this: "What is a Christ-follower?".  You can answer with a Bible verse if you like.
  • We have a business meeting today.  We will discuss financial resources and what to do with them, trading off the needs of our group vs. the needs of the community.  Where can we get the most bang from our buck, collectively?  The leadership has prepared several proposals for discussion.
  • We are participating with other churches and non-Christian religious groups today in a mobilization effort to fight hunger in our community.  We will discuss our philosophies and traditions for caring for the needy, and how we can follow these long-standing principles today to fight hunger the most effectively!
Too good to be true?  Too authentic?  Too uncomfortable?  Too unpredictable?  Well we can dream, can't we?  My observation is that Jesus regularly deconstructed spirituality and religious practices, and taught us to do the same.  It's time to re-invent, re-create.  Destroy and build.  Die and live again.

Consider this section of Matthew 6 including the Lord's prayer. Jesus taught us how to replace "rote" with "real" when it comes to our interaction with God.  How can we act like this as a group, to behave as Christ followers but not as an institution?

Showy religion
6 “Be careful that you don’t practice your religion in front of people to draw their attention. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get.3 But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing 4 so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
Showy prayer 
5 “When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. 6 But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.
Proper prayer 
7 “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard.8 Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. 9 Pray like this:
Our Father who is in heaven,
uphold the holiness of your name.
10 Bring in your kingdom
so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven.
11 Give us the bread we need for today.
12 Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,
just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.
13 And don’t lead us into temptation,
but rescue us from the evil one.
14 “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.
Showy fasting 
16 “And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. 17 When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. 18 Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
(Matthew 6, Common English Bible)


  1. yes!!! the church in action! If I ever become a pastor or part of a church leadership team these are suggestions I will hope to use.

  2. I want to join a movement that's bringing hope and love, restoring lives, building community, protecting the weak, redeeming the strong so that their power is used for good not will, seeking peace, and working for freedom and social justice. I'd like this movement to be inspired by the teaching and example of Jesus, to follow his Way, to have his 'kingdom' of at its core, but to be free from narrow doctrines, dogma, religious intolerance, or anything that undermines my intellectual integrity.

    That requires a church that sees itself not as an ark of refuge from a hell-bound world (as many evangelicals have traditionally understood it), but as a seed of positive change in the world that God loves: we still have to be in the rescue and redemption business, but in a way that puts the life and well-being of our communities first, not some tally of how many people we can lead through a "sinners' prayer". The anti-instituional church is still in the saving business - but saving may be less about believing certain things and being typically 'religious', and more about transforming one's life and that of others for the better through the restoration of right relationships.