Friday, September 21, 2007


Institution. Institutional. Institutionalism. Institutionalization. One of the best questions I get is "How will CTK keep from institutionalizing?" I hear this question from leaders everywhere - in the U.S., Panama, India, Africa. It is actually comforting to me that so many people are concerned about the same thing. I usually answer, "I'm not sure, but I'm concerned about that too." This would truly be a terrible ending to our story. How do we keep it from happening?

Everything rise and falls with leadership. If we end up becoming institutional, it won't be by accident. Someone or ones will have led us there. If we resist institutionalizing, it won't be by accident either. Someone or ones will have led us there. This is a leadership equation. It we don't want it (and we don't) then leaders everywhere need to root it out whenever it is seen. We must be vigilant. We must l-e-a-d. As small group leaders, ministry directors and pastors we are the stewards to which God has entrusted "the fair maiden of freedom" in this story. What have you done recently to slay the dragon?

The more mavericks the merrier. I'm not sure we can resist institutionalism better than other organizations have. I certainly wouldn't want to imply that we're that we're better than others who have tried. But I would say that we have certainly acquired a substantial group of mavericks, and this at least gives us a shot. Having personally been a "pharisee of the pharisees" in a previous life I can smell institutionalization coming from a mile away. I am death on it. There is no way that I could ever feel comfortable pastoring a traditional church again. But I am not the only one. Everyone on the Church Council (which meets with me quarterly) and the Strategic Leadership Team (which meets with me monthly) stands with me in this. None of us want to go there, and that rebellion to institutional is one of the main reasons we're here.

Early warning signs. The time to fight institutionalization is early and often. You don't wait until it is full-grown. You oppose it in its infancy. What are the early warning signs that we are beginning to calcify? The arrows start pointing in, instead of out. We start getting more concerned about stuff than people. The people start supporting the leaders in their ministries, instead of the leaders supporting the people in theirs. Program creep: Instead of trying to reach people organically through relationship, we start trying to reach them attractionally through programming. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. Do you smell smoke? If you do, sound the alarm.

Decentralization is our friend. One of the best antidotes to institutionalism that I see in our story is decentralization. We have infected leaders on various continents now with the virus. Even if a group of people build up immunity to the infection, it is likely that the epidemic will continue to spread through other carriers. Actually, it is already the case that our story is moving at a much faster rate in places like Africa and India than in the USA. So if leaders in one part of the world won't resist institutionalism, leaders somewhere else will. And even if we wanted to stop the ideas from spreading we couldn't, because we have no centralized control, only relational influence.

Resist legislation. There is a tendency to come out of every problem we encounter and write a policy to keep that from happening again. Let's not do that, ok? We will have to deal with our share of problems, to be sure. Every organization has to deal with their share of problems. But we want to deal with them in a different way than the average institution. We want to solve problems relationally. Personally. Not through policy and writ. Frankly, it is chicken and lazy to sit at your computer, write policy and stick the paper in everyone's in-box. Anyone can do it, which is why it is done so often. But the better though harder way is to sit down with people and talk with them. Sometimes writing things down is a good thing. But let's make sure that anything on paper is a bridge to get people where they want to go, instead of a barrier to keep them from getting there. And then let's make sure the paper shredder is working at Central Services.

Conducting periodic reviews. This fear of institutionalism is real. We have an enemy, and I'm sure he's scheming right now to ruin this story. If I were him, I would see institutionalization as a strategic weapon. Listen, it's not paranoia when they're really out to get you! Because of the real threat of instutionalization, I proposed in our original bylaws that we have a "drop-dead date" at ten years; that is, that we would cease to exist as an organization exactly ten years after we were formed. The Church Council at that time appreciated the sentiment, but thought this was a bad idea because people would begin to become nervous and distracted leading up to the drop dead date (e.g. Would you want to be hired by an organization that was going to drop dead in the next year?). So here's what I decided to do instead. At the ten year mark of our first service, April 4th, 2009 (and every five years after that), I will be conducting an informal review, asking, "Is God still at work in this story?" This will be a question I put out to the entire body in 18 months, and I will be looking for candid, real feedback and examples to support your answer. If the answer turns out to be "No" I hope that we will have the courage to face reality. None of us want to perpetuate a lifeless organization, least of all me.

Stay on your knees. Spiritual ends require spiritual means. If we want to see a vibrant, powerful movement, where we are keeping the main thing the main thing, staying out of God's way, being extremely sensitive to the Spirit's promptings, deploying leaders around the world, paying it forward, and unleashing the church, we are asking for a miracle. Really, all of that is miraculous. People have already proven people can't do it. But God can. Everything good that has happened in the CTK story to date has happened in response to prayer. If we want even greater things to happen, we must pray with greater fervency than ever.

No guarantees. I wish that I could guarantee that CTK will always stay flexible and freewheeling. That we will never turn inward, or start taking ourselves too seriously. But there are no guarantees. Greater men and women than us have failed. So I guess I would echo what Paul said, "Follow me, only inasmuch as I follow Christ." If you think we're heading in a direction that will not fulfill Christ's mandate to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, then you must wave the flag. You've got to speak up. You have to hold us accountable to our stated mission, vision and values. You are Christ the King Community Church. And so am I. We are walking in faith, not fear, but we have to take our responsibility seriously to protect this mini-movement from becoming an institution. That would be a bad ending to a story that has started out well.

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