Guest / Limited Access /

We live in an age deeply suspicious of institutions. Pastor and performance artist Rob Bell spoke for many of his peers when he asked pastors at Duke Divinity School in 2010, "Do you ever feel like you signed up for a revolution [when you went into ministry], but ended up running a corporation?" Less than a year later, Bell left his pastoral role for a new, less institutionally constrained, calling in Los Angeles.

Implied in Bell's question is a deep frustration with the institutional church and with institutional leadership. But an institution does not have to be a calcified bureaucracy, slowly sucking the soul out of its inmates. Part of why we are cynical about institutions is because we have a limited view of what institutions are and how they work.

The modern bureaucratic organization is relatively new. Historically, institutions are much more varied and valuable things. In the broadest sense, an institution is a cultural pattern of rules and roles, artifacts, and arenas for human creativity and action that passes from one generation to the next.

For cultural change to grow and persist, it has to be institutionalized, meaning it must become part of the fabric of human life through a set of learnable and repeatable patterns. It must be transmitted beyond its founding generation to generations yet unborn. There is a reason that the people of God in the Hebrew Bible are so often named as the children of "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Like divine intervention in history, true cultural change takes generations to be fully absorbed and expressed.

Indeed, the best institutions extend shalom—that rich Hebrew word I paraphrase as "comprehensive flourishing"—through both space and time. ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Subscriber Access Only
Why Christian Groups Oppose America's Anti-Prostitution Stance
As the Supreme Court prepares to weigh in, faith-based organizations say 'no' to loyalty oaths.
RecommendedThe Introvert's Guide to Surviving Church Greeting Time
The Introvert's Guide to Surviving Church Greeting Time
It turns out church services aren't solitary affairs. Ugh. Now what?
TrendingChina Reveals What It Wants to Do with Christianity
China Reveals What It Wants to Do with Christianity
Bulldozer death of pastor’s wife draws attention, but president’s long-awaited speech on religion will impact Chinese Christians much more.
Editor's PickCover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church
Cover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church
Some visitors claim to be healed. Others claim to receive direct words from God. Is it 'real'--or dangerous?
Christianity Today
Planting Deep Roots
hide thisJune June

In the Magazine

June 2013

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.