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.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this IssueThe Whole Gospel in One Word
Subscriber Access Only
The Whole Gospel in One Word
Why do we often squirm at the announcement of God's love?
RecommendedCover Story: Inside the Popular, Controversial Bethel Church
Subscriber Access Only 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?
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickThe Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
The Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
How the New Testament offers a better, higher calling than the Declaration of Independence.
Christianity Today
Planting Deep Roots
hide thisJune June

In the Magazine

June 2013

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