Institutional Christians

Eleven different ways of experiencing Christianity—Part 2

There are many ways of seeing yourself as a Christian. You can add another as your faith grows, you can have more than one at a time and you can move through them over some time.

I am going to look at this through Advent this year. None of them is wrong when taken in context with the others; all of them are wrong on their own. The list is not exhaustive.

York Minster, taken from the roof od the south trancept, facing west.
York Minster.
Free image from Nick Garrod on Flickr.

A power structure or hierarchy in which you participate

An institution is a large important organization such as a university, church, or bank.

Collins English Dictionary

There are always tensions in how a church is managed. As a church gets larger and becomes too big for a pastor working alone, so an administrative structure is needed. There is a limit to what can be achieved in volunteer work. As churches have an income they become a business. The Church of England, the denomination I worship in, has around 12,500 parishes, it clearly fits the criteria of being an institution. Here’s how it works, and also barriers to it working.

The National Church Institutions of The Church of England consists of seven distinct organisations, including the Archbishops’ Council, the Church Commissioners for England and the Church of England Pensions Board. Each has its own leadership team and culture. This sometimes causes tensions, and there are cultural barriers to overcome – notably where newcomers to the business are not from a church background.

Academics are frequently posted to positions of senior leadership with no grounding in people, leadership or teamworking skills.

The Church of England clearly has a problem in administration because of its size but also because it takes people with proven academic or pastoral skills and takes them away from those roles to do administration. The administration is important, as can be seen very early in the history of the church when administrators were set on by the Apostles to make sure the food distribution to those in need was fair (Acts 6:1-7). There is a need for good, fair administration in the church.

There is not one way to administrate a Church. It does not take much reading between the lines of the book of Acts and the letters in the New Testament to see that there was not one model of administration, the churches in Corinth and Ephesus, both started by Paul, were administrated differently. We should not criticise anyone because their model of administration is different to ours as long as the administration is effective.

It’s all about Jesus

Christianity is all about Jesus Christ, that’s where the name comes from. The church in Jerusalem in Acts 6 brought in people in an administrative capacity, seeing to the distribution of food to the needy. “It is not right that we should have to neglect to preach the Word of God to look after the accounts,” said the Apostles. The administration, the power structure and leadership should be there to facilitate the preaching of Jesus Christ, not to impede it. The structure should serve the people, not dictate to them and it should not become a carbon copy of the way business is done. Too much damage has been done in churches by leaders who work for their own glory rather than that of the people under them.

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