or "recognized entity." Later on, some universities and seminaries began being called "institutions" in addition to "college, university," and/or "place of learning and research." The common denominator in all these uses of the word "institution" is a distinct adherence to a regimented methodology founded on a narrow scoped ideology designed to make one more objective than subjective. In short, institutions teach and train individuals involved a certain way of doing things and to accept any different measures to be false, erroneous, or worse yet, heretical.
The word has gained traction in today's society. It is now becoming common to find churches using the word "institution." An institution no longer has a negative connotation to society as maybe the sound of the word once did. The idea of institution actually promotes feelings of warmth, safety, and confidence. There may be many reasons for this but of the forefront may very well be our own sociology. Knowledge is increasing (as the Bible said it would in the last days) and research (although not always reliable or credible) is at the tip of our fingers. People, especially those in the Generation X and Y, are feeling the pressure to be known for something, to become established as someone, and to leave a mark in life. The fast track to this seems to be the way of institution. The idea of institution completely ignores, if not obliterates, the idea of abstract thinking. In short, we are becoming more and more objective and less and less subjective. The lack of subjectivity should be troubling. Subjectivity allows us to think inside our own reasoning, analyze data in the freedom of our experiences and new knowledge, and comprehend based on personal evaluation rather than a lectured pseudo-factual monstrosity. Subjectivity and objectivity must be balanced and it appears as if the weight of the balance beam at this time is pushing down towards objectivity. After all it's easier right?
Isn't it easy to wake up every morning with the same idea, confident that nothing can or will change it, regardless of new insight, evidence, interpretation, or proof? Isn't it easy to be confident in one's own experiences, label them as absolute truth, ignore the doubters and experiences (also considered absolute) of others, and enjoy life? And to a degree, we must be that objective. As the old saying goes, "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." We need to be solid in our mannerisms, beliefs, and ideology. We cannot afford to be blown here and there, rising up and down like a wave in the sea (thank you Apostle James). "Wishy-washiness" inspires no one and can be one of the greatest turn-off's to a generation of truth seekers. But our objectivity can also lead to becoming stubborn, stuck, combative, close minded, cold, and indifferent. In short, becoming too objective costs a person their God given ability to think. And while an over objective person may argue and declare they are the way they are based on their ability to think, I would argue that a brain washed person would agree with that statement as well.
A simple glance at news channels will show you the power of brainwashing at its best. This morning I was flipping back and forth between CNN, Headline News, and Fox News as I always do. CNN is obviously known as the more liberal news channel. Fox News is known as the more conservative news channel. And Headline News is known for . . . . well Robin Meade. I love Robin Meade! Anyway, I caught the story of President Obama making a speech yesterday about the impending loan default that our country may experience come August 3rd if a deal isn't reached by August 2nd. In the speech played on CNN, the commentary praised his willingness to go against his own party with cutting entitlements and other Democratic stalwarts in order to find compromise. When I watched the same story on Fox News, the commentary erupted after the clip ended, "DING! DING! DING! Do you hear that Independents? That speech was aimed directly at you. He's trying to get you to vote for him in 2012!" I sat there in disbelief. I turned back over to CNN and they had on President Bush's Treasury Under Secretary talking about the ramifications of a budget deal not being reached by August 2nd. CNN had a conservative Republican secretary on to talk about what this meant for America. I couldn't believe it. So I turned back to Fox News. It was simply more commentary on how the Republicans are right. This is brainwashing at its finest. All the news networks are guilty of it and a steady diet of one of them on a regular basis will color your viewpoint a certain way. Here's the reality, no brainwashing intended, if the US defaults on its loans because Democrats don't want to lose entitlements and Republicans don't want to raise taxes on a select earners, then we all lose. If the deal doesn't get done because both sides dig in, then it's the American people who are stuck in "No Man's Land" as the space between enemy lines was known as in WWII. This isn't the time to be looking at the November election. If the US defaults on loans, November 2012 won't be the greatest current issue.
Let me get back on topic, the institutionalized church. I have said all this about institutions and brainwashing because I am beginning to see it more and more in our churches. Maybe a better word to use here would be manipulation. We've been in the church long enough to know which songs to sing to get the best results. There's nothing wrong with singing the songs most enjoyed or that are sung the best, but if the motivation behind doing so is because the pastor wasn't able to get a sermon ready or we want to impress someone, then we're wrong. Pastors, and I am one, have learned throughout the years the right cliches to say to get a response. We in the Pentecostal world can be the world's worst. Go to a traditional church and talk about these contemporary churches cancelling their Sunday night services and you can preach a whole message with the expectation of an entertaining altar experience. Go to a contemporary church and preach against the evils of legalism and you'll get the loudest "Amen's" known to man. And we see the brainwashing and the manipulation are results of our institutionalized state. We've learned how to respond. We've learned how to do church. We've learned how to have "good services." We've learned how to feel spiritual. We've learned the steps and checklists to comfort ourselves when we doubt our salvation. And while we've learned all of this, the issue is no longer "religion vs. relationship," but rather "institution vs. freedom."
This is easily recognized when we find ourselves perplexed at reasons why our best efforts haven't worked in evangelism, discipleship, and other areas. We have become the conference generation in the church. There's a conference for how to grow your church and how to kill it. There's a conference for how to have a better music ministry and one for how to incorporate the traditional aspects. There's a conference for youth and children and there's conferences for seniors and others. And conferences are not wrong. They are very educational. They give great material. But they all seek to do one thing . . . . Are your ready? They desire for the most part to institutionalize you and your church into their thinking. "Just do this and you'll grow guaranteed!" "If you'll implement this strategy, you'll see success." Most of the time, these conferences are led by pastors and speakers working and leading in cities such as Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, New York, and other metropolitan centers of the world. Meanwhile, Pastor John Doe is leading a congregation of 150 in a small town of Mississippi with a population of 14,000. I know, the conference junkie would tell you that Pastor Doe needs to know how to analyze and assimilate information to know what will work and what won't work in his location. But that's another conference right? But wait! That's not what was advertised . . . "This will work wherever you are or you will get your money back guaranteed . . . "You will owe me forever and I will get rich off of your desperation. I don't really know if this stuff works but it sounds good. I'm so glad you came. God Bless you!" Yeah, don't forget the fine print.
You see we've become institutionalized in evangelism. Step One: Print materials. Step Two: Knock on doors. Step Three: Invite to Church. Step Four: Do it again. And here's the great thing about life . . . Those four steps will work and those same four steps will also crash and burn. Plain and simple. There is no perfect step program to evangelize our communities. The same goes with discipleship. The same goes with how we conduct our services. We can't hide in our tradition and preferences while the community moves forward. You can find every scripture you want about being separate but the erroneous interpretation is trumped by Christ's own life lived out loud and open for all to see and read about, not to mention the Great Commission. We can't interpret separation from sin to be an excuse to not open our eyes to the social injustices, needs, and cries around us. When we start making decisions based on what we've always done as churches, it's a sign we're institutionalized. And remember the first part of this long discourse . . . institutions teach a very narrow ideology with no consideration for anything outside that spectrum. I know God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That will never be debated. It's Bible. But the method does, and when our methods aren't working and aren't paying dividends and aren't accomplishing that which Christ expects us to accomplish, we have the tough decision to make to remain in our institution or advance and take hold of the Kingdom. Jesus said the "violent" take it by force. The "violent" indicate those who are pursuing, pressing, proliferating, and propelling.
Don't get me wrong. I love a good conference. I love reading books that give me ideas for my church and ministry. I'm praying for God to open me up to new experiences in Him and greater results through Him. If we are going to trust in an institution, we should probably at least trust in one that is successful. Statistics show that our institutionalized ways are only marginally successful. While we are overjoyed with the 150 in a town of 14,000, something in our hearts should be breaking, burning, and bothered by the truth that we're only impacting approximately 1% of our community. Of the 14,000, many go to church, but many more probably do not based on national statistics in regards to Christianity and church attendance. What will your church do about the lost in your community? What will my church do? Are we seeking an institutionalized comfort that breeds satisfaction and complacency?
My prayer is that we will not allow ourselves to be brainwashed by media moguls, professional church speakers, or even home grown experiences and ideology. The world is bigger than our experiences. God is bigger than our experiences. He invites us to grow in Him, through Him and by Him. He invites us to break free from institutionalization and to be free, and free indeed. What worked last year, may not work this year. What worked 20 years ago, may still be doing the job today. It's up to us to seek the face of God for His leading and discernment and not pull out the Institutionalized Rule Book to discover what method to try once Methods A, B, and C have faltered. We must become more Spirit led. The answer to America's spiritual depravity, and especially our communities' spiritual depravity, isn't more splinter churches breaking off and specializing in a "way of church" more convenient to an unhappy and unsatisfied small group of people in the established churches. If anything, we have only proven hell's point to the lost in our community . . . We preach love, tolerance, peace, and acceptance, but we can't consistently get along in our own churches among our "own people." We leave churches over style, preaching, singing, perception, and interpretation. And we now find ourselves more consumers than givers in the church. If we reap what we sow, and we do (Gal. 6), then sowing into consumerism will only produce greed, elitism, and the have's and have not's. The Bible states we should strive for unity among the brethren and while many will pontificate about their personal convictions, styles, and beliefs, very few are striving for the unity which the Bible declares we should be seeking. A curious scripture comes to mind suddenly . . . James 4:17 - "To him who knows to do good/right and does it not, to him it is sin."
What could we accomplish if we would find compromise through subjectivity rather than disunity through objectivity? How would our communities change if we came together and worked out our differences instead of "trying to prove a point" by walking out, sitting at home, or leaving a church altogether? What would happen in our communities if instead of hearing about another church or movement starting out of a disagreement or stylistic dispute, if churches and people suddenly started consolidating back into one large body of believers with their hearts set on unadulterated worship, pure and honest seeking of the Spirit, and hard and diligent working for the Kingdom? I have a feeling it would bring the next great revival and awakening that is much needed in the country.
Won't you consider joining me in breaking free from institutionalization? What we can do together will always be greater than what we can do apart . . . Let us break free from our man made molds and may we come alive in the hands of the Potter.