The name for this blog comes from the Hebrew word merchab. Merchab is a masculine noun that appears most often in the Psalms of the Hebrew Scriptures. It means a broad or roomy place, an expansive place, a wide place. Read more...

May 4, 2009

Church: Institution or Movement?

The Diocese of New Westminster has posted a Draft Diocesan Strategic Plan 2018 on its website It is an honest, visionary, and encouraging document. It starts in the right place for a Christian church stating that,

The primary work of the church is to nurture faith in all who come.

But the Diocesan Strategic Plan opens with a puzzling premise.
As a Diocesan Church we need to be intentional about making healthy and wise choices about our future.
What is wrong with simply “making healthy and wise choices”? How do we make “healthy and wise choices about our future”?

The Diocese of New Westminster plan itself affirms a vision of church that seems to render any attempt to make “choices about our future” utterly futile.
We think of the Christian church not as an institution but rather as a movement. It is part of the dance of God’s Holy Spirit throughout and into our own time.

How do you plan a movement? How do you make choices for “the dance of God’s Holy Spirit,” which, as the report itself acknowledges, “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes”? (John 3:8)

The church lives in an uneasy tension between “institution” and “movement.” Institutions must plan for day-to-day operations and may attempt to make choices toward a more vibrant future. But how do you plan a movement? The goal of a Christian movement is to find and follow the unpredictable work of God’s Spirit. The disciplines of a movement are not statistics, strategic plans, and measurable, quantifiable assessment tools.

The disciplines of a movement are openness, flexibility, deep listening, patience, gentleness, and the radical commitment to the unpredictable and subtle moving of God’s Spirit. This may lead to a kind of planning; but it is planning that will be cautious, short term, and easily abandoned at the slightest hint that the Spirit may be headed elsewhere.

Too much talk in the church today seems to assume we have some inkling about what the future might hold or that the work of God’s Spirit can be measured.

We follow a teacher who asks,
Why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?(Matthew 6:28-30)

We in the church need to decide whether we are first an institution or a movement. Everything may rest on the choice we make.

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