“Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Acts 2:43–47, NIV
How does the institutional church of today compare to the early Christian church?
|Characteristic||Early Church||Institutional Church|
|Support||Meet each others’ needs||See the ministerial staff|
|Pastor’s Role||Lead disciple-making/Teach||Preach good sermons/CEO|
|Leader’s Task||Grow disciples||Direct programs and events|
|Laity’s Role||Make disciples||Attend/Serve the institution|
|Key Words||Disciples who make disciples||Come have your needs met|
|Teaching||Embody Christ||Teach doctrinal belief|
|Commitment||Grow God’s kingdom||Grow my church|
|Staff Development||Raise up from within||Hire outside professional|
|Accountability||Everyone’s role||No one’s role|
You can see from this chart that the early church was very missional and not very institutional in comparison to churches today. Yet within two or three centuries, institutionalism crept into the early church too. Before long, Christianity began to be sidetracked by “church-ianity.
The process goes something like this: God moves among people. They open their hearts to the changing power of Christ and accept him as Savior and Lord. They join or start a group of believers in a home or public venue. They are eager to worship Jesus, learn of him, and share him with their friends. This is church the way God intended it to be.
This energetic cycle is an exciting thing to be a part of as God manifests his kingdom work in the hearts and actions of his people. But eventually something happens to break this cycle. Slowly, and often without anyone really noticing, the process turns inward. Because we are sinful, we are self-centered. Self-centered people tend to create self-serving organizations. The intention of the church goes from the cycle of worship-discipleship-mission to self-sustaining-and-maintaining. It’s an ongoing tendency that we must battle constantly.
- Let’s talk this through together: In what specific ways does your individual church show that it is more INSTITUTIONAL than the early church? Hit the “Comment” button and let us know. We want to hear from YOU! – Mark Powers