Maybe I’ve been listening to too many of Wayne Jacobsen’s podcasts but I’ve been thinking about institutions. There was period of time in my wife where I was very sceptical of religious organization of any kind. I believed that almost all Christian institutions were inherently self-serving and depending on how “institutionalized” they became they would be willing to sacrifice their stated core values for survival. My position moderated as my study of scripture and church history led me to acknowledge that even the New Testament church had some level of organization, even if it was light in comparison to what we have today.
I come to observe that even alternative types of Christian gatherings or networks suffer from the very same problems they are attempting to distance themselves from. Sometimes it is much worse as the lack of organization gives people no mechanism to deal with a dictatorial unrepentant leader.
So what is a person to do? Part of me thinks the leaders of an institution must humbly examine themselves to see if there is too much of a gap between their stated values and their values as reflected in their actions. This is incredibly difficult to do as once you become heavily invested in an organization it is hard to think about it clearly. It becomes far too easy to hold on to anecdotal success stories while conveniently forgetting the people that slip through the cracks. Worries about your security and your family can cloud your thinking. Considering fundamental change is hard because at a semi-conscious level your mind gravitates towards safety and security. The institution becomes a part of you and considering life without it is scary and unnerving.
Just like what happened to Brooks in the Shawshank Redemption. I should offer a warning about the clip. The language is definitely “R-rated.”
Even if an institution is under pressure change is often seen to be too risky. It is easier to choose the status quo than risk your job in the shake up that change would produce. Change might accelerate the demise of the institution. Because of this few leaders choose anything but cosmetic or superficial change.
One of the biggest casualties is the mission. The disconnect between an institution’s stated goals and its actual accomplishments grows. This process goes largely unnoticed until it is too late to change.
According to the gospel of Shawshank it is fear that holds us prisoner and hope that sets us free. They are words to consider. I don’t think that institutions are inherently bad but they can go that way in a hurry if fear is more prominent than hope or faith.