A pastor shared a cartoon drawing of Mary and baby Jesus. In the cartoon, Mary is comforting Jesus and asks if he had a nightmare. Jesus replies, “Yes, I dreamed I became an institution!” I don’t know what your reaction is to this, whether it’s laughter, disgust, or ambivalence. For me, it cut me to the core. What would Jesus think if He came back today to assess the state of the Church?
What are we doing with and to the plan He has for our redemption? He spent His life showing how we should love and care for others. That is the essence of why the Church exists. God intends for us to represent Him here on earth. Instead, we’ve become just another business organization complete with heavy debts and ever-increasing administrative budgets.
The attractiveness of the model Jesus gave for ministry was the way it met people where they were. Jesus touched the untouchable, spoke with kindness to the outcasts, and loved the worst of sinners. These things made him unpopular with the so-called religious leaders of the day. He didn’t fit into their own institutional model of religion. Two thousand years later, we scoff at the stories of the Pharisees and Sadducees without realizing we have become the modern-day representation of them. It is now the Church who strain out gnats and gulp down camels (Matthew 23:24).
Nothing I read in the Bible leads me to believe an institutional church is what Jesus had in mind when He told His followers to take the gospel throughout the world. The debt-laden buildings are only part of what troubles me. Hudson Taylor, the great missionary to China, felt to owe anyone money contradicted God’s Word. He believed borrowing money was done to secure a blessing God had not yet given. I concur. As a result, every time a modern church embarks on a building campaign it leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth.
As the son of a retired pastor, I have had a front-row seat to the institutionalization of Jesus over my 50-odd years on earth. What once was a small group of volunteers gathering together to worship God has morphed into a large assembly of decentralized people supporting an ever-increasing staff of professionals to lead them. We’ve lost the heart of the mission. We’ve lost Jesus.
Jesus is not an institution, He is the loving Son of God, the Creator and sustainer of everything. He is the first and the last, and His mission has always been to bring everyone to join Him in His Kingdom. Jesus’s mission has always been and will always be to glorify His Father. I can’t say I believe many, maybe even most, churches continue to pursue His mission. Praise God for those who still worship Him both in spirit and truth. It’s time we stop trying to make Jesus an institution and return to His focus of loving and caring for others. Jesus is not an institution and we must stop trying to turn Him into one.