As we head towards Ministry Conference 2012, we see no reason why the discussion should wait for the day of the conference to begin. In that spirit, we hope to use this blog to moderate some pre-event conversations.
Apart from hard data regarding trends in institutional confidence, it is certainly true that many churches and other religious groups work with missions informed by some idea of “institutions” or “organized religion.” One member of the steering committee suggested that many of these attitudes fall into the following categories: 1) Neither institutions generally nor historical institutions are the problem in themselves. Both are necessary for good disciple formation. We ought to work to restore people’s faith in those institutions by some means (possibly through reformation). 2) Institutions in a general sense are needed, but the historical institutions have failed. We need to form new institutions to ensure good disciple formation. 3) Institutions in the general and historical sense fail to adequately form disciples. Some non-institutional approach or way is needed.
All of these groupings rely on some definition of institutions that is not entirely clear, yet that does not prevent people from fighting adamantly for these conceptions. What lies behind this? What is at stake? What idea of “institution” informs these kinds of characterizations? What exactly is it that people think we have lost confidence in?