Spiritual Institutions (SIs) have a problem.

The problem for SIs is that, like any other human construct, SIs are not self-supporting. No SI will survive without constant attention to the organizational realities that are an inevitable component of enabling even a small group of people to gather on a regular basis for any kind of shared activity. In order to survive SIs require an almost limitless investment of time, energy, money, and commitment.

Jesus set in motion the inevitability of human organization and structure for Christianity, when he said,

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them. (Matthew 18:20)

This statement gave birth to a Spiritual Institution that has survived for over 2,000 years, but not without the burdens and pressures that operating any kind of institution inevitably entails.

For “two or three” to gather requires scheduling and organization. Unless chaos is to prevail, “two or three” need at least some minimal structure to guide their time together. “Two or three” who want to share some common practice or purpose, need an agreed upon time and place in which to meet. Finding an acceptable time requires communication which is seldom free. Space in which to meet costs money.

The larger an SI grows the more complex and burdensome becomes the necessary structures to facilitate the meeting.

The operation of a large complex SI requires an endless supply of freely given volunteer hours and generous financial support from its adherents. This poses a constant challenge and danger for SIs. They are always at risk of becoming essentially self-serving structures whose energies get primarily focused into the preservation of institutional life.

In order for my SI to survive, I need you. This can be a problem.

If my agenda is to perpetuate of my SI, it will not be long before I resort to even the most subtle forms of manipulation and pressure to make sure you are supportive enough to keep the machinery of my SI operational.

You may start to hear comments about commitment. I will begin talking about the need for everyone to take responsibility for the well-being of our SI and to contribute their gifts in our community. I will put increasing emphasis on the importance of the communal expression of our faith. At my worst, I will hint that obedience to God means falling in line with the needs and demands of the SI I hope to sustain.

This is a greater problem for SIs than any other institutional expression of human community because demands, pressure and human manipulation are directly opposed to the primary function any SI exists to fulfill.

To the degree that my agenda is to build my SI, I am going to find it difficult to work towards the purpose for which my SI exists.

Christian SIs particularly exist to support those people in their journey of becoming more sensitive to the presence of that mystery, beauty and love we see embodied in Jesus and seek to discover in all of life.

In the Christian worldview, SIs seek to enable people to open more deeply to their true nature. We are people created in the image of God in whom dwells the Spirit of God. If this “likeness” to God and indwelling of God’s Spirit is taken seriously it must lead to a profound respect for each individual human being.

In order to fulfill their true function, SIs must be fundamentally committed to human freedom. Love can never be coerced. We will never come more fully into tune with our true nature by measuring up to or fulfilling someone else’s expectations or demands for our life.

Paul wrote,

It is for freedom Christ has set us free. (Galatians 5:21)

Church exists to set people free. We must live within the bounds of the freely given resources of those who choose to invest in our life together. Only when we are truly free will we be able to gather in the name of Jesus and grow in our ability to perceive the presence of love in our midst. An authentic SI seeks to trust the work of God’s Spirit in every person’s life and will never resort to the tools of guilt, manipulation, or pressure, no matter how effective these blunt tools may seem to be.