Role of Institutional Concerns In Raising Sustainable Urgency

Note: This article is portion of the chapter entitled Cultivating Urgency, in the forthcoming book, Farming Church: Cultivating Adaptive Change In Congregations.

Often, this is when urgency begins to rise. When institutional concerns are in our faces, congregational leaders, clergy, and staff tend to
become quickly motivated. Perhaps institutional concerns serve as the wake-up call to congregations. Maybe their purpose is to help prevent complacency and apathy. Yet, we must be cautious when embracing institutional concerns as our motivation for moving ahead in mission and ministry. Institutional concerns have a place when it comes to raising urgency, but we must vigilantly keep them in their fitting place. Consider these insights regarding the role of institutional concerns in raising urgency.

The fastest way to raise urgency is to encounter institutional crisis or heightened institutional concerns. As church participation declines in North America, plenty of churches are facing challenging circumstances. Typically challenges arise from declining participation and funding levels. Though these challenges are a long time in the making, they often present themselves as immediate concerns or even crisis. Laying off staff, discontinuing cherished programs, reducing contributions to the denomination, or delaying needed repairs to facilities are common examples of institutional concerns or crises. When these arise, they tend to get our attention. Depending on the level of concern or crisis, motivation for action (urgency) quickly rises. No one wants to lose what we cherish or perceive as valuable. Congregations will often rally when these concerns become the focus of their collective church experience.

Though fast, focusing on institutional concerns as a way to raise urgency, is unsustainable. Some time ago, I served as part time Renewal Pastor with a church who greatly needed renewing. After a sever conflict, nearly half the congregation left. Over time, they did the hard work of healing followed by a period of renewal. As the Renewal Pastor, I was less worried about them in the early stages of renewal. The pain of congregational splintering was still fresh, with urgency to rebuild themselves remained high. My concern was what would happen when they were further down the renewal pathway, given their motivation for movement. Early on their motivation for renewal had to do with institutional survival and concern. How can we reach families with children again? How can we increase our worship attendance? How can we regain strength in our budget? These were their starting concerns. But if they stayed with these concerns over time, making progress, they would eventually run low on motivational urgency. What would happen when participation increased, their budget stabilized at higher levels, and they enjoyed a critical mass in the sanctuary? If institutional concerns remained their primary motivation, then when those needs are met, their motivation would drop.

Institutional concerns are perhaps helpful in jump-starting urgency, yet are not sustainable. The church may make progress, meeting its institutional needs, thereby reducing its urgency. But then what? The purpose of being church is not to run a great organization. Our purpose is to become disciples who join God’s world transformation movement. Our institutional assets are there to help us move forward toward our purpose.

Our institutional concerns may start us moving toward healthy, productive, sustainable urgency
. Why not just stay focused on institutional concerns as a way to motivate? This really seems to be a great strategy for poking the hibernating bear. People wake up and engage with high energy levels when we are threatened as a church. As mentioned earlier, this is a very short-sighted and short-term strategy. Also, some disciples in congregations will immediately recognize these as lag measures rather than lead measures. Institutional concerns lag behind what’s really important; our spiritual vitality as disciples and our engagement with God’s movement around us. As quickly as possible, we want to lead the church to shift its focus from ourselves toward God’s calling. Though hard work, when churches are caught up in the Way of Jesus Christ, then their motivational urgency rises in healthy, productive, and sustainable ways. Long after our institutional needs are met, we remain motivated. Regardless of our institutional strength, we are moving forward with a sense of purpose and significance. We are captivated by Christ’s presence and energizing call, moving forward with vigor. We decide we love people in our community because of God’s love for them rather than what they can do for us. This is sustainable, purposeful urgency. We want the world around us to experience the good news of the gospel as we have.

May we become caught up in the Way of Jesus Christ, participating with vigor in God’s reclamation project (kingdom of God) on planet earth.

Mark Tidsworth
President, PLA
Helen