Institutional vs. Relational … and The World of Pretend

Estimated reading time: 2 minute(s)

There's The Steeple... Here's The ChurchI’ve really been thinking a lot recently on institutional vs. relational life. Some might argue with me that that’s too limiting, that there are more than two ways to live life with other people… but so far, I’m feeling like almost everything I’m seeing falls into one of those two categories. It’s kinda crazy!

It has mostly come up in discussions surrounding politics (well, government), home schooling, and church … but really just our culture in general. Most of us in our culture seem to prefer to do our relating in an structured, institutional way rather than a more informal, familiar, relational way.

We get into a mindset of thinking that there are “experts” and “proper channels” and structures that life must be lived through, and even received from. We see it in all of those areas: government, education, and church. And as I said, across many aspects of life. We like to follow the experts.

I have also still been making my way through the “church book” that I published a couple years ago now, which has still been very enjoyable and so interesting to see what God was showing me then, and where he’s leading me now. The most recent chapter I read was titled, “The World of Pretend” and actually fits right in with the topic of institutional vs relational relating.

Here’s a quote that stood out to me from that chapter:

Wherever you are in your journey with him… be there. Don’t get your light from other Lamps. Live in the Light of THE Light. [I had earlier reminded the readers that Jesus said he is the ‘Light of the World’] Let him live in you, and teach you, and lead you. He is our source. Not the church. Not any pastor. Not any teacher. HE is the Light. HE wants a relationship with YOU. Really.

This may be one of the truths that we Christians most glance over and/or miss completely. “Christianity” is really the “world of pretend” as I put it. The reality is a life full of all that we are, lived in step with Jesus, the creator of all that is. We may try to put structures around that to manage it, but really… unless we’re mainly, mostly (maybe only?) really listening to and following him, then we’re not living in the “fullness of life” that he promised. It may seem helpful and good to get spiritual sustenance from another “smarter”, “more spiritual” person … but we are not the Life. Jesus is. No system can contain the Life. It’s really and truly only found in him. It is him.

I just found that chapter helpful, and strangely connected to the notion of doing life together relationally, vs structuring it institutionally. Perhaps you will, too.



  1. Hey Ben! I've kept this in my inbox, and this was my first chance to get to it!

    In my experience, almost nothing is mutually exclusive. I am pretty sure that's how God designed the world to work. (Seemingly) Infinite diversity and so infinite possibilities.

    However… also from my experience, people—relationships—can not be organized (at least, not really) into institutional structures. Institutions are OK for managing, say, some sort of product inventory for a business, but when it's used to manage people and relating… it fails miserably, every time. It only allows for surface relating. People feel like they are "with" other people, but there is almost always very little/low levels of intimacy and true, others-oriented friendship.

    So the short version is, no, I don't think they are mutually exclusive, but so far I have only seen damage done to the way we (people) relate to each other by institutionally organizing our relating.


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