Being Institutionalized

Although we did not know it when God called us out of the church, many worldwide and in previous generations have heard God call them out of the doing and busyness of “church life” in order to find Him as their Life. Since leaving I’ve been increasingly aware of the many parallels between the institution of school and the institution of the church. Most people don’t even think about questioning the fact that their children must attend school, just as most believers naturally assume without question that they are to attend church (as opposed to understanding that we are part of Christ’s Body every day, regardless of where we are).

School is compulsory in most western cultures, so too, the unwritten law of the church is that regular attendance is compulsory. You discover this if you don’t go for a few weeks! We tend to think that attending school assures us of an education for our children and so we place our security and trust in the school system. Attending a church regularly is also a form of security and trust in a religious system, but of course attending a church building or meeting is no guarantee of a close walk with God, just as attending school does not guarantee you a good education.

Our security and trust must never be in any church, religion, man, programme or method, but only in God; to rely on anything else is idolatry. Idolatry is not simply the worshiping of idols in primitive cultures, but is alive and well in our culture today. Idols are not primarily physical, but spiritual. Idolatry is any substitute for God; anything that we depend on, rely on or have our trust and security in: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods) – from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life.” 1 John 5:21.

School is predictable and often becomes increasingly boring the more we mature. We know when it will begin and end, when the breaks are, we know what subject will happen when and who will teach it. Church is the same, it too is predictable; it meets every Sunday morning, begins at the same time every week with singing, then a sermon is given, then a final song is sung or people are called forward to be prayed for (depending on the particular denomination) and this doesn’t differ much from Sunday to Sunday.

Outside of school, learning is free to happen any time and as such, is unpredictable and exciting! So too, outside of the church system, we learn from the Holy Spirit any time of the day and night and our walk with Him is exciting, not predictable or boring!

Just as no parent would allow their children to quit school simply to become couch potatoes, so our Father does not call His children out of the church system simply to sit at home to vegetate. What school leavers and church leavers do is take personal responsibility for their own learning and growth instead of relying on a system or institution.

Jesus died and rose again so that we could EACH have a personal, daily relationship with God as our Father and not so that we would rely on a pastor, church, or meetings. We are called to liberty and freedom; freed from the man-made laws and traditions! We must each have (and give each other!) the freedom to hear, listen and obey God for ourselves. We are each responsible for our own decisions and actions and if He has not told us to leave the church system; we need not feel condemned for staying. Conversely we must not condemn those who HAVE heard Him call them out and who have obeyed Him, often at great personal cost to them and their families.

Teachers and Pastors

Many teachers enter the teaching profession with high ideals of what they will and won’t do, but end up disillusioned. They find themselves doing the things they never wanted to, simply because they find they have to, due to the structure and system of the institution. This corresponds with the institutional church. Many pastors enter the ministry with high ideals, but find themselves doing and saying things they never intended to simply because of the hierarchical structures and systems that are in place within the institution. They find they “have to be” controlling and authoritative simply because of the hierarchical system; if they are not, they feel they will lose respect and trust.

In school, children often feel intimidated by the system and by the teachers. This often results in children lacking in self confidence. So too in the church the people often feel intimidated by the “professionals” and little or nothing is done to alleviate this. Unfortunately it is often encouraged because it is not seen for what it is: fear and control. Of course anyone who feels intimidated, is under the control of the person they feel intimidated by. The Intimidator will possibly interpret this as trust and respect instead of recognizing it for what it is: manipulation and control. Instead of being encouraged to think for themselves, the “students” rely on what the pastor/teacher says, even if what they teach is wrong!

Someone who feels intimidated by their teacher or pastor is not going to upset the status quo by questioning the system or by setting things straight, because they are influenced by fear. However, should they happen to have the courage to question their leader, instead of building up the person’s confidence and encouraging them to listen to the Holy Spirit for themselves and check things out as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11), the leaders will usually feel very threatened and react by accusing the person of being insubordinate, rebellious, argumentative, divisive and unsubmissive.

The intimidated person then has two choices: either to apologise and become further ensconced in a system of control and manipulation, or to come out from the intimidation into freedom, not without some degree of persecution and abuse. God’s people always have been, and still are, considered rebellious to this world’s system of religion and control (see Ezra 4:12-15) because they are the children of their Father.

Just as in school the teacher is the one who supposedly knows it all and so can teach the ones who don’t, so in the church the pastor is seen as the one who in turn teaches those who don’t know much. This not only encourages an “us and them” mentality, but also encourages people to rely on the pastor instead of God – hence it equals idolatry.

In this Family, our Father is our Teacher and is responsible for our learning. With immature or new believers, He will use older brothers and sisters, because we are a family and a family is a living, growing, changing thing unlike an institution or organisation. Instead of everyone being reliant on the structure or relying on the pastor, we become reliant on the Holy Spirit and Jesus (the Lamb, Bread of Life and Living Water) for our food. We have often put pastors into positions they are not called to be in. They then try to fulfill the expectations of the people instead of obeying and fulfilling the expectations of God. Jesus’ pattern for ministers (which EACH of us are) is for us to be humble servants of one another.


Once a child can do the basics of reading and writing and spelling, there is no limit to what they can teach themselves and learn – they simply have to have the DESIRE to learn! There is a vast world of information for our children to learn from as they grow older. It is the same with the church; never has there been such a huge range and amount of Christian resources available: Bibles, study materials, books, magazines, CD’s, DVDs, podcasts, conferences, software, websites ad infinitum. There is absolutely NO reason for a Christian today not to be mature if it were conditional upon resources. However, One Thing may be missing and this One Thing is essential because it is First and Foundational.

God builds His temple upon one Foundation only: Christ in our lives. He alone can put DESIRE and PASSION in our heart. In school it doesn’t matter how many textbooks, computers, resources and teachers you have access to, if you don’t have the desire to learn, you won’t learn much. In the Family of God it is not having a pastor, or attending a church, or having access to resources that is important, but a personal, intimate relationship with your Father through the Holy Spirit who teaches us ALL things (1 John 2:27, John 16:13). When Jesus Christ is the passion and desire of our heart, we naturally want to learn all we can about Him and from Him and to spend as much time with Him as possible!

A common criticism of home schooling is that the children will not have adequate social interaction; a similar concern about being out of the church is that we are not “fellowshipping” with other believers. Clearly, because we are part of a Body and a Family we will often be with our brothers and sisters – sharing what God has been saying and doing in each other’s lives (instead of just listening to one or two people on a stage), and sharing communion (eating meals together and remembering what Christ has done for us). Just as children will always find other children to play with, so Christ’s ones will always find others to share Life with and it’s far better to let the Holy Spirit do the choosing of those friendships than us. The Holy Spirit knows those who will help us and those who will hinder us and we must be sensitive to His leading in relationships.

The assembly that Jesus is building is not, and never has been, a building where people meet together or a place to go on Sundays. Jesus said that where two or three are gathered together, He is there! We must never fall into the trap of worshipping gatherings or leaders instead of Christ. We need to see a return to Christ, and only Christ, which results in real, honest, relevant, Christ centred relationships. I have written more about fellowship and being assembled in the article, “Assembly Required“.

Another common criticism of home schoolers is that the children are being protected from the “real world”. But is school the real world? Surely the day to day living of supermarket shopping, paying bills, writing letters, work around the house, visiting people etc is far more the real world than being shut away in a building with others the same age as you and listening to the same thing at the same time. No where else does this happen in our society, especially not when you leave school! In the church people often think that they are being relevant and living in the “real world” when they are absolutely not. Instead they are living in an insulated bubble of meetings and “service” or “ministry” away from where the real world can touch or relate to them.

When the world sees that God is absolutely vital to our lives every day and that meetings, religion, and church are NOT our life and focus but Christ is, then they will be drawn to Him through His Life in us. They must be attracted to and joined to Jesus Christ, not to a religious system! When Jesus is lifted up from all that is earthly, HE draws people to Himself!

We ARE Christ to people every day, everywhere, because we are His Body and He wants to love and touch people through us. But how can we do this if we stay in our “school” with our peer group of fellow believers? Does this prepare us for reaching the world or does it just encourage us to stay within that comfortable system?

Being relevant does not mean changing your music to be more upbeat or inviting unbelievers to a concert or becoming more like the world. Churchianity today is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to people coming to know God because it pretends to speak on behalf of God and be what God wants. What is REAL life? It is He Who IS Life! Christ was radical and brought about revolution and change! He challenged and made enemies in the religious system of the day and still does today.

Christ is Everything to us, He is our Focus, our Ground and Foundation and our Unity regardless of whether we attend a building called a church or not! Too often the uniting factor is not whether we are in Christ but whether we are in a church building or part of a recognised organisation; this reveals that the building/institution/organisation is far more important to these ones than Christ. That, again, is idolatry: putting something in the place of Christ.

May we be given sight to see Christ, and only Christ, as our All!

Therefore then, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us strip off and throw aside every encumbrance (unnecessary weight) and that sin which so readily clings to and entangles us, and let us run with patient endurance and active persistence the appointed course of the race that is set before us, looking away from all that will distract to Jesus, Who is the Leader and the Source of our faith and is also its Finisher. Hebrews 12:1,2a.

Lynette Woods