The answer is: Yes. We need both.
Institutions need to be shifted to adapt with the times.
(Note: We often shift the institution to match the culture. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about shifting the culture of an institution to better match The Reign of God. Just to be clear. Read this. And this.)
There are all kinds of Biblical examples of leading both from the inside and the outside and I won’t go into all those here, but Denise Anderson and I talked about this topic on our way to New Haven this week.
So let’s say that The Institutional Church needs to change.
I have friends who are trying to do ministry on the edges, starting cool new communities and projects.
Advantages to working from the outside: no age old norms (i.e. “We’ve always done it this way.”) and you get to create something from scratch. There’s dreaming and boundary-pushing.
Disadvantages to working from the outside: you will spend a lot of time explaining yourself and you will be financially unstable. After explaining yourself, your next most time-consuming efforts will involve finding money and people.
I have friends who are trying to do ministry from the inside, accepting Head of Staff positions at Big Steeple Churches and becoming Denominational and Mid-Council Leaders.
Advantages to working from the inside: you have the power to give permission and open doors. You know where the money is and you have access to it.
Disadvantages to working from the inside: you (might) get sucked into the privilege and busy-ness of your everyday ministry. Yes, you have a platform, but your time is often spent appeasing Big Givers, Cranky Wheels, Personnel Committees who don’t see what you see.
There are stellar leaders out there trying – at this very moment – to discern which path to take: Do I accept a position that will offer access and money? Or do I focus on a new way and work to gain that access and money?
We need both. But mostly, we need for the people with resources and power to be best friends with the people who are moving mountains outside the system.
I feel like this is also the case in scientific research these days.