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A Movement, Not an Institution

May 24, 2021

By: Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary

While earning my MBA, I spent a lot of time studying organizational systems and how they are formed, changed, and led in light of specific goals. One of the aspects of this area of study that always bothered me was how formulaic it seemed. While it is true that certain practices can create somewhat predictable results when it comes to working with people (e.g., meetings are often shorter and more productive if everyone is standing during the meeting and a clearly stated strategic direction can help people choose what to ignore and what to pursue), the reality of working with humans seems to be much more organic, unpredictable, and fluid – or at least I think it should be – especially for those of us who consider ourselves to be followers of Jesus. As disciples of Christ, we are invited to be in a constant state of discernment. We are following Jesus on mission – at all times and in all places. In practice, this means we are called to move in concert with the movement of the Spirit. In the Kairos community, we embrace the fact that we are a movement – a community of people with shared set of values that is discerning, responding to, and participating in the work God is doing in their vocational context.

Engaging in the practice of being a movement is not always easy. While it can be invigorating, exhilarating, and encouraging to see distributed networks of people responding to the work God is doing in their midst, it can also be frustrating, stressful, and concerning – especially if we have been shaped and formed by the western ideals of “institutional sustainability.”

I could be alone in this line of thinking but in my experience with and study of organizational systems, the driving force behind the work conducted in those settings seems to be ensuring the institution survives. We tend to make decisions based on money rather than mission and focus on policies rather than values (i.e., principles) and practices. I know that may seem like a trivial distinction, but I would suggest it is not. Policies and principles create structures and resource allocation mechanisms designed to mediate power and control in a centralized fashion. As institutions, we can use these structures to control everything from what we say in marketing material to what it means to be a customer. In the context of education, it means we can control who is allowed in the fold and what counts as “excellent.”

A movement, on the other hand, gathers around principles (i.e., values) and practices that in turn give direction, shape, and form to the movement but which empower participants to engage in them without the need for “management” or centralized control. A movement may have organizations that are part of it, but those organizations are not the lifeblood of the work being done.

In the context of Kairos, there are communities around the world living out local expressions of contextualized journeys of discipleship. At the heart of the movement is the person and work of Jesus Christ and the fact that we are invited to join God on mission. Sioux Falls Seminary is not the center of Kairos. It is not even the driving force. Yes, we have a common set of principles and practices and yes, the Legacy Partners of Kairos have had a significant voice in the articulation of those principles and practices. But, as it turns out, Kairos in the United Arab Emirates and Kairos in Brazil are not identical. Rather, the communities around the world who are part of Kairos embody the principles and practices in ways that are most conducive for stewarding followers of Jesus in their context.

As a movement, we are not a collection of process, policies, and budgets. Rather, we are a distributed network of people seeking to practice the way of Jesus in their context while seeking to deepen their understanding of what it means to flourish in their vacation. In practical terms, this means the community is more “messy and organic” than “rigid and predictable.” It also means it will always be changing as we discern where God is moving.

It can be tempting to strive for centralized control. Often it is easier to manage because the answers to most questions seem more straightforward. I would suggest however, that such control tends to lull us into the belief that we are, in fact, in control. The plain and simple fact is that we are not in control. As a movement of Jesus followers, we should delight in the fact that our God reigns and then hold on tight for a wild ride!

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