the community we don't build

Recent frustrations with intentional (or "institutional") community had me thinking again about how our institutions influence us. Because it seems to me that our human institutions are fundamentally opposed to the work of the Spirit.

People are always and everywhere drawn to institutionalize, for two reasons, I think. Because there is valuable power in many people (and their wealth) working together under a unified leadership, and because that kind of power can be grasped and controlled by people. It's a power we can make, and make ours.

Those two characteristics, however, are also what distinguish our institutions and their power from the nature and power of the Spirit of God. God's power does not come from unified, organized human beings, and it cannot be controlled by human beings. The Spirit "blows where it pleases." This is the Spirit we see in Jesus, and the power seen through him, which did not come from the masses nor could be controlled by the leaders and which accomplished what no human power can accomplish.

The Spirit and power of God, by its very nature, thus trivializes and threatens all our human institutions. It forces a choice on us: You cannot serve two masters—which will you choose? We are all invited to be one with others in the corporate entity which is the body of Christ, but we cannot simultaneously be a part of multiple entities, just as no body part could simultaneously serve multiple heads. Ultimately, the presence of the Spirit and power of God reveal that all our corporate institutions are fundamentally false, imposters. Thus our institutions must oppose God's spirit if they are to continue in existence (in people's minds at least).

This opposition can be seen in practice most markedly in institutions that were originally formed following some strong movement of the Spirit. Some real good is seen, people are drawn to it, inspired by it; there is a feeling of unity and power. In order to hold onto this, an institution is formed, named, and gradually defined with policies and structures. Then the work of gathering more members and more resources begins, so the good work can be made more widespread and effective. But this doesn't help God's Spirit. It is a human attempt to take over, an attempt to domesticate the Spirit. The eventual, invariable result? Memberships and policies and structures that are empty and crumbling, because the Spirit has left the building. Like the wind that blows where it will. When the Spirit does reappear, often through outside individuals, it invariably announces that the institution is spiritless, lifeless. And is then openly opposed.

The ironic thing is, even when we notice this happening, the usual response is to try to come up with new, improved structures and policies. But any institution or community we build will necessarily oppose the Spirit in this same way. Only the one community that we do not build is unified with God's Spirit.

As Jesus showed and taught us, that community will always exist scattered and mixed among all the human institutions of this world (until the end). Not dominant in any place or time, ever. Always made up of the weak and few, where "two or three are gathered in my name"—but united with the weak and few everywhere, as the one Body, supported by God's power. That's what we are invited to see and be.

And it ain't no intentional community.