In prison, there is a uniform schedule and sameness day after day that prisoners must adapt to in order to survive. Most decisions are made by someone else, and inmates learn to keep their eyes down and do what they are told. They keep going by blending in or melting into the life of the larger institution that surrounds them.
Long-term prisoners often find it hard to live outside an institution. The outside is full of new challenges, responsibilities, and other frightening prospects. They can miss the safety and sameness of the world they knew. The outside can be such a scary and intimidating place, they sometimes commit some crime so they can return to the world they know and where they are comfortable.
Jesus did not call us to comfort.
Many Christians I know can be considered “institutionalized Christians”. They are not comfortable in the scary world Jesus told us to engage, so they cloister together in institutional communities where they blend into the structure of the organization and draw security from their submissive anonymity.
Here are some characteristics of the institutionalized. They are very involved in the activities of the institution. They perceive meeting times as set apart for God. They are often involved in multiple ministries and programs of the institution. They think of ministry as a group or institutional process or event. They ask other Christians about their institutional connection and largely ignore Jesus. They are impressed with the size of institutional meetings and the number of programs. (They also love to ask about this.) They are very obedient to church authority as long as it protects their institutional security. They think discipleship is a class. The institutionalized Christian believes that Christian life and ministry are centered in an institutional relationship that involves membership, meetings, and a group approach to all of life’s challenges.
Folks, this is exactly the mentality Jesus sought to free us from. Believers have a relationship with Him that cannot be contained within the walls of a building or an itinerary of meetings and programs. He set us free to take Him wherever He leads. He is not leading us into a walled compound but into a wide, wild, exciting and frightening world. We are not to be afraid because He goes with us.
Lift up your eyes to the field. Don’t be like the rest of the institutionalized pack; think and pray on your own terms. Ask Jesus what He wants you to do. Don’t depend on the institution for comfort or ideas. Climb over that wall, breathe free, love the world He loves, and go give yourself to serve Him in it.