Institutional Christianity is concerned with organization, authority, order, offices, titles, etc. Non-institutional Christianity is concerned with relationship, life, freedom, function, etc. Institutional Christianity tends to confine and squelch the life of the Spirit in individuals, while non-institutional Christianity tends to make room for the individual expression of Spiritual gifts and callings in both men and women.
I was confronted with the difference shortly after graduating from Bible school and marriage to Sue. We had moved to Canada and were staying with her parents and two brothers until we found a place of our own. Being a Bible school graduate, I was looking for an institutional ministry position that would offer me a position, a title, a salary, and a group to whom I could preach and teach. One morning, during my prayer time, God clearly spoke to me through Acts 20:28, “Take heed to yourself and to all the flock among which the Holy Spirit has made you an overseer.”
I knew immediately that God had called me to pastor a group of people, consisting of Sue’s immediate family, her aunt and uncle, and a few of other people. Some of these were not Christians and all would have thought this newly arrived Texan was a little “wacky” if I announced, “I am your pastor.” There was no position, no title, no salary, and no “church” meetings. etc. “Pastoring” was completely relational, taking place around the dinner table, going to the beach, conversing in the living room, and time on my knees. But I took my pastoral calling seriously and within a year all had come to Christ and lives had been forever changed.
My word of encouragement to you today is that you do not have to confine your gift and calling to an institutional setting. Yes, God works through institutions but He has not confined Himself to institutions. Furthermore, we cannot say that He prefers institutions. In fact, virtually all historians of early Christianity agree that there was a loss of Spiritual life and power when Christianity moved from being a non-institutional movement of the Spirit to an institutionalized religious system. True revival will break forth when women and men began to obey the Lord and “function” in the gift and calling God has given them both inside and outside the institution.