Responding to Institutional Standards

I’ve been sitting for over an hour trying to explain how to respond to the six reasons for institutional standards. I finally have a perfect answer for each one of them.

A few weeks ago I posted a list of six reasons that may prompt a standard for my family. They ranged from the noble (“Because it is right”) to the selfish (“Because you’re a pawn”). I ran out of both time and space to present them again with an eye toward “Christian ministries” in that article. Looking at those same reasons again from an institutional standpoint was my plan for today.

I had my ideas almost clear last time, so I figured this week’s article would be a simple one to finish.

But I did a lot of reading and listening in these last few weeks.

After reconsidering many things in my life, I’ve changed my mind.

So – here’s that same list of possible reasons for standards, along with my answers on how to respond when you disagree with some institution’s choices for them.

1. Because it is right

Q1: I belong to an institution that forbids something as sinful, but I think it’s OK. What should I do?
Q2: I belong to an institution that believes certain activities are commanded in Scripture, but I disagree. What should I do?

A: I don’t know.

2. Because it is wise

Q: OK, they’re not saying it’s clearly spelled out in the Bible, but they sure act as if anyone who disagrees is foolish. What should I do?

A: I don’t know.

3. Because it is convenient

Q: This organization has established standards they expect me to follow – just to make their own administration easier. What should I do?

A: I don’t know.

4. Because you’re an example

Q: I’m a leader in an institution that wants to dictate what I do in my own home. How should I respond?

A: I don’t know.

5. Because you’re in training

Q: I know I’m supposed to be learning here, but some of this institution’s rules are just ridiculous. How should I respond?

A: I don’t know.

6. Because you’re a pawn

Q: The leader of this institution is not ministering; he’s just demanding loyalty to his own personal kingdom. How should I respond?

A: I don’t know.

OK. Thanks for nothing.

Sorry, but I really don’t know. A few weeks ago I thought I did, but as soon as I had a recommendation, a variation of the problem would come to mind for which my ideas would be bad advice.

I know it’s not a terribly helpful answer, so I’ll at least ask a few questions that might help you think through an answer of your own.

  • Is it possible you’ve misunderstood the institution’s intent and put the standard in the wrong category?
  • What is your relationship to the institution? Is their authority over you determined by God, or did you choose the institution voluntarily?
  • What’s the worst that could happen if you comply with the standard?
  • What’s the best that could happen if you comply with the standard?
  • What’s the worst that could happen if you ignore the standard?
  • What’s the best that could happen if you ignore the standard?
  • Are you free to find a different organization, or to leave entirely?

Now here’s where things get tricky…  Just a few weeks ago, I thought I knew answers. It has taken several days of reading, listening, and thinking to realize how cloudy each issue can be.

When you’re in the middle of a challenging conflict around standards, it’s going to be so easy to just chug along down that list of questions and give quick answers that lead very nicely to a conclusion you have already reached.

It took me three weeks to realize that quick answers often aren’t helpful answers.

Take Action

If you’re struggling with a standard that seems arbitrary, pray over each question separately. Be willing to say “I don’t know” until you get an answer.

You might need to graciously and fully accept that standard once and for all. You might need to leave what seems to be an otherwise comfortable position. I don’t know.

When you pray, be open to take a step that might at first seem unthinkable.

It just might take even more than an hour.

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