Timothy Keller on Movement Dynamics

I have lifted Jay Lorenzen’s notes from Timothy Keller’s talk at the Global Cities Initiative Conference on Movement Dynamics.  This fantastic talk highlights the differences between a movement and institutionalism.  You can listen to the talk here.  The longer an organization exists the greater the pressure or drift to become locked into institutional ways and survivalism.   Jay’s notes are below.

Below is a summary of his points as Tim compared a movement with an institution. Let me suggest that you discuss these “dynamics” with your missional teams and help move your ministry to a movement and keep it from becoming an institution.


Oneness from common vision and beliefs: A movement is driven by a clear vision for a particular future reality, based on common beliefs.

Marks of a movement

1. Organized around a common vision for the future.

2. All leaders and key players share same goals.

3. Forward movement through arriving at consensus or near consensus on next stage in reaching the vision.

Marks of an institution

1. Organized around by-laws and ground rules.

2. Each leader/department presses for own differing agenda.

3. Forward movement through negotiated compromises to form agreed upon ‘strategy.’


Emphasis on cooperation across lines: A movement is peopled by workers who put the vision ahead of other differences and learn from and work with people of other preferences, temperaments, and secondary beliefs.

Marks of a movement

4. Leaders have high tolerance for ambiguity and organizational “messiness”; what matters is the cause and vision. Result: lots of cooperation with those outside your organization who share the primary beliefs and vision.

5. Responsibilities of leaders overlap; everyone ‘owns’ the overall organization’s health; result is much cooperation within. Emphasis on ‘roles’ – who you are in the movement. Structure looks more ‘flat’ and like a network of teams.

Marks of an institution

4. Leaders have high need for clarity and compliance; what matters is proper procedure. Result: little cooperation with those who don’t share secondary and tertiary beliefs.

5.“Silo”and turf consciousness; the result is contentiousness. Emphasis on ‘tasks’-what you do in the organization. Structure is more ‘top-down’ like a pyramid of individuals


Devotion to God’s kingdom over self or tribe: A movement is peopled by workers who put the vision ahead of their own interests and needs.

Marks of a movement

6. Great sacrifice is tolerated: low pay, long hours, poor conditions. Leaders need less approval and encouragement; self-starters.

7. High level of trust. Less need for accreditation and close supervision.

Marks of an institution

6. Individual needs more important than progress of the whole. Workers need rewards, much accountability from top.

7. Little trust. Constant meetings. time-consuming reporting, long approval processes.


Spontaneous growth without top-down command: A movement constantly generates new ideas, new leaders, and new initiatives across itself—not solely from the top or from a command center outside of it.

Marks of a movement

8. Movement spreads through recruitment from relationship networks. Organic growth through friends’ enthusiasm and an appeal to sacrificial commitment.

9. New ideas are solicited and incorporated quickly. Lots of openness to creativity; freedom to try and fail. Leaders give workers more support than control.

10. Relationships strong; much “off-line” thinking occurs through friendships. Leaders naturally attract and ‘train’ new leaders through relationships.

Marks of an institution

8. Organization grows through formal processes of communication and “sales” appealing to individuals’ self-interest.

9. Innovation is seen as threatening if not coming from top. Great fear of any failure. Leaders keep tight control, give little support.

10. Few friendships; little happens outside of meetings. New leaders have to be recruited through formal processes.


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