Organic Church? Institutional Church? Meh …

Are we a bride or a bride-zilla?

Some people watch Little House on The Prarie and wish they could go back to those simpler times. Other than Nellie Olsen being a pain in the butt, it all looks pretty good. Me? I have no desire to return to a drafty log cabin after a day of pulling a plow blade behind my horse. TV makes things look really nice.

The Waltons make the Great Depression look pretty good but talking to elderly people has convinced me that no one wants to relive those years. John-boy’s stories are great … but life was hard.

I have a bunch of Christian friends who are pretty ticked at the “institutional church” and long to go back to the early “organic church” where, according to them, things were pretty good. I’m not much of a fan of the everyone-sit-and-listen church model either but I’m not ready to bail on corporate church gatherings altogether.

Was the early church really a utopia? Was it really so much better than today? I think it has been romanticized a lot.

When I read the New Testament I see a lot of space dedicated to urging people to stop being selfish, stop bickering and start following Christ. I see Paul telling people they are missing the point of communion. I see trouble-makers being dealt with and counsel to use words wisely. I see purpose defined and a good scolding about how to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Look at Ananias and Sapphira … they sell some land and then claim to give all the money to the common pool. But they didn’t give it all. They lied. Peter calls them liars and then they drop dead. That freaked people out and was pretty scarey. Try that story on for size at your next love-in, all-about-community, forgiving and accepting group! Some people read things into the story and claim Ananias and Sapphira were not willingly giving but felt pressure from the leadership. Others point to their desire to look good in front of people. I don’t read anything into it. I just see people lying before a Holy God and I know God has never been a fan of that. (Joshua 7) Ahhh … how sweet it is! The early church had no issues like we do, right?

My organic church friends are definitely anti-establishment. They point to an early church where there was no order to things and things were just so Spirit-led that everything happened spontaneously. No preacher man, no fancy musicians and no format. Everyone, according to them, just shared everything.  Really? What about Ephesians 4:11-16?

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

What’s odd to me if that my early-church advocate friends are mostly anti-pastor but are open to modern day “apostles.” As they see it, the pastor/preacher is the man that is holding them down. The elders or deacons are in their way. They want a simpler church gathering that they believe is modeled after the early church. I don’t think they truly know what they are advocating.

The word “apostle” has mostly disappeared from our landscape. As a “sent one” bringing “new revelation,” it does appear that the work of apostles is done. The revelation is complete in scripture. But, when I go on to study more of what the ministry of apostles looked like in the early church, I see effective senior pastors (as we call them today) working to build up the team, provide direction and keep everyone on track in vision and purpose. We’ve attached apostle type duties to the position of shepherd/pastor and have let the apostle concept fade away mostly because it has been absorbed by some pretty odd ducks doing weird things.

The early church team had a defined structure of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. It squabbled, fought, got off track and lost focus just like we do today. When it did, the postman brought a letter from an apostle to encourage them to get back to following Jesus.  A lot of times a visit followed the letter.

So here we are with the “institutional church” staring down the “organic church.” One loses sight of Jesus in its structures and rules and the other loses sight of Jesus by forming ingrown, structureless community groups on comfy couches. Each seems somewhat threatened by the other. I really don’t get it.

As a pastor/preacher type I need to learn from the early church model where apostles built teams and worked hard to involve people in ministry. I need to guard against the performance model where I invite people to simply come and watch and listen. I need to guard against working so hard to fill my church that I lose sight of the church of Jesus. I need to avoid the temptation to just have polished musicians wow the crowd every week and instead open opportunities for others to hone their gifts and grow up in ministry. As I see it, it’s my job to find the preachers, teachers, evangelists and shepherds and equip them to do their thing.

I miss my organic friends. I’m glad their podcasts are bringing them John Piper and Francis Chan but I find it ironic that each of those teachers is ministering in churches a lot like this one with their media pastors recording their messages (wow, that takes some structure!). I’m glad my friends are growing in community, eating together and sharing from the Word in comfy living rooms. I think home groups rock and wish we all were plugged into similar groups. But still, I believe there is something special and unique about corporate worship.

We’re the church of Jesus whether organic or structured. I want to do my part to make sure we’re not a Bride-zilla marching around making our demands and throwing fits whenever things don’t go our way.

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About Scott Linscott

Living life to the fullest, walking in the dust of my Rabbi, creating art through photography and written word, speaking words of hope and encouragement at conferences, workshops, church and civic gatherings.
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4 Responses to Organic Church? Institutional Church? Meh …

  1. Phillip says:

    I can certainly understand your response. As a member of an organized church AND a proponent of the organic church movement, I see both sides. They aren’t necessarily exclusive, though you would certainly think so listening to some.

    I just go through reading ‘Organic Church’ by Neil Cole, a founding member of an organic church planting organization. I suggest you check it out. Neil’s approach to church, being a pastor of a denomination, was certainly not anti-establishment. He didn’t start off, as many do, trying to figure out what was wrong with the church. He started out by asking God how He could better reach the lost and hopeless.

    He and his team simply made a commitment to do whatever was necessary to glorify God and bring as many people to Jesus as possible. Through many trials and attempts at doing things which clearly didn’t work (most of them institutional in nature, the way he was trained), he discovered that a simple, organic, back to the Bible approach to certain topics (such as discipleship, church, ministry, etc), simply were much more conducive to spreading the gospel and transforming lives. By bringing the gospel to people and planting church where life happens, rather than trying to bring them back to a church somewhere, things happened more smoothly, faster and more organically. New church growth, and more importantly, change in neighborhoods from sinful lifestyles to glorification of God, took root.

    Does this mean we totally trash the current church model we’ve had for centuries? Are these two ideas so diametrically opposed that they simply cannot work hand in hand in some fashion? I pray they can. As Neil points out in another book, to him, the Organized Church is something like a version 2.0 of the church, and the Organic movement is version 3.0. Perhaps, for those of us who grew up on 2.0, but want to experience new and more powerful ways to glorify God, there’s a 2.5? 🙂

    Neil Cole, a founder of an organic church type movement, mentions this possibility in a recent interview ( http://www.edstetzer.com/2010/04/missionshift-introducing-neil.html ) He says, “We are just beginning to see Mega and Micro churches working together to reach a city with God’s kingdom. I have much hope for this. ”

    So, who knows? Personally, I’m going to set up a meeting with one of the leaders of our church and talk about it more. There’s something to be said for trying to work together to glorify God rather than separating and fracturing over points like this.

  2. Hello Scott,

    I like your observations and it seems as though you are honestly seeking the truth. Most people that are making the, “Organic/Institutional” question are biased one way or another.

    I know that feeling because I was once there. I was honestly seeking the Lord on the matter and He answered. I moved to a city where an authentic expression of Jesus Christ was being manifested in an organic matter. I agree with your statement that most of these “NT-styled” gatherings today are over-romanticized, but I will tell you my experience thus far in Organic Church. It is absolutely glorious. I moved 1,100 miles for this, and I must say, it’s been worth every mile driven. I have grown in the Lord more in 2 months than I have my entire Christian walk. If you wish to know a little more, check out my blog. Though words can’t possible describe my experience thus far, maybe it will give you an idea about what all the hype is about.

    Bless you brother.
    Michael Young

  3. Greg,

    Thanks so much for your input. I also have had numerous times over the years that I have been frustrated by the institutional church. But then, I’ve also seen times of tremendous blessing. A lot of it seems to be determined by the mindset of the people attending and the actions (freeing or limiting) of the leadership.

    I think what I find most unsettling is the adversarial tone I’ve heard on both sides of the fence. I’ve seen institutional churches treat home churches like they are a threat and home churches point fingers of blame at the institutional church and call it a failure.

    It’s clear to me that Jesus has built His church. I’ve seen it in homes, in tents, in mud huts, on mountainsides, in cathedrals, storefronts and church buildings.

    To assign it to a home seems to be just another version of attaching the church to a building. Sure, it’s a comfy building but it is still a building none-the-less.

    I hope you have an awesome day!
    Scott

  4. catalyzingleader says:

    Scott,

    First, I want to say that I appreciate you bringing everything back to center by pointing out it is all about Jesus. Whether you choose to join others in an institutional church setting or in an organic setting, if it isn’t about Jesus, we are missing the mark. There are some people who will find their connection with Jesus in one or the other and then those who need both to fill their spiritual thirst.

    I would also like to point out that I don’t find myself longing for days past as much as an authentic expression of the Bride of Christ. I figured out after spending about 12 years as a paid staff member in the institutional church, I was not finding in any of the churches I served, a place where people were free to express whatever the Spirit was leading during the worship times because most everyone was looking at the back of someone else’s head.

    Another big issue I struggled with was seeing a lot of resources were being poured into buildings, salaries, programs, and very little to helping the poor, the widows, and the fatherless. I have been blessed by being able to participate in a couple of house builds in Juarez, Mexico for families who were living in either pallet houses or didn’t have any adequate shelter. For $4,000 plus travel, a team of people can provide a very basic need for a family. Now imagine if a church with just a $200,000 year programming budget was to redirect those funds each year to help the poor. That makes my heart ache more than anything.

    I want to make one other comment to the Ephesians passage you referenced above. The biggest confusion we have on those verses is when we look at the roles listed their as positions in the church not as gifts in the church. We have made titles and positions out of gifts that we were given to build up the church until we reach maturity in Christ. There are no parts of my physical body that have titles without function. All the parts of the body have a function and that is the key to maturity.

    Thank you for sharing your perspective. I often wonder how people who look at the organic/simple church from the outside see those of us who have chosen to simply follow Jesus without all the extras. Not all of us who have chosen the organic route feel as if we are superior. My purpose is to share Christ and the message of His Kingdom in whatever way that will help others in their journey with God.

    Blessing to you!

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