Q & A #1 // Organic Church Life

As mentioned in my last post, I’ll be responding to some questions about organic church life here over the weeks to come. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Q: How would you define the organic church that you’re a part of?

A: I’ve been writing and erasing answers to this question for a while now. The truth is, I can’t “define” it. That might make some people uncomfortable, but I now find it immeasurably beautiful and full of truth and LIFE.

I can’t define it because… Well, how would you define yourself? Think about it. Really, think about it. What makes you different from every other person on the earth? What makes you the same?

It’s hard, right? The best I could do is come up with a description but every description falls very short of defining me. To understand who and what I am, you’d really just need to experience me and then keep experiencing me.

The same is true here. So, I’ll tell you some things that describe who we are as a Body (and realize that it falls very short of defining us)…

{In no particular order…}

  • We are a local expression of the Body of Christ – a living, breathing, moving, and always changing being.

  • We are a diverse group of people united under the headship of Christ. We are not united under a set of doctrines, practices, or leaders.

  • We choose to individually lay down our opinions and wills and to discover together the mind of Christ.

  • We are learning together to live by Christ’s life and to express Him in everything we do, individually and corporately.

  • We have no clergy/laity divide. Every member of the body functions and participates in our meetings. Leadership always exists but it is not hierarchical. It comes from every member of the body at different times in a very fluid manner. Pastoring and teaching are functions in the body, rather than offices.

  • We don’t and won’t have a “church building.” We have met in different places (clubhouses, a gym, in homes) in different seasons.

  • We live in community with one another on a daily basis and we gather for planned corporate meetings weekly.

There are some really great books out there about organic expressions of church (ekklesia) written by people who have been experiencing it for a lot longer than I have/or who experienced it at different points in history. I can recommend some to you if you’re interested. For now, I’ll leave you with a few quotes from the first book I read on the subject.

Institutional churches are a lot like trains. They are going in a certain direction, and they will continue in that direction for a good long time even if all hands try to make them stop. As with trains, the options for turning the direction of institutional churches are limited at best. If a switch or siding is available, the train could turn. Otherwise, it just follows its tracks. So everyone aboard had best hope that he is on the right train headed in the right direction.

Organic churches, like those in the New Testament, are different. They are not trains, but groups of people out for a walk. These groups move much more slowly than trains-only several miles per hour at the fastest. But they can turn at a moment’s notice. More importantly, they can be genuinely attentive to their world, to their Lord, and to each other.

– Frank Viola. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity (p. 19). Kindle Edition.

The church we read about in the New Testament was “organic.” By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals, and held together by religious programs.

– Frank Viola. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity (p. 32). Kindle Edition.

Stated simply, the first-century church knew no sustaining influence other than the life of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t rely on a clergy-led, man-programmed, humanly planned, institutionally fueled system to preserve its momentum.

– Frank Viola. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity (p. 63). Kindle Edition.

Next time, I’ll answer the 2nd part of the question: “What are the goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses?” 

12 thoughts on “Q & A #1 // Organic Church Life

  1. i don’t mind the idea of exploring new ways to do church but when i see things like the quotes it just gives off a sort of arrogance.
    “The church we read about in the New Testament…controlled by a human hierarchy…” that’s not the church i read about in the bible. based on Paul’s letters you can see leaders in the church, even specifically referring to elders. if anything you could say it’s more apt to how God intended to lead Israel but even THEN he had specific people used in specific purposes (i.e. prophets, Levites, judges…)
    to say it was “constructed by human institutions” is he insinuating that God stopped inspiring people and just let the church go and do it’s own thing? cause that’s what it seems like, and also this statement is where i see the arrogance, maybe it’s just my standpoint but it gives off an air of a thought process that is akin to “we’re doing it God’s way not man’s like you typical church goers”.
    “held by lifeless rituals” like what? lent? i find deep meaning there. the truth is anything we do constantly becomes a ritual, even an “organic church” can become a ritual and that’s not BAD everything can become a ritual. the difficulty comes in consciously remembering why someone is doing something which is what we as people have to do constantly to be in a mind set of worship. for instance, reading the Bible SHOULD be a ritual but it should also be done with a conscious effort not just glazing over the words. I understand he used the qualifier “lifeless” but in the context of that sentence it’s saying that the church is based around rituals that have nothing in them which is quite a bold statement.
    “held together by religious programs” what does he mean by this? is it saying that the church needs programs to stay alive because i don’t see that at all. is it saying that it’s bad because they’re religious in nature? because that doesn’t make sense considering any form of worship is religious by definition.
    finally his last paragraph disregards everything I’ve studied about the New testament church. I’ve already talked about their being leadership, it had a sustaining influence being born with a people who had already had an existing church that followed the the Same wonderful God, not to mention the fact that they already had the Old testament that they used. our church now still seeks God and accepts His guidance, I’ll agree on the idea of an established church being “harder to turn”, but that isn’t wholly because man is stubborn and forcing his will over the church. It’s because the church has leaders that are doing the same thing the organic church is doing, looking to God and through His guidance and the study of His word and directing the body based on that.
    like i said initially, i have no problem with a new take on how a church body interacts and/or finding new ways of doing so (as long as it stays true to God and His word of coarse), and i find it very interesting and am curious to hear about what areas it flourishes in, but it should define what its’ doing based on goals and Theology not by putting down the existing church. I really don’t wanna seem like I’m against the organic church, it has benefits and flaws just like any other system, and that’s fine. however, when i see dividing language, like that in the above quote, i can’t help but point out the problems in what was said because my church isn’t perfect (just like I can count on the organic one being imperfect both having fallen people involved) BUT it IS the church that God used to save me, it is the family I’ve grown in God with, and i cherish that SO much.

    • First, I think you win the award for the longest blog comment I’ve ever received. Props for that. :)

      Thanks for adding to the discussion. I appreciate your taking the time to read and write.

      In the posts to come, I’ll be discussing some of the things you’re talking about here so I hope you’ll bear with me for more of a response. Here are a few quick thoughts that, again, I’ll discuss more in the weeks to come.

      This really isn’t a new way of doing church. We’re not inventing anything new.

      I absolutely acknowledge leadership has always existed in the church. It exists in ours. I’ll talk later about leadership in the NT so stick around for that. ;)

      Neither I nor the author I’ve quoted are insinuating in any way that the Lord does not inspire anyone in traditional churches or that He has left them out to dry and doesn’t work there. If you are seeing arrogance in any of my statements or his statements, I really believe you are misunderstanding us. I hope that since you know me, you know that I love the Lord’s people – even the ones I disagree with on various things. I would actually say that this journey has increased my love for all the Lord’s people, especially so when it comes to those who I disagree with. I recognize and appreciate the Christ in each one.

      There are some bold statements in the quotes and I believe they are bold with purpose, but the purpose is not to cause division or to put down the traditional church (which you called the existing church… but non-traditional/organic forms of church are also existing…).

      I’m not sure if I’m understanding you correctly but I think you’ve implied that the organic church is defined by putting down traditional church. It absolutely is not. It also is not defined by goals and theology. It IS defined by the person of Christ. Is that not what we all should be defined by?

      Love you, brother. Looking forward to more discussion.

      • I shall hang my award on the wall :).
        i call it new because a church called an “organic church” is new as far as i’ve known.
        I know you would never say anything like that, my comments were completley direcected at the quotes. i will say that, unless he was refering to the old catholic church or something to that nature or if he went on to define it further later, than i don’t see how it can be ment any other way. this kinda takes me to your last paragraph as well. I wasn’t saying that the organic church IS defined that way i was saying that it was defined in the quote by putting down the traditional church. instead of saying “we do it this way because we want to focus on this and this or making this better”, he said “we do church this way because it’s better than these guys over here that do this and this”. i’ve seen a few people go off to make a church because they thought they could improve church and make it better when in reality people just like different things and God can use all of it. maybe the author doesn’t think that way but the language used seemed to portray that.
        I hope my tone didn’t seem to aggressive in the original post, it was late and i didn’t take as much time reading through it to make sure it wouldn’t be taken that way.

  2. Hmm, his quote here, “The church we read about in the New Testament was “organic.” By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals, and held together by religious programs.”, goes against everything I’ve been studying and hearing Isaac study on early church history.

    Seems like it wasn’t a human institution, absolutely. It was a spiritual institution, but one still with hierarchy, rituals, and programs. Readying some of the earliest church writers has surprised me with how much ritual, hierarchy, etc. there was. It still don’t believe, however it is the institution or structure that is holy, but that all of those things can be made righteous when the Spirit and Body is in them. Because of that, I also don’t think institution, hierarchy, leadership structure, ritual, etc. need to be absolute.

    And that’s why I see where you’re coming from. I think the way ya’ll are doing things is one way to do things, and that it has its place and specific purpose right now in our society. I would just say it’s not based on the early church, it’s actually quite different than the early church.

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective, Kacie. It’s interesting because I’ve been surprised to discover the opposite of what you’re saying. Jon and I have both taken multiple church history classes over the years and in the last few years have been exposed to things that we were never exposed to there. I’ve seen that since the early church there have always been pockets of believers outside of the institution, etc.

      I do agree that the Lord does work through the institution and the structure. I certainly encountered Him there myself. I’m reading a book now written by a Jesuit priest that is just beautiful – full of Life and Truth and an intimacy Christ.

  3. Pingback: Q & A 2 // Organic Church Life | ... this grace in which we stand ...

  4. Wow! “To understand who and what I am, you’d really just need to experience me and then keep experiencing me.”

    What a great quote! Shanda, thanks for starting this series. I am so thankful you are sharing from your experience. You are not speaking in hypothetical ideas or theories! You have seen this “organic church” many have read about and talked about and theorized about and scrutinized and tested.

    You have experienced.

    What a wonderful gift to those who are considering discovering and experiencing Christ in this way.

    Julie and I hope to keep experiencing Christ with you and Jon!

    Much Love.

  5. Pingback: Q & A #3a // Organic Church Life | ... this grace in which we stand ...

  6. Wow, I am in the middle of Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and find this whole conversation fascinating! The evolution of our modern religious traditions are surprising. It’s fun to hear about your journey. Thanks for sharing! Hope you are well!

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