Q & A #3a // Organic Church Life

It’s been a busy few weeks here, but I’m finally back to begin my response to the next question about organic church life.

Today’s question:

Q: How does leadership work?

My response will come in 3 posts, starting with a discussion on finding the mind of Christ.

Until coming into organic church life, that’s really not a phrase I ever said or often heard. If I did hear it, I really didn’t understand it. Yet, it’s all over the Scriptures and it’s at the core of spiritual leadership.

I Corinthians 12 is a beautiful portrait of the Bride of Christ, the Body, the Church. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (v. 13). It is a diverse body. Full of a variety of perspectives and gifts. He’s given us many parts, yet one body (v. 20). In each of the members of the body, He’s deposited Himself. His spirit has mingled and mixed with ours, and He’s made us One Life. There is no division (v. 25). What is for one is for all, and just as our physical eye cannot function in the world without the rest of our physical body, so can no member of His Body function apart from others.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. […] For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-13;16).”

I’ve read these verses SO many times in my life. I missed something though. I read it with my individualistic westernized/American perspective. When I read the word “we” I read “me and you.” That may sound like the same thing, but it’s really not. “We” is “US together” and “together WE.” Together, we – the ekklesia, the local assembly of the Body of Christ – find the mind of Christ. The many members each bring a piece of His mind, and together we find the fullness of the mind of Christ.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8)

This is how it happens. We complete his joy by being of the same mind, Christ’s mind. We are a new creation, the Bride. We share One Life, that is Christ’s Life. We have the same Love, who is Christ. Through Love, we come together in full accord and with Christ’s mind… a mind that is bigger than any individual can find on their own. We come together with humility, listening to each other, and counting others as more significant than ourselves, and seeking the interest of the Whole – the One Life. This One Mind is OURS (not mine and yours – OURS – us together) and we find it as we empty ourselves at the cross, becoming a servant. We find it as we daily choose to die to ourselves and take up the cross of Christ (Luke 9:23-24). We find it as we lose our individual lives, to gain His life as the Body of Christ – His expression on the earth today, many members united under One Head.

In organic church life, we’ve discovered the beauty and the essentiality of recognizing the piece of His Mind contained in each of our brothers and sisters. We seek after it in each other like treasure. We together explore and discover where the Head, Christ, is taking us as One Body. We are united in the same mind and the same judgment, which is His.

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

And so, we seek to agree, to come together in unity not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.

Leadership is realized in a lot of practical and beautiful ways as we share His Life, with this as the constant underlying source.

Next week, I’ll share some examples of the practical and beautiful ways we’ve seen this happen. The following week, I’ll look at some church history on the subject of leadership.

In case you missed them here are links to the previous posts in this series:
How would you define the organic church that you’re a part of? [Click here if you missed it]”
“What are the goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses of organic church life/Body Life? [Click here if you missed it!]”

Q & A #2 // Organic Church Life

Last week, I responded to the question, “How would you define the organic church that you’re a part of? This week…

Q: What are the goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses of organic church life/Body Life? {I’ll use those terms interchangeably.}

A: My initial response to this question is a very short and simple answer.

The goal is Christ.
The purpose is Christ.
The strength is Christ.
The weaknesses are our flesh.

That is the most honest answer I can come up with, and yet I know it’s too simple to be any sort of explanation, so I’ll try to expound on a few areas where I see this played out.

1. Christ is the head of the body, the church. I’m not sure when I learned that truth, but it’s certainly one I’ve been familiar with for a long time. I think we (believers) all would be quick to affirm it. It certainly is clear in Scripture:

“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” – Ephesians 1:22-23

Christ is the authority and the source. He is over all things. He fills all in all. We, the church, are His fullness expressed on the earth today.

I guess that in the past this has been something I clung to as a theological truth, and now, much more than ever before, it’s an experiential reality.  He moves us. He directs us. He connects us. He unites us.

That’s one of the things I view as a strength (and purpose and goal).

I’d love to somehow put this experience on the page for you to absorb, but my writing skills don’t go that far. As I said in my last post, you really have to experience it to know it. I’m not saying that you’ve not experienced it. I really don’t know. I’m just sure that in my church experience, Christ as head has never been this real and tangible to me. And I have to tell you, it’s breathtaking.

2. We, brothers and sisters in Christ, are new creations. The old you and I have passed away, and the new (Christ in us) has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Again, I’ve known and experienced this in my life but the experience of this reality has exponentially increased within Body Life.

We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead! We have all been made alive in Christ, raised up in Christ, seated in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-13). This is a spiritual reality. Who we are in the spirit IS who we are.

We lose our own life, to gain His. Being intimately joined with brothers and sisters in community life, you absolutely MUST continually lose your own life. It doesn’t work when we hold on to our individual selves. We are One.

I’ve never seen that play out more beautifully than I have in organic church life. My brothers and sisters in this body continually affirm and call out each other’s identity in Christ, our new creations. Thus, when someone has forgotten who they are, when one or some of us are clinging to some parts of our individual lives, our true life in Christ is revealed to us through the Body. I treasure that immensely and desire it for all my brothers and sisters, near and far.

3. Along those lines is where weakness comes in. We all still have flesh and our flesh is not at all pretty. Living intimately in community, joined together in Christ, we get to see each other’s flesh rearing its ugly head – up close and personal.

We’re a diverse group of people with a variety of backgrounds. When it comes to things other than Christ, we have very different outlooks. And yet, we’ve chosen to walk together through all the thick and thin of life.

Sometimes flesh offends flesh.

We have to get over that.

It is not always fun and sometimes it’s downright painful.

There have been and will be seasons in which we do that well. There have been and will be seasons that we do that poorly.

But I believe this is a primary example of our weakness being His strength. We must depend on Him. We must bring our selves and our agendas to the cross.

4. In organic church life, every member functions. This is a beautiful reality that I’d also consider a significant strength. I’m going to leave it to discuss more extensively in answering the next question: “How does leadership work?” {I’ll likely end up doing multiple posts on that.} Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. How would you describe your own churches goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses?  

“Did you go to church on Sunday?”

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about a particular question that many Christians frequently ask or are asked, so I thought I’d bring the conversation here.

Have you ever asked or been asked: “Did you go to church on Sunday?”

It seems to me that we sometimes get in a habit of making this question a sort of thermometer by which to take each other’s spiritual temperature. If the answer is “yes, I did go…” we move on satisfied by a “healthy” response. If the answer is “No. I didn’t go.” We become concerned.

I have done this a lot over the years but I’ve come to think that it’s a pretty bogus spiritual thermometer. And while I do still ask the question every now and then, because I know people “go to church” on Sundays and it’s a conversation that can be legitimate, I come at it now from a different perspective. It’s almost a “How’s the weather there?” or a “What did you do this weekend?” sort of question. It tells me nothing about a person’s spiritual condition.

Here are a few quick reasons why:

1. The church is a people, not a building or a time of meeting. Assembling together is certainly important and valuable, but it doesn’t only happen on Sunday mornings or in church buildings so I don’t really think it’s a fair question.

2. There are a lot of people sitting in church buildings on Sundays who are there so they can say, “Yes, I went to church.” but they are really disconnected from the Body and from intimacy with the Lord. There are others who, for one reason or another, may not be there but are very connected with the Body and with the Lord.

3. Sometimes the Lord takes us through seasons of wilderness in order to accomplish His purposes in our lives. And, I know this is uncomfortable but, sometimes that might mean a season of “skipping church.”

I’m not saying we should not inquire about and be a part of our brothers and sisters spiritual lives. {I think that we should!} I’m just saying that I think there are better questions to ask and that understanding each other’s spiritual health is a whole lot more complicated than knowing whether or not we’re “going to church.”

What are some questions we could ask that dig deeper?

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?” 

this grace in which WE stand

A month or two ago, I quietly changed the name of my blog. It was just a slight change. I don’t think anyone has even noticed. I changed one little word. But it’s an important word.

I started my blog in 2007 on a day that I had spent some time reading through Romans. I was inspired by chapter 5.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

(Romans 5:1-5 ESV)

Beautiful.

So, I took the name of my blog from verse two which says, “Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…” But I changed it slightly. This is MY blog. This is not OUR blog. Right? So, “this grace in which WE stand” didn’t seem to fit. I made it MY OWN. And so, for the past 4 years and some months my blog has been “… this grace in which I stand …”

But I’ve learned better. I’ve seen more fully. I’m a part of a WE. When Paul wrote Romans 5, he didn’t say WE on accident.

For even as the body is one and has many members, yet all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ.

(I Corinthians 12:12)

So also is the Christ? What does that mean?

Christ is the head. We know that. We read that in scripture. We say we believe that. We are Christ’s body. We know that. We read that in scripture. But I think that, in reality, we have no REAL comprehension of what that means and because we don’t understand we end up living like Christ’s head and body are two separate entities. I know that I have, if no one else. I just didn’t get it. If we are, together, Christ’s body that means… we are a part of Christ. It has to mean that. You can not separate a head and a body. You just can’t.

Let’s look at this verse again…

For even as the body is one and has many members, yet all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ.

(I Corinthians 12:12)

Do you see it? We, who are in Christ, have TOGETHER become a part of him. We are not individual little Jesus-people running around. We have become ONE, with each other – as with Him.

But why have we (in our minds) chopped off his head and separated it from his body? Why do we think of Christ as being divided? Why can’t we wrap our minds around the oneness of Christ? It is because of the fall. When Adam fell we inherited a fallen mind which divides and seperates everything. It is very difficult for us to think in terms of wholeness and oneness. Our minds want to dissect and seperate everything into neat little cattegories and compartments. Oneness doesn’t fit into that agenda.

(The Butterfly in You, Milt Rodriguez)

THAT, my friends and fellow members, makes this grace in which WE stand so very very stunningly beautiful!!!

P.S. If you haven’t read the post I mentioned last week, “Community life in the body of Christ: Viewing shame, vulnerability, and worthiness in light of Him,” you should. ;) The truths shared there have a lot to do with the significance of the word “we.”

P.P.S. I highly recommend the book The Butterfly in You. If any of this is resonating with you, go order it! :)

He is the reason. He is the way.

Four months ago, I wrote a post called “new lenses | giving it time.” I’d been back in America for 2 months. Now, it’s been 6. In some ways, time has FLOWN by. In other ways, it has  c r a w l e d   b y   s o o o o  v e r y   s l o w l y   ! ! !  When I wrote that post, God was telling me to STOP and WAIT until I could see more clearly. “Don’t force yourself to move when you can’t see. It is not a waste of time to wait.” 

Now, I’m moving – in a more literal sense than I thought when I heard that from the Lord. I understand now WHY I had to stop and wait. If anything I was trying to do then had worked out, I wouldn’t have been free to do thisto pick up and start over. There was so much I needed to see. I was already seeing some things I had never seen before, but it was all still fuzzy… Over time, it’s become more and more clear…

5 days from now, I’ll be getting in my [new and shiny red] car with the few belongings I have left. I’ll drive for 11 hours and stay for a night in New Mexico (sometimes you have to go through places you don’t like to get to places you do), then I’ll drive another 11 hours to Dallas. I’ll visit with friends there for 2 days and then drive 10 more hours to Nashville, where I will stay.

I’m going because of Jesus. He is the reason. He is the way. I wish I could show you how much He has done in this… I can’t really. But I’ll tell you a little.

It first came up for me in September. I was in the living room of a stranger with a longtime friend and mentor who, at 1am, said to me: “Shanda. Why don’t you just move to Nashville?” I thought she was crazy. Really. And I argued. But I also listened and, in the end, I agreed to pray about it. At that point, even praying about it kind of terrified me. But the more I prayed, the more I saw Jesus moving and putting life into this crazy thought.

Now, my stuff is mostly packed and I’m 9 days away from being there. 9 days! And when I get there, I will join a group of people who have learned/are learning the same things I’ve learned/am learning about Jesus and His body. I’m moving to be a part of a church (an organic church), not a church like most of us often think of church… It’s a people (not a place). It’s a living spiritual organism (not an institution). It’s people joined together in Christ, expressing together the life of Christ, and seeking together Christ as the Head.

I’m excited. And I’m so ready. And I’m occasionally a bit nervous. But I know it’s gonna be good, because it’s so very FULL of Jesus! And HE is always GOOD.

Yeah, you’re religious.

I worked at Starbucks for almost 5 years and because of that, people think I’m a coffee snob. I’ve had my days of that but I’d like you all to know (or maybe I wouldn’t?) that I just drank coffee (folgers) that was left in the pot from yesterday – just warmed it up in the microwave. No big. I don’t like wasting. I don’t like spending lots of money. There is NOTHING coffee snobbish about any of that. I mean, I still really appreciate good coffee. But it’s no longer a top priority.

BUT there are things about my time working at Starbucks that will ALWAYS be a part of who I am. I learned about people at that place. All kinds. You might be aware that I could tell stories for hours – because you’ve probably listened to them – of crazies, of precious lonely elderly people who just want to talk to someone who cares, of millionaires, of homelessof artists, of pro athletes, of Dallas Daughters and Divas, of sweet moms, of soccer dads, of business owners, of teachers, of authors, of “I’m too cool for school” teenagers, of Christians (the real Jesus following kind and the “I was born in TX so obviously I’m a Christian” type), of Muslims, of Hindus, of atheists, of agnostics, of Baha’i, of Sikhof _________ (ALL kinds of people). If you want to study humanity (especially in the American form) – spend lots of time at sbux and learn to engage with every kind of person there. You’ll never be the same.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about one particular conversation I had in my Starbucks days. I’d like to tell you about it. I was talking to some dude (SD) and something I said made him ask…

SD: So, you’re really religious, huh?
ME: No. I’m not really religious… I don’t like religion. I just love Jesus.
SD: So, you’re a Christian?
ME: Yes. I guess I prefer to say, I follow Jesus… because the word Christian sometimes makes people think more of RELIGION and less of Jesus… But yeah, I’m a follower of Christ… a Christian.
SD: But you don’t think you’re religious?
ME: No. I think that Jesus taught that true Christianity is not about tradition or religion but about loving and knowing Jesus and being a part of His Body.
SD: Do you go to church every Sunday?
ME: Yes.
SD: Do you dress up? 
ME: Kinda. Sometimes. Usually.
SD: Do you participate in traditions there? 
ME: Yes. We do have some traditions. But it’s not ABOUT the traditions.
SD: Uh huh… Yeah, you’re religious… You just don’t know it. 

As I remembered this conversation, I wondered… What if he was more right than I thought he was? What if I keep saying “Jesus taught that true Christianity is not about tradition or religion but about loving and knowing Jesus and being a part of His Body” but then I live like tradition and religion DO matter? What if some of what I’ve clung to is not actually Jesus himself and is distracting me, and people around me, from knowing and loving Jesus?

It’s an important “What if…?” to ask, I think.