10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 10

Myth #10 – Organic Churches Think They Are Superior

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus …”
(Php 2:1-5)

This is the last post in this series of 10 Myths About Organic Church. I hope that you have enjoyed them. I just wanted to say in closing that this Myth #10 brings out a sore spot not only in so called “organic” churches but in all groups of believers. It’s called “exclusivism” and I would define it as cutting yourself off from others because you believe that you are above or superior to others. Every group is in danger of falling into this trap, not just “organic” churches! In fact, this is the very definition of the word “sect” as well. A sect is a group of believers who have separated themselves from all other believers. Usually, they have separated themselves because they have believed the lie that they are in some way superior to the rest of the Body of Christ.

The Safeguard for Church Life

In my opinion, if a church has truly been planted with the proper ingredients, it should not fall into this trap. Though there are never any guarantees. What we need is the church to be founded upon the Person of Christ and Him crucified. Paul said that when he came to the Corinthians he determined to only know Christ and Him crucified (1Cor2:2). This Christ is the “Crucified One” and the word of the cross should be preached within the content of this glorious Christ.

“For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
(1Co 1:22-24)

The cross of Christ is the great safeguard from exclusivism, pride, and all the other works of the flesh. Letting this mind be in you means that we allow the revelation and experience of the cross to permeate our very souls. We can see in Philippians 2 that the mind of Christ is that He emptied and lowered Himself to become a servant. Please understand here that I am not just referring to the redemptive aspects of the cross. I am speaking of the work of the cross in the daily life of the believer.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
(Gal 2:20)

Living a crucified life means that you are daily denying yourself, the flesh, and the fallen old man. Jesus told us to lose our lives (Jn12:24,25) and that He would give us a new life – eternal life – the life of His Father (Jn 6:57). Living a crucified life means that my mind is being renewed day by day into the mind of Christ. I am thinking of others (and their needs) before myself. I am treating others as I would want to be treated. I am laying down my life for my brothers and sisters. Not only those in my group, but those in the larger Body and my fellow man (like the good samaritan parable).

The message of the cross does major damage to our self-lives and selfish ways of thinking. If this message (which is part of the proclamation of Christ) is being preached to a group of believers it will greatly reduce the risk of falling into the trap of exclusivism and superiority. We are not better than anyone! All of those who have Christ living in them are our brothers and sisters! We receive them because Christ has received them!

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 9

Myth #9 – Organic Churches Always Become Ingrown

Many people have the impression that all organic churches are only concerned with themselves and have no burden or vision for the poor or the lost. Now, I do admit that there are some who have fallen into this trap. In fact, I was part of such a group for a season. There was no apparent revelation for the heart of God concerning the poor, oppressed, and those who do not know Him. They became very ingrown like a stagnant pond where the water was not flowing out in any way. Let me say upfront that this attitude is very dangerous and will definitely become toxic and hinder the spiritual and numerical growth of the group.

Simply put, the Body of Christ is to express the Person of Christ. Just as your physical body expresses the life inside of it, You! So, the Body of Christ is to express the Person living inside, Jesus Christ Himself. This includes all aspects of His life, character, and mission.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me. Because of this He anointed Me to proclaim the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me” to heal the brokenhearted, “to proclaim remission to captives, and to the blind to see again,” to send away the ones being crushed, in remission, “to preach an acceptable year of the Lord.”
(Luk 4:18-19)

It is very apparent from this passage (and many many others) in the gospel that Jesus came to bring life and life abundantly (John 10:10). He came to minister to those who were sick, to the oppressed and downtrodden, to the sinners. God definitely has a heart for the poor and the lost. There is no question about this. So what is the problem?

The Problem is a Matter of Life

The problem is that many believers who leave the institutions swing the pendulum one of two ways. Either there is a total abandonment of anything that smacks of doing or serving the Lord, or there is a total swing into more doing and serving because the institutions are just not doing enough. There seems to be a dichotomy afoot here.

The Subjective Only Crowd

These are the folks who leave the institutions and just want to “be”, not “do”. They are “burned out” from doing good works and serving the Lord in the system. They want to get to know the Lord in a deeper way and discover what body life is all about. They want to stop doing and start knowing and being. Many are repulsed by anything that even looks like working for God in any way.

Now, I completely sympathize with this crowd, but only to a point. When I left the religious system I was burned out from so called ministry as well and I strongly desired to know the Lord in a deep way and to discover Him in His Church. I needed to “detox” from many of the mindsets and paradigms that went with being institutionalized. The problem comes in when people stay only in this place which is very natural for those who only have a understanding of the individual Christian life.

If you get together a bunch of believers who are in this place and put them into a living room and propose that they “do organic church” what can happen? They can now all “feed” one another in their subjective only mindset and never take that to it’s conclusion. When we see Christ for Who He truly is (Head and Body), and that the purpose of the Body is to express the life of the Head, something different happens! We will come back to that in a moment.

The Objective Only Crowd

This bunch leaves the institutions because they believe they have found a better way to fulfill the great commission and flesh out the heart of God for the lost and the poor. The subjective is usually totally ignored and its all about the good works and reaching people. These groups are usually extremely evangelistic and/or concerned with social action and taking the “church” to the streets to reach the people.

Now, of course, this is all true. The problem is in the dichotomy. But there IS a third way.

The Holistic View

These are not two mutually exclusive parts! They are both part of the whole. However, most groups outside of the religious system will gravitate to one way or the other depending upon their backgrounds and church experiences.

I believe the answer is to start with the subjective with a view to the objective. Beginnings are extremely important! The foundation of a group is everything and if that foundation is something other than Jesus Christ Himself than it will be off. And if the foundation is off, the whole building will be off. Our Center, Life, and Head must be the Person of Christ Himself. Of course, this includes everything that He is and does. But it primarily needs to start with the New Covenant. Something Paul called the Gospel.

” … to whom God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the nations, who is Christ in you, the hope of glory; whom we announce, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man full-grown in Christ Jesus”
(Col 1:27-28)

This “mystery” of Christ in you (you all) is what Paul announced. It was his gospel. This good news was a Person, the person of Jesus Christ. But it was this Person in a particular location: in you! This is where we must start or we will end up in doing good works with our own human effort and not by Christ. It’s not enough to do something for Christ, we must do things BY Christ! In other words, it must be Christ Himself doing those things in and through us.

“I have been crucified with Christ, and I live; yet no longer I, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith toward the Son of God, the One loving me and giving Himself over on my behalf.”
(Gal 2:20)

So we can see that we must start with the Person of Christ and learn to live by this Lord Who lives inside of us. This means a continual death to ourselves and our own lives by living in His life. Both death and resurrection must work in us continually. But this is not a life lived in isolation! It is a life lived within the context of His Body. So we are living by His indwelling life TOGETHER!

The result of this Life will be the holistic expression of Jesus Christ in and through His Body. This includes His heart for the Church to be a light to the nations. This includes His heart for the poor and oppressed. And if this expression is not happening, then there is something seriously wrong with the life of that group.

God wants the fullness of His Son to be expressed in His Body. That includes His character, His nature, His life, His mission, and His work.

” … and He “put all things under His feet” and gave Him to be Head over all things to the assembly, which is His body: the fullness of the One filling all things in all;”
(Eph 1:22-23)

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 7

Myth #7 – Organic Church is All About Eating Granola and Cage-Free Eggs!

I decided to use this somewhat humorous subtitle to make a few points. The main point being that many people have many strange ideas what we mean when we use the terms “organic church” and that usually leads to some very strange, albeit popular, beliefs and practices.

A Quick Background

First of all, let me give you a brief history on that term “organic church”, and why I use it.

There was an author-speaker who lived in the last century from London England by the name of Theodore Austin-Sparks. Most Christians today have never heard of him. He was a prolific writer and speaker and traveled all over the world speaking at conferences. He was also a good friend and associate of Watchmen Nee in China. Some say that Nee considered Sparks to be his mentor. At any rate, this brother was used of the Lord (among others) to bring back the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ into view. He also spoke much about God’s eternal purpose and the Church. You can view most of his writings and audios on this website: http://www.austin-sparks.net/.

Sparks was the first one (that we know of) who used the term “the organic expression of the church” in his speaking and writing. If you read any of his works you will quickly discover how and why he used that term.

What It Isn’t

The term “organic church” has now become a buzzword in our generation. Many people are using it to mean many different things. Almost everyday I hear of another group claiming to be “organic” and I just have to wonder about all this. I have visited many of these groups that are calling themselves organic and I just know that ole’ Sparks would rollover in his grave if he knew people were using that term so lightly. So I am going to make a quick list of how I would categorize many of those groups who think and say that they are organic. These ideas are coming from my own study of scripture, history, Sparks himself, and my own experiences. Then, I will explain as best I can what Sparks (and others) have taught about “organic church”.

The Glorified Bible Study

Many of the groups I visit who claim to be organic are simply a rehash of the John Darby/Plymouth Brethren style of studying the bible. For those of you who don’t know, conventional bible study the way it is normally practiced today is only about 150 years old. John Darby in Plymouth England gathered believers together to study a book of the bible together line upon line using exegesis and hermeneutics. There was always a bible “teacher” who would take the group through the lessons. But the bible was always the central focus of the meetings. Sometimes there would be discussion about what was taught, sometimes not. In some of the current so called “organic” groups someone brings a theme or a passage of scripture, they all study it the prior week and then discuss it in the meeting. This is just a more open and interactive version of Darby’s style of bible study.

Support Groups

These groups think they are organic because anyone can discuss their personal problems at any time in the meetings. It’s basically a “spill your guts” session where people share their personal struggles (with whatever) and then ask for prayer and advice about these problems. Everyone throws in their “2 cents” and what usually comes out is a great big ball of confusion! Many will contribute their own versions of ‘pycho-babble’ along with very trite pat answers from the bible, teachings they have heard, or books they have read. Usually the cure is much worse than the disease.

Bless Me Clubs

These groups usually have a charismatic bent and are into such things as: healing, prophecy, end times, inner healing, intercessory prayer and the like. It’s all about gifts and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The problem is that it’s all very much skewed to fit the charismatic mindset and background. What if a Southern Baptist were to walk into that meeting? Would he feel a bit weird? You know he would! This is not the Body of Christ. Rather, it is a weirdly distorted group of believers who have specialized and (like the Jews of old) have gone seeking after signs (1 Cor. 1:22).

Mini Church

This is just a downsized, living room version of the institutional church. Everything is pretty much the same with only the venue being the difference. There is a definite pastor, though he/she will probably not be called that (a rose by any other name). He is the one who organizes, facilitates, and teaches the group most of the time. There is usually a “worship leader” who leads the singing with a guitar or keyboards.

Most of the groups that I have visited over the years will fall into one or more of these categories. But would any of this fall into the genre of “the organic expression of the church” as Mr. Sparks would call it? No, I’m afraid they would all fall way short of that high calling. Let’s see what Mr. Sparks would consider to be organic church.

The Centrality and Supremacy of Jesus Christ

This was one of the flagship messages of T. Austin-Sparks. In fact, he wrote a book with the same exact title! If the church is anything, she is centered completely on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! Not just teachings or doctrines about Him. Not even His own teachings. But the Person, work, and life of Christ Himself as He is right now; as the crucified, resurrected, ascended and glorified Lord.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.” (Col 1:18)

The Church does not specialize in anything other than the Lord Himself! He is her Lover, Friend, Lord, Companion, Husband, Center, Life, All, and Everything. She (the Church) only has eyes for Him. She will not allow herself to be distracted with other, lesser things. She is here to express Him and ONLY Him. She is the Body of Christ, the Church. This is not only true of meetings but in all of her corporate life outside of meetings.

The Only Mission of God is His Purpose Hidden Before the Ages

…that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:26-27)

Mr. Sparks really highlighted what Paul called the purpose of the ages, or the eternal purpose of God. He wrote an excellent book about it called “The Stewardship of the Mystery”. In my mind, that is the only reason for a “church” to exist. That Christ would come to the forefront and be expressed in all of His fullness.

The Church is the Dwelling Place (or House) of God

The Church is not just some institution, club, meeting house, building, event, or system of doctrines, programs and activities. The Church is the Body of the living Christ! This means that He lives inside of her and she expresses Him freely and fully. That is what a body does for a person. It expresses the life inside of it. It embodies the character, life, and nature of the One who dwells within. The church expresses this Life 24/7 365 days a year, not just on Sunday morning. She is a community of saints who are always sharing their common Life in Him.

And He put all things in subjection 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.” (Eph 1:22-23)

Sparks wrote many books on the house of God, the spiritual temple, and the dwelling of God.

This gives you a brief summary of my view of the organic expression of the church. If you don’t agree with this view, well, that’s your prerogative. But you will have to take it up with the man who coined the term “organic church”, Mr. Theodore Austin-Sparks!

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 6

Myth #6 – Anyone Can Plant an Organic Church

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1Co 3:6-11)

“Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.” (1Co 12:27-31)

This is another point of mass confusion in the world of house church, simple church, missional church, organic church. Many believe that anyone can plant an organic church. In fact, some believe that every believer is also a church planter. Some say that after a few weekend conferences believers can be trained and ready to go out and plant churches. Others say that it’s very simple, just open your home and invite people and you can plant an organic church. This brings in another element into the mix and that is the “how-tos” of church planting. I will just take a few points and cover them briefly in this post. If you would like a more in-depth look at this very important piece of the puzzle, please see one of my co-workers books called Finding Organic Church.

There are several points that Paul makes in the passages above:

  • He says that he planted the church in Corinth. This is where the term “church planter” comes from. Though that term is never specifically used in scripture it is strongly implied from the fact that Paul tells us that he planted. Obviously one who plants can be called a planter.
  • Paul also calls himself a “worker” in this passage. He says that we are God’s fellow workers and you are God’s field, God’s building. Who are the “we” that he is talking about? Verses 4 and 5 give us the answer. He is speaking about Apollos and himself. Please note that he never encourages everyone in the church to plant churches. But instead he uses the language of “we” and “you”. Paul planted, Apollos watered. They are the “workers” in this situation. Notice that the church is called the field and the building. So Paul is using metaphors from both the farming and the building trades.
  • Paul also tells us that he is like a wise master-builder and he laid the foundation and another (Apollos?) is building upon it. Then he tells us that the only foundation that the church can be built upon is Jesus Christ Himself. So Paul is developing the ideas and pictures of both planting and building. The planter is also a builder and foundation-layer.
  • Then, later on in this same letter (chapter 12) Paul tells us that there are a variety of ministries and gifts. He lists some of them and very strongly implies that not all are called as apostles, not all are called as prophets, teachers, etc.

The Story

Now these passages give us some very clear indication that there are certain believers that are called, prepared, and sent to plant churches and lay foundations. But we must go further to get a clear picture. We must see these passages (and others like them) from within the context of the narrative story of the New Testament church. Reading the book of Acts and the letters in their chronological order will help us greatly with this. The question we must ultimately ask ourselves is this: Does the story as well as verses support this idea of certain people being called and sent to go out and plant churches? And does it also tell us how they planted churches?

Yes, we can clearly see that there were people that God specifically sent out to do this kind of work. People like the 12 apostles that lived in Jerusalem. The scriptural record is silent for most of the twelve but there are lots of stories about Peter and John being sent out by the Spirit to plant churches and help them. See Acts 8-13. Then, we can see from the story that men like Barnabas, Paul, Silas, Timothy, Titus, John Mark, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Archippus, Gaius, Trophimus, Tychicus, and others were involved in planting or helping to plant churches. These people were all in churches for at least a few years before they were sent out to plant churches. Many of them, such as Paul, Barnabas, and Silas, had been in the churches for many years.

God’s Preparation

It’s very clear from the story of all of the bible that God takes His time in preparing His servants to do His work. What about Moses? Forty years in the back side of the desert. What about Abraham? What about Jacob, David, Isaiah, Jesus, the twelve apostles, Paul, and all the rest? All of them went through preparation for years before they were ready to do God’s work.

God’s Way

Our best example of a church planter or apostolic worker is Paul. The reason is that there is more information and writings from Paul than any of the others. So we can learn about the way of the planting churches by looking at the life and writings of Paul.

The Gospel

The first thing we see that Paul did when he was sent out was to preach (or proclaim) the gospel. But what was Paul’s idea of the gospel? He clearly tells us:

“For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”
(1Co 2:2)

“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
(Gal 1:11-12)

“But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,”
(Gal 1:15-16)

“… that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”
(Col 1:26-28)

From these passages (and others) it is very clear that Paul preached a Person. The Lord Jesus Christ! He did not preach a thing or an it or a topic. He presented a living Lord. He knew that the foundation could never be laid unless there was a clear, life-changing, mind-blowing, direction-altering revelation of Christ Himself.

Equipping

“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
(Eph 4:11-13)

Paul understood how to equip the saints to live by the indwelling life of Christ (abiding) and to function as the body of Christ. This equipping also included living a corporate life of community in Him. His letters reveal a man who not only preached and taught the churches but a man who actually poured out his life to them (Phil 2:17;2Tim 4:6).

Conclusion

The record (New Testament story of the early church) shows that true biblical church planters are not made overnight. It also shows that not everyone is called to this work. It also shows that it takes years of preparation. It never has been, nor will it ever be a quick and easy task. At least, not if we do it His way. But if we do it some other way then what kind of results can we expect? I would suspect that it would be the kind of results that we have been getting for the last 1700 years in mainline Christianity!

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 5

Myth #5 – Organic Church is All About Rapid Multiplication and Discipleship

I apologize (not really) ahead of time for this post, but I just need to vent.

I am so tired of hearing about the latest “movement mentality” which is just really the same old church growth principles wearing new clothes and sporting new terms. The Church Growth Movement and mindset have been with us for decades and the principles thereof have been used to create mega mega institutions that some call “churches”. The only difference in these new so-called organic church movements is that we have downsized and are using “organic” language. Many are now trying to reach their neighborhoods for Christ (not that there is anything wrong with that), and start what I call “house churches”, divide in six months, and start new groups. The emphasis is still church growth and what is commonly termed “discipleship”. But this so-called discipleship is all about “accountability” groups that call people to task about their sins on a weekly basis. Sorry, but I don’t see these movements as being either organic or scriptural. I’m sure you can find verses to backup this mentality. But, then of course, you can backup anything with verses. But trying to make this mindset fit into the panoramic narrative of the New Testament just won’t fly. So, let’s first take a look at the idea of this all being organic, and then we will look at the scriptural aspect.

Organic or a Church Growth Rehash?

First of all, I would sincerely like to know how this all can be called “organic”. I mean, isn’t that an honest question since that is the banner that this movement thing is flying under? Organic means that it is based upon life.

“So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly.” 1Co 15:45-48

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Rom 1:20

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”    Joh 15:5

We can see that the attributes of Christ are revealed in the natural world around us. Jesus used natural (organic) pictures all of the time when He spoke. We can see the attributes of divine life by looking at natural life. Even nature tells us what is organic and what is not. Let me ask you, does a tree produce fruit (multiplication) in a rapid manner? Can a new sprouting bear fruit? For that matter, can a five year old girl give birth to a child? Of course not! Nature itself tells us that in between the sprouting stage of a tree and the fruit bearing stage of the tree there is a very important stage: THE MATURING STAGE! In the beginning, the tree (or girl) is just not mature enough or equipped enough to multiply. This is the growth part of the true ekklesia that is totally overlooked by the rapid multiplication folks. But the truth is that if you skip this step, the results will be fleeting and unsubstantial. In other words, there will be no eternal weight of glory or expression of Christ Himself! And that is the only thing the Father is interested in. He is the husbandman of the True Vine in order that the fruit (expression of Christ, or glory of God) would come about. Fruit only happens because there is much transformation (pruning) that goes on as the branches realized that apart from Him they can do nothing! All fruit comes in season. And the idea of seasons in the church (which is organic) has been abandoned for church growth principles, programs, and agendas.

Based on the Testimony of Scripture or Business Principles?

Actually my real motivation in writing this post is not just to vent. I really want to make my contribution in alleviating some of the confusion revolving around the terms that are being used, especially the term, organic church.

The scriptures are the foundational “litmus test” of all we do for the Lord. Most of the proponents of rapid multiplication/discipleship movements base their ideas upon the gospels. They will use such passages as Jesus sending out the 72 workers in Luke or other such passages. The problem is that they don’t use the WHOLE story of the New Testament church. The holistic approach to biblical interpretation is the only one that most respected bible scholars use. You need to see what the complete biblical record shows us about a topic or principle before you can claim that it is “biblical”. One time instances of something is not enough. How did that activity develop throughout the story?

For example, let’s take a look at the story of the Jerusalem church. Obviously, this church was mostly made up of Jewish believers. Did this hold true for all future churches throughout the world? Of course not. We know that God poured out His Spirit upon the Gentiles as well. In fact, He called Paul, Barnabas, and many others to go and plant churches throughout the known world among Gentiles.

Another example taken from the Jerusalem church is the idea of rapid multiplication. We know that Saul of Tarsus came to town and began a persecution that caused all of the believers (except the apostles) to spread throughout Judea and Samaria. This sounds a lot like rapid multiplication. But wait a minute. What we forget is that the believers in Jerusalem had 4-5 years of being equipped and trained and taught by the 12 apostles before the persecution. Those believers who went out preaching the gospel and starting new churches throughout the area had years of experience first living body life. They spent years getting to know the Christ who lived inside of them. And they spent years learning to live as a family-community with Christ as the Head. Plus, we see Peter and John coming to visit all of those new churches to help establish them in the Lord (Acts 8:14; Acts 9:31,32; Acts 10:21).

So we see that the Jerusalem story was not repeated again in the story. In Antioch, workers were sent out to plant truly organic churches in different places (Acts 13). There is not indication whatsoever that any of those churches were produced rapidly or multiplied rapidly. In fact, Paul only planted a total of about 15 churches in his whole lifetime!

Wow Paul, I guess you really didn’t know what true organic church planting was all about!

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 4

Myth #4 – Organic Churches Do Not Have Leaders

“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matt. 20:25-28

Many people think that because organic churches have no clergy, they have no leaders. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately, we tend to think in ways that are not according to the mind of God. Clergy does not equal spiritual leadership. For many, it is almost impossible to think outside of the framework of the presently popular clergy-driven system. But actually, that system did not exist in the early church and just doesn’t fit into the contextual narrative of that story. Jesus clearly told his disciples that leadership in his kingdom would not look anything like the top-down hierarchical system of the Gentiles (Romans).

So what does true New Testament leadership look like?

There are Three Ways We Can Define Such Leadership:

1.) Such Leadership is Based Upon Corporate Mutual Submission

Many folks coming into new groups attempting to become organic have the mindset that they will not initiate anything in the group for fear of leading in some way. Their thinking moves along these lines; we do not want anyone to initiate anything because Jesus is to be our leader, not any human. Actually, this is the opposite of God’s thought according to the scriptures. In reality, we are ALL leaders in his Body! After all, we are called and destined to be a priesthood of all believers.

“But you are a chosen race, A royal PRIESTHOOD, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” 1Pe 2:9

We are ALL called to lead and to minister. Our Christ is the ALL in ALL (of us). But the key is that we all (hopefully) desire his Headship and his Centrality and to live by his Life. But all of these things or aspects of Christ are expressed THROUGH US! But this can only happen as we all learn to live by Him and abide in Him. This comes by mutually submitting ourselves one to another. He is our only Head and we discover his direction and leadership by submitting ourselves to the members of the body. This will happen in different ways at different times. Different members of the body will lead in different areas at different times depending upon what the Head wants for that particular season. It’s not about ecclesiastical position or titles. It’s not about people lording it over or controlling others. It is about all in the group wanting the expression and headship of Christ above everything else.

“And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Eph 5:21

2.) Such Leadership is Based Upon Spiritual Life

All spiritual authority is based upon and comes from spiritual life. It does not come from anything made by man or any man-made system. It does not come from institutional positions, ordination, or titles (Matt. 23:8). It can only come from above and is based upon heavenly (spiritual) life (Jn 3:27).

That is why when a group of people are meeting (and living) organically there will be some who exhibit a greater degree or intensity of spiritual life. They will be gifted in certain areas that will help God’s people during crisis times. They will have a special love and concern for those who are hurting. They will develop faster and mature quicker than most in the group. And they will display the humility and lowliness of the One who came from Nazareth. These are the “elders”. But they are not showcased or singled out in any way. They are just brothers and sisters among the rest of the brothers and sisters. They will not lead the meetings or do most of the ministering. They will not make all of the decisions for the rest of the church. They will hardly even be noticed.

Watchman Nee said that form always follows spiritual life, not the other way around!

3.) Such Leadership is Based Upon an Embracing of the Cross

This is probably the most important part of true spiritual leadership in the church. The spiritual life that I discussed above is only produced in the life of a believer (or the corporate body) as they embrace the work of the cross pertaining to the self-life or soul-life. I am not referring to the aspect of the cross of Christ that redeemed us from our sins. Of course, that was really important and very much needed. Rather, I am speaking of the ongoing work of the cross to deal with and break our self-centered lives. Jesus told us to pick up our cross and follow Him. This is a daily process. As we yield ourselves to him, he breaks our outer man and begins to release the spirit within us. Our only involvement in this process is to yield to his work. We cannot crucify ourselves! The flesh cannot kill the flesh! Only the life that is within us (Christ Himself) can do this work. But it will take much longer if we resist him. We always have our free will, and therefore must submit and yield to his work within us voluntarily.

Simply stated, organic church just plain doesn’t work without the cross. That’s the place of freedom. That’s the place of transformation. And that’s the place of true community!

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” Phil. 2:1-11

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 3

Myth #3 – Organic Church is a Spontaneous Free-For-All

Many people who leave institutional churches think that “organic church” means that now there will be absolutely no structure, no planning or preparation, and everyone will be free to share anything they want. This could not be further from the truth. These people have never experienced authentic organic church life and yet somehow make these sweeping statements based upon their own reactions to the religious system. This is definitely a reactionary mindset and is based upon nothing else but a “wish dream”, which is their own idea of what the church should look like. So let’s take a quick look at these three ideas to test and see if they can hold any water.

Idea #1 – The Church Needs Absolutely No Structure

This is a common idea among some newbies after leaving the institutional church. The idea (here again) is reactionary and is based upon the false assumption that organic church is simply the opposite of institutional church. That’s just not true. Organic church is in a wholly different category, mindset, and paradigm then the institutional. It’s not just the opposite. It isn’t even in the same universe!

It’s not that we throw away structure in the organic, but rather that structure comes to have a whole new meaning for us. Of course there is still structure in organic church, but this structure is not mechanical as in the system, it is organic. That means it has a totally different nature. The essence of organic structure is based upon the indwelling life of Christ, not any man-made mechanism that is external.

Paul used the revolutionary metaphor of the Body of Christ in his writings. If the authentic church is a body (and it is!) then we need to ask the question; does the body have structure? Does your human body have structure? The obvious answer is yes and that structure is the skeleton. Notice with me that the structure is completely based upon life and that it is hidden. But what would happen if you didn’t have a skeleton? Your body would collapse into a pile of flesh on the floor! And that’s exactly what happens to many groups who want to be “organic” and without any structure. They end up being nothing more than a pile of flesh in the middle of a living room somewhere!

The purpose of the structure of the body is to support the life of the Body. Watchman Nee once said that form follows life, not the other way around. We can never get life out of form or structure. That has become painfully obvious down through the centuries of institutional Christianity. Spiritual life only comes from the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. But once we begin to experience and live by that life together, there will need to be some basic (life-supporting) structure.

Idea #2 – The Church Needs No Planning or Preparation

This assumes the idea that all planning and/or preparation is institutional and therefore the church meetings must all be very spontaneous. Therefore, we should not plan or prepare for our meetings. I have worked with organic groups of believers for over twenty years and I can tell you that this idea can hold no water whatsoever. You just try it and see if your group doesn’t end up being a boring week-after-week, the same people sharing every time, institutional meeting in a living room. I have seen it happen many times. Groups start out with the idea that everyone will just show up, the Holy Spirit will lead, and the meetings will all be very glorious! It sounds very spiritually romantic but it just plain doesn’t work! Why not? Two main reasons.

First of all, sitting in a pew for years does not equip you to function as a member of the Body of Christ! You have only been equipped to sit and listen, not to function. This is why God has called some in His Body to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph.4:11,12). These outside workers will come and train and equip the group to function as the Body, live by the life of Christ, and live as a community/family. This is how it was done in the New Testament church. Sounds like preparation and planning to me!

I am not saying here that every meeting needs to be planned out in a detailed way. Some meetings should not be planned. But all meetings will require preparation. The bare minimum preparation for meetings is you abiding in Christ every day! A group that doesn’t ever plan for meetings will become very lazy and a few of the people will end up doing all the sharing after a while. A group that plans every meeting will plum wear itself out! Wisdom comes in the balance of planned and unplanned meetings all built upon the preparation of abiding in the Vine on a daily basis.

Idea #3 – The Meeting is an Open Forum for Anyone to Say Anything

Groups that hold to this belief won’t be around very long! The Church of Jesus Christ is not a rap-session or a free-for-all kind of share your ignorance session. We are not coming to blab. We are coming to express the Christ who lives within us! The meetings do not exist for you to share your agenda or your pet doctrine. And the church definitely does not exist as a platform for your so called ministry! She is there to express and display her Lord.

In first Corinthians Paul gives instruction to a church that was abusing just about everything. What we gain is a window that we can peek into to see the healthy life of an authentic eklessia. In chapter fourteen he gives some guidelines for meetings. After reading that chapter it is very clear that the purpose of the gathering of the whole church was to edify (build up) the body. Let me ask you; what is it that edifies the Body? The Head! Only the life of the Head can build up the Body (see Eph. 4:15,16; Ps. 133). So only those things which build up the body should be shared in the meetings of the church. It’s not a free-for-all where anyone can express the thoughts running through their head! It’s the place and time where the body gets to fully express the life of the Head.

It’s very apparent that the early churches were not forums for thoughts, or discussion sessions about doctrine. Paul tells us (again in chapter 14) that there is a “tool” which can be used in the gathering to express Christ and edify the body. What is this tool? He called it prophecy. But what is prophecy? It is the unveiling of Jesus Christ.

“…For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Rev. 19:10b

It’s all about Him! Not you or your ministry! It’s HIS testimony and HIS revealing and HIS riches being declared.

And Paul told us that WE CAN ALL prophesy one by one so that the Body may be edified. He also told us that when the prophets speak, the others should judge. This doesn’t sound like a free-for-all to me!

To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 3:8-10

Brothers and sisters, this is a very high and heavenly calling!

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 2

Myth #2 – Organic Church is a New Movement

This is a very popular misconception about organic church life. Many people think that because they have never heard of this before, it must be a new thing or even, a new movement of some kind. Actually, it’s the oldest “kind” of church there is. When we use the term “organic church” we only do that to differentiate between that which is based on the eternal purpose of God and the life of His Son flowing through His people, and that which is based upon man’s system of religion. Man’s system of religion is based upon man’s ideas and methods and not upon the divine life of God in Christ. This system is often referred to as the institutional church. The New Testament reveals to us the life and nature of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and we can see by reading it with open hearts and minds that this church is definitely not institutional, but rather organic. What we mean by the term “organic” is something that is based upon life and not man made mechanism.

So we can see by the scriptures that God’s church is something that is founded upon none other than Jesus Christ Himself and not all of man’s ideas about Him. So it’s very clear by these definitions that actually the new movement is the institutional church itself, not the organic church. The organic church is the attempt of modern day believers to return to their “roots” in primitive Christianity. These “roots”, of course, are nothing new, but rather a return to something very ancient. In organic church we could even say that we have a three-fold witness.

The Three-fold Witness

1.) The Scriptures Themselves
As stated above, the New Testament is very clear about the nature and life of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is an organism, not an organization. It is the embodiment of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, not a collection of doctrines and theology. It is the New Creation, the New Man, the New Israel, and the Image of God, not a reflection of the old nature in man. It is a Bride, a Body, a living Temple, a Vine with Branches, a Shepherd and His Sheep, a Family, etc. All of these being organic images, not mechanical.

2.) History
Things started getting out of whack in the church during the second and third centuries. But when that started to happen, God immediately began to raise up groups of believers who would continue the testimony of His true Church. As early as the third century there were groups who stood outside of the institutional system of man’s religion. Many of these groups were given names by their persecutors such as: Pricillians, Paulicans, Bogomils, Waldenses, Albigenses, Lollards, Hussites, United Brethren, Anabaptists, Pietists, Plymouth Brethren, Little Flock, etc. All of these groups throughout history were an attempt to return to the purity and organic life of the early church. You can read about their history in such books as The Pilgrim Church by Broadbent and The Torch of the Testimony by Kennedy.

3.) Our Own Experiences
Not only do we have the testimony of the New Testament church and the history of the groups who stood outside the system, we also have our own experience. My co-workers and I have been pursuing, living in, and planting organic churches for the last 23 years or so. We also know others who have gone before us and a few of them are still alive, though they are very old.

We have (and continue to) learn from all three of these “witnesses” to organic church life. As you can see, this is definitely not something new. Also, it is not a movement. It is simply God’s eternal purpose being fleshed out in this world. It is a move of God, but it is the same move and purpose that God has always had since before creation, that is, to make His Son the All in all and the sum of all things. See Ephesians 1 & 3 and Colossians 1.

10 Myths About Organic Church – Part 1

Myth #1 – Organic Church is a New Method for Doing Church

My co-workers and I sometimes hold organic church conferences throughout the country. These events are designed to do several things. One is to equip believers to be prepared to live “body life”. Another is to connect people together who are like-minded concerning organic church in their geographical area. These events are training and equipping events, they are not meant to be organic church meetings.

Most people come to these events planning on filling up their notebooks with all of the “how-to’s” of organic church. They are looking for the “method” of doing organic church. They are looking for a “system” whereby they can implement starting an organic church when they get home. They are expecting information that will help them to construct organic church life. All of those folks are surprised by the fact that they never receive anything like that at these events. Some go away very frustrated and even angry that this kind of content was never given to them. Others go away startled by something that shakes them to their very core.

What is the difference? Let me put it this way:

Some come as Nicodemus and leave as Nicodemus.

Others come as Nicodemus and leave as the Samaritan woman at the well!

The Difference Between Knowledge and Life

These two people (stories) show us the difference in approaches that people can take towards the Lord.

Nicodemus

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.'” John 3:1,2

We see here that Nicodemus came to Jesus on the level of a great teacher and miracle worker. Nicodemus was himself a well respected teacher among the Jews and was a Pharisee. He came to Jesus for knowledge. “Rabbi, we KNOW …”. He thought that he knew where Jesus was coming from and so he was looking for more knowledge so that he could implement a better “method” in his work. His heart was in the right place, in a sense. He wanted to help people. But he was still approaching the Lord on a totally irrelevant playing field. But before another word could come out of his mouth, the Lord totally switches the playing field. Nicodemus was approaching the Lord intellectually and in the realm of the soul-life. The Lord refuses to engage him on that level. So what does Jesus do?

He tells Nicodemus that he needs a NEW LIFE!

He (in essence) is telling Nic that it’s not about knowledge, it’s all about life. God’s life, eternal life, divine life, uncreated life. And that he will never understand anything that He is doing or saying until he has this life of God within him.

The Samaritan Woman

“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.'” John 4:10

Here, the Lord again approaches this woman on the basis of life, His Life. She was definitely very thirsty. She had tried to quench her thirst by many other things such as her many husbands. We can see by reading the story that she was also very religious and traditional (by her referring to Jacob and the mountain). But none of those things had quenched her thirst. She needed Life! She needed the Living Water!

Why is it that we don’t come seeking life instead of more information and knowledge? Why don’t we come seeking Christ instead of other things? Organic church is really only about one thing – the Lord Jesus Christ Himself! It’s about His life and living by His life with a group of believers. How could it be about anything else?

Jesus Christ IS the Church!

Great Leaders and Great Movements

This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he *said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am A VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE STRAIGHT THE WAY OF THE LORD,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.

They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 1:19-29

I am thoroughly fascinated with the contrast between John the Baptist and the religious leaders. What a stark contrast – religion and Life!

Religion is Always Looking for Great Leaders

The religious system is always looking for the great leaders. These guys wanted to know John’s credentials. They wanted to know his references and they wanted to know his calling and gifts. They were sent by other “leaders” who were very concerned with what was going on down there in the Jordan. Who is this guy baptizing all these people down there? Is this a new movement? Why didn’t we know about it? Is it something that we should be concerned about? And more importantly; is it something that may threaten our positions?

These pharisees wanted to know about every new thing going on. Why? So they could control and use it for their own purposes. And if they couldn’t control it, then they would destroy it. But I love John’s answer to them.

I am just a voice crying out in the wilderness!

They just kept grilling this poor guy and all he could keep telling them was; “No, I am not, No, I am not!” Basically John told them that he was “not”. He was a nobody. He was a non celebrity. He was just a voice! A voice pointing to Someone else. A voice pointing to Another Person. Aha! They thought. Maybe this other person is the great leader we are looking for. Maybe HE has the credential. Maybe HE has the title, the calling, and the gifts.

John Announces Another

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”

This absolutely floors me. Here is John, the nobody who came from nowhere, the little voice announcing another and does he announce a great leader? No!!!

He announces a little Lamb!

One of the smallest, most innocent, most insignificant, and most vulnerable creatures on the planet!

They must have been thinking; give me a break, a Lamb, are you kidding? No great leader there. No significant ministry or movement happening here.

The Lamb on a Cross

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1Co 1:18

Religion is always looking for power in gifts, callings, great preachers, and movements.

God is always looking for the little Lamb! He is always looking for brokenness, which is the nature of the Lamb. He is looking for the little Lamb in you. He is always looking for the willingness to lay down one’s life.

His power is found in the cross of a Lamb.