The term “organic church” is as unfamiliar to some as the term house church. It was to me when I first heard it ten years ago. I can’t recall the first person I heard use the term, but I wasn’t interested. I wasn’t looking for the “next” great church growth tactic. I wasn’t looking for a program or approach to grow a bigger church. I wasn’t looking for a program to get more people to pray a prayer and then continue to live life as they had. I was looking for a biblical understanding and practice of church. I wanted to know how to make disciples? I had never seen the term “organic” in the Bible. So, I wasn’t interested.
I had no idea that understanding organic church would help me understand the biblical practice of church and the very natural way disciples are made.
It was only when I heard and read others I respect mention organic church; I knew I needed to understand this term. I chose Neil Cole’s book Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens (Jossey – Bass 2005) to begin my research. Here’s how Cole describes organic church:
“The organic or simple church, more than any other, is best prepared to saturate a region because it is informal, relational and mobile. Because it is not financially encumbered with overhead costs and is easily planted in a variety of settings, it also reproduces faster and spreads further. Organic church can be a decentralized approach to a region, nation, or people group and is not heavily dependent upon trained clergy.”
In chapter 3 of his book Cole articulates Six Myth-Debunking Truths about the Church:
- The church is a living organism, not a static institution.
- The church is so much more than a building.
- The church is not to be bound to a single location.
- The church is much more than a one-hour service held one day a week.
- The Kingdom of God is meant to be decentralized, but people tend to centralize.
- We are each God’s temple and together we are also His temple.
Here’s what I’m learning about organic church. See if you have a similar understanding.
Organic church is a descriptive term of what the church was meant to be. The Church is the living expression of its head Jesus Christ. It is his body. It is the means through which he is building his kingdom. The Church is a living organism and reproduces naturally as we follow Jesus Christ together.
I believe the Church was on God’s mind before creation. God, who is community, sought to enlarge himself and made man in his own image. The fall would not stop him from reconciling his creation to himself. This is the mystery of God hidden in ages past but now revealed in Jesus Christ. (See Ephesians.) God put his plan in motion when he incarnated himself, expressed himself, in the life of Jesus.
I believe Jesus began his church when he called and gathered those first repentant disciples John the Baptist had prepared for him. He called them to himself and formed a community. They were as Howard A. Snyder called them “the community of the King”. They were discipled by him and discipled each other to him. They learned the principles and practices of the Kingdom. They learned what it meant to live under his rule and reign. They learned his values and how he lived by the Father’s life. They learned how they were to live with each other and relate to their world. They were commanded and commissioned to repeat the process until every person comes under the reign of Jesus Christ.
The book of Acts records the continuing work of Jesus in and through his body, the Church. He is still here in the person and work of the Holy Spirit. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He is the head of his Church.
Authentic churches have existed since the time of Christ. They meet outside of the Institutional Church with its man made hierarchies and traditions. They are often misunderstood and even persecuted by these churches. (See Fox’s Book of Martyrs.) And while the Reformation may have moved institutional churches back toward a biblical understanding of grace, it did not remove the institutions.
Authentic churches are organic by nature. They live by the life and under the authority of Jesus Christ. They meet and function under his headship. They follow him together within their culture and know it is impossible to follow him and not make disciples. He is expressing himself through them individually and collectively. They declare the Gospel with their lives and their voice. They are being discipled by him and disciple each other to follow him. His life in them produces the “one anothers” found in the New Testament. They recognize only his lordship over them and reject man-made structures and traditions which prevent them from following him. They are ONE with all of those in whom the Spirit of God dwells and seek to live in this reality.
Not all house churches are organic churches. Not all “brick and mortar” churches are institutional churches.
Imagine meeting with other believers under the authority of Jesus Christ. Imagine living life together, being in each other’s “flight paths” day-in and day-out. Imagine following Jesus together in a neighborhood. Imagine being a community while serving a community. Imagine an enlarging and multiplying community of Christ-followers. Imagine the effect this “salt and light” would have on your neighborhood. Imagine if these kinds of communities were being reproduced over and over again!
This is organic Church.
(This blog was recently published in House2House Magazine. You may read it and others like it on their website. http://house2housemagazine.com/2014/04/30/organic-church-origin-and-operations-by-gary-roberts/ )