A Challenge to the Organic Church

I recently had a private conversation with a mature brother on organic church versus institutional church “issues.”  I have been encouraged by some friends to make this communication public, minus the private information and plus some minor editing. It seems germane to the journey many are on. It is submitted here for your consideration.

Dear brother_________, thanks for the opportunity to continue our discussion in this format. I appreciated your last communication. You bring up good issues. Here’s a little bit of my background: 

I did the traditional church/pastor thing for roughly twenty-five years in various places and associations. In 2005, I had a crisis of understanding and faith. I quit because I realized that I was part of the problem, not part of the solution. I could not very well speak to a system that I thought needed to be torn down, while I was facilitating values I no longer believed in and was taking a check/compensation from within a system I also no longer believed in. It became a crisis of integrity and conscience for me. I just couldn’t do it any more. I could not persist in a “professional clergy” position simply for the security a paycheck would bring, when to do so would violate the Spirit’s work in me.

 Since then, I have swum in various “waters” of house church, home church, organic church, un-church, de-church–whatever one calls it.  I have experienced very “mixed” results. Organic church is surely not the magic cure-all for what ails the ekklesia at large. It is to those mixed results that I would like to share a bit of my perspectives.

Here’s where my journey has led me to date (and I went through my own reactionary stages getting here!):

I pretty much agree with you about the overwhelming “structural hindrances” and negative inertia inherent in traditional church or institutional church (IC) settings that hinder God’s kingdom from coming forth as God would desire. In the sense of being free, having liberty in Christ, and wanting to invest my life resources in a construct that has a better chance (not a guarantee) of bringing forth kingdom results, I have come to the same conclusions as you.  I choose not to invest my life’s virtue in that “construct” of institutional Christianity. I am willing to love and serve anyone, any where, to the degree he or she might allow me, but in terms of investing my life’s energies . . .  no thank you. To me, it is like trying to grow wheat in a parking lot. You might get a few lucky sheaves in a crack, but hardly the hoped for harvest, and the return for effort invested is simply not worth my mortal energies any more. There are better “fields” to invest in.

However, I have some “restraining caveats.”  There are equally systemic problems in the organic/house church movement, because we are still dealing with flawed people and leaders who themselves are always undergoing transformative reconstruction. Perfectionism and idealism are always a curse, organic or institutional.

One problem I see is when we turn liberty for personal freedom into a dogma of methodology for all, we are in error, and often adversarial at the same time: “Those horrible institutional people are ‘doing church wrong’ and we are ‘doing church right,’” sort of mindset that infects non-traditional environments like a venereal disease. It is anathema to the spirit of Christ.

The things that hinder God’s kingdom are beliefs/thinking and methods/expression, not the type of meetings we might do. The hindrances are heart issues, not “structure of meeting” issues. Structure just reveals what is in the heart. If I leave the IC, but the values and thinking of the IC are in me, I will just bring those values into a smaller venue. Nothing has changed. A contagion has just been localized. It will incubate and infect again . . . it is just a matter of time.

It is about VALUES, not VENUES. It’s always about the heart. It seems to me that God’s field of endeavor is the heart, not how a meeting is conducted, the size of the meeting, nor the place of the meeting. All those are flexible to the purpose at hand. 

If any belief or method hinders God’s kingdom . . . we should dump it . . . regardless if that belief or method is in a home church or a traditional church! The venue does NOT sanctify the values!

Oh, I know so many people/leaders meeting in homes who are more institutional in their values and thinking than those meeting in the institution! They are all the more deceived because they think that because they are no longer meeting in a “large and structured meeting,” that they have made some huge spiritual advance. They have not. Their hearts have not changed, just the spatial geography of their rear ends at meeting time. They have just as many untouchable (un-dumpable) sacred cows as their brethren in the traditional church they so easily malign.  

Another problem I see is the latent idolatry of method among home church folks that is just as idolatrous as the latent idolatry of method in the traditional church. Here’s what I mean: “I will never attend another traditional church, because they are wrong in what they are doing!”

Really? Telling God what we will and won’t do? How does that fit with a kingdom ethos?

It is troubling to me, that it has never crossed the minds of many home church folks that God might assign them to a construct they don’t like, disagree with, and don’t enjoy . . . for another person’s benefit!  

One of the attributes of being a son/daughter of God is “assignability for purpose.” Jesus was assigned to a “construct” a “form” and a “methodology” that was far from His Father’s ideal, yet He did it for our sake. Moses too, was “assigned” to a “construct” that he didn’t need, and didn’t enjoy. Our responsibility is no less.

Most home church folk I know, would never consider this, because for many it is still all about . . . US . . . what I like, what I agree with, what I want to do, what I enjoy, what I find pleasurable, etc., and God’s assignment is not even considered.

I like to challenge home church folks with this: 

“Would you be willing to attend a traditional church, indefinitely, to impact another person’s life?”  

I have yet to find home/organic church devotees/advocates who have responded positively to this, though I appreciate their honesty in their honest negative reply.

They can’t respond positively because the structure of their home meeting has been so dogmatized into some sort of orthodoxy, or orthopraxy, that going to an institutional construct is considered a regressive compromise. To do so would be viewed as “against God’s ways.”  I find this tragic. It’s as silly as Moses saying to God “I won’t go back to Egypt for their sake.” Or Jesus saying to His Father, “I can’t stand how they are doing it on earth, and I won’t go there.”

Preposterous . . . idolatrous . . . self-centered.

These things are very troubling and why, among many other reasons, we should not make this a “home church versus traditional” issue. We do not know God’s divine assignments.  It is a matter of heart condition, not seat location.

You ask a good question about when people first extract from the IC and how they typically ask from a sense of loss and bewilderment: “What do we do now?”  “Where should we go?”  I get those same kinds of questions and have, and am engaging, with many who are asking the same things at this very moment as I write. I am very sympathetic and identify with the sense of bewilderment. It is not easy changing or abandoning something you may have given your life and life’s resources to for many years. It normally takes a period of long-suffering patience, and gentle adjustment to help these folks.

However, to me, these are still wrong questions, because of the underlying value systems they reveal. 

1. It is still “meeting-centered” instead of life-centered. It’s still about structures, meetings, and activities rather than transformative heart values. The question presumes meetings and activities are what God desires rather than heart reconfiguration.

2. There is no awareness of assignability. Normally the search begins for a “new structure” with “conditions more to my liking” and “services more agreeable to me.”   God’s assignability is nowhere on the horizon. My friend, Vince Coakley, has just written an excellent piece called: A Man, a Message, and Meeting that addresses this matter. I would refer you to his blog at: www.calltorevolution.blogspot.com

The question to ask upon finding one’s self outside an institutional meeting construct should be:

Father, to what people or peoples, have you relationally assigned me, in this season of my life, for their benefit and mine?”

That question removes the whole matter from meeting style, structure, likes and dislikes, convictions, etc., and actually lets the Lord  . . . be Lord. Indeed, He might give us the freedom to pursue “getting out of the parking lot!”   Then again, He might not. He might assign us to a meeting structure and format that is very distasteful and unsatisfying to ourselves, for another’s benefit. Sounds like covenantal kingdom living to me.

In short, there’s no getting around being Spirit-led sons and daughters, under lordship and on relational assignment. We need to be slow about our judgments, evaluations, and proclamations about what others might be doing, and why they are doing it.

At the end of the day, if a sofa or a pew defines or limits the scope of the love we say we possess, well, that doesn’t say too much about the love we say we possess.  If the scope of our love is hindered by the construct of our meetings, it doesn’t say much about our love, and we best stop fooling ourselves and move on to something that actually matters.

Now, if there is no specific divine assignment, I am with you! We are free to pursue each his or her own convictions regarding the most fruitful field to invest life’s efforts for Christ. Indeed, let’s throw our gospel seed in a field that has a few less rocks in it, but lets preach Christ and him crucified, not “proper meeting formats.”

Thank you for this opportunity to so thoroughly engage with you in a great spirit. I can tell from your postings that you are a sincere follower of Jesus and great brother.

Copyright 2012,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.swordofthekingdom.com. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact stephcros9@aol.com.

26 comments on “A Challenge to the Organic Church

  1. Thank you for this post. I agree with this post as I have learned to be prepared to go where I am led. Inside outside, upside, downside, wherever the spirit leads me and that I can construct a box just as confining outside the system as I found inside. This is not an us and them thing this is a we thing. I love your blogs Steve, they help me stay focused on my faith rather then my fear. Thank you for your continued writings and for this particular post as well. Also, yesterday’s post was all inspiring as I am led to keep it slow, simple and small and not try to market Minsitry but rather watch in flow out of relationships. Mope to see you on Ca. Sometime soon.

    Cris Nole

  2. Thank you for this article. Hitting me right in the heart. Out of traditional, but actually working as a secretary there. Visiting around now. I have said I would not want to go to this church, so shows where my heart is. Going to a homegroup, but you are right, still somewhat traditional. Thanks again. I am going to share article.

  3. Thought provoking post. My husband and I are on a journey of transitions that lead us into rediscovering how Christ wants us to help make disciples. It’s not looking like we will duplicate any already existing pattern or existing structure but rooted in His heart to make disciples who make disciples. We encourage people to seek and follow Christ personally, and to see how Jesus is leading them to do the same with those in their life. To follow Jesus one needs to recognize the next participating step Jesus is leading you in.
    For example, we met with a couple who are very pastoral. They truly show support for hurt and weakened people who limp and stumble on and off the anchored path with Jesus. For this pastoral couple, we were lead to explain their next step in discipling others was to help their friends find fellowship with the wider body where also prophetic , teachers, ect could also strengthen them. That itself is the reason for any form or structure of Christ’s body, the church.

  4. In 1st Peter, never have considered myself as one “scattered throughout”
    However, there is a body of evidence that would suggest, otherwise. Your articles on your experience [with lessons learned/insights to share] including, responses from the saints is truly a blessing. Praying, brother, that God continues to bless you/grace the spicket. And, allow Him in you to flow His love abroad to all who might be scattered/unscattered.
    Truth, while challenging, is encouraging and sets the captive free.

  5. This is excellent stuff. We need to get over the fact that we’ve responded to a measure of revelation and get on with actually following where Jesus leads us.

    In our group we’ve experienced a lot of this sort of “we’re better than those IC christians…” dialog (and for a short season I understand that people need to process and to know they’re in a safe place with like-minded people), but I often have to stop someone in mid-speech to either point out how we are guilty of the exact same things, or ask everyone to stop and think of what we are doing (or not doing) to obey Jesus in that same area.

    For example, one sister was going on and on about how the traditional churches do evangelism the wrong way because they invite people to come to them rather than “go out into all the world to preach the gospel”, etc. and she was right, but when I stopped her and said, “So, what is this Body doing to share the Gospel the right way?” it got quiet.

    It’s far too easy to spend our time (“waste our time”) making ourselves feel better about “those people out there” rather than to do business with God and allow His Holy Spirit to convict us and change us into the people He has called us to be.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Amen Keith, tracking with you. Sounds like we have been in the same meetings. 🙂 I agree that folks sometimes need a safe atmosphere to “purge” . . . . but sooner or later, purging has to stop, and get on with what matters.

      I also relate to the sound of “crickets chirping” when a question is asked to stop the purge! 🙂

  6. Wow. You know I dig all your stuff Steve – but this topic and the way you addressed it from all angles is simply…gigantic! Im noticing that relationally its all the same. To go where THE SPIRIT leads is our only way to fullfillment. Its sad, but we seem to be afraid of the REAL freedom that Christ offers…to completely annihilate convention and dismantle the idea of construct for construct sake. I wonder what scares us more, the freedom or the cost we’re afraid we’ll be asked to pay for the freedom? In a country where we tout our willingness to “fight for freedom” above all else, the world’s grip on our sensibilities keep us paralyzed from fighting the only fight that matters. I don’t know where ministry will take me, but I know the Lord places men like you in the world to strengthen the resolve of those of us who love Jesus and simply want to obey…we love what you do man, keep on bringin’ it!

  7. Hey Steve,

    Thanks for the honest and heart revealing word. Oh how easy it would if there was a sequel to the bible on how to do and be church. But, I have come to realize, that like raising kids, It really is all about how much my life, character, love and grace must change to influence and train my kids.The same for being involved with others. Our lives, character, love and expression of grace will continue to grow as we invest in peoples’ lives. Right now for myself, my heart wants to continue to be a help to the institutional church. The Hows, whats, whens, are definitely something we all must come to grips on in our personal walk. Finding a place, after such a long time with the same spiritual family is exciting and a bit scary at the same time. I know no matter where my family and I settle, we will and must reveal our hearts to people anew, serve people anew, sacrifice to people anew. So that Jesus will be glorified through us in all ways.
    Love you my friend,
    P.S. Loving school!

  8. “They have just as many untouchable (un-dumpable) sacred cows as their brethren in the traditional church they so easily malign.”
    Yup, sacred cows wander freely around everywhere. You can recognize you have one when someone suggests cutting it up for hamburger!

  9. yes, and do know of people who are carefully attending weekly pulpit & steeple meetings for the purpose of helping others who may become snared in, or stumbled by, the system’s gears. Inside a mega church, such work could easily become a lifetime (of the institution) call — that is, until the church system admin removes the brother, for following Christ faithfully does effect to take apart an institution — and with no clear means to prevent Him. Generally, these “He opened my eyes” saints (including pastors) are quietly removed from the building & system.
    Yes, among movements there is a lot of vain fuss over “method”, while the methods used may merely be symptomatic of foundational breaks: Christ is not central to an institution — cannot be central among those who are to preserving an organization (large or small; established or virtual). Even “family church” qualifies as “a house built on the sand” where Christ is not central to all things.

  10. While there were some valid points, this post contains a severe logic error and lacks Biblical support. I agree that leaving the institution doesn’t solve every problem and doesn’t make one better than a fellow Christian who belongs to an institution. The logic error is that the author seems to assume that many (most?) Christians who leave the institution believe that “my way is better than yours” and are doing “the same thing in a different location.” That may be true in some cases, but the author seems to be overlooking the possibility that most people that leave the institution do so–not because they’re more comfortable “having church” in their living room–but because they do not wish to align themselves with an organization that has embraced dangerous, unbiblical practices. Practices such as artificially inserting human authority between Christ and the body, recruiting unbelievers and “unchurched Christians” alike with marketing schemes and gimmicks, and making a “worship service” the focus of the gathering–all of which turn a relationship into a religion.

    Some of my closest friends belong to institutional churches and I have no problem fellowshipping with them. But asking someone to align themselves with an organization that they know embraces practices that are contrary to the Bible is simply wrong.

    If I’ve missed the point, and the author is trying to simply say that we shouldn’t deride a big institution and set up a little institution of our own, then I would agree.

  11. Wow, how timely. A couple of us have been meeting together for a couple yrs and only recently felt led to infiltrate the IC and rekindle some old relationships; so far so good. Not sure where it’ll lead but we’re confident if we can stay on the proper frequency it’ll be an interesting ride. Thanks for posting.

    • Interesting indeed….too often our faith walk is like a stroll down a aisle at a grocery store where everything is neat, managed and orderly, rather than a walk through a forest of wonder and adventure.

  12. Hi Steve,
    When we left an abusive system we had the same questions… “Where do we go? What do we do now?” I pretty much see it as the same question as .“Father, to what people or peoples, have you relationally assigned me, in this season of my life, for their benefit and mine?” The heartfelt questions of what would you have us be doing in your service and where do you want us to be doing it… I dont think the words really matter but as you rightly say… it is the condition of the heart that seeks the answers.
    Gods answer to our “What do we do now?” was to “Rest” and horrified at the thought of doing nothing I asked “For how long?” His reply was “2 years”. Yet as we did “nothing but rest” we didnt realise we would become the encourager to a specific person. Some may not have understood/believed that, some may have thought we should have gotten more “involved” and at times i felt the inward pressure to “do something” more involved, but we managed to resist the doing in order to be approved by others. (Oh what a burden that is after counter indoctrination). When the 2 years ended I itched to be more active… but silence! It is absolutley paramount to listen and do only as lead. the small church decided it was closing down a few weeks later and that they were moving it’s people along with some new and some returning folk, to a new building to “relaunch and do something new”.
    We met the new guy in charge and he seems genuine and kind and going down the road of something very differently flavoured… Once we started to understand where his vision for the new church would be going we were intreaged, very, cos this guy speaks our language… He is more about heart and God than church and formats. It sounds like it could become something very good… so we ask God about it and God takes us off to a sleeply little methodist church where 97% of the congregation are retired!! go figure God out. HAHAHA… I believe the Lord has something for me to give there but I am confident we shall be receiving so much more than we have to give. It’s a good place to be when you dont think you have what they need but maybe they have something you need. humility is a road that takes a little time to walk down.
    Love the message here Steve… love ya ministry… bless ya.

  13. I agree with the tenor of your argument though I would argue that indeed whilst it is not about structures, it is about Jesus. For me, I do not care what form church takes, but I do care about Jesus. I appreciate Frost and Hirsch’s perspective that our Christology should lead to our missiology and out of our missiology should flow our ecclesiology. It doesn’t therefore concern me whether I meet in a home or an IC, in some senses where or how we meet is irrelevent. It does however concern me that certain ways of meeting foster relationship with one another and better enable me to deepen that relationship with God and others. Likewise as someone desirous of relating to non believers, an incarnational approach seems to better express what I have come to know of Jesus and his message. An attractional and institutional approach doesn’t. As someone who relates to people of various persuasions on this issue, it still concerns me that ecclessiology dominates conversation, christology and missiology inevitably take a back seat. Church and how its done remain the idol and as church in the new testament is ‘us’ anyway, we are still morer obsessed with ourselves than with our Saviour and the self-giving call of mission.

  14. “If the scope of our love is hindered by the construct of our meetings it doesn’t say much about our love…” So true, Steve. An essential of Christ following is knowing His voice, and loving those with whom we are in fellowship. If we are to known by our love, how such a core concept can be ignored is beyond me.

    Dogma is never a substitute for life in the Spirit; it was never meant to supercede the freedom we have in Christ to walk out His purpose in our life. If, in His plan and design for us, He has us meeting in a building with a more traditional construct, then can we say no to the LORD? When His love and leading are our ‘North Star’, then wherever we are and however we fellowship, we will be content, at peace and rest, and loving those with whom we fellowship. When our assignment changes, it will be because He has said move on; not because we decide it on our own.

    This is His methodology: Loving the ones we are in fellowship with and building them up in Christ. Anything else is unimportant. Correct doctrine, proper liturgical practice, or locational issues, mean nothing if we are not loving one another and pointing them to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

    Thanks for this very well-balanced piece, Steve. I am blessed by your keen insights and your friendship.
    Love to you and Rita,

  15. This article could not have been more timely for me.
    It spoke to me in a time when I have been tettering on the edge of leaving the IC and hoping God would open up something new. I sense that the new may just be staying where I am. Christ have equipped me to function in a particulr way and that seems to be to stay put where I am at. Yes, there are some things that I do not like about the IC but I have not felt that Christ has clearly spoken to me about making a change. Our local assembly is in transition and to bale out now may not be the thing to do.

    Again. Thanks for your expression of Christ. I feel that He has spoken to me through you in this season that I am in.

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