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 firstname.lastname@example.org.