What is the Organic Church Movement? Thursday, Apr 23 2009 

There are probably as many definitions for “organic church” as there are for “church” itself. Like any movement or expression, there are those who like what they think it is, those who hate what they think it is, and those who think it’s cool just because it’s different. For the above mentioned reasons, I feel it is important to communicate what I “think it is” – or more specifically – what I mean when I use the term “organic church.”

In order to better understand the term as it is most commonly used, I appeal to those who have practical experience in the movement and have written extensively on the subject. The following quote is from George Barna and Frank Viola:

An organic church is a living breathing, dynamic, mutually participatory, every-member-functioning, Christ centered, communal expression of the body of Christ. (xxxi)

Neil Cole writes:

What is consistent in both Organic Church and Organic Leadership is my belief that the kingdom of God is relational, spiritual, and natural – without all the artificial stuff we tend to use to prop up our ministries today.  It is not necessary for people to work as professionals in the church to make it happen. When church and her leadership are natural and organic, they reproduce spontaneously and movements will result.(15)

So, you may ask, “Well … what do you mean by organic church, Bob?” I’m glad you asked.  By “organic church” I mean an expression of the church that involves communities of growing and reproducing disciples of Jesus Christ who function as a body with the living, resurrected Christ as their only head.

This implies a very flat organizational structure, with every member having direct access to the head: Jesus himself.  Every member is both being discipled, and discipling others. Every member participates in the worship, teaching, and ministry of the community.  Every member is involved in God’s mission to this world. Every member is encouraged to hear directly from God and to share what He is saying.

The commitment level is high, but never forced; it is a commitment of desire, not of obligation. There is leadership, but it is relational leadership, not positional leadership. There is submission, but not to any individual leader (except Jesus) or to any hierarchical group of leaders, but one to another. There is mutual respect, one for another.

An important element of the organic church community is its desire to have as much “substance” with as little “form” as possible.  Some “formal elements” will be added as needs arise, but only those elements that are necessary (or at least conducive) to the central mission of becoming and making disciples of Christ.

I know this description of the organic church is far from complete and I am sure there will be many questions and comments regarding this particular expression of the church.  However, I hope this is a good starting place.  Please feel free to share your thoughts, encouragements, questions and concerns.

Peace,

Bob

 Works Cited

Barna, George, and Frank Viola. Pagan Christianity? – Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale HP, 2008.

Cole, Neil. ORGANIC LEADERSHIP: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.

BOTH/AND: “Can there be an organic church mindset within the institutional church?” Tuesday, May 29 2012 

For several years now I have been involved in the “organic church” movement (though some do not consider “movement” an appropriate description). For the majority of my Christian life prior to the above mentioned, I had been associated in some way with what is usually called the institutional church (a term that merely refers to any institution that calls itself a church).I will not waste time describing or defining in length the organic and institutional church since this article is intended for those who already understand the concept of both. However, for those of you who may be new to the terminology yet still interested enough to continue reading, I encourage you to simply “google” (no offense meant to any other search engines) the terms: organic church, simple church, traditional church, and institutional church. After receiving a brief online education, you will be able to join this conversation.

Yes, I did say conversation. This is not intended to be some one sided dissertation dedicated to proving a hypothesis. Instead, this is the beginning of a discussion full of questions and opinions. Obviously, I will be the one raising the questions, as well as the first one stating opinions. However, this is an interactive blog site, and by definition of “interactive,” you are invited to comment. Also, note that this is just the first in a series of posts. Each post will raise a sub-question of the main one: “Can there be an organic church mindset within the institutional church?”

Before I go any further, please allow me to clarify my position on “the church” in general. Although I use the terms “organic church movement” and “institutional church” I do not believe “the church” is an institution; neither do I believe “the church” is a movement. I believe it is a community of Jesus’ disciples. What we so often call a church is really nothing more than an organization developed by the church to support the mission of the church. But let’s not forget that what we often refer to as the organic church is nothing more than a movement (of sorts) developed by the church to support the mission of the church. Some will argue that one is better than the other, or even more legitimate than the other. I, however, don’t view it quite that way. I see strengths and weaknesses in both. My choice to be more “organic” than “institutional” has more to do with philosophy than method.

In my view, the main mission of the church should be to make disciples of Jesus ONLY. That implies NOT making disciples of Jesus AND a certain way of doing things (ecclesiology) and/or a particular way of understanding truth (doctrine). That is not to say there is no value in doing things in a particular fashion or understanding truth a certain way. But the mission of making disciples must center on guiding others to hear from, and obey Jesus on their own. In my opinion, the best way this can be done is to have a philosophy which focuses on the multiplication of many churches instead of the growth of one church. To train individual believers to follow Christ, and release those individuals to become autonomous disciple making communities of their own is the main idea behind organic church growth. The main concept behind institutional church growth seems to be to increase the number of individuals who are submissive to its authority, in agreement with its doctrines, committed to attendance of its weekly gatherings, and faithful in financial support of its resources, and to train those individuals in roles of leadership for that institution and its functions. The organic church idea of multiplication seems to be a better fit for making disciples of Jesus ONLY since it does not include all of the baggage that accompanies institutional church growth.

With that said, the question raised in this post is: “Can an organic church philosophy of growth exist within an institutional church?” I think it can, but only if the institution is willing to practice “release” instead of “control.” It is similar to parenting. We raise our children with the intention of releasing them to become independent individuals, and possibly start families of their own. There is something unhealthy in wanting to keep fully matured children at home. The children will always be a part of the family, and will stay connected in many ways, but will not be under parental control, nor be expected to be just like their parents. I think it should be the same with the church. If it is going to work the same within an institution, it must be intentional. I believe it would take a monumental paradigm shift for most traditional churches to have an “inspire, equip, and release” attitude over an “attract, conform, and control” mindset, but I believe it is possible. What do you think?

The Prayer of Jephthah Monday, Aug 1 2011 

Wow. It has been almost a year since I last posted on this site. I know my life has been busy, but one post a year is ridiculous; therefore, I’m making a new commitment. While attempting to post one new entry per week, I will commit (I need to be realistic) to posting a minimum of one entry per month. As I mentioned, I’ve been very busy, so many of my submissions to this blog will be “cut & paste” copies of articles from a previous online venture which I deem relevant to the Organic Church topic. The following is one such article. It is called The Prayer of Jephthah.

{The following selection first appeared on suite101.com.}

No religious library would be complete without a prayer devotional. If you have had the opportunity to visit a Christian bookstore in the last few years, there is little doubt that you have encountered devotionals on scripture based prayer. By scripture based prayer, I am referring to those teachings that outline (and sometimes slightly modify) the actual language of prayers found in the Bible so they can be applied to various modern situations. These teachings tend to retain the spirit of the prayer, while allowing for diversity of its use.

Yet I noticed that most of the Biblical prayers used for these devotions only address standard issues, such as faith, holiness, prosperity, protection, and physical needs. This observation has led me to search the Bible for prayers that can be used as outlines for those sometimes overlooked areas of today’s modern Christian. One particular prayer I found in the eleventh chapter of “Judges” seems to have incredible relevance for all those involved in Christian service who struggle with the delicate balance between ministry and family obligations. I developed this prayer into a type of “prayer-devotional” and decided to share it with you. I call it “The Prayer of Jephthah.”

The prayer of Jephthah, found in Judges 11:30 & 31, is a tremendous devotional for today’s busy minister who happens to have a family. It concerns a warrior named Jephthah, who prayed a vow to God in order to secure his victory over the Ammonites. The prayer is recorded as follows:

If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into my hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. (KJV)

In other words, for those who struggle with King James English, Jephthah asked God for victory in battle, promising to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house to greet him, if that victory was granted. What happened after the prayer was prayed may be unsettling to many. Although Jephthah won the battle, the first person to come out of his house to greet him when he returned was his daughter. Terribly grieved, Jephthah nonetheless fulfilled his vow by sacrificing his daughter to the Lord.

While Jephthah’s petition was made for a specific situation in another time and place, I believe it can be used as a sample prayer for those engaged in modern Christian ministry. You see, many who are “called” to “The Ministry” often sacrifice their children through neglect, for the sake of success. This prayer could greatly reduce feelings of guilt, and criticisms of others, by purposefully offering up one’s children. The prayer could be modernized as follows:

Dear God. If you grant me success in my church (or ministry, or Sunday school, etc.) and increase the numbers of those who attend and/or support it, I will sacrifice to you whatever gets in the way, including members of my own family. Amen.

By praying this prayer daily one can avoid that nagging guilt which often accompanies watching one’s family fall apart while building a successful ministry. Christian businessmen, musicians, writers, athletes, or other professionals who deem family neglect to be a necessity can also use it. I am sure this brief “prayer-devotional” will become a favorite among religious professionals of all types.

DEAR PAUL: Timothy’s response to Paul’s first letter to him Monday, Aug 9 2010 

DEAR PAUL:

TIMOTHY’S RESPONSE TO I TIMOTHY

(modified version of an article first published on suite101.com) 

Dear Paul,

Greetings from your son in the faith, Timothy. I have received, and greatly appreciate your letter.  It is very encouraging and holds some instructive value. I do say some with regard to instruction, though. The churches of this region feel that what you attempted to set forth in your letter was more of a suggested guideline than a detailed dictation of universal truth. You must realize that all churches are not the same and that all cultures have different value systems. The fact that you were raised Jewish becomes apparent when reading your communications. Due to the cultural differences between churches, most have taken liberty in interpreting your instructions, and some have even modified them. I have allowed this because I believe it was done in order to preserve peace and harmony. This I know you would respect.

I did as you requested and stayed in Ephesus to instruct certain men against teaching false doctrines. They were, at first, very hostile towards me and my rebuke. After a while, a few of these men got together and started several types of institutions upon the claim that God commanded them to do so. They gave them names like “The First Church of Truth” and “The Real Church of God.” Many people from the church of Ephesus followed them and are now members of these new institutions. Since there is nothing else we can do about it, I suggest we just accept them as brothers and agree to disagree. 

Thank you for your encouraging words about God’s grace working in your life. I really enjoy reading about it, but I think others consider you a fanatic. In any case, I like it, so please keep writing. Oh, by the way, since you mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander, I must tell you that I recently ran into Alexander’s mother. She feels you were a little harsh on her boy and many others agree. She told me that your attitude is not consistent with Christian love. I tried to explain to her how you are zealous for truth and all, but she would not receive any of it. She is encouraging Alexander to join the “First Church of Truth” that I mentioned earlier. Hymenaeus, however, has completely fallen away.  He left town and no one has heard from him since.

Well, enough about that. I really want to address some of your instructions. This thing about praying for and thanking God for those in authority has really caused some problems. You see, too many Christian men and women prefer to ridicule, criticize, and protest against those who are in powerful political positions. Please don’t think they are totally against praying for governmental leaders. They are just against praying for the ones who disagree with them. Some have even gone as far as to think that certain political groups are righteous and others are evil. This makes them feel good and gives them some focus for their anger, so I guess it’s OK. I told them to at least pray that the groups they dislike would change opinions. In that way, they can fulfill your request.

A question was raised concerning your statement about women dressing modestly. What is modesty after all? I think all would agree that provocative dress is not appropriate for a church gathering, but what is your gripe with hairstyles, jewelry, and expensive clothes?  Some women really look nice with those things and look forward to those institutional gatherings I mentioned earlier so they can be admired. I know that a worship gathering shouldn’t be a fashion show, but these institutional meetings are different. A big part of the effect is to dress up in fine things. I mean, you give the impression that Christians shouldn’t call attention to themselves at all. If a woman can’t show off at a worship gathering, where can she go to be noticed?

This modesty thing would have been the most controversial subject of your letter if not for your next statement. Why in the world did you ever say that you don’t permit women to teach or have authority over men? Boy, this statement is not going over big at all. There are many women in the church who feel your views are unreasonable, while many men are taking the statement totally out of context and creating “anti-women” doctrines from it. Your example regarding Adam and Eve doesn’t help explain things either. Many feel it is an outdated situation that has no relevance for today.

Oh, by the way, I’m going to spare you from the things I heard from the women about your “saved through childbearing” comment. All I know is that you’re lucky to be miles away right now. Paul, forgive me for asking this, but did you ever really wonder why you are not married? I mean, give me a break. I know you claim that it is because of your apostolic calling, but please don’t rule out the fact that you appear a little anti-female. There is a lot of talk around Corinth about your male superiority complex, but please don’t tell anyone you heard it from me. I have enough trouble when I visit there.

In addition to the difficulty you put me through with your unadvised comments about women, you really put me on the spot concerning the recognition of elders and deacons.  I read and reread the characteristics. I even made a checklist and several charts to aid in the process. But Paul, I have to tell you, I can’t find anybody like that. I’ll find someone who is temperate and self-controlled, but not able to teach. Then I’ll find this great teacher who doesn’t drink and is not violent, only to discover that he has an appetite for money. The part about elder’s children needing to be obedient and respectful has caused me to rule out entire groups of men, such as the fathers of teenagers. Once I thought I found the ideal elder.  He fit the requirements perfectly. Then I found that he was a recent convert and told him I couldn’t recognize him for lack of years in the faith. He became violently angry, threw me out of his house, went off to get drunk and eventually left his wife and kids.

Because of these circumstances, I am forced to tone down the requirements. Many churches have already adopted a method that more suitably fits their developing institutions. The terms “elder” and “deacon” are being applied to particular offices, or positions within the church rather than referring to functions or tasks. This allows for a much more practical set of guidelines to be used in the selection process of candidates for those positions. If an individual is well respected, well educated, or financially stable, and is willing to serve, he is accepted as either an elder or deacon.  The positions are made prestigious and honorable in order to encourage the right men to serve.  These guidelines just mentioned are much more practical than your set of instructions and must be adapted if churches are to be the social and business organizations they seem destined to become.

You wrote that you hope to come soon. Well, you can’t be hoping as much as I am.  I had no idea that this letter was going to cause so much controversy. At least with you here I wouldn’t be the focus of everyone’s anger. Do me a favor. Next time you have instructions to be given, send Apollos.

One thing did surprise me though. Many church leaders readily accepted the statement that the end times will produce demonic teachings from hypocritical liars. You see, all teachers and leaders believe that their doctrines are right and that the criteria for discerning demonic teaching is whether or not the teaching agrees with them. Consequently, there has been a lot of division among true believers. I know that some things are critical to the faith, but many are using your statements as justification to call any contrary opinion demonic, and to accuse those in opposition of being hypocritical liars. They tend to confuse their own pride with the Spirit of God in their lives and have exalted their own teachings as dogmatic truth. Even so, they are very likable people, and most have strong followings.

In spite of the fact that I may be considered just another strong willed, opinionated fanatic, I want you to know that I have preached as you have commanded. I have warned against calling any of God’s creation evil, taught peace and liberty, and pointed out truth.  However, it is very difficult to avoid “godless myths” and old wives tales when these things tend to be the most popular conversations at the weekly gatherings and small group meetings. I have put my hope in God and him alone, but I really am concerned about the future of the churches you have established. They do get sidetracked on some weird subjects.

Please don’t be concerned that people will look down on my youth. They tend to respect me, even though they do stereotype me as a youth leader or children’s church pastor. I don’t think I’ll overcome that until I’m older.

Thank you for your encouraging words about watching my life and doctrine closely. I intend to do so earnestly. I also intend to treat the older men like fathers and would never think of rebuking them harshly. I have noticed that many church leaders, however, tend to treat the older men as outdated relics not to be taken seriously. They also treat the younger men as servants instead of brothers, older women as maids instead of mothers, and younger women as members of their fan club rather than sisters. I assume that they feel their position in the institutions they call “church” gives them the right. The members of the congregation accept this type of behavior as natural, so I guess there is no harm to let it continue.

The next subject you address is the care we should take for the widows. The idea that responsibility should fall on the immediate family first, then on the church is not very popular. Both church and family would prefer to leave the responsibility for care of the elderly to the government and other social agencies. Most families are too busy building their own lives and careers to be burdened with their parents. Many families have taken the noble task of partially paying for their elderly parents to live in some form of home for the aged, but the idea of caring for them fully is out of the question. As far as church care goes, most fellowships have their money tied up in building projects, new carpet for the sanctuary, pastor salaries (which I’ll tell you about shortly), and other necessities. They really have no extra money to care for the aging members.

Counseling younger widows to marry sure does fly in the face of a woman’s independence. I agree with the practice most of these new organized churches have embraced. No one gets involved in anyone’s personal life at all. Most leaders and elders prefer to leave those issues alone. Also, it does seem pretty stereotypical of you to single out young widows. They really are able to look out for themselves, you know. I do worry about the children though.

One item that was supported by all was your insinuation that some elders should get paid. A problem does arise when a congregation tries to decide which elders should get paid and which ones should serve as volunteers. In order to settle the matter, we have decided to create a “professional eldership” and call it “The Ministry.” If someone has a gift, or in some cases just a desire to preach or teach, we will place a title before his name (like reverend or bishop) and pay him a salary. We will have one head elder per congregation and pay him the most. He will be allowed to choose subordinate elders to work with the youth, lead church music, coordinate church school programs, or just generally do anything the head elder considers too menial. Some churches suggest that we refer to the head elder as “Senior Pastor” and that his assistants be called “Associate Pastors.” All unpaid elders and deacons will be given certain token tasks and duties, but the real dirty work will be the job of the associates. The “Senior Pastor” should maintain full control of the church and will be the primary, if not sole speaker at all church meetings from a podium we will refer to as “The Pulpit.” If anyone disagrees with his decisions or questions the level of his control, the senior pastor could easily dispel the opposing view by using the pulpit to accuse the dissenter of rebellion. If an associate pastor should ever oppose the senior pastor, he will be asked to leave the church immediately. 

The positions of “the ministry” will be given a great deal of prestige and should become a career sought by many.  I am not sure if any of this was your intention. I mean it wasn’t as if you made it as clear or direct as your instruction regarding the care for widows. In fact, it seems to be the same people that jumped on the idea to pay elders who totally ignored your instruction to provide for widows. In any case, it seems to be the direction this “paid elder” suggestion is headed. I’m not sure I can stop it.

The issue of entertaining an accusation brought against an elder has seemed to take two separate directions. Some churches will accept virtually any accusation brought against any elder. Other fellowships will not believe two dozen witnesses, especially if the elder accused is highly respected and well liked. As far as a public rebuking is concerned, forget it. Sins of elders and of the newly created “ministry” are much more likely to be covered up than exposed. Unless the secular media finds out, the chances of even a grievous sin being exposed is unlikely. You see, members of the church prefer to view their leaders as heroes. Some even become idols of sort. Exposure of sin would not only shatter that image, but could affect the life of a church community. Also, we can never forget the fact that a public rebuke could bring about a lawsuit, and church finances are much more important than some ideal commitment to holiness. Thanks for your suggestion, Paul, but we must remain practical.

With all due respect to your command to keep your instructions, I must tell you that most of your letter is being interpreted as the readers see fit. As far as partiality goes, the only favoritism I have seen is toward the talented, rich, intelligent, good looking and influential. All others are treated equally.

On a personal note, I intend to stay pure in all. Thanks for your motivation. Also, thanks for your concern over my stomach problems. I also think it is the water.

The next thing you brought up seemed pretty evident to me. I have always been aware that the sins of some are obvious. The good deeds of many, however, are not as obvious. It seems many people are afraid that their good works will go unnoticed. This has caused some fellowships to adopt “good-deed-awareness” programs. Suggestions have been made to place plaques and other communications around church meeting places acknowledging donations and other good works. For example, a plaque on the pulpit stating “Donated by Brother Jonathan” or a note in a church bulletin saying, “Flowers contributed by Sister Sarah” could give proper commendation.

I’m sorry if I appear to be going from one subject to another, but your letter did cover a wide variety of topics. The command for slaves to obey masters went over very big with the masters. The slaves still struggle with it though. I guess it will work itself out eventually.

When I read aloud the next portion of your letter concerning money, many took exception. Your criticism of those who teach godliness as a means to gain has caused half of our leadership a great deal of embarrassment. Most of the teaching leadership of the church is made up of professional men and woman who have displayed the ability to make money. It is only natural for them to attribute their wealth, at least in part, to their godly life and ability to follow godly principles. Since most people want to get rich, it is easy for these teachers to gain a following.

Teaching against the desire to be rich is not very popular at all and a church class on contentment would never attract a crowd. In all honesty, Paul, many consider this the most difficult portion of your letter. You see, many church leaders and “ministers” like to live extravagantly. How can they justify the money they take from followers who make less without espousing some type of “God-wants-you-rich-too” doctrine? I hope you can grasp the conflict and avoid dwelling on the money things. Between that and the women things, almost every congregation in the region will probably reject me.

In closing, please know that I have taken to heart your encouraging words and will continue to fight the good fight. Commanding the rich to put their trust in God rather than their wealth is easier said than done. They say their hope is in God, but I feel that they are merely hoping that God will keep and protect their real source of trust, which is their money. Often, they contribute to the church with expectations of special privilege or treatment. I must say that they are seldom disappointed.

Well, once again, thank you for your encouraging words. Hope to see you soon. 

Your son in the faith,

Timothy

(P.S. I just received your second letter, but as of yet I have not had a chance to read it.)

Things I Learned From Bill Brown Sunday, Jun 20 2010 

We are called by Jesus to become disciples and are commanded by Jesus to make disciples. Every Christian needs to become a disciple, and every disciple needs to make other disciples. This process of becoming a disciple and making disciples is the core of our Christian mission. Since I first decided to follow Christ, I have been discipled by many and have been used to disciple others. However, I would like to focus this article on one particular “teacher-student” relationship: the relationship I had with, and training I received from Bill Brown.

Bill is a Presbyterian minister who has never fit the stereotype of a Presbyterian or a minister. He is clearly, in my opinion, one of the most genuine, humble, and committed disciples of Jesus I have ever known. During the decade of the 1980’s and into the 1990’s I spent a lot of time with Bill. Some of that time was spent as an associate pastor of a church he planted (though he’d probably never admit he “planted” a church), some of that time was spent as a “co-minister” of sorts (serving as an elder and youth leader under his unofficial, yet very real guidance), but most of the time was spent as a friend who wanted to draw from the wisdom and experience of a true man of God.

I would often call him to meet for morning coffee at the neighborhood McDonalds. I can’t remember one time he refused. We’d sit and drink coffee while I’d pour out my complex theological life dilemmas and concerns. Bill would listen, and then share some simple, yet profound concept from his experience, or from his understanding of scripture. His words didn’t always comfort me, but they always humbled me. I’m not sure how he was with everyone, but at least with me, Bill didn’t teach doctrine; he taught Jesus. Jesus humbles me.

One of the first things he taught me was that God values all people equally. This he taught without saying a word. His respect for every person he met was evident. There wasn’t even a hint of partiality regarding an individual’s social or economic status. Unlike so many other ministers I’ve met, Bill was not impressed by the “high-and-mighty” of this world, nor was he condescending toward the “weak-and-lowly” of society. I couldn’t tell by his demeanor whether he was relating to a well known political figure, a highly-esteemed religious personality, or a “down-and-out” homeless drug addict. He valued all people equally.

He also taught me to be real. He said that people, especially the poor of the inner-city, would “tap” you to see if you “rang phony” or real. He said they could always tell a phony ring, and you had no chance of reaching them if you didn’t ring true. Bill always rang true.

In many ways, Bill also helped shape my priorities. While he didn’t rule out the value of church or denomination affiliations, he surely taught that God transcends them all. He would fellowship with Christians from many different denominations and diverse backgrounds. Bill’s idea of unity surpassed all ecumenical efforts I’ve ever seen. He didn’t compromise areas of differences, but accentuated areas of accord. He did this, in part, through a citywide prayer movement he called “Shalom.” He would often say of other ministers and priests, “If they won’t pray together, they’ll never work together.” Bill taught me that all Christians are my brothers and sisters, whether I agree with them or not. He taught me that the Spirit of God was the unifying factor, not the understanding of doctrines.

My understanding of poverty was altered through Bill’s teachings. He helped me to understand “poverty” as a spiritual condition, not a physical one. I would often hear him explain that some of the “richest” people according to this world’s standards were actually impoverished, and that many of the “poorest” people were rich in grace and blessings from God. That’s why Bill’s ministry to the poor crossed economic lines. He was able to see poverty in some who were respected for their wealth; and, at the same time, he was able to rejoice in the true riches of many who were discarded by this world.

Bill also helped shape my understanding of “teaching” itself. He would often describe “teaching” as the process of giving someone the intellectual tools needed to find the truth. He would describe what many churches pass off as “teaching” to be nothing more than indoctrination: telling people what to believe and then telling them how to defend it. Bill was a “teacher” in the truest sense of the word.

I think one of the most powerful lessons I’ve ever received from Bill was at McDonalds (of course) when I was struggling with my “call to ministry” (for lack of better description). I had resigned my position as associate pastor at the church Bill planted and subsequently left that church. A few months later, Bill had stepped down as pastor. Several people wanted me to go back to the church, and I was beginning to believe that my wife and I should. The problem was that the church had undergone many changes, such as hiring a new pastor and appointing new youth leadership. I was afraid that my coming back would make some feel uncomfortable and that others would misunderstand our motives.

After sharing my concerns with Bill, he simply said, “I heard you say what you think, and what you fear others may think, but I haven’t heard you say what God thinks. Find out what God wants you to do and don’t even give a second thought to what you or others may think about it.” It’s so simple, yet so profound. We sought God, heard Him clearly, and went back to the church. There we had several great years of ministry and growth. That same principle was recently applied to our decision to become a part of the organic church movement. We sought what God wanted, and haven’t given a second thought to what others may think.

There are many, many other things I could share that Bill Brown has taught me over the years. In fact, I visited him several weeks ago and he was still teaching me. I thank God for bringing us together and I encourage all Christians to seek to have at least one Bill Brown in their lives.

What Message Is Being Preached? Monday, Feb 1 2010 

Several years ago, I watched a contestant on a Christian music awards show sing a song about putting all attention on Jesus. However, while she sang, her voice inflections, style of dress, and movements all sent an obvious “look-at-me-perform-this-song” message. As I watched, I couldn’t help but notice the contradiction. It seemed pretty ironic to me. The words of the song said one thing, but her method of singing it said another. In the sixties (I’m giving away my age) a philosopher named Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message” (28). Though I admit I’m taking it out of its original context, I believe McLuhan’s phrase can be applied to this incident. While that female performer may have sincerely wanted to convey the song’s message of putting all eyes on Christ, the medium she used sent a different message. I see similar irony in many aspects of the way most protestant evangelicals “do church” in the traditional sense.

I Cor. 12:7 states, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (NIV) Many a sermon has been preached using this passage (as well as similar passages) to teach that God desires to use, speak to, and speak through, each member of His body. Yet, too often, the very ones who hear those sermons get the idea that God only speaks through super anointed ministers, or through educated experts of Biblical interpretation. Many feel deficient in their ability to decipher the deep mysteries of scripture, and incapable of discerning God’s voice. Others believe that God wants to use them, but feel stifled and restrained. There should be no secret as to why. Although the spoken message says one thing, the medium used to send that message says quite another.

For example, church members are encouraged to come once, twice, or three times a week to gather together and sit in an auditorium in order to listen to a professional explain what God is saying through the Bible and how it should be applied. In essence, the “stage and audience” style setting conveys the following message: “Regular Christians are to sit and listen to special Christians tell them what God is saying; and the regular Christians are to limit their participation to note-taking and amen-shouting.” While members of the church are told that God speaks to all of them, and wants to use each and every one of them, they are shown something quite different. The medium becomes the message.

So, my question is this: “Can a church institution effectively teach the principles found in I Cor. 12:7, while it organizes itself around a weekly gathering which limits the use of its central stage and microphones to a select few?” I personally don’t see how. How are all of these other “manifestations of the Spirit” supposed to add to the “common good” if the majority of those present are passive spectators? The teaching, no matter how articulately or how powerfully it is communicated, will be contradicted by the medium through which it is presented. Again, the medium becomes the message.

Before I go too far, let me assure you that I am not opposed to lecture style instruction, nor am I suggesting that we ignore the orations of experts or anointed teachers. I believe God uses gifted speakers and it is one of the ways He communicates with us. I love to listen to good sermons, and I have learned a great deal from them. I am not saying we should discourage people from listening for God to speak through sermons. What I am saying is that we should encourage people to listen for God to speak to and through each other. I believe the wrong message is sent by the level of importance we place on the professional minister’s Sunday sermon. I also believe the wrong message is sent by the lack of opportunity we give each member to share what God is speaking to them. Simply put I believe God’s desire to speak through a professional minister is extremely overrated, and His desire to speak through every member of the church body is not valued enough.

Many church institutions recognize this deficiency and try to correct the problem with “small groups” (also referred to as cell-groups, community-groups, or other names) which meet during the week. Smaller gatherings allow for more participation, therefore every member of the body can contribute at these meetings. The problem with this solution for most churches is that the message of importance stays the same. Most churches I’ve experienced consider the weekly small group meetings secondary to the main gathering on Sunday mornings. I recall one minister stating that the problem with home group meetings is that they provide an excuse for members to “miss church” on Sunday. When that minister was asked if he defined “church” as the Sunday morning meeting, he didn’t know what to say. I’ve even heard of small groups meeting to discuss the previous Sunday’s sermon, not to critique it, but to make sure everyone understood it correctly. Unless the small group meetings are considered more important than the large gatherings on Sunday morning, the message remains the same: “The important things of God are to be done by a select few.”

I honestly believe if we, the church, begin to place a higher level of importance on the smaller meetings in an effort to allow every member to manifest the Spirit of God for the common good, we will be a stronger, healthier body. The group of which I am a part has addressed this issue by identifying with the organic/simple church movement. We only occasionally participate in large assemblies. Our main focus is on the smaller group gatherings where everyone participates. I am not saying that everyone should follow this course of action. I believe traditional church groups (who can’t bear the thought of going organic) can “revalue” their meetings and begin to function as the body of Christ was intended. This can only happen, in my opinion, if the church is willing to have the large Sunday morning meeting relinquish its place of honor and have the smaller gatherings advance to a much higher place of importance. It will take a strong move of the Spirit to have that happen in most institutional settings, but I believe it is possible. In fact, I actually believe I know of some churches which are already headed in that direction.

For the sake of the health of the church, we must make room for the Spirit to use every member of Christ’s body here on earth. We must do it intentionally or we will miss what God is trying to do and say through those who may not be outgoing or charismatic. In his book, Follow Me To Freedom, Shane Claiborne writes, “We cannot just listen to the hype and to the loudest voices. Some of God’s most precious saints are quiet people, gentle prophets, secret saints that live in the shadows” (76). There is definitely a place for a public address to a large gathering, but the church suffers when the gifts of the few are overemphasized and the “manifestations” given to “each one” are neglected.

Works Cited:

Claiborne, Shane, and John M. Perkins. FOLLOW ME TO FREEDOM: Leading and Following as an Ordinary Radical. Ventura, CA: Regal, 2009.

McLuhan, Marshall. UNDERSTANDING MEDIA: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964.

MISCONCEPTIONS Friday, Jan 1 2010 

For more than two decades of my Christian life (long before I ever heard the phrase “organic church”) I’ve held some rather nontraditional ideas about the church. These views always seemed simple to understand, but hard to communicate. I was often misunderstood as being “anti-church” when I would share that I didn’t believe in a clergy/laity distinction, didn’t think that attending Sunday morning service was necessary, or didn’t consider the organization many called “the church” to be the church at all. I would be looked at as if I had three heads when I asked, “Why can’t we start a church in a coffee shop, in a fast food restaurant, or around a park bench?” While my ecclesiology has been slightly modified over the years, my basic concepts regarding the church have remained the same. Although I have discovered others who think similar things (and even write books about those things) I still find myself being misunderstood; it’s just that now, I feel like I have company. Therefore, I think it’s appropriate to make my first blog of the New Year one that tries to clear up at least three of those wrong impressions.

The first thing I’d like to address is the false idea that I’m against church leadership. Actually, the very opposite is true. I am very much for strong leadership in the church. What I’m against is “positional” leadership. I believe leadership is relational, not positional. Holding a title, or filling a position within a structure does not make one a leader. A leader is one who is being followed, not out of compulsion, but out of trust that comes from recognition of moral and spiritual maturity. That’s what I call relational leadership. Positional leadership is about “being over” others for the purpose of control. Relational leadership is about “being among others” for the purpose of going ahead of them so they can follow.

The next false notion is that I am anti-institutional. That is also far from the truth. I believe that institutions and organizations have much to offer, and in a certain sense, are necessary. I believe that “form” and “structure” are developed to support the “substance” of a thing. In the case of the church, structures are developed to aid the mission and life of the church. The problem comes in when the forms and/or structures that were meant to support the substance become identified as the substance itself. Often, they take the place of it altogether.

For example, say an organization is created to help coordinate the functions of a church body. This organization is complete with a board of directors, a CEO, a building, and a staff of employees. The church body uses this organization as a tool to serve its mission. Then one day, the organization begins calling itself “the church,” the CEO begins calling himself the “Senior Pastor” of the church, and the board of directors begin calling themselves the “Ruling Elders” of the church. Do you know what you would have? I think you would have what most evangelicals refer to as the church.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the organization can be a good thing, but it’s NOT the church. I also think that the CEO can be a pastor, but the position DOES NOT make him a pastor; I believe there are many pastors in a church who hold no formal position within the organization. I also firmly believe that the biblical idea of elders has nothing to do with some type of organizational board of directors; instead, I understand elders to be relational leaders who are recognized for their maturity and character.

To sum it up, I resonate with the words Wm. Paul Young has Jesus speak in his book THE SHACK as he replies to Mack’s misconception of the church :

Mack, that’s because you’re seeing only the institution, a man made system. That’s not what I came to build. What I see are people and their lives, a living, breathing community of all those who love me, not buildings and programs. (180)

That’s the way I see it. The institutions are merely tools to be used by that living, breathing community.

The last issue I’d like to address is that of the Sunday morning worship service. I’ve been accused of being against it altogether. I am not against it; in fact, I rather like it. I can see where I could easily be misunderstood though, since I affectionately refer to it as “The Show.” I make no apologies, because that’s what I believe it is. I believe it’s a good show. I believe it’s a helpful show. I believe it’s a show that can add to our spiritual growth and encourage us to serve God. I also believe that a very important part of the show involves corporate worship in which God is honored. But if you were to honestly describe what takes place on Sunday morning, you would be hard pressed not to compare it to a pop/rock concert followed by a motivational speaker. There are a few “performers” and a large “audience” present. Face it; it’s a show.

But I’m not against it. I think it’s a good thing. What I am against is the primacy it has taken in the church. It (like the institution) is called “church.” When people say they are going to church, they mean they are going to the Sunday morning gathering. I’ve heard people say that the Sunday morning gathering fulfills Hebrews 10:25, and if you miss it you’re disobeying the principle found in that passage. But, in my opinion, Hebrews 10:25 is referring to much more that a Sunday morning gathering; it is speaking of a Christian community living life together.

Also, if one were to calculate the percentage of time, money, and effort that goes into the Sunday morning show, I believe it would far outweigh every other aspect of church life. As a preacher (of sorts) myself, I understand the value of a good sermon and well led corporate worship. However, the “show” doesn’t need to happen every week, and it certainly should not take center stage in the life of a church. (Excuse the pun.)

Well, I’m sure there are many more misunderstandings I’ll need to eventually address, but please know that most of the answers are going to be similar. I’m not “anti” anything that helps the church. I believe that a church related institution can, and should have an “organic” growth movement as a part of its mission. I am a believer in a “both/and” approach to church models and expressions and I would like to work with any Christian group that desires to see God’s kingdom grow. It just upsets me to see something begin as a helpful means to an end, become an end in itself. I recognize church institutions, but I do not recognize institutions as the church.

 

Source Cited:

 Young, Wm. Paul. THE SHACK: WHERE TRAGEDY CONFRONTS ETERNITY. Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007.

What’s Missing Sunday, Nov 15 2009 

WHAT’S MISSING

(First published as “The Missing Book” on http://www.faithwriters.com 05/03/06)

“It’s not really what you think.” As Jonathan stared at a tall, fully stocked bookshelf in the corner of the office, he repeated, “It’s not really what you think.”

Sharon, still baffled, looked at Jonathan intently. “How do you know it’s not what I think? I haven’t told you what I think.”

“I’ve been dealing with you way too long, Miss Landers. I know what you’re thinking. You think I’m afraid to make a commitment because of all the stuff I’ve been through. Well that’s not it at all.”

Sharon looked away from Jonathan and over at the bookshelf upon which his gaze was fixed. She smiled sadly at the irony. Jonathan had no idea that he was staring at the very books Sharon once thought contained the answers to every problem she would ever encounter as a Social Services Counselor. Yet, Jonathan’s situation was not addressed in any of them. It almost seemed as if a book was missing. One that could explain why a thirteen year old boy who was orphaned at three, then shuffled from bad foster home to worse foster home for nearly ten years, would turn down an opportunity to be adopted by a family who genuinely loved him.

“I’m confused. I thought you really liked the Church family. You spent the whole summer with them. What’s changed, Jonathan? If you’re not afraid of commitment, then what are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid of anything. I know the Church family loves me. They were real nice to me this summer. Mr. Church would always take me fishin’ and bowlin’ and stuff, and Mrs. Church was always fixin’ treats for me, huggin’ on me, and tellin’ me how smart I was.”

“Well, was it the boys? Were you able to get along with them?”

“Yes indeed, Miss Landers. We were real good friends. Deacon, the one who’s my age, is really cool. He got me to join his baseball team, and even gave me one of his old gloves. We’d play video games and watch TV till late at night. And Evan, his little brother, liked me too. He said he wanted to grow up to be just like me. He would draw me pictures and tell me jokes. You see what I mean about getting along with them?”

“Of course I do. But I must say, Jonathan, that I’m more confused than ever. If they loved you so much and treated you so well, why did you turn down their offer to become part of their family?”

“The Church family just doesn’t seem real.”

“What do you mean by real, Jonathan?”

“One day, we were having dinner. Everybody was treating me real good as usual. Evan wanted to sit by me; Deacon gave me the end piece of the meat loaf even though it was his favorite; Mr. Church bought rocky road ice cream for desert cause he knew I liked it; and Mrs. Church kept asking me if I wanted more. Well, all of a sudden, Deacon asked Evan to pass the salt. Evan didn’t hear him, so Deacon reached for it across the table and accidentally spilled his milk. Mr. Church slapped Deacon in the face and yelled about being careful. Evan started to cry, and Mr. Church yelled at him to stop. Then Mrs. Church yelled at Mr. Church for yelling at the boys, and then started yelling at him for stuff that happened years ago. Mr. Church walked out of the room. Mrs. Church left too. Deacon looked at Evan and said that it was all his fault for not passing the salt. Evan stopped crying, but I could hear him whisper that he hated everybody.”

“Oh, I see. You love the Church family, and they love you, but you don’t see them love each other.”

“That’s right Miss Landers. You can know a family is real by their love for one another. Who wants to join a family that loves everybody else, but not one another?”

“Well, Jonathan, this has been very enlightening. I’m sad that you won’t be adopted, but I do understand why. You will know them by their love for one another. I read that somewhere.”

“Oh yea? Where?”

“In a book about love.”

After the session with Jonathan was over, Sharon looked at the bookshelf once again. She decided to add one very special book to her collection: the one that seemed to be missing.

MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU Monday, Oct 19 2009 

{This is a modified version of an article first published on the now obsolete Religious Humor & Satire site of Suite101.com}

 

 An infomercial for Christian television.

The program opens with flashing scenes of smiling people in everyday situations, such as a young couple sailing, a family going to church, and some teenagers at a football game. In the background, lively contemporary music is played, and the booming voice of an unseen announcer is heard.

Announcer: Imagine being free from the needless guilt that often accompanies trying to live a righteous life. Picture what it would be like to have an answer for all your friends at church when they try to point out flaws in your walk with God. Just like these people shown here, you too can be a happy Bible believing Christian without the added pressures of conviction and repentance. Now, the secrets that used to be owned by ambitious denominational leaders, institutional church political types, and Christian special interest groups are available to you. These secrets can be discovered through the new, life-changing course called, MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU.

The music hits a crescendo as the final scene fades out. Simultaneously fading into view are two men and one woman, all in business attire, seated in a semicircle of office chairs in a room that resembles a pastor’s study. The room is complete with walls of shelved books, several framed diplomas, and a large screen TV. The announcer’s voice is heard once again.

 

Announcer: And now — the creator of MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU, Dr. Lou Dicrous, along with his special guests, Charlotte Tann and Cal Usbrain.

Dr. Dicrous:Well, after your guaranteed thirty day trial period, tell our viewers at home what you think of my Bible study system.

Charlotte: Please let me begin. I found it to be awesome. I never dreamed the Bible could be so accommodating to the lifestyle of a career woman like me.

Dr. Dicrous: How so?

Charlotte: Well, I was caught in a moral dilemma at work. My immediate boss was spying on my superior boss by breaking into his office and reading his e-mail. One day, the big boss called me into his office to ask me if I knew who was using his computer. Let me tell you, I was scared. I want to be a good Christian, I teach Sunday School and all, but I didn’t want to turn in my immediate boss. Thanks to your course, I used a technique from the third lesson, and was able to justify lying. I used Rahab as an example, reasoned that she lied to protect the spies in Jericho, so it must be OK to protect a spy with a lie. I lied to my boss’s boss, saved my boss, and never once felt guilty, because what I did was BIBLICAL.

Dr. Dicrous: That’s great. But why were you so interested in saving your immediate boss?

Charlotte: Because my immediate boss and I are having an affair. And, you’ll be happy to hear that I used techniques from lesson one to justify that little problem.

Dr. Dicrous: Wonderful! Well, how about you Cal? You were quite the skeptic.

Cal: Yes, I was. I felt there was no way that my problem could be justified Biblically. I just knew I would have to choose between my Christian fellowship and my sin. But thanks to you and your program I am now happily addicted to heroin, without the guilt, and still able to Pastor my Church full time.

Dr. Dicrous: Tell me about it.

Cal: For years I struggled with my habit. I felt that the Bible spoke against drug use. Then, after taking your course, I realized that anything can be justified. I saw the passage in Ephesians 6 regarding bondservants being subject to their masters, and applied that to my drug addiction. The Bible tells me to submit to my master. I am a slave to heroin, so heroin is my master. Applying that Biblical principle to my situation, I don’t have to seek help. I just need to accept myself as I am and submit to my master, as the Bible says.

Dr. Dicrous: Excellent use of lesson number two.

Cal: Well, enough of our stories. Tell us how you came up with such a brilliant system.

Dr. Dicrous: I would love to, Cal and Charlotte. One day, I was facing a problem myself. I was torn between the worldly practices of the church I pastored and the obvious principles of leadership taught by Jesus. While watching the news, a report came on about a major denomination going against long held biblical values in order to accommodate an increasingly popular social condition. As I watched the hierarchy of that denomination use scripture to condone its new position, I realized how easy it would be in my case to do the same. Then I began to study other organized religious groups and saw the same principles at work. By taking standard hermeneutical practices and using them to extremes, one could Biblically justify any practice. Why — prosperity teachers have been doing it for years, and now mainline denominations are using these methods too. Now, I have made their secrets available to you. All you have to do is order my course.

Announcer: And here is what you will receive. Seven lessons on CD or DVD:

· Lesson 1 – Finding secondary meanings in Greek and Hebrew words

· Lesson 2 – How to strictly interpret, then loosely apply the Epistles

· Lesson 3 – Turning descriptive passages into prescriptive doctrine

· Lesson 4 – Using cultural differences to nullify universal principles

· Lesson 5 – How to make eisegesis look like exegesis

· Lesson 6 – Mixing unrelated verses to change the intent

· Lesson 7 – Using the Judge-Not line of reasoning for every argument

And if you order now, you will receive Dr. Dicrous’ special Bible interpretation software. It slices, mixes, chops and twists scripture into any shape you want it to be. You get all this for the low price of $39.95.

The picture switches back to Dr. Dicrous and guests.

Dr. Dicrous: How about hearing from some other satisfied students?

Cal: That would be great Doctor.

Dr. Dicrous turns on the TV as his guests watch the screen. Three students appear on the screen, two male and one female, to give a testimonial.

1st male student: I use to think becoming a devil worshipper meant I would have to leave my Christian church. But thanks to Dr. Lou’s course, I was able to justify my divided loyalty. I always knew that scripture refers to the devil as the enemy. But then, thanks to Dr. Lou, I also saw, in Matthew 5:44 that Jesus commands us to love our enemies. So I reasoned that loving the devil was OK with the Bible. Now I can sing in the choir on Sunday morning, and go to my Black-Mass on Sunday night without guilt. Thanks to Dr. Lou, the Bible works for me.

female student: I wanted to divorce my husband so I could marry a coworker. The problem was that I had no Biblical grounds for divorce. Then I ordered MAKE THE BIBLE WORK FOR YOU. Using techniques I found in lesson six I was able to combine Matthew 5:28, where it says looking at a woman lustfully is committing adultery in the heart, and Matthew 19:9, where it implies that adultery is grounds for divorce. Knowing that, at least once, my husband looked at another woman lustfully, I was able to divorce him and not go against my Bible. Dr. Dicrous made the Bible work for me.

2nd male student: I have a problem with overeating. It is nothing severe, and everyone has problems, right? Yet many people, including my doctor, told me that I was dangerously obese and could have a heart attack any day. So I tried to diet, but that got me depressed. The only thing that got rid of my depression was eating. I would tried to read the Bible for encouragement, but the passages of scripture regarding gluttony would get me even more depressed. So I ordered Dr. Dicrous’ course. Boy, what an eye opener it was. Utilizing the methods of lesson five, I applied the principle I found in First Kings 19, verses 4 through 6. I read that when Elijah was depressed, the Lord sent an angel to him with the command, “Arise and eat.” I reasoned that if it was good enough for Elijah’s depression, it was good enough for mine. Now whenever I get depressed, I get up and eat. The depression goes away and there are no guilty feelings to deal with, because I made the Bible work for me.

The picture switches back to Dr. Dicrous and guests.

Dr. Dicrous: Well, those were amazing testimonies, as were yours, Cal and Charlotte. And thank you for joining me.

Both Cal and Charlotte: It was our pleasure.

Scene switches to same pictures and music as in the show’s opening. Announcer’s voice is heard.

Announcer: This opportunity will not last long. Please call the number at the bottom of the screen. You only have sixty seconds left. Until next time, goodbye, and good Biblical living.

Scene fades as the music ends.

Are You Living In Rebellion? Friday, Oct 2 2009 

As stated in the previous post, I still have many questions regarding God’s delegation of authority, but I have arrived at one firm conclusion:

Jesus is God’s delegated authority for the church, and all of its members have equal access to him. There is no hierarchy of revelation. There is no hierarchy of leadership. There is no hierarchy of authority. We are all called to submit to him, and to one another. (Eph.5:21) There are different functions and gifts within the body of Christ, but only one head.

However, just as questions beget answers, answers beget other questions. How do we practically function in our day-to-day life submitting to one another? What does it look like? How does submitting to one another correspond with the passage of Hebrews 13:17 which admonishes us to obey our leaders and submit to them? If there is no hierarchy of leadership, then who are the leaders we are encouraged to obey? How do we identify them within the family of God?

Let me begin by addressing the latter questions. First, how does submitting to one another correspond with Hebrews 13:17? Well, I believe the answer greatly depends on the way the passage is viewed. If interpreted as a command to practice strict adherence to positions of authority within an institutional church, it seems to contradict the idea of mutual submission. If, on the other hand, it’s understood as an exhortation to be persuaded by leaders of a community, then the passage fits mutual submission like an indispensable piece of large puzzle. Frank Viola writes:

The word translated “obey” in Hebrews 13:17 is not the garden variety Greek word (hupakouo) that’s usually employed in the New Testament for obedience. Rather, it’s the word peitho. Peitho means to persuade or to win over (297).

Look at a previous passage of encouragement from the same chapter of Hebrews:

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7 NIV)

The Hebrews 13:7 passage tells us to “consider” and “imitate” our leaders. This seems to be more in line with a “be persuaded by” concept than a “mindlessly obey” notion. It also suggests that one of the qualities of a leader is to speak the word of God. If we believe we are members of a larger community (the church), and our desire is to submit to the authority of God through Jesus, and we recognize that all of the members of that community have equal access to God, then imitating those who display leadership qualities, and allowing ourselves to be persuaded by the word of God spoken by them, seems to be a natural way to fulfill that desire.

So who are the leaders, and what are those leadership qualities by which they can be identified?  I believe the answer, in part, was given when Jesus addressed the question of hierarchical authority in the passage below:

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant …” (Mt.20: 25-26 NIV)

Here lies the paradox of kingdom leadership. Jesus says, in contrast to the way the Gentile world operates, true greatness is accomplished by being a servant. The very opposite of being the highest in rank is what makes you the highest in rank. To identify true leaders, look for those who are willingly submitting to, and serving everyone else. Look for servants.

Since servants are under their master’s authority, we could push the above stated principle to its logical extreme and conclude that to be in authority you must be under everyone else’s authority. Since a true leader is servant to all, then we should eagerly desire to submit to those who desire to submit to us. By doing so, we all submit to Christ. That is one reason why the “body” metaphor for the church (I Cor.12) is such a powerful one. Each member of the body is directly under the authority of the head, just as every member of the church is directly under the authority of Christ. Yet, each member of the body submits to each other member in order to fully obey commands from the head. Not submitting to one another is not submitting to Christ.

Watchman Nee puts it this way:

Yet, right here lies the common fault of God’s children. We need to recognize in other members the authority of the Head (80).

How often do we fail to recognize the authority in each other? The problem with hierarchical authority structures and positional authority figures is that they lack the practice of mutual submission. For example, if I believe that those who rank under me should submit to me, and that I should submit only to those who rank above me, then I will not practice submission to those who I believe rank under me. I become concerned with how to prove, exhibit, and exercise my authority over others. I teach others that it is rebellious to disobey my authority, just as it would be rebellious for me to disobey the authority above me. I practice control and teach dependence. I have no desire to seek the permission or advice of those under me; I only seek their approval, for approval strengthens my authority.

As well, many Christian communities often fail to acknowledge the authority of those in other Christian communities. It always amazes me when an organized church that stresses submission to authority chooses to totally ignore other churches in the same area. If there is one Christ then there is only one body. To ignore any member of that body is to miss the full abundance of Christ.

Watchman Nee goes on to say:

We ought not refuse the function of any member. If the foot should reject the hand, it is the same as rejecting the Head. But if we accept the authority of a member, it is the same as accepting the authority of the Head. By way of fellowship all other members can be my authority (80).

If we’re not willing to submit to each other, we’re not willing to submit to Christ; and if we are not willing to submit to Christ, we are living in rebellion.

So how do we practically function in our day-to-day life submitting to one another? What does it look like? I believe it looks like a body. All members receive instruction from the head and submit to it; but in so doing, it is essential for all members to equally submit to one another. There will be roles and gifts of leadership displayed.  The eyes may take the lead in one situation with the rest of the body responding in submission to what to what the eyes have seen.  Each member receives instruction directly from the brain regarding the specific role to be played in response to what the eyes have seen. At the same time, the eyes equally submit to all other members in similar fashion.

The same is with the body of Christ. Some with specific roles and gifts of leadership will take the lead, and we should recognize this and submit to their leadership. At the same time, those in leadership are constantly seeking to serve and submit to the rest of the body. All of the members are constantly striving to promote, serve, support, and submit to one another, while receiving instruction directly from the head, who is Christ. It is not the individual member to whom we are ultimately submitting, but Christ in that member.

Again I’ll say that I still have many questions regarding submission to God’s delegated authority, but of this I’m sure. If we are not striving to submit to one another, we are living in rebellion to God.

Sources Cited:

Viola, Frank. REIMAGINING CHURCH: PURSUING THE DREAM OF ORGANIC CHRISTIANITY. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2008.

Nee, Watchman. SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1972.

Delegated Authority Tuesday, Sep 8 2009 

It is a given that we must submit to God’s authority, and that all authority has been given to Jesus. (Mt.28:18) However, I’ve been reading Watchman Nee, and he raises the issue of delegated authority. He states, “Just as the delegated authority follows God, so those who are subject to authority should follow God’s delegated authority” (30). I agree with the idea, but I have many questions regarding the practice. Here are some of the questions: 

  1. What or who determines delegated authority?
  2. Can we choose which authority we’re under?
  3. Since there is only one God, why do different Christian groups submit to different Christian authorities?
  4. Can Old Testament examples of authority be applied to New Testament Christians?
  5. Is there a difference between submission to worldly authority, family authority, and “church” authority?
  6. How do we identify God’s delegated authorities?
  7. Can a person be voted into, hired for, or appointed to a position of authority?

Initially, one may be tempted to give over simplistic responses to the above questions, like:

  1. God
  2. No
  3. ‘Cause we’re all called to different places
  4. Yes or Maybe sometimes
  5. Yes and No or Maybe sometimes
  6. They are the people who hold the title or position of authority.
  7. Yes, it happens all the time.

But, if we push it to the next level, or to the logical extreme, we may realize it’s not so simple. For example, we know that God determines whom to place in authority, but how does he accomplish it? Is it through succession, where one authority places his authority on another? Is it by popular opinion, where God allows a person to be voted into an authority position? Is it by force, where God allows a person to seize authority? Regarding government, all of the above could be true. Some governments are ruled by people who have succeeded a former ruler, others are voted in, while still others take control by force. The New Testament seems to teach that God, somehow in his sovereignty, has established all government authority which should be obeyed (Rom.13:1-7), unless it involves disobedience to a higher authority (Acts 4:19).  Yet, regarding the church, Jesus tells us we should be different: “Yet it shall not be so among you …” (Mt.20:26 NKJV)

So how should we view delegated authority within the church? The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religions have it easy. They believe and teach that authority is passed down from Jesus to the apostles, and then passed on by the apostles to others, then by those others to still others all throughout history. These are the only two groups that have a legitimate historical claim of apostolic succession. Their answers to the first three questions would likely be:

  1. God establishes authority through succession.
  2. No, you’re under whomever we say you’re under.
  3. There is only one authority & it is set up as a visible hierarchical structure.

The rest of us (protestant, evangelical, non-denominational) have no such claim. In fact, if we believe in any type of “appointed position of authority by a higher authority” at all, we’re forced to admit that the “original appointment” of authority either began as an act of rebellion against an already established authority, or that it was just started out of nowhere. If we look at delegated authority from a hierarchical perspective, the idea of established authority within the church can only go back so far.

How about voting for a delegated authority? If this is how God’s delegation is determined, through an election of sorts, then it’s possible for one to “run” for delegation. It may work for many organizations, but establishing church authority through a popularity contest is hard to find in the New Testament scriptures.

Does God establish “positions” of delegated authority within the church which can be occupied by anyone deemed qualified? Should we place ads in the help wanted sections of religious periodicals and web sites in order to hire someone to fill a position of authority to rule over us? Is that what God intended? Again, seeking professional authority figures may be the way worldly institutions operate, but it lacks biblical precedence for the church. It also seems awkward to be able to “hire” someone to fill the position of God’s representative. I know it’s not the same, but hiring a person to fill a created position for the purpose of submitting to that person reminds me of pagans who create an idol out of wood and stone for the purpose of bowing down to it.

So where do we turn for answers? What about the Old Testament; should those examples of authority being applied to the New Testament church? And what about the family? There seems to be a clearly defined authority structure within it, and Paul compares it to the church. (Eph.5: 22-32) Shouldn’t the church follow the same pattern of authority as the family?

The problem with seeking answers from the Old Testament does not lie with principles of authority and submission, but with misapplication of those principles. Principles of submission to delegated authority figures, such as Moses or David, have been applied to modern elder/pastoral positions. The problem is that Old Testament authority figures are not meant to be types of modern day elders and pastors, but types of Christ. The same misapplications occur with parallel comparisons between the family and the church. The husband/father authority of the family is often compared to the elder/pastor authority of the church. However, scripture clearly parallels the husband’s authority in the family with Christ’s authority in the church: “For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church.” (Eph.5:23 NKJV) The authority of elders and pastors within a church is more like the authority of older siblings within a family.

While I still have questions regarding God’s delegated authority, I have arrived at one main conclusion: Jesus is God’s delegated authority for the church, and all of its members have equal access to him. There is no hierarchy of revelation. There is no hierarchy of leadership. There is no hierarchy of authority. We are all called to submit to him, and to one another. (Eph.5:21)  There are different functions and gifts within the body of Christ, but only one head. Submission to one another is real submission to God’s delegated authority. It may look different at different times, because the practical application of submitting to one another depends upon which specific gift is being used to fulfill a specific purpose. However, it all depends upon every member submitting to the head, who is Christ.

So, if Christ’s intent was to establish an institution with positions of delegated authority, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches are the only ones who have it right. But if he intended to establish a growing, reproducing, organic body of disciples, we need to begin functioning like one. With that in mind, I’ll allow Neil Cole, founder of Church Multiplication Associates, to ask the final question: “Who’s in charge here? It is either Jesus, or it is not. It cannot be Jesus and our designated leaders” (94).    

Sources Cited:

Cole, Neil. ORGANIC LEADERSHIP: Leading Naturally Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009.

Nee, Watchman. SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1972.

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