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?

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.

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.

“What is the one thing Jesus absolutely had to do before God could raise him from the dead?” Thursday, Aug 20 2009 

“What is the one thing Jesus absolutely had to do before God could raise him from the dead?” That’s the question I asked to begin a sermon preached in the now extinct St. Thomas projects of New Orleans. (Yes, I did a little street preaching in my younger days.) The responses varied. Some said, “He had to live a sinless life and obey God in everything.” Others responded, “He had to work miracles and set a good example.”  Then one young man in the middle of the crowd answered, “He had to die.” That was it. Everything else in Jesus’ life was significant and necessary for many things, but the one thing Jesus absolutely had to do before God could raise him from the dead was to die.

I then had a follow up question: “What is the one thing we absolutely have to do before we can live the resurrected life of Christ in us?” The answer is the same. There would have been no resurrection of Christ if there was no death on the cross; and there can be no resurrected life for us if there is no crucified life in us. Paul addressed this very thing when he wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal.2:20) In order to have Christ live in me, I must die to my self.

“Dying to self” has become a Christian buzz phrase of sorts, but what does that mean on a practical level? Well, I think it means we commit our lives to Christ, no longer claim our lives as our own, and fully surrender to his lordship. We acknowledge that we are no longer living to serve ourselves, but we’re living to serve him. We exchange our control of our life for his control of our life. That is “being crucified with Christ” and dying to self.

The problem with many Christians (and I use the term loosely) is that they have not changed who they serve, but merely changed the way they serve themselves. People who desire to be first, to be in control, to always be right, to be noticed by others, praised by others, and admired by others can be seen in the church as well as the world. The difference is, those in the church tend to put a religious spin on their self-interests. I know, because I use to be one of those people, and in some ways, I still am. The trouble with a crucified life is that, although the commitment to be crucified is immediate, the death process can be long and painful.

 But God is faithful and patient. Over the years he has gently and lovingly pointed out many areas in my life that needed to be surrendered. There were self-centered areas in me to which I was totally oblivious; now, they seem embarrassingly obvious. These were areas which God had to reveal. I couldn’t see myself; none of us can truly see ourselves. The following stories are just a few examples of how God has worked in my life.

 I always loved to preach. I would spend hours on end preparing a sermon. One day God spoke to my spirit and asked, “If I told you to record every sermon, and also told you that no one would hear them while you were still alive, or would ever know who preached them, would you still put as much effort into preparing them?” I’m not sure how I answered, but I’ve never preached the same again.

In the same fashion, another time God asked, “If I told you to always give anonymously, and never tell anyone what you give or that you give anything at all, would you still give as much?” This question changed my whole attitude toward giving. Please don’t ask me how it has changed. I’m not allowed to tell.

On another occasion I was forced to make a decision between my desire (and it was a strong desire) to be in the “professional ministry” and what I knew was best for my children. I could have easily justified my desire to pursue my “ministry” career as doing the work of the Lord. Only because of loving conviction from God regarding areas in my life that needed to be crucified was I able to make the right decision. It was painful at the time, but I’ve never regretted it.

In our church meeting last Monday night the subject of suffering was brought up. One of our members was reading the account of Jesus’ prayer before his arrest: “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Mt. 26:39)  He realized that the way of God’s will can be a way of suffering. It’s not that God wants us to suffer, it’s that he wants us to die. Dying can be painful, but it is necessary if we want to rise and live that glorious life of Christ in us.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with the organic church, or the church in general. Well, the church is about being and making disciples. In order to be a disciple, one must commit to following Jesus to the cross. Jesus himself said, “… anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” (Lk.14:27 NIV) If we miss this vital element of being a disciple, we probably miss it when making disciples. The result is a social organization of individuals trying to serve themselves in religious fashion, complete with political power plays and agendas. Such a group needs to be controlled by a hierarchical authoritative leadership structure.

However, when a group of people who are dying to their own desires while surrendering to the lordship of Jesus come together, the result is quite different. It shapes itself more like a functioning body than a rigidly controlled organization. Problems can still arise. Dying is a process; but it is a process headed in the right direction.

Peace,

Bob

“Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Wednesday, Aug 5 2009 

Several months ago, our home church community (when we were still part of an institutional church) dedicated one week to pray for direction. We each agreed to  set aside a portion of time during that week to individually seek an explicit word from God, and then share it with the group. As I prayed, I asked God to give me a word directly from the scriptures so that I could be assured it was from him. Immediately, the passage from Luke 24:5 popped into my mind: “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” The thought was so sudden and emphatic it shocked me. The fact that I was surprised to have such a quick and obvious answer to prayer should have been conviction enough, but when I considered the implications, I was extremely humbled.

Not wanting to miss, or misapply, what God was specifically saying to me, I went to the original context of the statement. That particular passage in Luke describes women who were looking for Jesus; but they were not looking for a living Jesus. They were looking for the Jesus they saw die on a cross. They were looking for the Jesus they buried. They wanted to honor him by properly preparing his body according to Jewish tradition. They wanted to honor the memory of his life. They were looking to honor a great leader and prophet who was; they were not looking for one who is.

I began to see that we do the same today. We look for the “historical” Jesus: the Jesus who was, not the Jesus who is. We study the things he taught, make pilgrimages to the places he dwelt, and marvel at the stories of his life on earth; we look for the Jesus who was. Now, I believe these things just mentioned are good and profitable, but only in the context of his present life. Paul clearly states in Romans 10: 9 that if we if we confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus, and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved. It is the LIVING Lord we should be seeking. We need to live what we believe in every aspect of lives. We need to live the living Jesus.

We somehow feel that we, like the women at the tomb, need to honor the memory of Jesus. We want to be his living legacy by carrying on his work. Noble as it sounds, I don’t believe it is what God desires. God doesn’t want us to be Christ’s living legacy, but the living Christ’s body. We, the church, should be acting like a body controlled by a divine living head. Instead, we act like an organization, complete with business plans we call mission statements, CEOs we call senior pastors, and marketing strategies we call outreach programs.

Neil Cole writes, “In many of the churches in the West, ministry is done for Jesus, but not by Jesus-and therein lies a big difference.” (pg.54) Can you imagine what would happen if we stopped doing things for him and began allowing him to do things through us? Can you imagine if we lived life in total awareness of and surrender to the living Christ? Can you imagine?

 

Works Cited

Cole, Neil. ORGANIC CHURCH: GROWING FAITH WHERE LIFE HAPPENS. San Francisco : Josey-Bass, 2005.

Do You Want To Be Ordained? Thursday, Jul 30 2009 

I was ordained in 1986 (yes, I’m that old) by The Irish Channel Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational Christian church located in the heart of New Orleans. My official certificate says that I was ordained to the work of the Gospel Ministry. There were no exams that needed to be passed, nor were there any diplomas that needed to be earned as a prerequisite. All that was needed was recognition. The members of The Irish Channel Christian Fellowship recognized my work with the inner-city youth of the area and wanted me to continue doing what I had been doing for the previous three years, but on a full time basis. I could have been hired without being ordained, but the elders of the church felt the recognition of “being set apart for a particular work” was important. So, after a rather ritualistic type ceremony, the elders laid their hands on me, prayed for me, and I was ordained. The Sunday morning church bulletins listed me as Reverend Bob Kuhn. It seemed a little uncomfortable at first, but I began to like it after a while.

One day, about a year later, I was driving with a traveling evangelist who was preaching a week long revival service at our church. He began to ask me questions about my ministry at the church. When he asked me from what seminary I graduated, I honestly replied that I was still in seminary. He was surprised and said that he thought I had been ordained. When I again honestly replied that I had been ordained, he became upset and went into a mild tirade about the problems with non-denominational churches ordaining “untrained” people. He asked me how I could possibly feel equipped for ministry without the proper educational credentials. I, once again honestly, told him that I didn’t know what proper training or credentials were, but all I knew was that one day I was the manager of a parts department and the next day I was working for a church and being called Reverend. He became very quiet and seemed to pout a little. 

I’ve often thought about that evangelist and wondered why he was so upset. The only reason I can think of is that my ordination somehow, in his mind, minimized his. He was ordained into the Presbyterian Church. In order to become a Presbyterian minister, one must have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from an approved seminary before becoming a candidate for ordination. Then a grueling series of interviews by a group of senior Presbyterian ministers takes place, and if approved, the candidate then qualifies to be ordained. For someone to just walk off the street and get the same type of certificate he had framed in his office at home must have been depressing. And what does all that mean regarding my ordination? Is it real, or just pretend?

Well, I’m not called Reverend anymore, but I must confess, I like my ordination certificate. I think it’s a cool representation of the fact that a body of believers whom I love and respect recognized God’s call on my life. But, everyone has a call from God on their lives. They may not all be the same, but they’re equally important. My ordination certificate is like my Father’s Day cup from my kids. I like it, not because I think I’m the only father in the world, or some kind of super special father, but because I am a father, and that’s special enough for me.

So, how about giving every born again believer an ordination certificate. All Christians have a special call on their lives. Let’s recognize that special call and ordain them. Those of you who believe in a clergy/laity distinction, please don’t get upset. I’m not proposing that we honor you less. I’m just saying that we should honor each other more.

If you want to be ordained into the ministry of God, come to our church fellowship on Monday nights and we’ll be sure to accommodate you. For more information on being ordained, becoming a priest, or being a disciple of Christ, please post a comment on this blog.

Peace,

Bob

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.