the weblog of Alan Knox

Replay: The Church as Relational Organism

Posted by on May 26, 2012 in books, community, fellowship, missional | 7 comments

Replay: The Church as Relational Organism

More and more, as I read books about the church, authors are recognizing that in Scripture the church is not an organization or an institution, but people. Four years ago, I wrote a post called “The Church as Relational Organism.” In that post, I referred to a few quotes from a book that I was reading at the time. The author was emphasizing the relational aspect of the church.

This is more than rhetoric. If we truly view the church as relational instead of organizational, it will change the way that we interact with one another.


The Church as Relational Organism

A few days ago, in a post called “What is a ‘traditional’ church?“, I mentioned a new book that I was reading: Missional House Churches: Reaching Our Communities with the Gospel (Colorado Springs: Paternoster, 2007) by J.D. Payne. Primarily, I picked up this book because of the title and because it was written by a Southern Baptist. I haven’t read much concerning “missional” or “house” church from the perspective of other Southern Baptists, so I was intrigued by this combination.

Overall, I liked this book. As with almost all books, the author and I hold differing opinions on a few things. For example, when he is defining the Church/church (he uses “Church” for “universal church” and “church” for “local church”), I think he makes more of a distinction between “universal” and “local” than Scripture makes.

However, I appreciated his organic and relational definition of the church (I will use one term for both, like Scripture does):

What is clear from the Gospels is that Jesus came to establish a new community… The citizens of this new community were part of a divine kingdom and lived according to the kingdom of ethic that involved 1) love for the King, 2) love for others in the kingdom, and 3) love for those outside the kingdom. (26-27)

For the most part, the church today is defined and understood in institutional and compartmentalized concepts… On the other hand, the Scriptures advocate that the church… is primarily understood in relation to the kingdom of God through organic metaphors emphasizing 1) the relationship of believers to God, 2) the relationship of believers to one another, and 3) the relationship of believers to unbelievers. The church is primarily to be understood in simple relational terms. (35-37)

Similarly, when Payne discusses the various metaphors that the authors of Scripture use to describe the church, he begins with my favorite metaphor – the family:

The obvious meaning behind this metaphor is that the bonds holding together the citizens of the kingdom are as strong, if not stronger, than the bond of blood. Just as an earthly family loves, honors, protects, encourages, and cares for one another, the church must do likewise. (29-30)

My thinking about the church changed drastically when I began seeing the church as a family instead of seeing the church as an organization. I began interacting with people through the relationships that God created through his Spirit instead of interacting with people through positions and functions. We are brothers and sisters with the same father. That relationship is stronger than blood.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 5-26-2012

    Another book that has transformed the way I view church in the context of an organic community is “Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna. It shows how throughout history the early church as Jesus envisioned it and Paul orchestrated it has become institutionalized and dogmatic, elevating clergy and the pastorate to the headship where Jesus instead should be. It has turned an active and united community of believers into a submissive and silent majority, relegating all duties to a select few. What was once a group of believers who regularly met in homes has now become a once-a-week gathering in some fancy building. What was once the celebration of the Lord’s Supper in the context of a community banquet, has become a solemn practice orchestrated by clergy once in a great while. The list goes on.

    I hope a new movement will begin that prods the church into returning to vintage Christianity and away from the Greco-Roman institution that today’s church has become.

  2. 5-26-2012

    Stronger than blood yet bound by the blood of Jesus. For that is where it starts. The adoption Jesus christ and him crucified,the foundation, and the final payment unto this new covenent, was the blood of christ, so drink of this new covenent and eat of him, Christ’s body.

  3. 5-27-2012


    I agree that looking at the church as people instead of an institution has changed the way I view people.

    Also, I have the first of a group of posts coming out tomorrow that deals with the problems created in trying to apply theological distinctions (visible, invisible, local, universal) to the church reality in which we live.

  4. 5-27-2012

    Alan, I’ve read a bunch of your posts and I am definitely challenged by your thoughts. However, it seems to me that the family metaphor speaks more than any other metaphor about things like organization, institution, structure, authority, hierarchy, routine, events, positions,and functions. A family does not trade these aspects in exchange for close relationships, it develops close relationships in the context of these things – in fact close relationships are developed because of these things! That is why an adopted child can have as close a relationship with his parents as do his brothers and sisters who are the biological children. Because it is not solely about a biological connection, it is about the familial structure into which one becomes a member. It is far more desirable to be adopted into a family than an orphanage, not because one is an organization with structure, roles, and functions while the other is not (any healthy family has organization, structure, roles, etc.), but simply because they are organized differently. It is not organization vs. family. It is one type of organization vs. another type of organization. I don’t think the issue for most people is whether the church is or is not an organization, I think the issue is who gets to organize it?

    I wrote a blog post which relates to this here: I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  5. 5-27-2012

    In organic church, it seems to me Erik, that the organization amongst siblings would necessarily be quite different than when hierarchy is involved, with someone assuming the role of father and mother etc. What I loved about Pagan Christianity, was the liberating aspect of eliminating the hierarchy. Siblings can do their bickering and squabbling when necessary, enjoy the security and benefits of family and work out their own rhythm without having to be intimidated or unduly subject to what comes with authority invested in human nature. With Jesus and the Holy Spirit only in charge…all things are sweetly possible and so many human foibles are eliminated. That has been the experience I have has since engaged in home church.

  6. 5-27-2012

    Rita, thanks so much for your response to my comment! I am curious how you would understand Paul’s use of familial metaphors in (for example) 1 Thes. 2:6-9 where he identifies himself both as their brother, and also as a mother and father figure. Would these metaphors be compatible with the way a house church is organized? Thanks again!

  7. 5-27-2012


    Pagan Christianity was a good book, but I preferred Reimagining Church for the positive side of the familial aspect of the body of Christ, the church.


    Yes, our relationship with one another is based on our mutual relationship with God through Jesus Christ.


    Great post! Thanks for the “heads up”.


    Families can be organized, but they are not family because of that organization. In the same way, we are to relate to one another first and foremost based no our mutual relationship with one another due to our relationship with God as our true father, which makes us all brothers and sisters.

    When Paul used “father” and “mother” language, I think he was using it metaphorically. On the other hand, we are truly brothers and sisters because God is truly our father.


    Yes, in a family there are disagreements and squabbles… but they remain family. That’s one of the big differences is relating as family vs. relating as organization.