the weblog of Alan Knox

Defining and describing organic church life

Posted by on Apr 3, 2013 in blog links, edification, gathering | 8 comments

Defining and describing organic church life

Not long ago, I came across Nathan who has a blog called “Joined to Him.” He is writing a series of posts called “Why I’m Pro-Organic Church.” (Here are “Part 1,” “Part 2,” and “Part 3.”) I don’t know if there will be more parts to Nathan’s series, but these three provide a great definition and description of what organic church means.

In the first post of the series, Nathan describes his own journey. I’ve always found it interesting and encouraging that many people have started from very different places but have come to very similar conclusions concerning the church.

At one point, Nathan describes some of the questions he started asking:

While this was happening I was asking myself many questions about church. I was asking if the modern day church was the church Christ died to obtain and Paul died to plant and establish. I wondered why we did church the way we did? Why we have a pastor, Sunday service, offering, pews, ten minutes of singing followed by an hour long sermon delivered by the same person each and every week? Where did this all come from? Is there something more?

In the second post of the series, he defines what he means by organic church. This is extremely important, especially for the audience that Nathan is writing for (his friends and family primarily).

Here is part of Nathan’s definition:

By “organic church,” I mean a non-traditional church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grass roots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.

Finally, in the third post of the series, Nathan describes several practical aspects related to organic church. This is also extremely important, because it takes “organic church” out of the concept or ideal phase and puts feet to it.

For example, here is one of Nathan’s “practical characteristics”:

The second practical characteristic is that the meeting is open and every member can function as they are lead by the Christ the Head, through the Spirit. This is in line with the early church gatherings spoken about in 1 Cor. 14, where every member could bring a song, hymn, teaching etc. to the gathering for the building up of the church. Practically, members might write songs together or alone, exalting Christ or an aspect of His riches. The song would be brought and sung together. Songs might happen spontaneously. People might write poems glorifying Christ. Somebody might feel burdened to bring a teaching to the group, etc. All things are done for the building up of the church. Each member is allowed to function in their God given roles. Each member is an active priest in the priesthood of all believers.

I encourage you to read all of Nathan’s posts. You may not agree with everything he writes, but I think you’ll find much to encourage you in your own journey with Jesus Christ and among your brothers and sisters in Christ.


8 Comments

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  1. 4-3-2013

    I take a little issue with this sentence: “By “organic church,” I mean a non-traditional church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs.”

    This suggests that “traditional” churches are not born out of spiritual life. That’s a bit judgmental I think. The church I currently serve was started out of a desire to reach our community for Christ and fellowship with other believers. It began as a small gathering of Christ-followers in a living room 50 years ago. I definitely believe it was born out of spiritual life.

    There is much to criticize in traditional churches (sometimes I’m the biggest critic!), but to pit organic against traditional like this seems unnecessary. Nathan’s statement just struck me as “we organic people really live in the Spirit while those traditional folks just don’t get it.” That’s unfair and mostly untrue, in my opinion. I know plenty of non-traditional believers who come off as bitter and angry and anything but led by the Spirit.

  2. 4-3-2013

    Scott,

    I agree with your critique. Thinking about Nathan’s journey (and the journey of many others like him), why do you think he sees this distinction between organic and traditional?

    -Alan

  3. 4-3-2013

    Alan, I feel extremely honored to be featured on your blog, since I have learned a great deal from you and your content. You write extremely well, while I am still learning how best to construct and share my thoughts.

    Scott, I think you are right in that my statement is a generalization. However, my posts are largely meant to convey my experience of church thus far, and this has generally been true in my experience. I have no doubt that many traditional churches we see today were born out of spiritual life (like your case). The reality is that most later became more “institutionalized” and centered around religious programs rather than spiritual life (correct me if i’m wrong). My main point in that sentence was to create a distinction between what I consider an organic church versus a traditional church. Later I described the actual characteristics of organic church, which helps reinforce the differences even more.

    I agree with your last paragraph. I know many brothers and sisters who are part of “traditional” churches, and in fact I fellowship with them regularly (just not in a “traditional setting”). I also know some “non-traditional” brothers and sisters who are are like you described. It can be quite easy to become bitter towards something that has caused lots of pain and grief, which is why we need to keep our eyes focused on Him and walk with Him in humility and love.

  4. 4-3-2013

    It can be hard to not get caught up in hyperbole and overgeneralizations when looking at organic church as opposed to “traditional” church. What it seems to come down to for me is a difference between being based on fellowship and life together as believers or on a local institution that we “join” that is more event focused. Again that is a generalization but sometimes that is what we are left with when trying to talk about such a broad topic.

  5. 4-3-2013

    Nathan,

    Thank you for the great series of posts. I also appreciate your response to Scott.

    Arthur,

    Generally, that generalization seems to be common. Obviously, like you said, it is a generalization, but also an experience that many have had. Of course, many who are part of traditional churches disagree with this. Why do think one group generally sees the distinction while the other group generally does not? Generally.

    -Alan

  6. 4-5-2013

    I agree with Nathan, but not because of a generalization.
    I came to this conclusion by circular reasoning. “A traditional church is held together by religious programs. Because a church that is held together by religious programs is a traditional church.”
    BTW Is “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and idle gluttons!” a stereotype?

    Back to the question at hand, Nathan says he prefers a “church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. [A church that} is a grass roots experience… marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.”
    It has been my experience, that like Scott, many that consider their church traditional, prefer this as well.

  7. 4-5-2013

    Nelson,

    I think that’s a great way to put it. In fact, I concluded quite a while ago that there are no true “organic” churches and not true “institutional” churches. All groups of believers are somewhere on a spectrum between the two.

    -Alan

  8. 7-22-2013

    I’d like to respond to Scott Eaton’s comment (and your reply, Alan) because he sounds just like my husband in conversation with me on the topic. :) I can see how it comes across as judgemental and critical when my bottom line is this: I have no desire to be part of the so-called institutional/traditional churches that I have been a member of in the past or others that I have visited. I’ve been asked, “So how will you fellowship with Christians?” My answer is, “In real life, in family settings, over meals, in enjoying one another’s company whether working, praying or playing.”

    Like me, Nathan’s distinction between organic and traditional may come out of an aversion to the focus on showmanship, the money involved making it a place of business, the pressure to perform…and the list could go on.

    Over time, spiritual life in Christ so often goes the way of all mankind, becoming a religion, a human “successful” affluent club. Experiencing this firsthand left me with a desire to find and immerse myself in Jesus alone. His nature is to make us family and to live through us both individually and together.

    I am on a long journey learning to express myself without criticizing or condemning my brothers and sisters in Christ, whether or not they see eye to eye with me on traditional meetings. And actually, let me take that back–what I am learning is that “expressing myself” is not the way of God’s kingdom, but expressing Him through me is life!