What is an Organic Church? A Plea for Clarity

I’ve been using the term “organic church” since 1993. In my book Reimagining Church, I point out that T. Austin-Sparks is the man who deserves credit for coining this term. Austin-Sparks ministered in the 1920s until his passing in 1971.

When I began using the term “organic church” over 16 years ago, very few people were using it. (The exception would be those who were familiar with the work of T. Austin-Sparks.)

Today, the phrase has become a fad. It’s become a clay word, molded and shaped to mean very different things by many different people.

Consequently, one must now carefully define what they mean by “organic church” when they use the term. As for me, I pretty much stopped using it.

I’ve often said that an organic expression of the church is one in which the members are learning to live by Divine LIFE together. They are learning how to live by the indwelling Christ. And out of that living emerges a particular expression. That expression, because it’s derived from LIFE, is “organic.” When the church is living true to herself . . . as an organism . . . her expression is organic. The means and end is Jesus Christ. Christ is known deeply by a group of people who are discovering His infinite riches together and are making Him visible on the planet again.

The New Testament knows no other kind of church. This is what ekklesia is.

Some, wrongly I believe, have used the term “organic church” as a synonym for Christians who meet in a house (a “home church”). I’ve spent a lot of time discussing the differences between an authentic organic expression of the church and a house church (see my recent interview with Alex McManus for an example).

Several statements (these are my own personal convictions, of course):

1. I wouldn’t give 2 cents for many “house churches” today. Many of them are far from organic (in the sense that I’m using the term). For that reason, I don’t endorse “house church” as a model. And I never have. The living room is not my passion. Many house churches, in my experience and observation, have no concept of how to live by an indwelling Lord. Nor are they consumed with Jesus. Christ is but a footnote to some other “thing” or “it.” This is the case with much of contemporary Christianity (just count how many times He’s mentioned in the typical sermon or gathering).

Few know what it means to pursue the Lord Jesus with one another. I’ve maintained this observation for the last 13 years. Thankfully, more and more Christians outside the institutional church today are beginning to understand that ekklesia is all about discovering and displaying Christ together and that the engine, drive, and motive is to fulfill God’s eternal purpose – which is not centered on human needs.

2. The impulse to start a “movement” is something I’ve never endorsed. As a student of church history, “movement mentality” is very common. Paul of Tarsus didn’t attempt to start a movement. From everything I know about the first-century and the early church, this wasn’t on his radar. He planted between 13 and 14 churches in his entire lifetime. (Read that again, folks.) Paul was interested in quality far more than quantity. (Building with gold, silver and precious stone was his concern – see 1 Cor. 3). I have a lot to say about “movements” and the fruit they produce. I’ve discussed it a good bit in Finding Organic Church and the in the Threshold 2010 conference (which was recorded).

3. The goal of experiencing organic church life should never be the transformation of the world. Nor should it be world evangelization or church multiplication. The goal is the fulfillment of God’s eternal purpose in Christ – a purpose that is by Him, through Him, and to Him. A purpose where “the fullness of Christ” is the warp and woof. God’s eternal purpose is something very different from all of the above.  (See From Eternity to Here for an unveiling of the eternal purpose.) Those who would stress the former as goals have adopted (often unwittingly) the mindset of D.L. Moody and J.R. Mott. I took dead aim at this mindset in my talk at George Fox Seminary last year, should you be interested in why I think it’s a out of harmony with the biblical narrative.

4. While some are trying to build movements (as many men have in the past), the movements surrounding house church/simple church today are very often  shallow and posses little stability. This statement is based on my travels, observations, and many interviews with folks within these movements. I’m speaking in general terms, not about the exceptions. There is, however, a genuine move of God happening right now containing 8 characteristics. This “move” or “current” is centered on restoring God’s eternal purpose, His grand mission from forever to forever. That which has beat in His own heart from before time.

5. There is a lot of confusion within the missional church movement right now on the subjects of church, mission, and discipleship as well. As I see it, there are two major streams in the missional church movement that do not map to each other. This has added further confusion to the Body of Christ.

What follows is an article I wrote some time ago answering the question: What is an Organic Church?

I hope it adds some clarity in an area where massive confusion abounds. My hope is that this blog post would spread to those who would benefit from hearing it . . .  especially those who are using these terms without understanding the history behind them . . . and that it would produce further examination into these matters.

What I’m writing here of course is my view. Your mileage may vary. So free to chime in and correct my thinking.

Bottom line: What I mean by “organic church” has everything to do with the Lord Jesus Christ. I unfold this thought in my eBook and audio message entitled Epic Jesus.

Since I left institutional Christianity twenty years ago, I have groped for language to communicate the kind of church experience I have lived in since that time. About fifteen years ago, I began using the term “organic church.” Interesting, this word has recently become somewhat of a clay word, being molded and shaped to mean a variety of different things by a variety of different people.

T. Austin-Sparks is the man who deserves credit for this term. Here’s his definition:

God’s way and law of fullness is that of organic life. In the Divine order, life produces its own organism, whether it be a vegetable, animal, human or spiritual. This means that everything comes from the inside. Function, order and fruit issue from this law of life within. It was solely on this principle that what we have in the New Testament came into being. Organized Christianity has entirely reversed this order.

The phrase, “the organic expression of the church” was a favorite of Sparks’. I’ve yet to find a better phrase to improve upon it.

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.

Put another way, organic church life is the “experience” of the Body of Christ. In its purest form, it’s the fellowship of the Triune God brought to earth and experienced by human beings.

To use an illustration, if I try to create an orange in a laboratory by employing human ingenuity and organizational skills, the lab-created orange would not be organic. But if I plant an orange seed into the ground and it produces an orange tree, the tree is organic.

In the same way, whenever we sin-scarred mortals try to create a church the same way we would start a business corporation, we are defying the organic principle of church life. An organic church is one that is naturally produced when a group of people have encountered Jesus Christ in reality (external ecclesiastical props being unnecessary) and the DNA of the church is free to work without hindrance. In short, “organic church” describes a kind of church life that embodies the biblical teaching that the church is a spiritual organism and not an institutional organization.

To put it in sentence, organic church is not a theater with a script. It’s a lifestyle-a spontaneous journey with the Lord Jesus and His disciples in close-knit community.

An organic church can be contrasted with “institutional church.” By “institutional church,” I mean a church that is created by human organization, chain-of-command styled leadership, and institutional programs. It’s marked by a weekly order of worship (or mass) officiated by a pastor or priest. It’s controlled by a top-down hierarchical organization and human social conventions (called “offices”) that people fill. The institutional church has often been called “the traditional church,” “the organized church,” and “the audience church.” Congregants watch a religious performance once or twice a week, and then retreat home to live their individual Christian lives.

Leadership is hierarchical in the institutional church, and Christians are divided into “clergy” and “laity” (or their equivalent-”pastors” and “laymen”). Granted, some institutional churches have small group meetings outside of weekly church services where members get a taste of community life. But this community life is not the driving force of the church. And a hierarchical leadership structure is in place in the small group gatherings. Someone is always “in charge,” and the group is ultimately under the authority and restrictions of the pastor or priest.

We can think of the difference between organic churches and institutional churches this way. When God’s people assemble together on the basis of the organizational principles that run General Motors and Microsoft, we call it an institutional church. But when God’s people assemble together on the basis of the life of God, we call it an organic church.

One of the common mistakes that is made today is to confuse all house churches with organic churches. The reason is simple. Not all house churches are organic. Some are quite institutional.

I have often been asked: “How does a house church operate?” That’s impossible to answer because the term “house church” is about as wide an umbrella as the word “plant.” To my mind, asking how a house church operates is like asking, “What does a plant look like?” There are countless kinds of plants — weeds, shrubs, trees, bushes, vines, etc. In the same way, there are countless kinds of house churches. I’ve seen so many types and varieties over the years that it seems that the only thing they all have in common is that they meet in a home.

“Organic church,” therefore, best describes the kinds of churches that I and many other Christians around the world have experienced, lived in, and enjoyed. And it’s the kind of church that I believe the Lord is raising up in this hour. Add to that, the church that we find in the New Testament was above all things . . . organic. So it seems to me anyway.

Have questions? Objections? Click here for the ReChurch Library on discount – scroll down once you get to the page.

Organic Church

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Comments

  1. says

    Great article! Don’t have the time to go into the I agree’s and I disagrees;)

    I also found Watchman Nee’s book “The Normal Christian Church Life” very radically balanced in it’s Biblical exegesis.

    Spirit & Truth,

    Chad

  2. amy@to love says

    holy crap! i feel like i just found a long lost friend. my husband and i have been in this place of desert feeling just like this… and yet everyone we talk to tells us we are crazy. and we have read books and blogs and blah blah blah and even the people who come close to the way we think aren’t quite there. and now i found you and i feel like i am listening to my husband speak {because these are, quite literally, his exact words}. so thank you. it’s just nice to know there is someone who gets it. too bad there is no one near us who gets it to have an organic church with. but that’s the next step. first step… finding you and knowing we are not alone ;)

  3. Annamarie says

    I have been a part of the local church for many years through many ups and downs. I read your article with great interest as I am researching what Jesus really intended the “church” to look like.

    Question? What of the five-fold ministry? Paul was clear on this and the necessity of each. How does this fit in with the “organic church?”

    Thank you very kindly!

  4. zoran sulc says

    thanks for your unexpectedly immediate reply. As I said I’ve just come across what you are doing-just reading Pagan Christianity, so not able or wishing to misrepresent – just wanting to clear some inital points. I have some reading to do and will get back if I’m unclear – thanks

    • says

      Thx. “Pagan Christianity” isn’t a stand alone book. It’s like listening to the first half of a conversation and then hanging up. You need to read the companion volumes “Reimagining Church” and “From Eternity to Here” to get the whole argument. Many of your questions will be answered therein.

      • says

        Living in Australia, I am yet to even hear about this kind of ‘church’ in the community. In my own brick-&-mortar church of which a friend is the pastor (friends 12 years, pastor 5 years) is continually frustrated at the way I approach ‘ministry’ now as it is contrary to what he and the congregation does. I have already made plenty of waves before reading Pagan Christianity and it was just the icing on the proverbial cake. I am not out to cause strife or trouble but I seem to be doing that just by being honest and not ignoring truth and the fact I want genuine church not ritual.

  5. zoran sulc says

    I have very recently come across your ministry and have begun to explore further.In the past I have experienced some of what you are advocating and have longed to find it again. I am due to resettle in a country with young churches and want to be a sound Christlike influence there. Two areas of concern to me are:
    1)is there a danger that the believer becomes more concerned about their own spirituality than the saving of the lost? Perhaps some christians won’t mind being relieved of the burden of caring about the lost, but the lost are lost and need saints to have the compassion and unselfish willingness to be prepared to participate in their rescue. I’m also wary of people like DL Moody’s ministry being demeaned – were they alive to explain themselves I’m sure they would speak of the living Christ speaking to/calling/ministering through them much as “organic christians” might. JR Mott’s vision as he understood it may not have been completely fulfilled but if your vision is not fulfilled as you expect will that invalidate it?
    2)Your categorical aversion to most leadership structures is clear and understandable, however the absence of recognised and respected leadership, who are trusted andable to exercise discipline to protect the flock, could and would oftentimes be filled by forceful personalities(egos?) who will either be deferred to, or will drive people away or cause divisions – the Bretheren movement seems to illustrate this. I agree with your assessment of much leadership within the established churches but wonder whether the answer is for leaders to be more Christlike rather than to deny that Jesus calls people to recognised leadership. May you be in danger of eisegesis rather than exegesis of the relevant NT passages?
    You must have had these issues raised a thousand times so I’d appreciate direction to any of your writings that deal with them concerns, meanwhile I’ll continue exploring – thanks

    • says

      1. A group or person that is *truly* seeking Jesus Christ and learning to live by Him in reality will never become unconcerned about the lost. I’ve yet to see it. In addition, the problem today is that Christianity has become a mile wide and an inch deep. It’s terribly shallow. Making the gospel all about saving the lost is not biblical and it misses God’s purpose. No one is demeaning Moody. It’s just that the emphasis to make salvation of the lost everything or central is not biblical. I argue this in detail in “From Eternity to Here” if you are interested in the argument.

      2. Not sure where you got the idea that I’m against trust leaders. You’ve obviously not read “Reimagining Church.” I suggest you read it and then let’s talk. You speak of “danger.” There’s great danger in making assumptions about what a person believes without reading their main work. You can find the book here: http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org – few things are as harmful to God’s people as misrepresentation.

  6. Melissa says

    I wish that all of your critics would read this article!! So many of the arguments they make have no founding on what you really believe and completely miss the point of what you are trying to say. I wonder if they have actually read your work at all! They hear what you apparently said from others and just run with it. This week I was sent an email that said you were opposed to leadership!! I had to laugh because you have never said that at all. Sometimes I think people just cannot see or hear something different that doesn’t fit in their world view and theology. All I know is that I am very thankful for your work and it has changed so much in my life for the better.

  7. RC Woodard says

    Frank,

    Although this blog posting was written 19 months ago, I wish to say thanks for providing clarity to this term (organic church). I am newly introduced to your books and your work and I must say I am thrilled beyond belief. I was raised in the “traditional/institutional” church and spent about 20 of my adult years entrenched. Although I love Jesus and had glimpses of the indwelling power of God it was never consistent and I frequently felt empty. The book ‘Pagan Christianity” has either confirmed or answered questions I had concerning church. I had felt for years that the normal sunday/wednesday ritual wasn’t what God had in mind. Thanks! I intend to read your other books and will come back with questions and/or comments as your words continue to expand my mind/spirit.

    RC

  8. michael millier says

    Again, we are free to promote whatever concept we now have…until the judgment. So, in light of that coming judgment, we need to strive with God’s help to get our facts straight. In the case of today’s “organic church,” and it’s being promoted as “New Testament church,” the biblical, cultural, historical, liguistic, etc evidence points more toward a liturgical and hierarchical style expression of New Testament EKKLESIA than it does to the free-form non-hierarchy expressions that you are saying results organically from LIFE. All of the evidence should be considered and sifted through. What I am seeing in your writings and from many other “organic church/simple church” sources is too selective with the evidence.

    Is there room for discussion on this matter…discussion that brings in evidence, not just opinion?

    Shalom from Manila,
    –Michael

    • says

      Michael. Yes, I’m all for “getting the facts straight” hence why I’m so diligent to document my sources. I do have to ask: Have you read the entire ReChurch series from cover to cover? There are 5 books in the series. You can see them all here: http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org

      Also, have you read the *entire* FAQ page including the full-length debates with scholars? http://www.ptmin.org/answers.htm

      Apparently you aren’t aware that these issues *have been* discussed profusely and are still being discussed (see the CT conversation and my last few blogs; plus past blogs, for examples). If you want to know my contribution to all these issues further, I suggest reading *all* of the books and the entire FAQ page.

      There’s also the mediography page that lists all of the articles I’ve written, spoken messages, etc. http://www.ptmin.org/mediography. If after reading all of the material and something hasn’t been addressed, the best place to write a question is through our website. http://www.PTMIN.org. I’d also refer you to Jon Zens, one of the best scholars of our time. He’s been to the Philippines several times and resonates with all of my work. He’d be happy to engage in a debate with you if that’s what you’re looking for. But it would be wise for you to first be fully educated with all the material; I’ve always done this when I’ve engaged an author in a lengthy back-and-forth discussion. It’s the responsible thing to do.

      Take care,
      Frank

  9. says

    Frank:

    Does what you are saying differ from folks like Lk10.com or DAWN ministries, etc? I mean, these are very missional type of (pseudo) organizations that seem to stress exactly what you are advocating. Paul’s church plants were and are considered “missional”. I understand that your emphasis is on the supremacy and centrality of Jesus Christ – and not the centrality of “missions” – and I do joyfully concur. But once you’ve found the “lover of your soul” – wouldn’t the natural (organic) reaction to that to be – give it away? Wouldn’t you want everyone to have that?

    One of my problems is that I’m surrounded by people who are quite frankly – evangelists. If you go out with them for very long (anywhere) – then people end up giving their life to Christ. It’s not ok to just shut them down while we’re trying to find expression. Is also not okay to just be one dimensional and forget about discipling, nurturing, etc. (other aspects of Christ). Isn’t Christ an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and a teacher? And wouldn’t the expression of Christ – be all of those things too?

  10. says

    Mr Viola,
    What advice would you give to a person who is seeking to be a part of authentic organic church but doesn’t see any around? I feel that my husband and I are just sort of wandering around looking for something and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to focus on looking for something/some group/some people… or focus on simply being something just me and him and praying God will lead more to us. We feel stuck between different ‘church movements’ or ‘church models’ and we don’t fit in fully in any of them. I guess we’re in a waiting stage… Anyway – thanks so much for the books & blogs. Love them. :) Randi & Brandon

    • says

      Randi, thanks. I only have a second. Two quick things: I’d first fill out the form at http://www.housechurchresource.org – “Find an organic church” link. You will hear something about connecting/equipping events in the future. I also have a list of practical steps you can follow in my book “Finding Organic Church” on this very question. A good number of people have found such churches or have been on the groundfloor of new church plants as a result.

  11. Robert Adams says

    Frank,

    With the pursuit of clarity in mind, I think we need to realize that people have different lexicons from which they draw their understanding of church and other matters. Whether one uses the proper word or not is debatable but the fact remains that English has hundreds of dialects in use around the world.
    Though I fully believe in the use of spiritual gifts in the traditional sense I think we need to use the gift of “speaking in tongues” in a much more practical way. We all need to listen and interpret what others intend to say instead of taking their words in the context of our own personal dictionary. We need to translate MY English into YOUR English if we are going to meet intellectually.

    May I suggest that the word “organic” is not the problem. I think there are many more issues connected to the use of the word “church”

    I mentioned to Leonard Sweet years back during conversations at SoulFest in Ontario after he had suggested in his talk that we need to jettison some words from the evangelical lingo.

    To my surprise he did not agree with me. Even the radical among us have deep-rooted loyalty to certain terminology.

    Are we willing to dump the word “church” in pursuit of clarity, understanding, fellowship and successful declaration of the gospel?

    • says

      If dumping the word “church” would do anything positive and it would still be viable to communicate with people in a way they understood, sure. But that’s not the case. It would be like dumping the word “Bible” “God” “Spirit” as it is today. Better to redefine the term biblically. So I’ve found in my experience. Your mileage may vary of course, and that’s fine.

  12. mike cole says

    Frank–you are right about the arm chair-philosophy.
    Lyndsey was right too–it can be very hard to find words for the experience.

    Lourens–I came from the exact background that you speak of. I am a former pastor at a megachurch. I had to step away in faith and God has provided the way. It has been tough from a working perspective–you have to be willing to take anything that God sets before you. I have done all sorts of jobs in the last 9 years–mostly hard labor. But I have been blessed and strengthened in Christ like I never knew!! We are a family of 4 and basically our whole lives changed.

  13. roy says

    Good article and teaching/instruction. Thanks. If taken to heart it helps us focus back onto our individual hearts and actions and what is produced from them corporately as the body we pray (every moment) that we are living in.
    Just as a finger may have an infection through no fault of it’s own, so are we the same if misguided or confused we follow anything but the Holy Spirit in our lives, and most importantly our worship. Uncared for, an infection will spread and impact the performance of the hand the finger is attached to so that it cannot perform it’s function at 100% of it’s capacity.

    Cheers y’all.

  14. Nicholas says

    …maybe we can really shake the trends by starting to call it “Fluid Church”…then quickly over to “Quantum Church”…and then “Living Church”…

  15. Nicholas says

    …Frank, I’m thankful that God has put you into action…as for organic Church, the Church has been organically functioning within, without, and through the history of “institutional church”…the institution is mechanical in structure, and Church is fluid in function…the “term” organic is technical and strapped to confusion as a device, or tool…no matter the title, Church is still the Organism of Christ…as for the Church “movement”, here is a comment posted to N.C.’s blog “Is there an Organic Church Movement?”:

    Neil,
    As with anything that rejuvenates the reality of our faith, I dig it to the Spirit. Before I even heard of organic church/house church, I was wandering…without a church influence, but only God/Christ/Spirit and a Bible…Bowels “move”, but Church “Functions”…the new is the old functioning for His purpose. God is beyond time so the Church (past, present, and future) hasn’t “moved” at all for Him…it serves to function for Him…that spiritual organic-ness really cuts through the veil when imparted AND received…good words though…I don’t think Jesus fit the “definition” of messianic “mover” when He came on scene…they thought killing Him was preventing a “movement”…and He’s been functioning ever since…let the Pharisees decide if we’re a movement…”Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead”…

    …I’m with ya…by the way, when are you coming near Portland?…

  16. says

    Good, good word Frank. Thanks for your thoughtful expression here. Personally…I’m getting pretty tired of all the labeling and defining and arguing and talking and talking and conferencing about it all. Starting to agree with Elvis-”A little less conversation, a little more action, please.”

  17. michael millier says

    Hi again Frank,

    You had written:

    Today, the phrase ["organic church"] has become a fad. It’s become a clay word, molded and shaped to mean very different things by many different people.

    Consequently, one must now carefully define what they mean by “organic church” when they use the term.

    I’ve often said that an organic expression of the church is one in which the members are learning to live by Divine LIFE together. They are learning how to live by the indwelling Christ. And out of that living emerges a particular expression. That expression, because it’s derived from LIFE, is “organic.” When the church is living true to herself … as an organism … her expression is organic. The means and end: Jesus Christ is known deeply by a group of people who are discovering His infinite riches together and are making Him visible on the planet again.

    I responded thus:

    Of course I agree with you that those of us in the EKKLESIA are to be living via the indwelling Christ (although, I am assuming that by that you are not pitting “internal” against “external,” thus discounting actual God-aided human effort from the process of sanctification), and that this will result in organic expressions of the Body. But I may query further about:

    1. Who on earth has a right to call one expression true “organic church” and another expression…something else and less..?

    2. What might be the acceptable form/s (outwardly identifiable characteristics) of an organic church. Is it going to look sort of like they did in NT times, i.e. liturgical…synagogue-like? At least that is what the biblical/cultural/historical/linguistic evidence suggests… Not to mention trajectory from OT forms of the EKKLESIA, to NT times, to post-biblical times.

    I’m still waiting for a response, please… :)

    Shalom from Manila,
    –Michael

    • says

      Michael, every person has the right to their opinions and observations based on their experiences. You have that right also. The main thrust of the article is on the confusion that ensues when we use different meanings for “organic church.” Much of it comes down to *how* one defines “organic church” as I’ve tried to point out. Your second question is answered in my books “Pagan Christianity” and “Reimagining Church” — both go together. If they were published by the same publisher, they’d be Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Shalom back to you ;-)

  18. Rory MacArthur says

    Love the quote By C.S. Lewis . So true in my experience. I read “praying Hyde” about twice a year. My hero. I’ve been in and out of the institution most of my life (I’m 46). It still amazes me that many leaders and pastors still don’t understand the difference between walking in the flesh and walking in the spirit. There are many unknown followers of Christ who do not want to be known by these people. We’re in hiding from the “leaders”. I love your books Frank. The love of Jesus burns within me when I read them.

  19. says

    I think some people/pastors like me find it difficult to move outside our comfort zone and the institutional church supplies exactly that. We worry about finances as workers of the vine, especially if you already have families with financial commitments. How do you handle this Frank, and what would your advice be for someone like me?

    Can a megachurch be organic?
    If you have a seperate lesson for children is that organic?

  20. Justin Fowler says

    Amen!

    I think a good way to describe the organic nature of Christian life and communion is summed up well by the words of C.S. Lewis:

    “On this view the thing has happened: the new step has been taken and is being taken. Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognisable: but others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours; stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. … They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.”

    That’s the basis of “organic” church – that life that could only come from the divine one, Jesus Christ…

  21. Lyndsey Day says

    I think it’s much easier for people to find their identity in a movement or label than to allow Christ to work through their lives and BECOME their identity. In the past, I’ve searched for ways to describe my faith to others so it makes sense to them; i’ve looked for movements and organizations to be part of…because of my nature, I’ve tried to put Christ (and my life in Him) in a box. A life in Christ is not always easy to choose, be part of, or describe to people! But because Christ is not any of these human inventions, he blows it all out of the water. He says, “Focus on me. Not your need for structure or labels. Not your need for belonging. Just on me!” When I finally give up my control and focus on Him, I find that he brings words and connections… and SUPRISE!!! What He brings into my life is much better than I planned or expected. I feel that those words and connections are the growing, organic parts of the “ekklesia” that you write of. It’s the process of believers accepting Christ into their lives, then Christ showing Himself through them…it’s a beautiful, real, genuine, incredible, and meaningful phenomenon…it’s pretty great, really, that there are no exact words to label our lives in Christ. It used to frustrate me, but I now see it as an awesome testament to how truly great God is. He surpasses human vocabulary.

  22. TheDude says

    Don: I share your angst and desires. At times I grow weary and discouraged, but that is just what the enemy wants. It is my belief that the Lord knows the desires of our hearts and, for whatever reason, we are being asked to wait. Perhaps it is to strengthen us, I don’t know. What I do know is that I am committed to continue on this journey and be obedient to what God has laid on my heart. I would encourage you as well.

    I agree with what Frank said about the 20′s and 30 somethings seeking/wanting more of Jesus. It reminds me of the days back in the Jesus movement and what was occurring on college campuses around the U.S. Groups of believers meeting, no one in charge but Jesus Himself. Those were great times of freedom. Unfortunately, many of those folks grew up, started their own churches (e.g. Calvary Chapel) and just replicated what they had rebelled against in the first place. The time is now to be bold, be obedient, and not give up. As the new Don Francisco song says, he doesn’t want to go back to that old freeze dried way of life again. Good luck my brother.

  23. Lee Markum says

    Frank,

    I appreciate that the purpose of the comments was to try to define organic church as compared to other types of church experience. I agree with you that it would be wrong and unfortunate for a person to go to only a few groups of people outside the “institutional church” and extrapolate that all house churches are like the ones they have experienced. I wish the best for you and your role in the kingdom.

    Don,

    I am sure that there are groups of believers who meet in houses that are experiencing far less of Jesus than they could. It just felt like right out of the gate there was a strong lumping of everything not in agreement with Frank’s perspective as something that was “shallow” and not “worth two cents.” That type of characterization reminded me of the passage to which I referred. The passage represents a kind of “us” and “them” mentality. The idea I was trying to get across was that Jesus did not endorse His apostles’ effort to squelch the activity of other people who were ministering in the name of Jesus.

    By “doing church” I simply meant the perspective that one brings to what church ought to look like. Over the last couple of years, in large part to Frank’s writings, the writings of others and the personal ministry of God’s people I have more consistently lived out the truth I’ve known in my head for years – namely that we are the church. I certainly agree with Frank that going to a service or some other type of Christian meeting that is supposed to represent “church” and leaving saying “I went to church” as if one has done his or her religious duty is far off the mark from the picture of the New Testament.

    I am excited for you and your pursuit of Jesus. While I cannot with integrity say that I agree with everything in the book, I would encourage you to read “Reimagining Church” to learn all you can about a non-institutional perspective on church. Both it and Pagan Christianity offer a strong corrective to the CEO/Western church model.

    Lee

    • says

      Lee, I appreciate your irenic spirit. By the way, I do not deem everything that doesn’t line up with my perspective on ecclesiology “shallow” or worth 2 cents. That’s not the litmus for me. A.B. Simpson, A.W. Tozer, F.B. Meyer and a host of others who had a deep walk with Christ were institutional church men. While I may not agree with their ecclesiology, they were hardly shallow. I’m using “shallow” over against depth in Christ.

  24. Mike Cole says

    Frank–I just listened to your George Fox Seminary talk and I must say it is awesome. I pray for your strength to continue to speak the Word of God boldly.

  25. Robert Adams says

    Thanks , Frank for these and all the writings you have contributed in the task of encouraging organic church. I am in the process of finding others who share the vision here in Montreal, which is a barren wasteland when it comes to Christianity. It seems perfect.

    One thing I DO NOT want to do is gather a bunch of disgruntled old church-hoppers who are “looking for a place that meets their needs”
    I feel quite strongly that we need to make new disciples who don’t have all the baggage of institutionalism. We need to start fresh and avoid the catch phrases that boot up old paradigms in a flash. A new vision needs new people and a new language…..that is, a new wineskin.

    • says

      Thanks for the kind words. Montreal, that’s awesome. I agree with you; many youth (20s/30s) are now seeking/wanting more of Jesus Christ and thus we are finding them in abundance in our conferences and new church plants. Fresh wineskins, indeed!

  26. says

    You are correct. I don’t believe it takes years to plant one church. Quite the contrary. Paul, who I consider a model for church planting, spent an average of 4 months with most of his church plants in the beginning. (Mostly because he was thrust out of town.) He spent 18 months raising up the church in Corinth and three years in Ephesus.

    Neil is a friend, and I respect him as a genuine servant of the Lord. We don’t know one another very well, however, and we’ve never discussed any of our views or experiences. As for visiting a church of his, I have no idea. For the last three years, my coworkers and I have tried to find just one church he’s planted to see what it looks like, how it operates and functions, etc. but we’ve been unsuccessful. I hope to see his work someday as well.

  27. Bill says

    I just read on Neil Cole’s blog that he said you believe it takes years to plant a church. I’ve read your Finding Organic Church book and I didn’t get that. You talk about Paul planting a church in months. Have you guys ever talked about your views or experiences with church? do you know how I can visit an organic church he’s started?

  28. Don says

    Lee,
    I don’t see the correlation with Mark 9 and the fact that some house churches (probably much like the one I am part of) have been built on man’s foundation and NOT simply on Christ himself. Our body is a living example of how shaky our foundation really is. Countless times we have wanted to “throw in the towel” because our experience WAS shallow. There is a yearning in our souls to taste and see–how can the living God be in us and we not be able to experience His presence when we meet together? The higher eternal purpose that Frank writes about is the key to the organic church’s life-sustaining power. It does not “do church”, do you understand that part? It IS church. We form the “dwelling so He can lay His head”. . . . Everything else is simply an outpouring of his Spirit. My head gets it, but my heart is starving to be filled by it.

    Don–Rockford, IL

    P.S. Frank, would welcome your wisdom. . .HELP.

  29. TheDude says

    Thanks Frank for sharing your thoughts. Even though we’ve never met, I’ve read everything you’ve written and feel as though I know your heart. I don’t think you’re intent was to bash anyone, but to express the desire that God has laid on your heart for believers to give up their methods and movements (whether in a church building or in a home) and replace it with an interwoven tapestry of relationships among believers. This requires something more than a once a week gathering to sing, pray, fellowship, etc. etc. It means getting truly involved in each other’s lives and allowing Jesus to dwell within us individually and as a body of believers. Then and only then will the rest of the world see the Bride of Christ in operation as an ekklessia. I yearn for that, have experienced it on occassion, and am now trusting the Lord to bring other like minded believers into my life. I trust that He will.

    Your writings have been an excellent roadmap for me the last four years when the Lord set me out on this journey. God bless you for your dedication and tireless obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.

  30. Bob Northey says

    Thank you Frank for your latest illumination on ‘organic church’ and the honoring credit you give to Austin-Sparks. May the Lord and Head of the church himself shine his glorious light on the prevailing tides that bear the darkened flood waters of Christian institutional flotsam. ‘And the Lord with them confirmed the word with signs following’.

  31. Lee Markum says

    Frank,

    This article is very critical of people who are not “doing church” the way you outline in your books. For instance, “I wouldn’t give 2 cents for most “house churches” today” and “the movements surrounding house church/simple church today by and large are profondly shallow and posses little depth or stability.” I doubt it is your intent but these types of lines read like you are bashing everything that does not conform to your views.

    I like a lot of what you say in your books Pagan Christianity and Reimagining Church. I am less comfortable with the “institutional church” these days, but I am reminded of the passage in Mark 9:38-41in which the apostles tell Jesus that they tried to stop some other people from driving out demons in His name simply because they were not physically among His followers. His reply starts with, “Don’t stop them.”

    Lee

    • says

      Thanks Lee. I’m no expert (there are no experts in this business). I’m simply sharing my experience over the last 21 years of observing groups that meet outside the organized church. So many Christians have been turned off to the idea of “organic church life” simply because they’ve visited groups like the ones I’ve described and then written them off as reflecting *all* churches that are non-traditional. The purpose of the piece is *not* to try to stop anyone from doing church the way they feel they should. The purpose is to bring clarity to an issue where much confusion abounds. And to represent those of us who gather outside the institutional form of church and are not centered on world transformation, church multiplication, world evangelization, special doctrines, and a thousand other “its” and “things”, but rather, the Lord Jesus Christ and God’s eternal purpose in Him. That’s all. We are quite jealous over the supremacy and centrality of our Lord. Forgive my poor writing abilities; but this is just how it seems to me and many others. Your mileage may vary of course.

      • pauline eder says

        Hello Frank,God bless you!
        After reading your article this evening,I began to read the responses that were posted.
        As I began to read your response to Lee that was posted on:January 11th 2010 4:26p.m. the LORD quickened me in my spirit. Here is an excerpt from your response to Lee.
        “Thanks Lee. I’m no expert(there are no experts in this business.)I’m simply sharing my experience over the last 21 years of observing groups that meet outside the organized church.”
        Frank, The LORD quickened me to the book of Luke
        “And he said unto them,How is it that ye sought me? Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
        Luke 2:49
        I left the organized church more than 20 years ago. I visited a few since then…but nothing has improved, only gotten worse, as you already know.I have been falsely accused of forsaking the body of Christ, and it greived me deeply to be told that. I had a pastor tell me, “you’re lost” because I turned away from his influence upon me, and forsook his church. It was by the grace of God, that the LORD led me out and away from all the false doctrines and foolishness, that is claimed to be Christian. I will continue to read your articles as the LORD leads. Thank You.
        Grace be multiplied unto you in the mighty name of Jesus Christ.
        pauline

  32. Dr. Bennett says

    Beautiful!

    I love the line, “The living room is not my passion.” You bet!

    Thanks for writing this, Frank.
    Blessings,
    Steph

    • Mary says

      Thank you for the clarity but recently I have had the question come up of, Isn’t God Hebrew? Didn’t the early church follow the seasons of God? What is valid about the Hebrew calendar that we should be following and celebrating as gentiles grafted into the vine? Just wondering what your take is on this subject. Thanks for all your imput. Blessings.

      • says

        Mary: Not really. The churches that Paul of Tarsus raised up was made of Jews and Gentiles “after the flesh.” But … they were called not to live after the flesh but after the Spirit. And oftentimes they did. I answer this in more detail in “From Eternity to Here.” But the early church was a new creation, a new species, “neither Jew nor Gentile,” as Paul said in Colossians. The book goes into details on this question. http://www.FromEternitytoHere.org

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