The title of this blog post would be more accurate if it said, “Why I’m not involved in planting organic churches FOR NOW or writing organic church books FOR NOW — and why many of you cannot find such a church right now.” But that title is way too long for a blog post heading. Read on to understand what I mean.
Let’s begin with why many of you cannot find an organic church in this season.
This past February, in the space of two weeks, two independent film-makers contacted me to ask if I was interested in being featured in their documentaries on organic church.
They contacted me because of my old books on ecclesiology (both released in 2008). Those books were based on over 20 years of living in the trenches of Christ-centered community, including the raising up of such communities. So they wanted to include my voice in their documentaries.
By the way, I still stand by every word of those books. So the rumor that was spawned on April 1st (Fools Day) that George Barna and I recanted Pagan Christianity is completely false. Okay? Okay. Glad we’re clear on that.
Anyways, I declined both offers to participate in these documentaries.
When I wrote my “organic church” books 8 years ago, there was massive interest in the organic expression of the church among people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s in North America. (Though I’ve never regarded it as a “movement” because of it’s immense diversity.)
So the season was ripe for written articulations on the subject.
Beginning in 2011, however, the tide of interest began to subside. Today, it has sharply eroded among that age-group. So much so that the publishing houses that once published books on the topic are no longer doing so because of the overall disinterest in the subject right now.
Don’t misunderstand. There are people in that age-group who are not only interested, but they’re part of such communities (some of you reading this are, in fact). But as I’ve said numerous times before, organic expressions of the church – the way I’ve described in my books — are exotically rare today. Vanilla home groups are less rare.
Why has the interest ebbed among this age-group?
Two main reasons:
Reason 1: While the idea of Christ-centered community is appealing to many, the cost for securing such community is obscenely high. So much so that the masses of 20s, 30s, and 40s prefer to be found in four other places that are far more convenient:
* Neo-Reformed churches.
* Mega churches.
* Liturgical “high church” assemblies.
* No church of any kind. These represent the “Dones” who have washed their hands of any regular gatherings or community-life. It’s lonelier, but far safer.
Reason 2: The word “organic church” has been hijacked to mean 1,001 different things, all of which are radically different. For that reason, I stopped using the term altogether. It’s devolved into a clay word that’s been molded like silly putty into sheer meaninglessness. The fact that the term no longer has a monolithic meaning has added to the disinterest.
The majority of those who are interested in the organic expression of the church right now (whatever they think the term means) are people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.
And most of them are having a horrible time finding others who are interested in meeting outside institutional lines who live in the same state, let alone the same city.
In addition, when they do contact a group that purports to be “organic,” it’s almost always a small-is-beautiful version of the institutional church. And some of them are highly-legalistic, highly-toxic groups.
Among those interested in organic church who are 50 years old and up, bickering over doctrines and practices — with a good mix of serious personality conflicts sprinkled in — is common. So much so that many who are new to the idea of “organic church” have turned off to the idea by the doctrinal beat downs, personal vilification, mud-slinging, and theological smackdowns among its advocates.
Plainly put: While I still hold to every word I wrote in my 8-year old books on ecclesiology, the time isn’t right for a documentary on the subject. And many of my friends who are leaders in organic church circles agree with my assessment.
Let’s now shift gears and talk about why I’m not involved in organic church planting for now (in this present season).
In 2011, the Lord led me to suspend my ministry of planting organic expressions of the church for a season to focus on my broader ministry to the body of Christ. Not because of the declined interest in the subject, but because of His direct leading concerning a seasonal shift in my ministry. I made this seasonal shift public in 2012. As I look back now, I recognize that 2011 is when interest in the subject began to ebb in North America among people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Many other leaders I’ve spoken with have confirmed this, including seasoned church planters who have had the burden of church planting lift from them also. My current ministry includes proclaiming and fleshing out vital elements of God’s Eternal Purpose which have (thankfully) been bearing fruit all over the world.
Speaking locally, I relocated to a new city a few years ago. If there were an authentic organic expression of the church where I now live, I’d be involved with it. But there is none, and the Lord hasn’t led me to plant such a church at this time. However, I’m in regular fellowship with God’s people. Keep reading for how. (By the way, I never returned to the institutional church, which I left in 1988. Not since then, not now.)
Anyways, to my mind, creating a documentary on “organic church” would inevitably end up exaggerating what’s really happening on the ground. At least in North America, Australia, and many parts of Europe.
People who are new to the subject will assume that they can find a glorious organic expression of the church in their home town, only to be disappointed (and perhaps disillusioned) when they can’t find a single soul in their city who gives two hoots about Christian community.
I candidly shared all of the above with these two film-makers. And for at least one of them, my assessment seemed to put the brakes on his idea.
So What is Happening Now?
Here’s the good news.
You may be asking: If we’re not living in a season where there’s strong interest in restoring God’s thought for the ekklesia, what is happening, if anything?
I believe the Lord is up to many things, but here are four that are on my radar:
(1) On the fellowship front, small clusters of people are gathering together informally and periodically for fellowship. By small, I mean 2, 3, and 4. Have you ever seen the 1990’s shows Seinfeld or Friends?
Same idea. The only difference is that spiritual interests bind these small groups together.
This isn’t the idea of ekklesia that the New Testament envisions nor what has been birthed in past moves of God. But if you can find one or two people to gather with periodically for encouragement and fellowship, you’re of all people blessed.
Many Christians can’t find a soul where they live who is interested in talking about the Lord .
(2) There’s a growing interest in helping the poor and the oppressed among Jesus-followers today. This is what my ministry has been focused on for years now. (See a new season of ministry for details.)
(3) The discovery of mastermind groups. The mastermind group in the business world is widening to those who are in ministry as well as to authors. I’ve been privileged to be part of such groups as well as to facilitate them. The mutual iron-sharpening that goes on in these groups is remarkable. (I wrote about mastermind groups recently should you be interested in more information.)
(4) Finally, there’s a hunger among God’s people for the deeper things of God, which includes restoring the supremacy and centrality of Jesus Christ as well as the explosive kingdom message. These themes manifest themselves in treating others the same way we want to be treated in every situation (Matthew 7:12). I’m presently serving a community that’s almost 1,000 people from all over the world who are deeply committed to the deeper things of God and are discovering God’s Eternal Purpose together. This is hugely encouraging.
Now if you happen to be one of those fortunate souls who is part of a living, breathing, thriving organic expression of the church where Jesus Christ is the functional head, the angels rise up and call you “blessed.” So do all that you can to maintain that testimony, because it’s rare in our day.
Hope for the Future
Historically, God has worked in seasons. This is true for revivals. Most revivals in history lasted less than five years. It also applies to spiritual awakenings concerning the ekklesia.
As I write this, we’re in a season where the waves of a Spirit-generated revival are non-existent in North America. There’s also no significant awakening regarding the restoration of God’s house.
The good news is that I’m hopeful and expectant that we’ll again see the day when the Spirit of God will move on His people to restore the ekklesia as He intended according to His eternal purpose.
And when that happens, I plan to be on the front-lines once again.
Historically, the moves of God in the past have always been among younger people. As a general rule, the youth are more open to the sweep of God’s Spirit and are far more loving and tolerant toward those with whom they disagree. (Speaking generally, older folks have an awfully hard time resisting the temptation to unsheathe their swords over doctrinal disagreements and/or personality conflicts.)
When God’s Spirit moves again, it will be evident. And I’m confident it will begin with the youth as it always has.
But the last thing we need now is to put out films that don’t map to reality, as this will only lead to more frustration and heartache.
For that reason, I opted out of both invitations.
Yet I’m still awaiting the day . . .
P.S. If you’re someone who is interested in “organic church” (or simple church or house church for that matter), and you’re looking for some help, I recommend the following friends of mine as “go to” people since all of them are involved in the subject presently: Neil Cole, Felicity Dale, Tony Dale, Ken Eastburn, Keith Giles, Ross Rohde, Milt Rodriguez, and Jon Zens. They are all writing and speaking on the subject today. Note that their visions, emphases, and methods do not all agree. This merely reflects the fact that “organic church” has never been monolithic.
My 10 Best Articles That As Far As We Know (Who Can Tell?) Are Likely to Change the World
By “best,” I mean “most views” this year. The links to each article is followed by the first paragraph of the article (for your convenience, of course). Just click the links at the top to read the entire articles.
I recall when this rumor about Thomas Nelson was circulating and was saddened (and surprised) at how many Christians believed it without going straight to Michael to see if it was true or false. Here’s another example that’s much more national.
Dear Women and Men of Planet Earth, It’s March 2016 and Mary DeMuth’s book – The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels – has been out for a year. According to my painstaking research (okay, I asked Siri on my iPhone), approximately 3.42 billion women still haven’t gotten a copy of Mary’s book. This is most perplexing to me. More so than trying to understand Stephen Hawking’s take on quantum mechanics …
In our leadership-frenzied Christian culture, I’ve opted for a different label for leadership. That label is influence. Despite the unhealthy love-affair that countless Christians have with “leadership” and being “a leader,” the truth is, if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you’re an influencer. Your influence may be large or small, it may be good or bad, but it exists …
So I’ve been watching the Star Wars saga, from the 1977 debut to the upcoming release just around the corner. This tidbit accounts for the opening paragraph below. Even though it’s been “a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” since Pharisees were running around in Century One causing trouble for God’s messengers, Pharisees and Pharisaism are still here. They’re like the poor. They’ll always be with you …
I could write a book on the topic because there are far more than 5. But this is an email update, not a book. I wish an older Christian told me the following when I was in my 20s. It would have saved me a lot of aggravation, frustration, discouragement, [fill in the blank]. Hold on to your chair. These are blunt, even unsettling, observations …
Before you have an apoplectic fit, let me clear the table by saying emphatically: I consider the Bible to be God’s revelation, fully authoritative, fully inspired, and fully reliable. For that reason, I read the Scriptures regularly. I mediate on them, seek the Lord through them, and study them. And to the both of you who have read my newer books [cough], I expound the Bible, quote it, cite it, teach it, and seek to unveil it in those books …
Here in the USA we are in the midst of another run for the presidency where a small number of people have lost their minds. Scratch that. I mean, where a small number of people have decided to run for the highest office in the land. Not a few of us are experiencing regular bouts of deja moo whenever we turn on the news and hear the politicians pontificate. (Deja moo = the acute feeling that you’ve heard this bull before.) …
In 2012, I had the privilege of speaking in an unforgettable conference in Kentucky. The title of the conference was “God’s Favorite Place on Earth.” This was a year before the book by the same name was released. What follows are the messages from that conference …
AMC’s TV drama The Walking Dead is the highest rated series in cable television history. I’m not a zombie guy (though some mornings, I might resemble one). Unlike many of my peers who possess a Y chromosome, slashy-burny-butcher-gore films don’t appeal to me. It’s for this reason that I’ve stayed clear of watching The Walking Dead. That is, until a friend told me that the show is largely about surviving in community over against blowing zombie carcasses to the moon …
The recent spate of terrorism employed by ISIS has scared the liver out of people around the world, it’s barbarism even chilling the blood. Numerous Christians have weighed-in on the problem. And emotions run hot on all sides, sometimes to over-boiling. Social media sites are ablaze with opinions, laments, and outrage. Some are clamoring, “Off with their heads! Spare none of them!” …