Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Organic Church

How the Organic Church People See Themselves

I’ll admit it; I don’t keep up with all the latest fads. When the organic church came up in a conversation with my pastor the other day, I was pretty clueless and then showed my ignorance by opening my mouth. So, I went looking to see what I could find out about this thing called, the organic church.

The first thing I came to realize was that the words in the name have little meaning unless you understand how the people using it are defining the terms. As a friend pointed out, to be organic, something has to contain carbon compounds. That’s probably not what is intended by the use of the term. Neither can we use the etymology of the word church. The word originates from a word used to refer to a place of worship. (In other words, a “church” is the building, not the people.)

In looking for a definition I found the statement, “an Organic Church is born out of spiritual life, not constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs.” [1] Frank Viola contrasts the organic church with what he calls the institutional church, “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.” [2] He continues:

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. [3]

How the Organic Church People See the Church

Another writer states, “We are the ekklesia, the called out ones. We are here to make a difference in the world, not hide in church buildings. Jesus was all about sharing God's love and ministering to peoples needs to show that love.” [4]

I find this last statement particularly interesting because it expresses how the writer defines the word church. You will recall that in most English translations of the Bible, the Greek word ekklesia is simply replaced with the English word church. As a result, the KJV mentions “the church in the wilderness.” (Acts 7:38) So, the writer above is defining church as “the called out ones.” This is a common view today, even among institutional churches. When a person uses the word church to refer to all saved individuals, he is applying the same meaning.

When we apply the primary meaning found in Strong’s Concordance, we find that a better interpretation of the word ekklesia is assembly or congregation. Acts 7:38 makes much more sense when it reads as, “This is he that was in the assembly in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give unto us.”

This disconnect between the “all saved individuals” interpretation and the “gathered assembly” interpretation may explain the relationship between organic churches and house churches. If I view the church as “all saved individuals” then there’s really nothing particularly special about the group that meets down at the church building. They are just a small subset of the worldwide church, so if I want to create a gathering in my house and do worship the way I think best, then I have just as much of a right to do that as they do.

On the other hand, if we consistently apply the definition “gathered assembly” in each place we see the word church in the Bible, we are forced to apply much more of what the Bible says to the local assembly. That’s not to say that a group meeting in a house is not a church, but rather is causes us to apply what the Bible says about the leadership of the churches to all churches, including those meeting in homes. When Paul wrote concerning the apostles, prophets, teachers, etc. that God has set in the church, this would mean that he as placed them in each local church. When Paul mentions that a pastor is to “take care of the church of God,” it means something totally different when we apply it to the assembly, rather than to all the saved.

Problems With the Organic Church

On the surface, the organic church concept seems good. What could possibly be wrong with allowing our worship take us wherever the spirit leads? What could be wrong with spontaneous, participatory worship? But when we look closer, we see that the organic church attempts to have church without a pastor. This certainly doesn’t model the New Testament church. The New Testament has much to say about pastors/bishops/elders, all words for the same position. It outlines the qualifications of pastors and deacons. It gives pastors the responsibility of seeing to the doctrinal and spiritual wellbeing of the assembly. Deacons have a responsibility take on the more practical matters, so that the pastor has more time to study.

The end result of the organic church concept is that something won’t get done. Without someone having a responsibility to pastor the assembly, those who attend may spend a lot of time talking about what they believe God wants, without having first studied the Word to discover what God has said. Without people responsible for seeing to the needs of the members, the practical needs of the members may go unmet, when work obligations get in the way. With anyone being able to go out and start a new group and without an official group leader, those who lead the group may not meet the qualifications God has given us.


I see problems with both extremes. There are institutional churches that have so much structure that they have no worship. Organic churches are missing so much structure, that they are weak. What we need is a church with pastors and deacons who fulfill the responsibilities the Bible has laid out for them, but a church that removes the divide between clergy and laity. Leadership within a church is necessary, but the only good leader in a church is one who places the needs and the good of the other members above his own. He should lead by example rather than command. All members should have the freedom to voice their opinion. All members should participate in the work of the church. The leaders in the church should be gentle with those who disagree, but the member of the church should always recognize the need to respect the leaders within the church, because those leaders have a responsibility to see to the wellbeing of the members of the church.