Tag Archives: organic church

On My Return to Vocational Ministry

Hello blog readers!

I’m still here. I’ve been sick over the last week, and the last two weeks I just haven’t been able to find time to write. I intend to pick back up with the blog series this week. Thank you for your patience.

In the meantime, I thought it was best to put together a video about my journey over the last 14 years—out of vocational ministry and back again.

You had questions, so I’m responding.

As I announced a couple months ago, I have been called to pastor an Anabaptist congregation in the New River Valley of Virginia. We now know that we will be moving after Christmas. My official start date is January 1st, and my first Sunday at Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship is January 5th.

The following video is 25 minutes in length. Feel free to ask further questions if you’ve got them. Please follow the rules of the blog. Thanks!

Other Related Posts:

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Reassessing Church Leadership

I just read “The Dirt on Organic” by Brian Hofmeister. It appeared in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal (April, 2010). Brian talks about his experience of planting and leading organic churches.

I don’t know Brian, but I think he makes some excellent points in the article—while I don’t agree with everything—points that those who are still reacting to the abusive top-down leadership in “institutional” Christianity will fail to see. Why? I believe it’s primarily because they’re still caught up with trying to weed out “pagan Christianity” and doing their best to re-imagine a church utopia on the earth.

Many well-intentioned, Christ-loving folks are still stuck in the world of ideas. I could say it’s a bit of cynicism and immaturity (I guess I just did), but I don’t want that to sound arrogant or rude. I’m not trying to be. But I do think that’s what was going on in me when I once believed organization and pronounced leadership was the real problem.

I don’t believe that anymore.

In the end, it’s jumping from one extreme to the other. I think it needs to be realized that there is nothing wrong with more of a pronounced leadership (e.g. the Jerusalem church). As far as I can tell, from being on both sides of this, you will not grow (spiritually or numerically) beyond a certain point without more of a pronounced leadership. And I don’t see that there is anything inherently wrong with this.

The “Gentile” leadership, which Jesus spoke of, was heavy-handed, power-over, carry a big stick kind of ruling (Mark 10:42). Pronounced leadership doesn’t have to be that way. It just doesn’t. I don’t care how many bad experiences a person has had in the organized or even “institutional” expressions of the church.

Based on my study and reflection, I think the reason you don’t see more pronounced leadership in the first century is because the churches were young and dependent upon the leadership of apostles. What happens when the eyewitness and first-followers are gone? Well, naturally there is leadership that rises up to meet the challenges of the church. You can read about this in any church history book. That leadership organizes quickly after the death of the apostles.

Was every development of that leadership good? No. For example, I don’t think that adopting Roman governmental hierarchy as a model where bishops have absolute authority is a good idea. It turned out to be a terrible move by the second century church. But I do understand how it happened. And no… you can’t blame it all on Constantine.

For all of its ugliness, it did help in the defense against Gnosticism and the articulation of Christian theology on behalf of the illiterate mass of Christians at that time. This was a church trying to respond to explosive growth (approx. 5-10 million by 325 AD) during intense persecutions and poisonous heresies.

I’ve written on this before. I don’t think Paul’s practice and instructions are prescriptive, I believe what we see in the NT is de-scriptive. We do not have a church manual. There is room for some development, though not outside of Christ. I don’t find this being unfaithful to the Gospel. In fact, I think we have been guilty of restricting the Gospel of Jesus instead of being creative and expansive in our implementation of it.

So, while I don’t support the abusive power-over tyranny of some pastors and “clergy” members, or the wasteful spending of “mega churches” in America, to move from that to imagining that all leadership must be from a guy who denies he’s a leader, shuns monetary blessing as being satanic, and is under the delusion that a form or model of church is going to magically solve all the dilemmas that face us now is just idealistic jargon.

What happens to these folks who aren’t willing to grow out of that? Well, I think it ends up just like the author of this article reports. We’re back to square one. I have seen and personally heard the same things from those who have followed the “Finding Organic Church” blueprint. There is much to learn from familial fellowships where leadership isn’t as pronounced, but let’s not imagine that pronounced leadership is the enemy.

Here’s the way I see it. You can keep trying to implement these idealistic views of leadership and church life, or you can move forward rejoicing wherever others are seeking to know and imitate Christ in community. I recommend simply following Christ as faithfully as you know how, and to enjoy him in deep Trinitarian community.

Let’s keep that in mind when reassessing church leadership.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.


An Organic Church Challenge

For those who follow my blog, you know I’ve been reassessing my understanding of “organic” church life in the NT. As I mentioned in a few recent posts, I’m finding that it’s not really helpful to use the term, especially since it has gone viral.

I agree with much of the contrast that is drawn between the church as institution vs. organism. So, I’m currently opening myself up in order to imagine a church life that does not grow out of reaction to the abuses of the organized church, or from the neglect of the NT by those who believe they have obtained something of Christ that others have not.

Here are some thoughts I’ve been having.

It is entirely understandable that many people hear what some “organic” folks are advocating (as I have also advocated) sounds like an abandonment of all ecclesiastical structures. It then becomes confusing for folks to hear them say that it’s OK to have some sort of skeletal structure, you just need to find the “balance” in it all.

What does that look like? We can all say, “It doesn’t look like this or that…” but I don’t see how it’s possible to judge one church from another on whether Christ is truly reigning in their meetings based off our prescriptive readings of the NT. I’m fine with saying there are things the NT does not explicitly teach, advocate, or allow—even prohibits—things that are antithetical to every-member functioning. But beyond that I think we need to be careful how we proceed in setting boundaries.

It seems to me that the “organic” promoter viewing another person’s practice of church life (with all of their biases, interpretations of Scripture about church practice, good/bad personal experiences, etc.) could make many wrong judgments about many churches because they don’t fit their own vision of NT church life. This concerns me.

Something else that troubles me is the constant downplaying of teaching and doctrine. At the same time I hear “organic” advocates affirming that teaching and doctrine are good for the church. Huh? Which is it? Naturally, folks in and outside of these house churches hear this and think that doctrine can only divide and that it’s not conducive to “gathering around” Christ.

I don’t think that’s what the “organic” leaders mean, so I think it really needs some clarification if they’re going to help others hear what they’re trying to say about Christ and the church.

I also think it assumes that we have a prescriptive church life, instead of a descriptive one contained in the NT. It might at times be necessary for a church to become a forum for discussing doctrine. Just like there are times the church needs to adapt for other concerns facing the community. I believe the unveiling of Christ can happen during these times as well.

Could it be that assuming Christ can’t be unveiled during these times is also a reaction that equally leads to wrong conclusions?

Having spent a few years in “organic” church life, I’m beginning to think that we should keep a big vision of Christ and a small vision of the church, as far as our ideas and expectations are concerned.

We can learn this from those who first pioneered the house church movements within China and the United States.

This would require us celebrate Christ in community wherever we find it (calling others to that), and say less when it comes to critiquing the church practices of others who sincerely love the Lord and are being faithful to him where they are.

I hear more lines touching on what church life is not, than what it is. Which seems to translate that there are tons of things that folks serious about church life will not do if they want to meet around Christ. I don’t think that’s what is intended, but I feel that’s what those on the outside hear. I heard that on the inside, and I’m now hearing it as I have put a little distance between myself and the “organic” folks.

I tend to think a generous ecclesiology that is Christ-centered in community, is not continually preoccupied with denouncing what may be “pagan” Christianity, but rather it is concerned for sharing the Christ you know and leaving it at that. Are “organic” folks OK with that?

Some days I’m not so sure.

I don’t think this means there isn’t a place for deconstructing the church, (cause I do!) especially among those who are asking questions and are open to rethinking the wineskins. However, if we’re not careful, we can easily set ourselves up against those that don’t meet like us or share the same vision for the church. We can easily build more walls than open up doors.

We can forget our visions of Christ at this point… they will only edify those that agree with us. Though in the end it’s not edification, just spiritual narcissism nicely contained in elitism masked as dreams and visions.

Since it is a “balance” that we seek (one that is hard to reach and know when we’ve reached it), I don’t see how it’s honest and edifying to talk like we know exactly what the church is supposed to look like when we’re getting it right (or when we think we are). Lord, help us!

In a nutshell, we need more humble recognition that the Lord moves through the church in more ways than one. Then we may rejoice with others receiving their own revelation of Christ and being faithful to their calling.


A Shift in My Ecclesiology

I recently revealed that I’m experiencing a shift in my ecclesiology. For the sake of clarification, I do still agree with much of what Sparks, Nee, Viola, and others have written about Christ in “organic” community. I don’t want anyone to think I believe a little institutionalism is cool or that the church is nebulous in nature. I think both miss the mark for Christian community.

As for the nebulous church idea, I really appreciate the work of Wayne Jacobsen, but his view of community is a bit loosey goosey for me. Knowing Christ in community requires people in committed relationships—that’s the very nature of a worshipping “community.”

I agree that the church should function as an organism in its familial context. But I also think it’s possible that it can at times look like an organization–depending on the season and the context of the church. That’s the great thing about an organism. It can do that. Nevertheless, it will always adhere to Christ in community, regardless of the changes in culture and context.

That means that I don’t think it is possible to fully know Christ in community when the center of church life is a one-hour weekly service (or Sunday school) where only a few function and there is little interaction among the saints. That isn’t to say larger gatherings with music and teaching are off limits to us. That would be prohibiting something that can and does edify folks. I have heard this time and again, “We miss the music and teaching.” I hear a longing to receive these gifts.

The problem for a lot of “organic” church folks is that’s all they had ever experienced. After having experienced face-to-face community, it’s easy to then voice criticisms of the large corporate gatherings. In some minds there was abuse there in that setting, therefore, everything that resembles that sort of thing should be rejected. I have also met folks who have experienced pain and abuse in small groups and house churches. So they run to the isolated pew or leave the church altogether. It’s all reactionary thinking.

Constantine did not invent large gatherings involving worship and teaching. The Jews, and later Jewish Christians, were doing that in the synagogues long before the great dragon polluted the church and set a full-blown priesthood in place to rule over church services.

No matter what order you adopt, some great stuff can happen in a larger setting, but the rubber hits the road in the face-to-face community. Unfortunately, most folks view church life as a teaching time or two during the week, not a shared life together in and outside church meetings.

What I intended to communicate in my last post is that I am disassociating myself with a strict order and calling for a redefining (or clarification) of the NT pattern, which is Christ alone. The church is free to edify and structure their life together any way they choose. As long as “Christ in community” (which at the heart means every-member functioning) is being known in their practice, not just in rhetoric and theory, there is freedom to allow the Spirit to mold that local ekklesia into a unique vessel for God’s glory.

If a church chooses to have a larger worship and teaching time for the exercise of those gifts, an event that the early church was likely not able to do on a regular basis, that’s awesome! But I believe this should only be seen as the dessert, not the main course—a great thing, but not the main thing. Discipleship plays out in relationships through Christian community.

The challenge is building a church life centered upon Christ in community, not upon a one-hour service. I may write on this later, because I think there are things that a church could do to see to it that the body of believers steers away from taking on the trappings of an institution that works only to maintain its overhead. That’s where my thoughts are currently going.

I suppose I’m exploring the many ways Christ can be experienced in community apart from a rigid order or trying to reduplicate the same context and experience of the first-century church. That might be easier for Christians in Mexico or China to relate to in their political and cultural context, but most folks in the US know a different context.

That’s not me shirking the NT pattern of church life, that’s me seeking to uphold it in the pattern of Christ.

Therefore, we should not envision any set order for any church. The Spirit will shape every community of believers each according to their gifts and context—always at the same time holding them to the pattern of Christ. The Lord sees in color, not in black and white. And the Lord may show us colors we have never seen before if we are open to receiving them with joy.

It’s not about finding the right church order or the secrets of the first church for a new book. It’s simply about learning to appreciate the many ways God is able to work his power through faithful followers of Christ.

D.D. Flowers, 2011.


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