I have been meeting in homes pursuing Christ in an organic way for a few years now. In that time, we have had many people visit our gatherings. I have also visited other organic churches.
I have discovered that visiting an organic church fellowship is likely to be disappointing to the visitor if they do not understand the nature of organic church life.
I am continually reminded that people will likely not see the power of Christ in a short visit for the following reasons:
1.) The visitor has not given up on their attempts to “do” church and be satisfied with “knowing” Christ in familial community.
It is often the case that a person comes into a gathering and they are looking for a church experience that is more “biblical” and fills an immediate void of some kind. Maybe they are fed up with organized religion and believe that a house church will make up for all their trouble in days past.
My experience is that this is the most common reason for folks visiting an organic fellowship.
Seeking a church life that reflects New Testament practice is laudable, but this search must quickly surrender itself to Christ. If a person doesn’t soon trust that the church comes out of Christ, they are indeed headed for even more frustration.
New Testament church practice comes by us making Christ our only concern. The moment we trade knowing and living Christ together for a method of doing church that we can reproduce by following some formula, we prolong growth in Christ and we forfeit his eternal purpose.
Even if it were possible to obtain a perfect church practice, it would never bring about a utopian church experience. Unfortunately, a desire for some sort of blissful experience is what drives most of us. We think if we build it the Lord will come. The mature believer will recognize that this is foolish thinking and itself stands contrary to New Testament practice.
The road with Christ is one of hills and valleys for the individual and the church. It’s all a part of the sanctification process and the building up of his Body. The Lord builds the church in His time as long as we continue to offer up ourselves as stones to be fitted together for His own dwelling.
Everything we see as a necessary element of church life within the New Testament is born out of time, lots of time. The Lord is the builder and He builds according to His own time.
There is only one way to know the Lord’s heart for the individual and the church: commit yourself to Christ and His Bride by accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly. If you don’t do this, it’s only a short while before you decide that organic church life is not for you. You will move on because it didn’t fit your expectations or your timetable.
You will keep searching until you have made knowing Christ in a shared life the central concern of your heart.
It’s all for the building up of the Body. We must learn to look beyond these momentary trials and tribulations and accept them as a necessary part of the journey. A glorious vision of God’s eternal purpose will hold our feet to the narrow path of Christ.
My advice is to give up on doing church and lay aside everything to know Christ with other Jesus Freaks in simple community!
2.) Every organic church is a unique expression and every meeting takes on a life of its own. Visitors can’t know Christ in community and experience Body life in a short visit.
Visiting an organic church one or two times can in no way be used as a barometer for what the Lord is doing among that particular fellowship.
In the organized church, a person could “check out” a church by sitting in on a service and reading a pamphlet. After a couple of visits they could get a good idea of what that organization is all about. And maybe after a conversation or two they might decide if they want to join it.
Notice that these decisions are largely based off first impressions of worship services and those leading them (shoulder-to-shoulder events). You can’t do this with organic church life. The most obvious reason: it’s an organism not an organization. It’s not about meetings, but about sharing life together in face-to-face community.
We don’t have services with professionals leading them. We don’t have pamphlets with doctrinal statements and a list of our ministries. We have no bulletins that tell you how we prefer the Spirit move. We don’t offer bios of our elders or an interactive website for the consumer to learn about us from a distance.
You simply cannot use the same criterion to judge our fellowship.
An organic church is always changing and the freedom we embrace in Christ keeps us in a constant state of growth and change. Depending on the season an organic church is presently in and when you happen to visit, there’s just no telling what you will see when you visit!
I believe a person would need to spend at least a few months consistently sharing life (not just meetings) with a fellowship before they could appropriately put into words what the Lord is doing among them.
Until a person has done this, they can’t say they have experienced organic church life. With that in mind, I wonder how many are willing to “visit” an organic church.
People make judgments about organic church life by using the same ole surface standards all the time. But it never serves as a sound form of accurately describing what the Lord is doing in an organic fellowship.
One or two visits are simply not enough to say, “I have experienced organic church life.”
Organic church life is not about one or two meetings during the week. It is about sharing life with each other. It is not meeting-driven, it is life-driven!
3.) The Lord opens the eyes of those whom He chooses. Visitors will see the power of Christ in simple community only if the Lord reveals Himself to them.
We have had folks visit us and we have seen the Lord reveal Himself to them in that first meeting. Others have seen the Lord after gathering with us for a time. We have also seen others walk away unimpressed with what we’re doing.
There can be two complete strangers visiting us in a gathering. One person will rejoice that they have seen Jesus lifted up among us and that they see the Lord’s pleasure in what we’re doing. This person has seen the Lord in a powerful way and is captivated by knowing Christ. They are excited about discovering Christ with others who seek Him with a pure heart.
Another person in the same meeting may only see a group of people reading their favorite Scriptures, praying, and trying to sing without a leader. For whatever reason, this person walks away dissatisfied with their experience. The Lord is showing us that it is all His doing and He alone is responsible for this unveiling.
We understand that everyone is on his or her own journey with the Lord.
People may visit our gatherings and come to different conclusions regarding organic church life. Our obedience to Christ and our purpose in gathering organically does not waver when people don’t see the Lord in our gatherings. Not everyone is at the place for the Lord to reveal Himself in this way.
We must remember that it is the Lord who gives revelation.
Finally, our hope is that we would be a true reflection of Christ to every visitor. Folks will come and go, and many will leave. Be encouraged for our Lord is constant. Guard your hearts and remember to always think the best of others. Accept everyone as you were accepting the Lord himself.
Never lose sight of Christ and His bride set free. And never forget that organic church life is a journey, not a destination.
November 24th, 2009 at 1:02 am
I have been meeting in an organic church for almost 6 years now. I couldn’t agree with more with your observations. Thanks for posting!
November 24th, 2009 at 1:24 am
A wonderful recounting of what we have been experiencing together. Truly blessed in the reading. jb
November 24th, 2009 at 1:37 am
Thank you David! This is a very clear and true accounting. We are so thankful to the Lord that He has brought us back to knowing Him central in our lives. I mean..He has been central in our Christian walk all along….but to experience this together with other Followers of Christ is such as rare beauty to find.
November 24th, 2009 at 11:31 am
David, very well said. You have put to words what I currently live. That “revelation” of organic community is alive in me. It consumes my thoughts, and I am very thankful to the Lord for restoring that back to me. The other side is that, my wife of 27 years, has yet to receive the same “vision” of the church as I do. I continue to pray and wait on the Lord to reveal this inside her, however it is tough waiting,especially when it burns inside of me. Your words say it perfectly, except, you say “there can be two complete strangers visiting us in a gathering…” for me those two people you describe are myself and my bride. Thank you again for your words, and encouragement to continue to give this up to Jesus to reveal to her, and not to force it on my own. Regards, John M.
November 24th, 2009 at 12:35 pm
Thanks for the very insightful post!
November 24th, 2009 at 2:45 pm
David, Thanks so much for expressing these observations about “visiting” organic church. For many, including myself, the paradigm shift from “doing” church to “being” the church is a difficult one to make. It is indeed the Lord Jesus Christ who must be central in all we do and think. It is Christ who builds his church one stone at a time. So glad to be on the journey with you brother.
November 24th, 2009 at 3:03 pm
Yes it seems very much a paridign! Two diffrent people two diffrent responces. I’ve aparently wasted years trying to get the one group to see what they can only see if the Lord opens there mind. Speaking of opening minds the Lord opens Pauls mind in a dramatic way to himself where as no amount of talking and trying to convince him would have.
November 24th, 2009 at 4:54 pm
Good post, David. So many people still think church is something you go to rather than a community in and through which the life of Christ is expressed 24/7. Gatherings are great, but are certainly not the high point or center of our spiritual lives. In fact, if we would do away with the secular/sacred lines that religion has constructed, the church would be more dynamic in the market place.
November 24th, 2009 at 8:41 pm
Enjoyed your post brother. I decided to share some of my own thoughts in a blog post of my own
November 24th, 2009 at 10:26 pm
You bring up some great points and observations, but I think it is also important to realize one thing: this post you have written is primarily a defensive posture. This is ok to a point, because you are laying out a new paradigm and want people to understand how it is different than the old. But by the same token, be careful not to limit the observations of visitors to a place of “something to be defended against or explained away.”
In any group, church or otherwise, the people who participate in it tend to need from time to time to face the test of seeing themselves through an outside lens, because those inside only reinforce each other’s ideas and aren’t always able to see patterns that are nonproductive or counterproductive to Life. It may be that if two people visit, one may “have the Lord revealed” while the other doesn’t, but it is equally possible that one person is more moved to sentiment (which they confuse with “seeing the Lord”) over seeing something done a certain way, while the other person is more seasoned spiritually. You never know. Listen humbly, test all things, hold to that which is good, even if it is not always reinforcing the perspective you wish it held.
The fact is, organic churches are more prone to dysfunctional patterns, to ruts, to stagnancy, than are legacy churches. Those of us who have been around these parts a while have seen what an organic church looks like 5 or 10 years down the road. Yet organic church has potential that is yet to be fully unlocked and unpacked. What will make the difference for your the expression of church that your group currently embodies? Your willingness to be honest about your own group’s shortfalls, your willingness to learn from others, and your willingness to honestly admit areas that even legacy churches function well. Humility and brokenness is the key.
November 24th, 2009 at 11:03 pm
Thanks for reading. I agree with most of what you have written and have seen the reality of it. Yes, we must remain humble and open to what the Lord would teach us through visitors, no matter how long or short their stay. We want to remain moldable in the Lord’s hands. Blessings!
November 25th, 2009 at 2:16 pm
I appreciate your heart in this post, David, and while I get what you are saying, I also agree–very much– with what Josh said.
“The fact is, organic churches are more prone to dysfunctional patterns, to ruts, to stagnancy, than are legacy churches. Those of us who have been around these parts a while have seen what an organic church looks like 5 or 10 years down the road”.
I want to be a part of a group where, when the unbelieving come in to the meeting, seeing and hearing what is being done and said, that they (we) fall down on their (our) faces and worship the One True God.
This is what Paul wanted for the Church. Seems like a perfectly reasonable expectation if the Lord is who we believe He is and if we are who we believe we are in Him.
Much grace to you along the Way!
November 25th, 2009 at 6:56 pm
I agree with Josh as well. The point of the post is in no way an attempt to gloss over the reality of sharing life together. This is why I mention accepting “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” We would also like to be that gathering where unbelievers meet Jesus. It is certainly a reasonable expectation.
Thanks for reading!
November 28th, 2009 at 5:04 pm
Great post, David. I’m trying to be a “Priscilla/Aquila” in my town, and I will be sharing this article with brothers and sisters who are interested in organic church life.
I know you write from the position of having experienced Christ in both the “institutional” and “organic” church settings; therefore, you are certainly qualified to offer up these insights. And although some of what you have shared here could also be true in terms of evaluating the formal church setting, it is also quite true that when we step into a Sunday morning “church service”, what we are presented with is not the people themselves (ie the church), but an order, a system, a presentation if you will. So you CAN make a decision based upon one or two “visits”. Because, sadly, you can embrace “Sunday morning” without truly embracing the brothers and sisters around you, if you so choose. THEY are optional. I’ve done it and I’ve seen many others do it. Of course, those who desire to go deeper in Christ will pursue authentic relationships within that system, but much of the true church experience happens in spite of the Sunday morning “show”.
Thank you, again, brother, for presenting Christ to us through this blog. I appreciate your wisdom-and also your humble, Christ-honoring approach.
November 28th, 2009 at 5:08 pm
I really appreciate your words. You captured the heart of this post. Those coming to know Christ in an “organic” fashion… will know the place from which I write.
Thank you for all that you do in encouraging the Bride. Blessings to the saints in St. Augustine!
January 29th, 2010 at 5:57 am
David, what it the meaning of organic church? Why you put as organic?
January 29th, 2010 at 8:27 am
Here is a great article “What is an Organic Church” from my friend Frank Viola.
May 15th, 2010 at 8:01 pm