Kingdom Voices – Part Two

There are folks who say, “Yeah, you know, this Kingdom stuff’s good. But when do we get people to the church?” Jesus established the church to get people to the Kingdom, not the other way around. The church is not the destination; the Kingdom is. And some folks in church as an institution struggle with this wider bandwidth of church expression because it doesn’t fit the categories that we’ve developed. We want to wrap it in biblical language and theological stuff, and we develop the classification of clergy versus laity and who can do what.

I’ll that it a step further and challenge our language. When we talk about planting a church, there’s no such thing. It’s the church, not a church. So when people tell me they feel called to plant a church, I generally say, “I doubt it,” you know, just to mess with them a little bit. Just to get their attention. Now, if you want to plant the church, I’m all over that. If you want to plant a church, that typically means you’re going out to plant a worship service. And a church grows up around it, and then you have a bunch of consumers again. 

Reggie McNeal                                                                                                                                                                    Missional Leadership Specialist, Leadership Network.

It seems to me that we are in a “Covid season” when God is shaking everything that He can shake so we will examine openly and honestly everything that we do and why we do it. Thus tossing out anything that is not biblical and definitely anything that is not encouraging effective soul winning and disciple-making.

The Scripture states: “So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words … one last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern. The phrase ‘one last shaking” means a thorough house cleaning, getting rid of the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand, clear and uncluttered” (Hebrews 12:25-27 The Message Version).

And, as the “Covid season” comes to an end – and it will – we will then not be able to return to what was. Church as it was will be finished. Business as usual will no longer work. And, in fact, the Church will be much smaller as God pulls together a powerful remnant and removes the goats from the sheep, cultural Christians from true believers, followers from true disciples. 

Frustrated But…

I work with a large number of churches and a variety of ages in many different countries. And, of course, every church is unique and faces its own unique challenges. And the believers are all at a different place on their faith journey. This is what makes Church and ministering interesting and dynamic. Everything is fluid and everyone is, or should be, in motion. 

I noticed one constant in the midst of this every changing and fluid environment. And it both bothers me and even frustrates me somewhat. The people regardless of age tend to have a fair understanding of the basics but certainly are not encountering God in any real sense. They are not experiencing His presence, His peace, or His power. They are not relating to the Holy Spirit who has been sent by Jesus to be our guide and counsellor. And, the supernatural – especially the gifts of the Spirit – are certainly not in operation within the church assemblies or out in the world among the lost where we have been empowered to be witnesses (see Acts 1:5, 8)

From a recent on-line chat I received the following from a leader in a Central Asian country….

“I will tell you briefly what is happening now in our church with teenagers from my point of view. I studied for four years at the theological university. And against this background, if I lead and teach teenagers, then it is all connected with mental knowledge. The university teaches history, archeology, apologetics, and so on, but does not teach how to listen to the Voice of God. Among adolescents and young people, we have very little room for the Holy Spirit to lead us, because a lot of importance was given to ordinary knowledge. Knowing a lot is not bad. But as if we began to rely only on ourselves and on our knowledge. We do not have people among youth and adolescents who prophesy or manifest the miracles of the Lord through themselves. And even the point is not in prophecy, but in the general understanding of the Holy Spirit and understanding where God directs. As a church, we wish we could spend more time with the Lord. Young people also have a similar situation.”

Not to be critical, but it causes me to wonder what it is that the main leaders on the weekend gatherings are teaching. Not just in this one church but in all churches as her words could have been spoken by leaders in most churches in most nations. Are we experiencing teachers “who are simply tickling our ears” as Paul warned Timothy. Are leaders simply comforting their people without also challenging them? Are we teaching rather than equipping? (See Ephesians 4:11-13) 

It leads me to so many questions…

      • Do people understand that the Christian faith is not a set of rules and regulations (not a religion) but a relationship with the living God? (See Romans 6:23 and John 17:3)
      • How can a person have a relationship with God if they are not aware of what His voice sounds like and thus think they are not hearing God on a regular basis? (See John 10:3, 4, 16)
      • We are called to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and yet most believers don’t relate to Him at all and, if they do, they see Him as a power and not as a person. Are we not teaching people how to fellowship with the Spirit and what that really means? (See 2 Corinthians 13:14)
      • We are called to seek and save the lost as Jesus did (see Luke 19:10). We are sent out to the nations to make disciples (see Matthew 28:18-20). Yet believers are self-focused and not burdened for the lost. Why?
      • The gifts of the Spirit that are released with the experience the Bible calls the Baptism in the Holy Spirit (see Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:5) are not seen in the lives and ministries of most Spirit-filled believers. I wonder why. What is missing in the local church that even Spirit-filled churches are not flowing in the gifts?
      • Why is it that information – informing believers about their bibles so they are knowledgable – is the emphasis and the focus? Why do we aim at the head and not the heart? Why do we focus on information when what the faith is all about is transformation (a heart encounter)?

I have so many questions …

It seems that the born again churches are becoming more of a religion that a relationship with God and with each other. And, really the same could be said of the born again, Spirit-filled churches. 

It seems that we are missing the mark and are no longer the true Church that Jesus said He would build (Matthew 1618).

It seems that we have focused on the ‘teacher’ and ‘pastor’ and ignored the ‘evangelist, ‘prophet,’ and ‘apostle.’ Thus we have become unbalanced, focused on self and not on the lost; doing things in the flesh and not in the Spirit.

I believe it is time to take a look at what we are doing and to make a number of radical and deep changes in the life of the church. But that is a topic for another blog…

The Church – Organic or Organizational – Part Five

As we look at the Church as an organization and as an organism we need to understand that there is a huge difference between the church as seen in the New Testament (ekklesia) and the institutional religious system. There is a huge difference between the clergy system and the people who populate it. There is a huge difference between the denominational system and God’s people who identify themselves by a denominational label.

Jesus Christ did not die for a religious system. He died for the Church.

The Church is God-created. The religious system is man-made.

The Church is a living entity. The system is a mechanism.

When the Lord said, “I will build my Church,” (Matthew 16) He was not talking about a denominational system. Nor was He speaking of a religious service where people sit back and observe on Sunday mornings. He was speaking of His own body, which includes you and me and all born again believers.

The word “Church” has been so abused, misused, and distorted that countless believers can’t seem to distinguish between the Christian religion, the clergy system, the denominational system, and the ekklesia of God. To their minds, it is all the same thing. But the reality is different than the way we see things.

Long ago I was a priest in a religious system. We priests use to, on occasion, criticize the religious system to which we belonged. Granted, we were part of that system, but that system was not us nor did it always represent us.

The system was one thing, the priests were another. We are all caught up in ‘systems,’ a particular way of doing things. A form, a structure, a patterned activity. It is something larger than ourselves, and it could run independent and part from any one of us. That is what systems do. It just needs a few warm bodies to keep it moving. So back to my personal example …while priests are a part of the system, we were separate from it. And so, when I left the priesthood the system continued.

When Jesus Christ came on the scene, He had major issues with the religious system of Judaism. And He challenged that system. But He loved the people in the system. And He saw them, not the system, as His Bride, the Church. (John 3).

It is the same way with the Church. Challenging – and even critiquing – the religious system is a completely different thing than criticizing the Church of the living God. In fact, historically, those who challenged the religious system were those who dearly loved the Church, and that love was the provocation behind their critiques.

So, in our thinking, it might be good to begin to separate the Church from the system; the people from the organization. Jesus loved the people and hated the system. He came to destroy organized religion. 

The Church – Organic or Organizational – Part Four

We have looked at the characteristics of the institutional church or the organizational church. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of the organic church…

  • The form of the church follows the life of the church – just as the form of the human body springs out of the life of the human.
  • There are no clergy or professional ministers. Everyone is part of the “priesthood of all believers” and thus there is no division between those who are the professionals (clergy) and the laity (amateurs). Therefore, the members do not recognize the separate class of ‘laity.’
  • The organic church recognizes that all members are acting priests and encourages all members to fulfil their calling as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Allow and encourage all Christians to function in the weekly meetings of the assembly.
  • The members recognize that they are the church and thus the building is simply a place for the church to assemble. So, they affirm that people do not go to church; they (together) are the church. This is not only being theologically correct. It is the actual experience of the members.
  • Unified around Christ alone. There is no other test of true fellowship.
  • Sustained and held together by relationships built on Jesus Christ.
  • Are not dependent on a building. They can meet anywhere and be ‘the church.’
  • There are no clergy salaries.
  • Resources are spent on expanding the Kingdom, planting new expressions of the church, and helping those who are in need.
  • Leadership comes from the entire body. Apostles equip the church in the beginning. Elders (when the emerge) oversee the church together.
  • Decisions are made corporately by consensus and confirmed by those who are viewed as the leaders.
  • Shepherds are plural. They are a gifted people who care for the flock.
  • The leadership is always a team and never a solo person. 
  • The focus of the life of the church is on pursuing Jesus Christ corporately in face-to-face community. Everything else within the life of the church springs out of this.
  • The church passes through seasons just like a human does. It is not locked into a ritual or one specific way of doing things.
  • Gifts are not seen as offices, but as functions. They emerge naturally and organically, over time. They come up out of the soil, and are typically not titled.
  • There is a close-knit community. Members are like family to one another. They live a shared life in Christ.

The Church – Organic or Organizational – Part Three

As we look at the Church as an institution or an organization – as contrasted with the Church as an organism – we see a number of basic characteristics of the institution…

  • The form of the church precedes the life of the church. So, the institutional church begins with clergy, staff, programs, rituals, and other expected and normal elements of what a church is viewed to need.
  • The church is sustained and maintained by professional clergy – called a minister, a priest, a pastor. In the mainline denominations – these professionals are usually well trained having a Master’s degree in theology from a seminary recognized and approved by the sponsoring denomination or network. 
  • The Clery lead the laity and seeks to energize them so that they volunteer for many of the church functions that the laity are allowed to be involved in.
  • The church limits many of the spiritual functions to those who are officially ordained and recognized as leaders and who are trained for the positions they hold.
  • The organizational structure of the church render the bulk of their congregants passive during the church worship services. The professionals lead and minister. The laity (word means ‘the amateurs’) are generally passive and simply receive.
  • Members of the church associate ‘church’ with a building, a denomination, or a religious service (typically Sunday mornings).
  • People are unified around a shared set of customs or doctrines. Even adhering, at times, to the old order of service versus the new order of service. or, as in my former denomination, the old prayer book and not the new prayer book.
  • The ‘life’ of the church is sustained by programs and specials. The specials can be guest speakers, scheduled revivals, seasonal events.
  • The organized church needs finances to survive – their main costs are buildings (mortgage and maintenance) and clergy and staff salaries.
  • Decisions are made by the clergy or a specially elected ‘board’.
  • The pastor (or, in some cases, the elder board) is the recognized leader and minister in the church. This is positional leadership – leader because they have the title ‘pastor’ or ‘elder.’ This is the lowest level of leadership held in any organization. 
  • There is a seriously strong focus on attendance to the services, maintaining the building, and increasing the budget. The ABCs – attendance, buildings, cash.
  • The church does essentially the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year. It is locked into a ritual.
  • Spiritual gifts are viewed as ‘offices,’ and people are put into those offices (and receive titles) at the very beginning. Board member, pastor, assistant pastor, intercessor, evangelist….
  • It is typical for members not to know one another very well, only seeing each other at weekly church services.

The Church – Organic or Organizational – Part Two

Looking at the organic nature of the Church can be fascinating as well as life changing.

All life forms have a DNA – a genetic code. DNA gives each life form a specific expression. For example, the instructions to build your physical body are encoded in your DNA. Your DNA largely determines your physical and psychological traits.

Since the true Church is organic, it too has a DNA – a spiritual DNA. Where do we discover the DNA of the Church? I suspect that we will find a great deal of it by looking at God Himself. 

We Christians uniquely proclaim a triune God. In the words of one of three major creeds in the Christian faith – the Creed of St. Athanasia, “The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, yet there are not three gods, but one God.”

The Godhead is a Community of three, or a “Trinity.”

The Scriptures portray the multifaceted relationship of Father, Son, and Spirit in the richest and deepest language imaginable. With the triune God we discover authentic community – an eternal, complementary, and reciprocal interchange of divine life, divine love, and divine fellowship.

Amazingly, this same relations has been transposed from the divine DNA into the human DNA. It has moved from the eternal God in the heavenliness to the Church on earth, the Body of Christ.

A common question is, “Sure, the Church is organic, but it must have organization, right?” And, the answer is yes! Organization and structure is good and needed as long as it is encouraging the continued growth and expansion of God’s divine “life” as we saw yesterday. 

Because the Church is organic, it has a natural expression. Just like the physical body does. Accordingly, when a group of Christians follow their spiritual DNA, they will gather in a way that matches the DNA of the triune God – for they posses the same life that God Himself possesses.

Consequently, the DNA of the true Church is marked by the very traits that we find in the triune God – mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual submission, mutual ministry and face-to-face community.

While the seeds of the Gospel will naturally produce these particular features, how they are expressed locally may look slightly different from place to place, culture to culture. However, the same basic features that reside in the DNA of the Church will be present regardless of the physical or cultural location. Never, if a church is following the biblical pattern and expressing the God-given DNA within its members – never will any of these churches produce a clergy system, a solo pastor, a hierarchical leadership structure, or an order of worship that renders the majority passive.

The Church of Jesus Christ – when planted properly and left on its own, without human control and institutional interference – will produce certain features by virtue of its DNA. The Church will look different from culture to culture, but it will have the same basic expression wherever it is allowed to flourish.


The Church – Organic or Organizational – Part One

I can’t remember how often I have said, “The Church is an organism and not an organization. Yet, although we are an organism, we can still have some structure and organization as needed.”

When a baby is conceived there is no structure – just life. And, it is the lift that is important and eternal. A baby can be born minus a hand or a finger due to something being wrong in the DNA. That baby will survive and grow up to be an adult because he or she has life. Life is the key. 

As the baby grows in the mother’s womb we see structure form. The structure includes internal organs, a spine, a head, arms, legs. But, again, it is life that is key. So, the only structure that is needed and is essential is the structure that encourages the life to keep growing and developing. 

When the baby is born – there is a structure that has kept the baby alive for nine months. A structure that can now harm the baby and destroy the life. So, the structure must be removed. We are talking about the umbilical cord. The structure was important and good as long as it continued to encourage life. As soon as it was no longer needed it was removed. 

It is the same with the Church. It is organic. It contains life and as the life grows the structure must adjust to not hinder the growth. If a structure was beneficial in the past but no longer encouraging life in the present, it can be removed. It must be removed. The structure or organization is not sacred – it is practical and functional as well as being seriously flexible. The structure or the organizational bones of the Church are simply there to protect and encourage life. 

This understanding is basic and undergirds a healthy understanding of what an organic church is. 

So, what is the difference between an organizational church and an organic church? We are going to briefly look (without too much depth) at some of the key distinctions between a church that operates according to its organic nature and instincts – an organic expression of the Church – and a church that operates primarily as an institutional organization – an institutional or organized church.

We are often warned not to use the word “organic” because it can mean so many different things to different people. The words ‘organic church’ are in vogue right now and vastly overused – used to describe a wide array of church types. Often, the word ‘organic’ is used in the place of ‘missional church.’ They are often inter-changed within the writings on the Church. Both ‘missional’ and ‘organic’ are clay words. They are being shaped by different writers in different ways. Sometimes very different ways. 

The experience of the body of Christ is organic. That is, it springs from life (Christ’s life in us) rather than by human organizational methods. Clearly, the church we read about in the New Testament was ‘organic’ as it had life and exhibited that life. That life was light to those still living in spiritual darkness.

John 1:4 speaking of Jesus states: “In Him was life and the life was the light of men.”

Jesus was not the light. The life of God the Father in Him was the light. The ’life’ is what matters. And, if a church has ‘it’ people know. If a church does not have ‘it’ – people, even those who are not born again, know and recognize that ‘it’ is missing. They may not know what ‘it’ is but they know we don’t have it. Remember, Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). In other words, the life of Christ in us is the light that the world must see and experience – the life of God in us is the light – the ‘it’ people are looking for. 

One writer stats, “To put it generally, the difference between an organized church and an organic church is the difference between standing in front of a fan and standing outdoors on a windy day. It is the difference between General Motors and a vegetable garden.”

Next time we will look at some of the main differences between an organic expression of the Church and an organized or institutional form of the Church.