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.