Recently I was talking to our leader Mark who mentioned something to me about someone in our neighborhood thinking that for an organic church, we at Oikos are too organized and not spontaneous enough.
I thought about that for a moment and asked myself internally or out loud, I can’t remember:
What does that mean?
And why is it a bad thing?
At first when I joined Oikos at the end of 2011, I did happen to think we were more organized and structured than I was expecting, since the meetings take place in homes, and relationships are valued more than the meetings themselves.
But then as I thought about it, it made sense. I never thought much of it again. But for others, too much organization is a deal-breaker.
Who said organic meetings can’t be organized or that by default they aren’t supposed to be?
A body is not just random cells, they are organized into functions. So for example, if you were to just take a collection of cells and put them together, you’d have a big blob unless organized strategically.
The human body is made up of collections of cells that are designed with a specific purpose, but no matter the specific type — whether the brain or a blood cell or a piece of your pancreas, all of them contain the same DNA and a few other ingredients that make it specific to that person’s identity.
Likewise, so is the Body of Christ. Each member has its function (Romans 12:3-8), yes, but I like to view it also that each organized group is like a function, also just like in a human body.
If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time or browsed through my posts on discipleship, you’ll notice I’m borrowing a lot from the Lifeshapes Mike Breen and his team came up with. I’ve repeatedly used one called The Triangle.
I was recently teaching in our ministry school with students who have heard about the Lifeshapes to the point where they ought to be able to teach on them by now, and I suggested to them another way of looking at this particular one.
I drew a zygote on the board, which with my artistic skills was nothing to brag about and resembled a circle with four smaller circles inside it. A zygote is a cell formed by the union of a male seed and a female egg. From there, life multiplies. All life and reproduction begins at the molecular level and develops from the micro to the macro, from the simple to the complex. This is also how the Kingdom of God (ahem, Body of Christ) works.
Instead of drawing round DNA molecules in my picture, I changed them to triangles, representing the previous triangle in this post. If you were to look through the Bible you’ll notice often significance is added when two or three are gathered together. The most notable that Jesus said even when there are as a few as this many, He is also present.
Where Two or Three Are Gathered
As Neil Cole says in his book, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens,
The basic unit of Kingdom life is a follower of Christ in relationship with another follower of Christ. The micro form of church life is a unit of two or three believers in relationship. This is where we must begin to see multiplication occur. Let’s face it: if we can’t multiply a group of two or three, then we should forget about multiplying a group of fifteen to twenty. By focusing on the simple, we can see dramatic results in the complex. (p.99)
Other instances include where two or three is emphasized as the ideal amount: community is stronger with two or three (Eccl. 4:9-12), accountability is stronger with two or three (1 Tim 5:19), confidentiality is stronger with two or three (Matt 18:15-17), flexibility is stronger with two or three (Matt 18:20), communication is stronger with two or three (1 Corinthians 14:26-33) and when Paul gave instructions regarding giving prophetic words in meeting together, he suggested only two or three do so for the sake of flow and order.
If we reduce the church to its smallest minimum, it can be two or three are gathered together.
By reducing multiplication to this simplest level, reproduction can be part of the genetic fabric of the entire Body of Christ.
Now, if that multiplies and expands and you start to have a larger body of believers, then things start needing more organization.
Life & Structure To Support That Life
If you were to gather 20 people together, you will need some ground rules. For example, unless everybody unanimously agreed on a time of the meeting, people will show up when they please, which is not necessarily convenient for everybody involved or conducive to spiritual growth for everybody present. Especially if some work earlier in the day while others may be unavailable too late in the evening due to other commitments. So setting a time for a meeting is not really going against being organic.
Which leads to the next point: location. Unless there’s an agreed-upon location, none of the people who plan on meeting will be able to connect together at the same time.
So there are things scheduled for this to work. In our Oikos we have people taking turns leading prayers, and a schedule for the month is drawn up ahead of time, and then on the days we meet to pray, whoever is in charge of leading prayer can lead however they feel led.
There’s organization and flexibility. It’s organic and organized.
Likewise, we eat together, and the mealtime is 1 pm every day, emergencies or delays notwithstanding. Week to week, we plan who is in charge of cooking, how many people are planning on being there, and as of late, what days we will eat together. Such planning is necessary if we’re to be good stewards of our resources, otherwise, we’d be making meals for too few people, or making too many meals and wasting food.
Organization is necessary for communal eating, but that does not mean eating communally goes off without a hitch or without needing to determine things like who cleans up when we’re finished!
I realize not everybody will feel like eating together as often as we do, but this is part of our community life and how we’re living this out. Your community and culture are probably different, but you’ll notice over time there needs to be some structure.
I like how Ben Sternke describes it on his blog recently,
Much like a business would secure enough bandwidth on their website before launching a major ad campaign, I think there are times for re-forming our structures in the expectation that when the renewing power of the Spirit comes, it will have appropriate channels to flow through. The river doesn’t do much good unless it has a channel to flow through. The breath of life in Ezekiel 37 would just be a lot of wind unless it had well-structured bodies to flow into and enliven.
The goal is always life and blessing, of course. The breath of life wants to inhabit a well-ordered structure so it can animate a body toward love and good works. The river of life wants to inhabit a well-ordered structure so it can carry the blessings of the temple out into the dry places.
I’m sure you get the picture. Perhaps well-ordered, life-stewarding structure needs to be put in place before life fills it. Perhaps structure precedes life in an important way.
There’s a balance needed: life and structure.
My next post in this series: An Organized Organism
If you’d like to get a copy of the audio version of Organic Church: Growing Church Where Life Happens by Neil Cole, head over to audibletrial.com/fireonyourhead and get a copy free with your * 30-day free trial*, or click on the photo below.
Related Posts on This Blog:
What Do You Mean By “Organic” Church?
Five Things The House Church Movement is Getting Right
Five Things The House Church Movement is Getting Wrong
[Podcast] What Is Missional Community? With Shaun Wissman & Mark Burgess
[Podcast] Is It Necessary For Christians To Attend Church Meetings? With Dr Stephen Crosby
Interesting reading elsewhere:
Can the Church be Organized and Organic? by Nathan Creitz
Which Comes First: Structure or Life? by Ben Sternke