Expressing Christ in Organic Church

I’ve found that when people hear about a church that gathers without a designated leader to present a prepared sermon or teaching, it is difficult for them to imagine how else the church would gather.  The pastor-pew format is so ingrained in today’s church culture, it is hard to picture anything else.  But there are, in fact, “organic churches” who meet together with no human person designated as her leader, where all of the saints gather together and share the riches of her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and allow Him to be the head of the church meeting.

Frank Viola has described organic church as this:

By “organic church,” I mean a non-traditional church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grass roots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.  (Full article here.)

The following illustration is how I have tried to describe what happens when an organic church meets together to express Christ with every member functioning:

Paul says in Ephesians 3:8 that there are “unsearchable riches” in Christ.  Imagine with me that the Louvre Museum in Paris is a picture of all of the riches that are in Christ.  The Louvre has approximately 35,000 exhibits in its massive museum grounds, not to mention the architecture alone is stunning.  Many of the most famous pieces of artwork in history are housed within these walls.

Now, imagine a group of people setting out to explore and experience the riches of this museum.  To give 5 minutes to each of the 35,000 pieces of art would take 243 twelve hour days!  Picture this group entering the museum in awe of its beautiful architecture.  They gather around a famous art display and take in its beauty and uniqueness.  After some time, they share with each other what aspects of this piece of art stood out to them and how it affected them.  As they go around the group taking turns sharing, they find that no one saw quite the same thing, even though they were all certainly looking at the same piece.  Some were astounded by the colors.  Others were captivated by the fine detail in the work.  Some were focused on one particular aspect, such as the expression on a face.  Some wondered about the meaning of the painting.  Others pondered the artist’s motivation for the piece.  As the group shared their varied insights, everyone saw much more of the artwork than any one person saw themselves.  As the group moves through the museum, gazing upon the beautiful art and sharing with each other, they grow closer as they share together, and even begin to see the artwork from other people’s perspective.

Additionally, the group may decide to disperse in random directions to search out some artifact that catches their interest.  They may ponder this piece alone or with just a few from the larger group.  Later, the group comes back together and shares with each other what they have found.  Many times, a very discernable theme will appear as they share, even though there was no intention to seek a common theme.  (I’ve been in meetings where this happens and it is truly electrifying!)  As each person shares about the treasure that they found, many different aspects of this massive museum may be revealed.  The group may decide to venture together through some of these areas and behold together the treasure that some have brought to the group.

It is much the same as this when a group of people gather to express the Lord Jesus Christ together.  Rather than getting only one view (such as from a pastor), many people bring many various views that are woven together into a beautiful picture of Christ that is much more rich than only one person’s view.  In other words, Jesus Christ is the art piece that this group beholds.

Imagine if the same group went to the Louvre Museum, but when they made it into the foyer, they elected only one person to go in and view the artwork and then come back and share with the group what he alone saw.  Without entering in to the museum together, the group’s ability to fully understand what the one person saw is difficult and limited.  Week after week, they gather in the foyer and listen to this one person describe more of what he has seen.  As the weeks and years pass, this person appears to be so much of an expert in the Louvre artwork, the group is intimidated to think about going inside themselves, lest they be expected to come back and expound on what they saw as well as the expert does.

In my view, this is similar to what happens in a church that depends on a select few clergy to minister Christ.  Certainly, there are many pastors and clergy members who have a great depth of knowledge of Christ and a rich relationship with Him.  But when the duty of exploring Him rests completely or mostly on the clergys’ shoulders, the rest of the body becomes passive and underdeveloped.  In an organic expression of the church (as I’ve defined here), this duty is shared among the priesthood of ALL believers.

You may read this and not believe that Christians can live in this way together with each other.  I can affirm by experience that they can, but only when their focus is learning together how to live by Christ’s indwelling life.  But that, of course, is another story for another day.

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49 comments on “Expressing Christ in Organic Church

  1. Mark, this is a great picture of what it means to meet under the headship of Christ with every member functioning. I like how you described fhe role of the worker as a needed help to reveal the glory of Christ so that each member can be on the same page and infused with confidence to know and express the Lord freely together with the other members of the body.
    I also appreciate the way this pointed to Christ while gently showing how the tradional clergy/laity divide is actually a hindrance and not a help to the body of Christ. I look forward to your next post.

  2. Same here brother,

    I enjoyed seeing a different way to help others better understand how we meet in an organic expression of Christ. This may be one of my favorite examples now. Thanks for sharing your heart.

    Yours,

    Tobias

  3. Mark my brother,

    This is such a wonderful picture of our life together! It truly uplifted my heart as I read. Oh what eternal riches we have in our Lord Jesus Christ; oh what eternal riches we find in one another! I loved how you described a seasoned worker of the house of God as a a “curator of the museum grounds. This person has spent years among the fine artifacts of the Louvre. They have beheld many of the pieces in the galleries and can describe them to you in vivid detail. As your group begins its journey, this person walks with you and guides you in how to observe each piece, how to interact with it, and how to share and interact with each other. It’s not their task to take you through the whole museum, but to direct and teach you in the beginning stages of the museum.”

    What eternal riches we have in Christ, Yeshua our Lord! Thanks for sharing my brother!

  4. Mark, it IS an awesome illustration!!! I also see the curator you talked about as the Holy Spirit who is guiding us into Christ’s richies and revelaing Him in all of His glory!.

    I also see how bystanders who came to see the museum could be captured by a group of people discussing the beauty of an art piece and what they see in it. Much like people who come in contact with a living Body are captured by the beauty. Not by the beauty of the members but by the beauty of the One they hear about from these members…and that is one of the ways the Lord grows His church.

  5. Vivid and moving Mark! You stir in me a desire to visit the Louvre, but more to search out and ponder all the riches of Jesus. Regarding the latter, I guess I will have to wait for eternity to move beyond the cursory, which this time-limited life affords.

    A great explanation of IC vs. OC leadership.

  6. Bro Mark,

    What a fantastic illustration describing the church’s participating many parts expressing Christ together as a body or community family. Yes, this can only happen if Christ is the Head of the gathering body. And this same community family must be in very close relationship with Christ and with one another. Which is why I prefer to use the words community family, because this speak of close relationships. In addition, I would like to say this is also so of the individual believer, because if Christ is not the individual’s Head everyday, then when the individual comes together with others, Christ will not be the Head then either. Just saying that this is often a difficulty that we must deal with on an individual level also.

    What you have written here is a great way to give some understanding of coming together to express Christ. I really like this illustration, one of the best I’ve ever read or heard!

    However, I do see some concerns on the issues part of your post which I would like to address. A local Life community or body is birthed by Sprit, and comes together by the Spirit putting individuals together, it happens within the natural Life way, and is the very beginning of the journey into the inexhaustible Jesus Christ. We are met as we enter this journey (museum) by no person (curator) other than Christ within us; this is initial stage of birth in a Life community body of Christ. I think you may very well mean the same thing, as further on in your post you say, “comes along side” which implies that there is already a Spirit birthed local body.

    And also the following issue. I find that the church planter and/or equipper does not teach others how to see Christ in the all the Scriptures, but points to the Person, Jesus Christ. I too, feel we need to be clear that this person does not teach his or her interpretations of the Scriptures. And no person can open another person’s heart or eyes to Christ, but a person can point to Christ. And so, in a way I disagree that someone can teach others to find Christ in the Scriptures for that is the job of the Holy Spirit. Pointing to Christ helps all of us to focus on Christ Himself and not other things. I am not trying to be picky here, bro; I only am concerned that we not overstate what a church planter and/or equipper does. There is a time, and it is usually not long after the Spirit birth of a local body community, that there arises some difficulties. It would avoided, only maybe, if an equipper person came to equip not long after the birth, but there absolutely must be time for this body of believers to get to know one another first. Anyway, these problems most likely can only be addressed by someone from the outside who can see things more clearly and has had years of body Life experience.

    • Sister Kat,

      Thank you for this great encouragement and for clarifying further the role of the Spirit and the church worker. You have beautifully articulated what I meant. I was only trying to touch on those aspects in this post. Another picture of how limited one person’s (mine in this case) view can be.

      • My brother Mark, “Another picture of how limited one person’s (mine in this case) view can be” Hold that thought, okay now throw it out, because I have no idea whatever limit you could be speaking of since we are in Christ our view is endless, just like Him. So, I hope you tossed that thought really far away! Your post was truly fantastic, truly!

  7. Hey Mark,

    great post! just curious, how do you see a gathering of believers getting to that “organic” state where that type of function is actually experienced?

    • Amere,

      Read Kat’s comment above. The ekklesia is the Lord’s life being lived out in His people on the earth today, according to His eternal purpose with Christ alone as the Head. So for starters, you need a group who shares this vision.

      I recommend Frank Viola’s books Reimagining Church and Finding Organic Church on this topic.

  8. Mark,

    I like what i am reading. Just curious what you and Kat are actually experiencing personally in the realm of a body, family or community since it is the context in which you are speaking.

    are you two involved in such expressions? if so, how long have they been sustained? and are they reproducing?

    thanks for the feedback

    • I am part of an organic church where three outside workers came in and laid a foundation on a revelation of Jesus Christ as All and in all. We are two years old. Still young and learning a lot. We live life together throughout the week and meet together corporately each week. We pursue knowing Christ intimately with each other during the week in various size groups and then express Him together when we meet corporately. It’s really tough to explain. Frank Viola has done a wonderful job in his books. If you’re really seeking this kind of experience, the best option is to visit a church where this type of life is being lived.

  9. That’s awesome. I was just curious. I live and experience much of the same experience. I live in the North Texas area and there are many faith communities that have been established in many towns/cities in the region apostolically through a group of brothers called the forerunner ministry.

    it’s been pretty awesome and i have experienced more growth in Christ than i have ever before.

    always good to hear about other brother’s experiences. thanks. it is encouraging. blessings to you guys.

  10. Mark,

    this is simply marvelous! It is a vivid portrayal of my deepest longing and strongest burning desire. Someday I hope to visit and explore Christ with you all. That day cannot come soon enough.

    when you mentioned the curator, I thought you were leading into a picture of the Holy Spirit who leads us through the unsearchable riches of Christ and points to Him continually. Of course He uses apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers along with the varying other members through which to do so but all these fall way short unless Christ is being ministered by the true curator: God Himself. That is not to take away from anything you’ve said, just sharing my thoughts.

    Keep writing bro, you’re blessing many with a fulller knowledge and revelation of our Lord.

    -Bobby

    • Thanks, Bobby. I was using the picture of the curator to offer some light into the objections that many present against meeting in this way (such as having nothing but chaos, teaching false doctrines, etc). You are right – the Holy Spirit is the One who brings all Truth, and that Truth is Jesus Christ Himself. Maybe it would have been better to picture the workers as museum guides and the Spirit as the curator. Thanks for your insight.

  11. Christ, and the unsearchable riches which are in Him, can only be experienced in relationships with other people.. it takes a minimum of two. (I’m not speaking of ekklesia when the local group comes together to make the manifild Wisdom of God (Jesus Himself) known (expressed)). It is impossible to experience Christ as a “lone ranger” ( I’m not saying He won’t bless us with some thing when we’re alone with Him because time alone with Him is important ). For love to be experienced it takes at least two.. love isn’t something that flows between two people… He is Love and when two people come together in some kind of a relationship Christ will be experienced together. He can be known (experienced) in many forms: they may experience Him as Love.. or as Wisdom.. or as Peace or as Healing .. in any number of the expressions of our BIG God. So when you have a number of people properly knit together in Love who are in the process of dying to themselves as Christ is coming forth in them, then He is seen as “coat of many colors”… each one of US brings Christ with us and as Mark so beautifully expressed with this analogy, He can be experienced and touched and heard and seen in an endless number of expressions.
    Kat’s point about the absolute necessity of getting to know one another cannot be over-stated. If that does not happen there will only be religious form and ritual that may look like something Frank describes in his books…but when the saints are arm-in-arm walking in the same direction a true love and appreciation for one another starts to come forth. You actually get to the place where you begin to realize that when you’re not with these saints you actually miss them. The “meeting mentality” and so much of the religious garb we all carry starts to fall off and we reallize that He truly is OUR Life ( corporately ).
    Mark, I don’t know you bro’, but I really appreciate hearing Him in you… Thank you for the encouragement and the reminder ( things we constantly need to be doing for one another because it is so easy to slip into the imaginations of our mind and turn away from Him).
    May your tribe increase!!!

  12. I’m not familiar with this “organic church” movement, but it seems similar – in part – to the practice of “mutual edification” (i.e., church elders, rather than a staff preacher, sharing duties) found in a number of independent churches of Christ. Since what you’re advocating is very different and new, I suppose (but correct me if I’m wrong) that there hasn’t been an opportunity to see it in action over a long period of time. I had to questions related to the:

    First, It’s troubling how easily more hierarchical churches can succumb to false doctrine. It seems that an “organic church” might have more difficult problems staying on the right path and avoid negative influences. Have any had this problem yet? How was it handled?

    Second, most people like order, consistency, etc. Democratic bodies often fail because they provide opportunities for specific individuals to take over. Have any “organic churches” had this problem yet? How was it handled?

    Thanks.

    • Jenny,

      What I am describing and experiencing is probably quite a bit different than what you are referring to as independent churches of Christ. I’m not talking about leadership in plurality rather than a single person, but a church meeting in a local area where no human is in charge, Jesus Christ is the living Head of the body, and each saint is an equal and participating member.

      Regarding your questions, I’m sure this happens all the time. Many churches meeting outside a denomination or religious institution are unhealthy at best and dangerous at worst. The single true antidote is a vast unveiling of Jesus Christ and a willingness in the body to embrace the cross in church life.

      Most Christians have no idea how to live this way, so it is very helpful for a group who wants to pursue this to bring in an outside, experienced worker/planter to help equip them in this way.

      You can read more at the House Church Resource link under Blogroll on the right.

      Thank you for your comment!

  13. “The highest interpretation of any Scripture is to see it as a picture of Christ.” YES !!!
    “We are called to have a relationship with a Man, the God-Man, Jesus Christ. The highest use of the Scriptures is to reveal, point to, and describe the unsearchable riches of this Person.” YES again !!! Thank you for these words.

    Those who object to participation by believers without education should consider Acts 4:13 “And as they [Jewish leaders] beheld the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated men and laymen, they marveled and they recognized them, that they had been with Jesus.” We need education in the Bible but much more we need time with Jesus.

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  16. This is a very good description. I have just read it even tough it is several month old. I have passed it around via a link. Thanks.

  17. Beautiful writing, Mark. I had to go back and read it twice because it’s such a wonderful picture, I want to remember this. As you know, Chris and I are beginning another leg of the journey and hoping to find this expression of Christ half way across the country. I expecially love the natural ebb and flow as the people go off and look at the paintings, then come back together again and share. I love the freedom of being able to express what we see and what stands out to us about this painting (Person) and hearing what everyone else sees too. It was glorious beyond anything I had seen. I hope to see it again one day. Thanks for the post.
    In Him,
    Jackie

  18. When the Church, I mean the Universal Church, will enter fully this experience? I totally agree with all you said Mark, but it will take a long time before all God’s children realize the Organic way of meeting. Unless God raise revolutionaries like you who are willing to sacrifice themselves to expand the Vision of the Organic Church Movement. Yes, some of us will have to suffer much to incarnate this Message. Luther had to paid a great price for the message of the Justifacation by faith, Nee spent 20 years in jail to incarnate the Messege of the Indwelling Life of Christ, T austin Spark was severely rejected by his denomination, Gene Edwards have been hated by many critics, and so on. Are we willing to die for this
    Vision.

  19. Reading this … and the comments that followed the article … I couldn’t help but think that the only thing really difficult to learn is how to undo all the wrong beliefs fostered by men being in charge of men [political-ecclesiastical leadership]. Really, only God can do that. As far as authentic, biblical assembly life goes, I think that is something God equips us to do. [Yes, we learn as we go.] Perhaps, the most damaging effect of the traditional churches is that they teach us to act analytically [intellectually], as opposed to spiritually. It’s not that our intellect is not involved, obviously: but rather, that our spirit is supposed to inform our intellect [our minds conforming to the word of God--"for these things are foolishness to the natural man and must be spiritually discerned," (1 Corinthians 2:14)]. Contrast this reliance upon the soul to the words of Jesus: “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matthew 6:27). The only thought I have is “what is God inspiring me to do?” Doing things in our own strength and will is particularly wearisome and vain, which explains why the traditional church experience is one hand, a gauntlet, and on the other hand, a self-affirming and self-rewarding discipline.

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