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.