There is a debate about whether the church should be an organism or an organized institution.
Rather than find a healthy balance, there is a tendency for the two sides to run to the extremes. As a result, those who debate the issue stake their claim on one extreme and attack the other rather than finding the strengths of the other’s position.
It’s okay to be organized. It’s okay to be organic. The problem comes when a church becomes overly organized or overly organic.
The Overly Organized Church
The overly organized church borrows more from the business world than from the Bible.
The overly organized church has flawless policy manuals. They establish structures and systems and, for the most part, everything runs smoothly.
The overly organized church hires a Pastor/CEO to oversee the systems and structures and boards and committees. If he fails the task then he is fired and a search committee is formed. Resumes are vetted to determine if this person has the necessary business acumen to lead the organization effectively.
The overly organized church is often characterized by buildings and budgets.
The overly organized church is almost exclusively a task-oriented church.
The overly organized church often adds too much to the Bible in its understanding of the church.
The Overly Organic Church
The overly organic church takes the other extremes. For example, if it is overly organic, a church might not even call itself a church. For some reason, overly organic churches place a false dichotomy between the universal Church and the local church.
The overly organic church dismantles anything that looks or smells like a system or a structure or a policy. If it isn’t spontaneous and simple and natural, then it isn’t “New Testament”.
The overly organic church often spends more time talking about “unlearning church” and griping about how much money is being wasted by the institutional church
The overly organic church places a premium on meeting in coffee shops and in living rooms and wherever else “life happens” instead of buildings that are dedicated specifically to worship gatherings.
The overly organic church is almost exclusively a people-oriented church.
The overly organic church often removes too much from the Bible in their understanding of the church.
Perhaps it’s time to move past the “organization vs. organism” debate and see how to merge the healthier aspects of each of these two concepts together.
The Church is an Institution (so get over it)
We have to accept that the church is an institution. Jesus said,
…and upon this rock I will build My church… Matthew 16:18
In this passage, Jesus instituted the church. This sets it apart from governmental or private institutions. We aren’t just talking about a university, a government, or a mental health facility. All of those institutions were instituted or incorporated along legal grounds on the city, state, or federal level.
But when people reject the institution of the church, they are rejecting the very patterns and behaviors that are given to us as a blessing by the One who instituted the church to begin with.
What if we had the same attitude towards the institution of marriage? Why bother with a ceremony, signing legal documents, wearing rings, etc? Isn’t it love that makes it a marriage?
Jesus not only instituted the church but He (and then the apostles) gave us some clear instructions on what that institution should look like. The way the New Testament reads, we find a reason for church membership, baptism, communion, prayer, leadership, learning, discipline, regular gatherings, giving, and more. Of course, there is also a lot of leeway in how we go about those things. Should all of that happen in one hour on Sunday? Probably not.
But to completely throw out a regular gathering of local disciples for the purpose of prayer, worship, fellowship, and etc. is just as egregious as if a church scheduled every second of a one hour service.
A New Vision: An Organized Organism
select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. Acts 6:3
from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. Ephesians 4:16
A beehive has structure. A cell has systems. An ant colony has leadership and hierarchy. Aren’t beehives, cells and ant colonies organic? The reason organisms thrive is because they are organized. It’s a frustration to me that the organic church movement forgets that there is organization in the church. They forget that there are leaders who develop processes for handling membership, discipline, and care for orphans and widows.
Some in the overly organized church who focus so much on the systems and leadership hierarchy of their organization that they can’t see the bees for the hive. Maybe more fitting would be to say that they can’t see the Body for the skeleton. There’s no doubt that the skeleton is essential to the body (but I’m glad the skeleton’s on the inside).
The structures and systems and leadership of a church exist to help the church fulfill its mission. When a church is healthy and fully functioning, the systems that are in place will be almost invisible. The church is organically caring and loving and growing because it’s natural for the organism.
Systems and structures of a church must be shaped by Biblical patterns. They should exist to support the work of the church. But they must exist. Otherwise, with no shape or structure, the organism becomes a blob of protoplasm that cannot and will not accomplish anything for the glory of God.
Avoiding Two Extremes
If you’ve read this far, go back and look at my description of the overly organized and the overly organic churches. What do you see there that is redeemable? Meeting together in homes or in buildings isn’t bad. Organization and structures aren’t bad. Spontaneity and simplicity aren’t bad. Our tasks need to be about people but our people need to be given a mission.
Let’s avoid the extremes and find some common ground in the middle. Let’s learn from the best that each of us has to offer rather than continue to attack the worst.
So are you in an organized church, an organic church, or an organized organism called the church?