Thursday, September 30, 2010


Lately I’ve been contemplating the idea that there is more of Jesus to know than I know. Of course, this isn’t much of a huge revelation as far as things go. But the concept has gripped me over the last few days and I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

I’ve been following Jesus for over 30 years now. I’ve been a licensed and ordained pastor for over 20 years. Yet the longer I know Jesus the more I realize that I have barely scratched the surface. What I know of Jesus is significant, but much of it is based on my past experience or my knowledge of the scriptures.

What set my imagination spinning was a brief testimonial where various people shared their breath taking experiences discovering how high and wide and deep and long the person of Jesus really was. As I listened to them speak I sensed something in my spirit begin to leap. I knew that it was possible for me to lose myself in the endless deep of Jesus like these people had. I understood that I had slowed down in my pursuit of Jesus. I had settled for less.

Even the idea of following Jesus implies chasing after him. Lately I’ve allowed my walk with Jesus to become more like lounging around. Rather than slowly following Jesus as if He weren’t headed anywhere particular or doing anything all that important, I began to think of following Jesus as a pursuit. Suddenly I could see that Jesus was active and moving and “always at work” [John 5:17]. It made keeping up with Jesus an active verb. Following Jesus is more like keeping up with Him and less like meandering aimlessly.

There is more of Jesus for me to know than I know. He is more marvelous, more exciting, more glorious than I can even imagine. I realize that lately the Jesus I’ve been following has been pretty predictable and sluggish. Maybe it’s not Jesus I’m following after all? Or maybe I’m still walking at the pace Jesus was keeping in my life five years ago? It’s as if I’m looking up and He’s farther ahead of me than I thought He was. It’s time for me to pick up the tempo and chase after Jesus again with all of my heart.

Of course, I understand that for me to fully receive more of Jesus I will need to allow Him to make room within my heart. It means that there is a cost. To have more of Him I will need less of me. This is why Jesus says that no one who wants to chase after Him can accomplish this without a daily death of self. [Luke 9:23]

Even as I contemplate the idea that there is more of Jesus to know than I know, my flesh whispers doubt in my ear. “Can there really be more of Jesus to know than you know already?” I hear the serpent hiss. “You’ve gone as far as you can go with Jesus. This is all there is.”

But I know this voice. I recognize the emptiness. It’s the flesh in me speaking out against the Spirit. “There must be more. I know there is more.”

All that I’ve experienced before? That’s not what Jesus is wanting to show me. All that I’ve heard and seen? There’s even more to know of Jesus than this. All the wisdom and truth and revelation God has given me in the past? It’s only the barest preamble of what Jesus has in store.

The revivals, the healings, the miracles, the prophetic words, the testimonies, the sweet intimate moments alone with him, all of it is less than what still waits ahead of me. Jesus has only begun to reveal His Glorious Self to me.

After all this time, there's more of Him to know. After all these years, there's more of Jesus to love. There's more of His splendor to see. There are more oceans of His love still left for me to sail.

My heart beats faster the more I consider this truth. Jesus is standing at the door and waiting to show me more of Himself. I dare not keep Him waiting.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010


You're invited to join us at the Orange County Organic Church Forum (OC/OCF)
- MONDAY, OCT 11TH, 7PM to 9PM

This will be an opportunity to gather with local organic, simple and house church practitioners.

Our topic will be: "Learning to Put Jesus at the Center"

This free event will be an open dialog style meeting. No speaker or experts will take the stage. Instead, we will sit in a circle and allow everyone to interact with one another.

This evening fellowship and dialog is a united gathering of various members from differnt organic church groups including the Mission, The Well, Vineyard at Home and many others.

OC Organic Church Forum
Monday, Oct.11th, 2010
7pm to 9pm

215 S. Glenview Place,
Orange, CA 92868-4615

PLEASE RSVP - We need to know how many people to plan for so please send an email to if you are attending.

For more info:

Monday, September 27, 2010


I met him when I was nine years old in Eagle Pass, Texas. I was always curious about God and so when I finally found out His name was Jesus and that He loved me I couldn’t wait to trust Him.

At first I just loved singing about him and reading about him. I read through the Bible before I was twelve years old just to learn all I could about Jesus.

Sometimes I got so excited about sharing Him with others that I got into trouble and I had to learn to allow some people the choice not to trust Jesus the way I did.

I used to talk to Jesus every night before I went to bed as a young boy. He was my closest friend in the world because I was an only child and our family moved around a lot so Jesus was the most consistent person in my life.

When I became a teenager Jesus and I lost touch with each other a little. I suddenly found myself with a lot of friends that I wanted to impress and so I used to leave him at home. I even used to pretend that I didn’t know Jesus whenever other people were around.

When I was a junior in High School Jesus and I had a really big fight. I met this girl and I really thought that she was the love of my life. When that didn’t work out the way I hoped it would, I told Jesus to leave me alone and for a whole year I ignored Jesus. I didn’t talk to him. I didn’t ask him for help. I didn’t read about him. I tried to hurt Jesus because he didn’t give me what I wanted.

It was during that time that I think Jesus was closer to me than ever before. I didn’t know it at the time, but later on when I look back at that time in my life I can see that Jesus was silently protecting me from danger, helping me out of difficult situations and loving me in spite of my determination to give him the silent treatment.

Eventually, I forgave Jesus and I realized that I was the one who really needed to ask Jesus to forgive me for being such an idiot. He did. In fact, he acted as if nothing had changed between us. He just kept on being my friend. He just kept on loving me.

In college I started taking trips with Jesus and I spent more time listening to Him and learning how much bigger he was than I ever imagined before. I was so glad to find out that he still loved me, even after the way I had treated him in high school. Jesus was still my best friend and he continued to love me in spite of all the stupid things I did.

The more I got to know Jesus the more I felt the need to know him even more. I wanted to be with Jesus forever. I wanted Jesus to speak to me and I soon I learned to hear his voice.

I used to spend hours talking to Jesus about everything. He was my best friend. He always listened, and He always helped me figure out what to do in hard times. Over time I began to learn that the old song, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” was really true, and not just because the Bible told me so, but because I was really experiencing the love of Jesus every single day of my life.

One day I figured out that Jesus wanted me to give him my whole life. He wanted all of me. Not just my left over time. Not just to be my helper when I needed something. Jesus wanted all of me, all of the time.

At first that scared me because I thought that Jesus might take away all the other things in my life that I thought I needed. But eventually I realized that Jesus loved me even more than I loved him. He only wanted what was best for me. I also began to realize that, deep in my heart, what I really wanted more than anything was to have all of Him too. So, it was a fair trade. I gave Jesus all of me – my weak, pathetic, empty self – and I got all of Jesus in exchange – His magnificent, amazing, fabulous, glorious, infinite majestic SELF.

Surprisingly, Jesus didn’t seem to mind that I had gotten the better end of that deal. I even tried to tell him about it but he didn’t seem to care. He was just thrilled to have all of me and to give all of himself to me.

Of course, over time I began to notice that I hadn’t really given all of myself to Jesus. I meant to. I thought I did. But sometimes Jesus would ask me for something and I’d pretend I didn’t hear Him, or I would just refuse to let him have it. Eventually, I usually end up giving in and letting him have whatever it is that he wants from me. One day I hope to really surrender everything to him because I'm starting to realize that, in order to have more of him, I need to give him more of myself.

One time Jesus went to visit my Dad when he had broken his neck in three places and it looked like he might be paralyzed for life. Jesus healed him and today my Dad is totally healed. Jesus did that.

Sometimes I can’t see the way and He shows me where to go. Sometimes I feel alone and he wraps his arms around me. Sometimes I need to help someone and I have no idea what to do or to say and Jesus steps in and he gives me the words, or he shows me what to do and it works out great.

Another time, my friend Mary Anne got brain cancer and we asked Jesus to heal her. She told us that, instead of healing her cancer, Jesus used the cancer to heal her family. Jesus brought her son, her daughter, her sisters and her brother back together after years of unforgiveness and she told me that she was glad that Jesus did that. Today Mary Anne is with Jesus and she’s much happier now than she ever was before.

Most recently, I got to share Jesus with my friend Robert Higgins. He was 77 years old, living by himself in this motel in Santa Ana, and he also had cancer. I got to see Jesus change his heart. I saw Jesus bring his son back to Robert. I saw Jesus shout his love for Robert from some very unexpected places and people.

Jesus and I both loved Robert very much, and I believe that Robert and Jesus are together right now and they’re waiting for us all to get home.

Even though I've been following Jesus for over 30 years now, I always find something new and amazing about Him. He's my best friend. He's the Creator of the Universe. And, for some reason, even though he knows everything about me, he still loves me like crazy.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010


"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." - 1 Corinthians 12:12

What's the most important organ in your body? Is it your heart? Or your lungs? Or you kidneys? Certainly you need all of them to stay alive, and if you took one away (your liver for example) the rest of the organs would be essentially useless because the body would die.

For a human body to function as it was designed to function, every part of the body must be present and healthy and operating at full capacity. Otherwise, the body grows weak and the health of the body is at risk.

In the Body of Christ, every member is essential for life. According to the scriptures, no part of the body is more important than another. They are all designed to work in harmony and for the benefit of one another, as directed by the brain - or the head - who is Christ.

In the Body of Christ we are called to elevate (or edify) one another, not ourselves, and not any one person or group of persons.

Because every part of the Body is essential, it's wrong to elevate one member above another in terms of importance. The only part of the body that should ever be exalted over another is Jesus and He is always at the top.

This doesn't mean that none of us in the body is important, it means all of us are important. Not just important, but essential, because we need one another to function as a healthy, living organism. However, we are all equally essential. None of us is more essential, or less essential. Only Christ is the Head. We are all only organs within the Body. Our purpose is to encourage one another and to hold the Head high.

Just as our physical bodies need every organ to work as designed, so too our churches need to be composed of equally essential members who are equipped to serve one another in love.

If we understand this concept, as Paul lays it out for us in 1 Corinthians 12, we begin to see how important it is for everyone in our fellowship to understand their spiritual gifting, and to participate when we gather, and to fully realize their potential in the Body of Christ. When everyone works as God designed them to, the Body is healthy and Christ is exalted as our Head.

Who is the head of your church? Is it one of your fellow organs? Or is it Jesus Himself?

In the Church that God designed, only Jesus is the head, and all of the members of the Church are gifted individually to serve and edify and encourage and teach and help one another in love. Your heart cannot pump blood and also do the work of the liver or the lungs. It can only do what it was designed to do. When only a few organs attempt to do all the work in the Body, the rest of the members suffer because they are not allowed to do what they were designed and gifted to do. The organs doing triple duty are also suffering because they are taking on more than their fair share of the work.

"But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body." - 1 Corinthians 12:18-20

If a body's organs aren't working as God intended, you have a sick body. If the church doesn't operate as an organism, with every member contributing to the health and well-being of others, it's not the Body of Christ. At least, not in the sense that Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 12.

Some have argued that what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 is "descriptive" but not "prescriptive". To those people I would ask, "What is this passage descriptive of?" Is it not descriptive of what Paul understood to be God's model for how His Body should function? Is it not a description of how we can truly serve one another in love and humility? Is it not a description of a New Testament form of Church?

Whether or not you take Paul's instruction as prescriptive or not, I think you at least have to admit that he was describing how the Church was designed to operate and in what way we can actually function as a Body, with Christ as our Head.


"Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." - Romans 12:10

"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." - Ephesians 5:21

Friday, September 17, 2010


His name is Carol Palfi. He's from Romania. He can't speak English, except to say, "I love you. Every day."

Carol lives at Fountain Care Center in Orange, California, in room 316. He was Robert Higgin’s roommate, and for the last 9 months Carol was the voice of God reminding Robert of something very important; "I love you. Every day."

At Robert's Memorial Service yesterday I talked about how God's amazing love for Robert provided for a roommate like Carol.

God knew that Robert's desire was to know love. All his life he searched to fill the empty void in his heart. His favorite song was "I Want To Know What Love Is" by Foreigner. God saw Robert's heart and moved heaven and earth to declare His perfect love for Robert through a variety of people and events, including this Romanian roommate for Robert in room 316.

Yesterday, after the Memorial Service, Carol wandered into the dining room on his walker. He waved to everyone. He said, "I love you. Every day," to all of us, and smiled. I came up to him and gave him a hug and he gently laid his head on my shoulder.

I couldn't help but marvel at how God had worked through this simple man to declare his love for Robert. The most amazing thing to me is that Carol has no idea what a blessing he was to my friend. He doesn’t understand Robert's story, and he is oblivious to the gift he gave by simply repeating the phrase, "I love you. Every day."

One day I hope that all of us can stand together in Eternity and rejoice over this simple miracle.

Until then, I thank God for the man in room 316 who unconsciously spoke the words that God Himself wanted to speak to my friend, Robert. Day after day for 9 months.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

What Love Is

Remembering my friend, Robert Higgins who died on Friday, September 10th, 2010 at 9am.

Robert Higgins was born in Winchester, Kentucky on February 3, 1932 to a poor family. His father died when he was young and for a brief time he and his older brother spent time in an orphanage because his mother wasn't able to provide for them.

One day he and his brother were adopted out to other families and when his mom found out she fought hard to bring them all back together again.

Eventually, Robert moved to California where he worked for the post office briefly and even drove moving trucks for a time.

He met a woman named Rosa and they had two daughters and one son, Richard.

By the time I met Robert, he was estranged from everyone in his family. He was homeless and staying off and on in a motel in Santa Ana.

The more I got to know Robert the more I learned about his struggle with faith. He was angry at God for how his life had turned out. He'd had a hard life and most things hadn't worked out for him the way he had hoped they would.

If there was a theme around Robert's life it was love. He told me once that it was hard for him to receive love from others because in his experience everyone always expected something in return for that love. There were always strings attached, so he learned to mistrust those who acted like they loved him.

Robert's favorite song was "I Want To Know What Love Is" by Foreigner. He only owned one CD when I met him, FOREIGNER'S GREATEST HITS. He never listened to anything else on that collection. Just track one, his favorite song, and then he'd eject the CD and put it back in the case.

The cry of Robert's heart was to know what love is, and he really did want someone to show him if it was real.

About a year ago Robert was diagnosed with bone cancer. He eventually ended up at Fountain Care center just a few blocks away from my house. I used to drop by and see him most days on my way home from work. During our visits he would talk about how so many people in his life used to show him special attention and favor. People at the homeless shelter, barristas at the coffee shops, managers at the motels he stayed at, managers at gas stations where he bought his cigarettes - all of them took special time with Robert and gave him preferential treatment.

"That's God showing you His love, Robert," I said to him. "It's as if God put a spotlight on you and prompted all those people to pick you out of the crowd and show love to you." Robert nodded his head in agreement.

When Robert was admitted to Fountain Care he was placed in room number 316 with a Romanian man who only knew a few phrases in English. The main thing he would say to everyone who entered the room was, "I love you, everyday."

A few weeks ago, before Robert passed away, I pointed this out to him. "Robert, do you know what room number you're in?"

"Room 316" he said.

"Yeah. Do you know why God put you in room 316? Because it reminds us of John 3:16 where Jesus says, 'For God so loved the world - that's you Robert - that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoesoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.'"

Robert nodded silently.

"God also gave you a room mate who can't speak English. All he can say, all day long, is 'I love you, everyday.' Isn't that awesome? God wanted you to be reminded, everyday, that you are loved," I said.

Two weeks ago, one of Robert's good friends at Fountain Care died suddenly. I spent some time that same night reading to Robert out of the book of Romans. I told him I needed to know that he would be with Jesus when it was his time to die.

Since I was always spending time with Robert, many of the people at Fountain Care assumed that I was his son. They would ask me how my Dad was doing, or they'd ask Robert about me assuming I was his son.

About a week ago, as our family was visiting Robert, one of his friends there brought this up and she told my wife that Robert had said that he loved me like a son, and that he wished that I was his son.

Last week, when Robert was near the end, I took his hand and I said, "Robert, God knew that your real son couldn't be here for you the way he wanted to. So, he sent me to be your son and to love you and comfort you in his place. But, God also sent you His real Son, Jesus, to give His life for you and to demonstrate His love for you."

Two days before Robert died, I stood next to his bed. We were surrounded by four other dear friends who had also loved and served Robert in the name of Jesus. We talked and laughed about our memories of being with Robert. We all agreed that we were Robert's family and that we loved him.

The day before Robert died, I sat beside him as he lay quiet. The morphine and the Atavan kept him sedated, but the nurses assured me that he could hear what I was saying. So, I took out his CD player and I played his favorite song. I took his hand and reminded him that God had already shown him what love is. That love had a name and that his name was Jesus.

After I sang a song to him and read Psalm 23, and Zephaniah 3:17 to him, I took his hand and I said,"Robert, will you pray with me?" and I lead him through a prayer of confession and faith in Christ. Of course, he wasn't responsive so I don't know if he really heard me or not.

I prayed that night, as I did most nights, for God to give me some kind of confirmation of Robert's salvation. Just one minute of lucid consciousness with him was all I wanted. Just to know that he had really made peace with God and accepted the love of Jesus. That was my prayer.

The next morning, on September 10th, at 9am Robert passed away in his sleep.

One of the women who had served Robert during all this time was Kathleen. When I called to let her know that Robert had passed away, she told me that she had been praying for Robert and wondering if he had really received the love of Jesus or not. "I felt like the Lord gave me a word about Robert," she said. "He reminded me that all of us who served him did it in the name of Jesus. At first, Robert resisted our love and God's love. Remember how he used to fight us and argue with us? But eventually Robert's heart softened and especially near the end he was very accepting of the love we showed him. He was thankful for it and he received that love of Jesus from us. So, in that way Robert did receive the love of Jesus and I believe he really did have that conversation with Jesus in his heart."

Through my tears I thanked Kathleen for this assurance. I needed it so much.

Robert Higgins, my dear friend, was a man who never knew what love was until some people he never met before began to demonstrate it to him. They all did this because Jesus first loved them and gave Himself to save them. Jesus changed their hearts and filled them with the patience needed to love a cranky, difficult man like Robert, who eventually softened under the endless barrage of God's mercy and grace and love.

Today, Robert Higgins knows what love is. He is looking deep into the face of love and he is full of joy and peace.

I'm so thankful to God that He allowed me to be one of those many, many people who He deputized to demonstrate His love to Robert Higgins. Through this journey with Robert, I also learned what love is and I will never forget this lesson, or this dear, sweet friend.


Tuesday, September 07, 2010

THIS SATURDAY: Orange County Organic Church Summit

If you're in Orange County, California, you're invited to our first ever, OC Organic Church Summit this saturday.

Our Theme: Organic Church: One Size Does NOT Fit All
Sept.11th, 2pm to 4pm

Not every organic church is created equal. Each takes on a different personality and practice, yet there are some core values that they all share in common.
Come join with others who are currently involved in a local organic church and meet those searching for an organic community too.

This will be an open dialog between current practitioners and those seeking to learn more about the organic church model.

Members from various local house churches, simple churches, organic and hybrid churches will share ideas and insights with those seeking to learn more and with one another.

OC Organic Church Summit
at St. Matthew's Catholic Church
1111 West Town and Country Road,
Orange, CA 92868-4615

For more info:

Monday, September 06, 2010

WHAT IS ORGANIC CHURCH? [Neil Cole & Frank Viola Interviewed]

When I approached Neil Cole and Frank Viola about the possibility of hosting this interview on my blog, they were both in agreement about one thing: This is not a debate. It's a dialog between two brothers who see different sides of the same coin.

As you may know, both Neil and Frank are seen as thought leaders in the area of organic church. However, the very term itself isn't always very clear. Sometimes we need to stop and define our terms before we engage in a dialog so that everyone understands what we're actually talking about. That's the purpose of this interview between Frank and Neil. We hope to engage in an encouraging dialog concerning the Church.

I'm blessed to know both Neil (who wrote the forward to my book, "The Gospel: For Here Or To Go?") and Frank (who has been kind enough to correspond with me on occasion). So, as I began to see that both were attempting to talk about Organic Church in different ways, I thought it would be helpful to everyone if we could hear their perspective on certain terms and clear things up a little for everyone.

Since this isn't a debate, we're not seeking to declare a winner. Hopefully you will learn something from both participants engaged in this dialog. Comments are welcome, but they will be moderated. Both Neil and Frank have agreed to respond to questions in the comments section as much as they can.


What Is Organic Church?
An Interview with Neil Cole and Frank Viola

As simply as you can, define what "Church" looks like to you in practical terms. (Looking for an example of how an "Organic Church" would function - how a typical meeting might look - in your version of "Organic" church). What is your definition of "Organic Church"?

Neil: Many scholars attempt to describe church with a list of ingredients that they believe are found in the New Testament. Here is a typical list: a group of believers that gather together regularly and believe themselves to be a church. They have qualified elders and practice baptism, communion and church discipline and agree on a doctrinal foundation and have some sort of missional purpose.

I have no problem with these ingredients being a part of church, though not all of them are indeed biblical (no where in the NT does it say that we have to consider ourselves a church to be a church—that is a cultural reaction to calling bible studies or parachurch organizations churches. There are also NT churches that have not had elders appointed yet on the first missionary journey—Acts 14:21-25). I believe that this understanding of church is missing the most essential ingredient: Jesus! If we can define church without Jesus than we can do church without Jesus and that is a tragedy at best and treason at worst.

In CMA, we have defined church this way: The presence of Jesus among His people, called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet. Church begins and ends with Jesus among us. All the typical ingredients listed to describe church were in the upper room in Acts chapter one but the church really began in Acts chapter two when only one other important ingredient was added: the Spirit of God showed up! God among us is what makes us any different from the Elks Club.

For us church functions like a family, and family is not just for an hour and a half one day a week. We eat together and live together. We do get together, but not only for serious meetings. We meet up during the week for coffee or a meal and hold each other accountable to following Jesus in Life Transformation Groups. My spiritual family often get together to reach out to others, at cafes or with release time outreach at elementary schools and in the marketplace where we all work. We also go to the movies or on hikes together during the week.

Church is not an event, a place or an organization; it is a family on mission together. We must emphasize this shift in understanding. As such we are not defined by a meeting, though we do meet. When we meet we do not have a routine that must always be done. But for the sake of helping people get a feel for the ebb and flow of our lives I will try to describe what our time is usually like when we do get together.

When we do have meetings, we do not presume to have an agenda, but to gather, listen to God and one another. We worship, sometimes with music. About half of the songs we have are original songs written by people in our movement. In our meetings we do not have a set list of songs that are rehearsed, but rather we sing the songs that He puts on people’s hearts as the Spirit leads. We sing until we feel like we have changed our perspective of things from having been in His presence. We may then keep singing if that is what He leads us to do, but often we share next what is going on in our lives.

We have a little poem (not the height of poetry by any means) that is usually said by anyone in the group to start the share time. We do this so that even young kids can lead in the church and when people start a new church they know what can get the interaction started:

Does anyone have praises or prayer requests,

A word from the Lord or a sin to confess?

We all share what God is saying and doing in our lives and we all pray for what is happening. This could be all we do for the entire evening as well.

We usually open the Bible, read a passage and discuss it. Right now we are going chapter-by-chapter through Acts but this is not routine and we often turn to something else at the leading of the Spirit. We do not have any preparation for this time, as we are not the ones in charge, Jesus is. Our time in the word, however, is not simply pooling ignorance because of the following reasons: 1. We are all listening to the Head of the church and He is not ignorant, and 2. Because of Life Transformation Groups, most of us are all reading large volumes of scripture throughout the week repetitively and in context, so our observations in the scriptures are actually quite insightful. The Spirit of the Lord working in each of us is the teacher, and we are all learners.

When a good question arises or even some false teaching, a leader of the group does not usually step forward and decide the issue for everyone. Rather, we pray and ask the Lord to help us out. Then we ask what insight the Spirit may have given to each of us. The body responds, not the pastor. This empowers everyone to react to false teaching or to find solutions to difficult questions, not just then but anytime. We are also quite comfortable with three little words: I don’t know.

We usually pray and sing and eat until it is time to head home. We may also watch the Lakers play a game or go to a movie. Hope that helps some. As you can see we are not set on a routine and do not have a formal agenda, though we do have some consistent but very flexible patterns.

Oh, and we do not have an offering that is passed in my own church. Some of the churches in CMA do, but we do not have that as a set responsibility of church. What we do have is generous people of God who give, not just money but property hospitality and time, to those who are in need.

Frank: I’m of the opinion that the New Testament only knows one kind of church, and it’s organic. The ekklesia is a living organism not an institutional organization.

I’ve been using the word "organic church" or "organic expression of the church" for over 16 years. And I give credit to T. Austin-Sparks for the phrase. For Sparks and I, an organic church is a group of Jesus followers who are discovering how to live by Divine life together and who are expressing that life in a corporate way.

Jesus said "as the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father, so he who partakes of me shall live by me." Paul echoed these words in Colossians when he said that the mystery of the ages is "Christ in you," and that "Christ is our life" (see also Gal. 2:20; Rom. 8:9-17).

Consequently, when God's people learn how to live by the indwelling life of Christ together, a certain expression of community life naturally emerges. So for me, the word "organic" has to do with life – God's life. The organic expression of the church comes up from the soil; it's not mechanical. While it has organization (or an expression) – as all living organisms do – the organization (or expression) comes about naturally from the life, not through human manipulation, religious ritual, or legalism.

Put another way, organic church life is very ancient. It precedes Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Instead, it finds its headwaters in the fellowship of the Triune God before time. When humans touch that fellowship together, experience it, and make it visible on the earth, you have the life of the ekklesia, i.e., organic church life
(1 John 1:1-3; John 17:20-24).

I left the institutional church 22 years ago and have gathered with numerous organic expressions of the church (completely outside the religious institutional system) ever since. I’ve seen a lot during those years – experimented with a lot, experienced some of the high glories of body life, the difficulties and struggles, and have made lots of mistakes as well. I'm still learning and discovering.

Regarding what an organic expression of the church looks like, here are some of its characteristics:

*The members meet often, not out of guilt or obligation, but because the Spirit draws them together naturally to fellowship, share, and express their Lord (ekklesia literally means an assembly or meeting).

*Jesus Christ is their living, breathing Head. The members make Christ profoundly central, preeminent, and they pursue and explore His fullness together. In short, the church is intoxicated with the Lord Jesus.

*They take care of each other, have open-participatory meetings where every member functions, make decisions together, and follow the Spirit's leading for outreach and inreach, both in their proper season.

*They are learning how to live by Christ and express Him corporately in endless variety and creativity to both the lost and the found.

*The condemnation and guilt is gone. The members experience the liberty and freedom that is in Christ, experience and express His unfailing love, and are free to follow Him out of genuine love rather than guilt, duty, obligation, condemnation, shame and guilt – the typical "tools" that are used to motivate God's people.

*They are missional in the sense that they understand "the mission" to be God’s eternal purpose, which goes beyond human needs to the very reason why God created the universe in the first place. And they give themselves wholly to that mission. (I'll speak more on the eternal purpose later.)

*After the foundation of the church is laid, it is able to meet on its own without a clergy or human headship that controls or directs it. The church can sustain herself by the functioning of every member; it doesn't need a clergy system for direction or ministry.

These features are contained within the spiritual DNA of the ekklesia no matter where or when she is born. For they are the attributes of God Himself, the source and headwaters of body life.

Regarding your question about what an organic church meeting looks like, that’s really impossible to answer. The reason: authentic organic churches have an infinite way of expressing Christ in their gatherings.

Perhaps the best I can do is describe a few meetings that one of the organic churches that my co-workers and I are presently working with have had recently. None of these descriptions will do the gatherings justice, but perhaps they may give some impression of what a good meeting looks like (not all meetings are good by the way – some are unmentionable! :) ).

Last month, the church had a meeting that it prepared for over the course of a month. The church broke up into groups of 3 and began to pursue the Lord Jesus outside of the meetings during the week.

The members all came together at a scheduled day and time to worship, exalt, and reveal Christ. The theme of the meeting was Jesus Christ as the Land of Canaan. The meeting included a full banquet feast, which was really the Lord’s Supper (first-century style). The church feasted and then each group began to share Christ as the Land.

One group shared how the vine and the fruit of the vine were a shadow of Jesus. Another group shared Christ as the olive oil; another shared Christ as the milk and honey. Another shared Him as the wheat. Sprinkled throughout the sharing – which was incredibly rich – were prayers, declarations, songs, all of which were spontaneous.

This meeting went on for over 3 hours. It was a gully-washer. No human being led or facilitated the meeting. There were also elaborate creations and visual displays in the meeting place made by the church that went along with the theme.

I didn't attend this particular meeting, but the reports I heard were amazing. People were profoundly touched. Visitors who came were blown out of the water. They had never seen a group of Christians put Christ on display like that, and without anyone leading, giving cues, or facilitating. The depth of insight, richness, and reality of Christ coming through the believers was without peer. Jesus Christ was revealed, declared, unveiled, glorified, and made visible by the every-member functioning of His body.

On another occasion, each member of the church took a name of the Lord in Scripture. (e.g., Bread of Life, Lion of Judah, Sweet Rose of Sharon, the Great Shepherd, Alpha and Omega, The Branch, etc.). During the week the members sought the Lord concerning the name they selected and came to share Him together in the gathering. The meeting was electric. Christ was revealed in a multitude of different ways. New light was shed on each of His names, all pointing to His glorious Person.

Another meeting was a rather unique way of expressing the Lord through Colossians. The church had immersed herself in the book of Colossians for four months (in some very creative ways). They then planned a meeting where they reconstructed the Colossian church.

Each member acted out a character from the Colossian church. Some created their own names (some names were quite comical). Others played the part of some of the Colossians mentioned in the New Testament (Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, etc.) For weeks the church broke up into pairs to plan and prepare for the gathering. They then had an entire meeting where they reconstructed the situation in Colosse. If you had walked into that meeting, you were seeing the Colossian church dramatized. People even dressed up for their parts.

At the end of the meeting, someone who played Tychicus came into the gathering with a letter from Paul and read the whole letter to the church. Incredible light was shed on the letter, as it addressed all the problems that the Colossian church (through drama) was shown to have had. We all awed at the Lord as Paul presented Christ in this magnificent epistle.

I could multiply many more examples, but I hope you get the drift. Note that the people who are part of these churches aren't spectacular Christians nor are they professionally trained. They are "the timid, the weak, the lame, and the blind" . . . just like I am. Ordinary believers without any special titles, degrees, or formal theological education. In this way, they are much like the early believers we read about in our New Testaments (the exception being that most of us are able to read and write). :)

Some meetings are planned with a theme that the Lord gives the group (as the above examples). Other times the meetings are completely spontaneous without any planning or direction. But spiritual preparation normally takes place, else the meetings will be rather poor. The meetings are the overflow of the spiritual life of the community; hence, all the believers come to give rather than to receive. (In the institutional church system, this order is reversed.)

Again, these meetings have no leaders present directing, facilitating, or coordinating. The Spirit takes that job. I'll add that I've seen unbelievers visit these sorts of meetings where no one said a word about "being saved," and the unbeliever would fall to their knees and profess that "God is here, and I want to know Him!" Strikingly, this comes straight out of the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 14).

Also, the churches have all sorts of meetings – some for decision-making, some where the men creatively bless the women and vice versa, some for the children, some for specific prayer, some for fun, some to share the gospel with the lost, some for spiritual training and retreats, etc. But everything is "in season." (The seasonal nature of the body of Christ is a special feature of organic church life. All life forms pass through seasons. This element is virtually unknown in organized Christianity.)

Note also that the churches I’m speaking of have been equipped to know the Lord together, to pursue Him together, to express Him with unlimited creativity, and to function in a coordinated way under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Part of this equipping is "detoxification" from a religious and institutional mindset, and being equipped to know Christ in profound depths. (One of the most common remarks that people make when they get involved in this kind of church life is, "I thought I knew the Lord well; but I now realize I didn’t know Him well at all.")

Thus the normative passivity that flows through the bloodstream of the typical pew-sitting Christian has been drained out of them. Instead, they’ve been captured by a vision and an ongoing experience with the Lord Jesus that has dramatically affected them. I’ve been changed by the experience. Yet what impresses me just as much or more than the meetings is the remarkable way the believers take care of one another in organic church life. But that’s another story.

As you understand it, how would you describe one another's definition of this same term? (I'm looking for how you two understand each other's positions here)

Frank: I’m really not sure as Neil and I have never discussed this. But my impression is that the term "organic church" for Neil boils down to rapid multiplication of Christian groups with the goal of trying to win lost people by going to the places where they spend their time. It also includes a method of discipleship in very small groups which includes Bible reading and personal accountability questions. This may or may not be accurate, but it’s my impression.

Neil and I have shared the conference platform on two occasions, and from hearing him speak, it seems to me that the major difference is one of emphasis. I also think he may emphasize the church scattered where I tend to emphasize the church gathered. But in my world, the church gathered is nothing like an institutional church "service." For us, the gathering of the ekklesia is related to God’s highest intention, i.e., His eternal purpose.

God has had an "eternal purpose" that’s been beating in His heart from the beginning of time, long before humans fell. That purpose is what provoked Him to create, and He’s never let go of it. The eternal purpose of God isn’t the salvation of humans or to make the world a better place. (Remember, the Fall hadn’t occurred when He created.) There was something else He had in His heart before He said "let there be."

That purpose has to do with obtaining a bride, a house, a body, and a family, all of which are by Him, through Him, and to Him. The purpose of God is not centered on the needs of humanity, but rather, to meet a desire in God Himself. So God’s end is to have a bride, a house, a body, and a family in every city on the planet. The ekklesia – properly conceived and functioning – indeed benefits humanity and blesses the world that God made; but His goal for her is higher than that.

Having Christ formed in us is an important aspect of God’s purpose (Rom. 8:28-29; Ga. 4:19). But for us, we don’t use any of the typical discipleship methods to accomplish this. Instead, we have learned how to encounter the Lord Jesus in Scripture together, to seek His face, to fellowship with Him, to be in His presence, and to share and express Him to one another.

This typically happens in groups of two and three during the week (sometimes in the early mornings), but also in the corporate gatherings. I call these groups "pursuit teams" – teams that pursue the Lord. The focus is not on us but on Christ. Paul said that we are transformed by "turning to the Lord" and "beholding His glory" – so that’s a large part of our church life experience (2 Cor. 3:16-18). In short, we experience together – in pursuit teams and as a church – perceiving and following the Lord’s indwelling life, allowing God to shape us by it. That, to my mind, is what spiritual formation/transformation is all about.

Watchman Nee once pointed out that when the Lord called people to His work, their God-given ministries were often prefigured by their secular occupations.

For instance, when the Lord called Peter, he was casting his net and bringing fish onto the shore. What was true in the natural ended up being true in the spiritual. Peter's ministry centered on fishing for men. His emphasis was evangelism, and he brought many lost people to Christ (just think of Pentecost in Acts 2).

When the Lord apprehended Paul, he was building tents. And his future ministry reflected this. Paul was more of a spiritual builder, a "master builder" as he put it in 1 Corinthians 3. His emphasis was to build the church into the fullness of Christ. So Paul spent most of his time grounding and enriching the believing communities to gather under the Headship of Christ, establishing them deeply into Christ, unveiling to them God's eternal purpose – or "the whole counsel of God" as he once put it.

When the Lord apprehended John, he was mending a torn net. We see in John’s later writings (1 John, 2 John, and 3 John) that he is bringing the church back to center . . . back to first things . . . back to "the beginning" of Christ as life, love, and light in a time when these elements had been lost. The tent that Paul built was falling apart during John’s day, so John prophetically began to repair it by restoring God's original thought, bringing His eternal purpose back into view.

So Peter casts the net, Paul builds the tent, and John mends the tent. All three men were Christian workers in the Lord’s vineyard, but each had a different emphasis and disposition.

In my observation, Neil is a lot like Peter. His major focus seems to going out to the sea, casting the net, and bringing the fish on dry land and encouraging God's people to do the same. Some have described my on-the-ground ministry to be more like Paul’s – the building of the tent – the constructive work of building the house of God to fulfill the eternal purpose "from eternity to here." By contrast, my writing ministry in books like Pagan Christianity and Jesus Manifesto are very much along the lines of John’s ministry of repairing the torn net.

Whether that’s accurate or not, here’s my point. The ministries of Peter, Paul, and John are not to compete with one another. Instead, they are to complement one another. The body of Christ needs the ministries of Peter, Paul, and John. And each person needs the other.

That's how the terrain looks from my hill, anyway.

Neil: From my reading, I assume that Frank and I are pretty close to seeing church as a body connected to the Head. Jesus is the main thing for both of us and we both emphasize that in our teaching. If there is a difference I believe that Frank exalts the purpose of the church and I tend to emphasize the purpose of disciple-making. Not that we don’t both teach both, but we do have our own priorities. These could be simply different focus rather than a difference of opinion. How organic church starts and multiplies is probably different in our minds.

Does the model of church really matter? Isn't it more important what fruit is produced or how the people in the church grow spiritually?

Neil: Well, I tend to agree with this statement, but...If reproduction and multiplication is desired, model of church is an important consideration. More complex models will not empower ordinary people nor reproduce easily. Another important consideration is that many models tend to usurp the leading of Jesus with our plans, personalities and programs.

The more scripted the church is the less spontaneity will be possible. We cannot expect Jesus to lead if we are all busy maintaining the script and all our time together is scheduled down to the fraction of every second.

This may step on a lot of toes but a performance with preaching on Sunday mornings (or Saturday for some) is not conducive to a changed life or a responsive body. If the body wants to have a gathering where they praise, preach and pass the plate, fine, but if that is your sole model of church and where you think the most important work is done and than you have a bankrupt model of church. Our society today is reflective of that bankruptcy, and we must make some changes now. It is the forth quarter and we are down by is time for a shift. I believe that organic church is not a model but a mindset that can work in any model...but will work better in some models than others.

I also believe that any model that is built upon a hierarchy of leadership is probably less healthy in most aspects. When a few are responsible to hear from God and tell the rest what God is saying the church is separated from God by a middle-man and that is not what Jesus died and rose to birth. We are all priests in His kingdom and we all have direct access to God. None are more spiritual, more connected or more responsible for the advancement of the Kingdom, but all are agents directly connected to the King Himself.

Frank: For me, organic church is a shared-life in Christ; it’s not a model. It’s not about a new structure; it’s about a new relationship with the Lord Jesus. One that is real, intimate, deep, and corporate. A common remark that my co-workers and I hear from people who attend our conferences is, "I came here to learn how to ‘do organic church,’ and instead, I received a revelation of Jesus Christ."

The idea that church is an "event" or an "organization" was foreign to the New Testament believers. For them, the ekklesia was a community of people who lived a shared-life together in Christ and who gathered together regularly to express the fullness of Jesus. Their minds thought in terms of "us" and "we" rather than "I" and "me."

Their identity was tied to their union with Christ and their bond with one another. They pursued their Lord together, expressed Him together in regular meetings, took care of one another, married one another, and buried one another. Think of it as an extended household . . . a new polis (city) that is blind to race, social status, economic standing, etc. They were a new kind of humanity . . . a new civilization . . . the "third race" as the ancient Christians called themselves, where all earthly distinctions, separations, and barriers were not recognized.

The church was a colony from heaven . . . a community of "resident aliens" on this earth . . . the corporate manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself . . . a microcosm of the kingdom of God . . . the house of the living God where the heavens and the earth intersect and meet . . . the foretaste of the New Jerusalem and the aftertaste of the fellowship of the Godhead that has been going on from before time. In short, a local church that is functioning properly is Jesus Christ on the earth (see 1 Cor. 12:12). And therein do you have yet another definition of organic church.

For those who are burdened for evangelism and being missional to a post-Christian country (as the USA now is), the ekklesia – when she’s functioning the way God intended – is the greatest evangelist on the planet. There’s nothing that bears witness more to the reality of Jesus as the world’s true Lord than a group of believers who share their lives together and demonstrate what the kingdom of God looks like. This point is completely overlooked by those who would argue that the expression (structure) of the church doesn’t matter.

By contrast, today’s Christianity is very individualistic – this is true both in and outside the organized church. But authentic Christianity is intensely corporate and therein was their power and testimony.

A careful reading of the Gospels, Acts, and the Epistles shows no distinction between being a Christian, being saved, being a disciple, and being a functioning member of a local body of believers. (I’ve discussed this point at length in another place where I added a plea to learn our history regarding modern discipleship methods.) Note that when Luke describes how Paul and Barnabas planted the church in Derbe, he says they preached the gospel to the city and "made many disciples" (Acts 14:20-21, NASB & NKJV).

The organic expression of the church in a given place is the true habitat of every child of God. Separating spiritual growth (“discipleship”) from the ekklesia (properly functioning) is like separating child-rearing from the family.

This again touches evangelism. One of the young men in an organic church that I relate to was a leader in a very large para-church organization that’s known for evangelism. About a year ago, he said to me after one of our gatherings, "I just go back from one of our leadership conferences and the more they talked about saving the lost, the more disinterested I was. I come to these meetings here and while nothing is said about evangelism, I’m so excited about my Lord that I want to share Him with others. There’s no guilt or duty in it at all. I’m fired up about Him."

Properly conceived, the ekklesia is the environment in with we live, move, and have our beings. While it will never produce perfect Christians who are beyond making mistakes (we will all make mistakes on this side of the veil), their depth in Christ is unmistakable. So for me at least, it’s not about a different model, but about a different habitat.

Those interested in learning more may want to take a listen to an audio excerpt where seven members of a fairly new organic church answered common questions about organic church life at a recent conference (Threshold 2010). The excerpt contains only one question that they answered (there were 7 questions in all). The question was: How has your relationship with Jesus Christ changed since you’ve been part of organic church life? People can listen to it here.

How do you define - and better yet practice - the idea of leadership in the model of church you promote?

Neil: Leadership is not about a position, an office, or a title, it is influence. Leadership is not functioning as a delegated decision-maker for an absentee King. We are servants that distribute empowerment rather than delegate it. Leadership is all about connecting people to the King and allowing them to listen and follow His word. We do not need more servant leaders; we need more servants...period. Many leaders don’t mind being called a servant; they just don’t like being treated like one. To lead is basically to go first and let others follow your example. Often in the NT the words, "go before" or "stand before" is used to describe our leaders, but unfortunately they get translated as being above or over the others.

There is a form of servant that exemplifies maturity and can point to spiritual children and even grandchildren in their lives. We need more of these servants in the body. Their role is to equip others to function in the likeness of Christ together. These are apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers (Eph 4:11). They do not do the work but equip others to do it. For example: Evangelists are not called simply to reach the lost, but to equip the church to do so. Teachers are not called to teach the saints, but to equip the saints to teach. All are saints, so of course evangelists evangelize, that gives their equipping even more authority and practicality (besides, I can’t imagine an evangelist who wouldn’t). A teacher is good at teaching, but needs to be very good at training others to teach. We need to rediscover this type of leadership if we are going to change ourselves, and then the world.

Frank: In my experience and observation, leadership in an organic expression of the church seems to fall into three categories:

1) It’s expressed through itinerant traveling ministry where Christian workers lay the foundation for a new church, equip the believers to know the Lord deeply, to function together, to build community, and to have open-participatory meetings where Christ is made the visible, functioning Head. Their leadership is strong in the beginning, but then it literally leaves and moves to the periodic. You find this sort of leadership all over the New Testament in the ministries of Paul, Peter, Timothy, etc.

2) It’s expressed by consensual decision-making where the believing community plans how they will pursue and reveal Christ week by week, how they will handle problems, and how they will take care of one another and serve the lost in their city.

3) It’s expressed by the different giftings that will organically emerge in the community in time. Eventually shepherds will emerge who will care for those with needs, overseers will emerge who provide oversight, teachers will emerge who will bless the church with the ability to unveil Christ from the Scriptures, exhorters will emerge and function according to their giftings, etc. In other words, each person will lead according to their unique gifting. In this way, all believers lead in their own way.

The goal of each expression of leadership is to lead the church to Jesus Christ, the true and only Head of the body.

The interesting thing is that in this type of church life, we don’t use labels or titles. So the reality of the gifts and ministries are present, but in most cases, we don’t earmark or point them out. (Sometimes those who are engaged in itinerant ministry will acknowledge who the overseers are, but this is dependent on the specific situation of a particular church).

In my experience, the believers in these types of churches are so busy pursuing and expressing the riches of Christ that “leadership” never comes up as an issue or subject. Jesus is their Head, and they seek to know and follow Him together. That’s about as much time they spend talking about leadership in the churches. It’s really a non-issue.

I have the impression that it was this way for the early Christians too. Just count the number of times the words "elder", "shepherd", or "overseer" are mentioned in the New Testament, and then count the number of times Christ is mentioned or referred to. That says volumes, I think.

Which scriptures would you point to as being reflective of your views concerning organic church?

Frank: I’ve come to the conclusion that there are only two subjects in the entire Bible: Jesus Christ and His church. Everything else can be juiced down to those two realities.

Someone may object by saying that God the Father and the Holy Spirit are the subjects of the Bible. But remember, the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Christ. God is Father because He has a Son. The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and He has come to manifest and glorify Christ. Biblically speaking, there is no God outside of Jesus Christ. God is known in and through the Son.

Jesus Himself said that "all Scripture testifies of me." So Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 is an unfolding of Christ and the church on every page. I add "church" because the church is never separate from Christ – it is His body and bride. She is depicted through many of the types of the Old Testament, such as all the brides of the Patriarchs, the tabernacle, the temple, the nation of Israel, etc.

Jesus Himself incessantly talked about the church. In fact, He did so more than He did the Kingdom of God. If you’re only counting the word ekklesia you’ll completely miss this.

Jesus never used the word "Trinity" or "Godhead," yet every time He spoke of His Father and the Spirit, He was talking about the Triune God. In the same way, every time you see that little band of Twelve men and some women who lived in community with one another with Christ as Head, you’re looking at the prototype – the earthly embryo of the ekklesia – that Jesus Christ said He would build. And when the Lord spoke of the vine and the branches, “my brethren,” the light of the world, the salt of the earth, etc. He was referring to the church. If we understand what the Kingdom really is, we’ll discover that after the ascension of Christ, the Kingdom came in, with, and through the church.

So for me, it’s not a matter of going to certain proof texts to build a model for church. It’s seeing the whole sweeping, epic saga of the biblical drama from Genesis to Revelation. And that drama is all about the Triune God known and expressed through Jesus Christ and His eternal quest for a bride, a house, a body, and a family (which is the church). I unfold this thesis in From Eternity to Here, which seeks (in an admittedly frail way) to unveil the eternal purpose of God – the mission to which we are all called – throughout the entire Bible.

Once our eyes are opened to see His eternal purpose, we suddenly have a new Bible in our hands and a new vision of the Lord before our eyes. The Bible turns from black-and-white to Technicolor, and the Lord becomes infinitively greater to us.

Neil: Wow, um, all of them? All scriptures are profitable for training in righteousness. In our training, we point to the parables of Christ a lot (especially Mark 4). Jesus’ usage of the word church in Matthew is important to us (2xs). Ephesians is a powerful treatise on church for us as well. Acts is foundational of our view of a church multiplication movement. The letters to the seven churches in Revelation is also very important to us.

Have you ever met one another in person and/or read one another's books?

Neil: To my knowledge, we have met twice, emailed a couple times and talked on the phone once. I have read Pagan Christianity, How to Start a House Church, and Finding Organic Church. I skimmed Reimagining Church, but haven’t read it entirely yet. I think Pagan Christianity is Frank’s best work and we carry it in our online store. I am grateful that he invested the time to produce this seminal work. Thanks Frank. I have also listened to a couple of his talks online, visited his website a few times and read some of his articles.

Frank: We’ve met face-to-face twice at conferences, but we didn’t have much time together. So far I’ve read one book by Neil and several articles. We have a number of good mutual friends. I have a lot of respect for Neil and am thankful for his contribution to the body of Christ.

I’ve made this statement to a few people, but I’ll say it publically for the first time. I’d love to see a Summit that includes all those who are pioneering and influencing the missional church movement/phenomenon to be locked in a room together for 3 days. The first day would be an informal "get to know one another" time, very casual and relaxed. The next day, each person would have a solid hour to share their heart, their burden, their vision, and their present work with everyone else. A time of questions from the group and answers would follow.

We would all get to know one another better as people rather than from a distance as authors and speakers. If no homicides occurred during those 3 days :), it seems to me that the worst case scenario would be that we’d all better understand one another and what makes each of us tick. That alone would be worth the time, in my judgment. In the best case scenario, we’d all be sharpened, adjusted, and perhaps we’d even see some co-laboring going on in different degrees. And a lot of misunderstanding, assumptions, and confusion would disappear.

I am pessimistic that someone could actually put such a Summit together; but if they were able to, I’d move heaven and earth to attend and participate. (I’d even offer to help with the planning.)

Incidentally, Pagan Christianity is fairly well-known, but it’s not my most important or best work. It’s just the first half of a conversation – the deconstructive part. Its objective is to blow the rocks out of the quarry. But that’s all it does. Reading it by itself is like listening to the first fifteen minutes of an hour-long phone conversation, then hanging up the phone – never knowing what was said afterward. For this reason, Pagan was never meant to be a stand-alone book. It’s part of a multi-volume series. My most important and best book (hands down) is From Eternity to Here with Jesus Manifesto perhaps tied neck-and-neck.

What do you see as the most striking differences between your version of "Organic" church and the other person's version? Why does it matter?

Neil: Frank does not seem to be as favorable to multiplication movements as I am. I gather that he sees church taking a long time to mature to the place where it can give birth to another church, while I see reproduction as able to occur much faster. Ironically, we both point to Acts to support our point of view.

I believe Frank teaches that one must be part of an organic church to start one and that an apostle must be involved. I think that is probably one of the best ways, but not the only way. It seems to me that Frank teaches that apostles start churches and that not everyone can do it. I tend to go the opposite direction and teach that anyone can start a family. Not everyone is an apostle and not everyone can lay a foundation for a church multiplication movement, but they can certainly reach their friends and start a spiritual family. Anyone that has Christ in them has what it takes to start a spiritual family. Some families are less inclined to reproduce rapidly and start a movement, because an apostolic and prophetic foundation is necessary for this.

I also see that an apostolic foundation can be extended without the apostle needing to be present. Colossians, Hieropolis and Laodicea were begun by Epaphras but it was Paul who laid the apostolic foundation so he could write to them as their apostle even though they’d never seen his face (Col. 2:1-3).

I see maturity for people and the church to be a life-long process so I believe that the church can reproduce throughout that process, even in the first year. We have experience in this as well. I have personally started probably six or seven churches, but grand-parented and great-grand-parented dozens more. Our training has catalyzed the start of thousands of churches. The church I currently am part of has been in existence for ten years and sent off 35+ church planters all around the world. It has birthed other networks and has several generations of churches.

Frank emphasizes the spiritual life together connected to Jesus, and I admire that. We do as well, but we tend to emphasize apostolic mission much more in addition to the presence of Jesus and our nurturing relationships. I see church as the fruit of disciple-making, not the other way around. Our life together is better because each of us is connected to Jesus, each other and our mission to the world. We refer to this as the DNA of organic church, which stands for Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships, and Apostolic Mission. We teach emphatically that all components of the DNA must be in every part of the church from the smallest unit of disciple in relation to another disciple. We teach that the components should not be supplanted, supplemented or separated. The organic life of the church springs from the DNA at work in the heart of disciples together.

Frank: I think the only way we can accurately answer that question is if Neil and I sat down for several hours to discuss our views, observations, and experiences.

I’m pretty convinced that Epaphras was a "sent one" who received training from Paul in Ephesus, then went back to his hometown in Colosse and planted a church there that met in Philemon’s home and in two other nearby cities in the Lycus valley. I detail this account elsewhere with documentation, but that’s a short riff.

Regarding church multiplication, I’ll simply say that I believe in the multiplication of the church (I usually call it "transplantation"). But I don’t regard it as a template or metric of anything.

In my experience and observation, as well as my study of the New Testament, a specific church should follow the Lord’s leading on when and how to multiply. Like so many other things in organic church life, discerning the season is imperative.

Consequently, when and how to multiply a church is more of an art than a science. It’s dependent on the art of hearing the Spirit and rightly perceiving the season. Thus it will differ depending on the season of a particular church’s life, the spiritual maturity and development of the group, the kind of foundation that has been laid, and many other variables. If these elements are ignored, multiplication can easily lead to quick dissolution of one or both groups. That’s been my observation anyway.

It’s also not wise to push toddlers outside of the home and expect them to reproduce. So again, I’m of the opinion that there’s a danger of making multiplication a method, a science, or even a goal. I believe the goal should be God’s eternal purpose, the heavenly vision that Paul labored under and that provoked him to plant and nurture organic believing communities.

Regarding church planting, I don’t believe that an organic church can only come into existence by the hand of those who are called to plant churches. Organic church life can occur spontaneously . . . and it often does. As I write these words, it’s taking place right now among numerous college campuses across this country. The students who are touching and tasting it don’t know exactly what it is (except that it’s glorious), and they are probably not calling it "organic church life." Yet the problem is that body life (the way I’ve been describing it) is extremely fragile, and it doesn’t last very long. It invariably dies within a short period of time. It either dissolves or it devolves into an institutional form and a clergy figure emerges to take it over.

Its chances of survival are much better if there is experienced outside spiritual input that knows how to center the group on Christ, help prepare and navigate it through the inevitable pitfalls, and give it the kind of equipping to sustain it in a spiritual way without human organization or control. This sort of spiritual input can take many forms, but the traveling ministry of broken, experienced, Christ-centered, humble, and non-sectarian itinerants who eventually leave the group to the Lord is one of the most common in the New Testament narrative. It of course isn’t a panacea (nothing is), but it can be a tremendous benefit.

As for the subject of movements, that’s too big of an issue to go into here, I think. And it’s quite complicated. (I plan to address it in the future.) I’ll just say that numbers don’t impress me at all. I grew up in a movement that stressed numbers and “counting.” The problem came with exaggerating the data (which is the scourge of virtually every movement – whether Christian or nonchristian). To get the "accurate/real" figure, you had to cut it in half and divide by two [Symbol] Einstein couldn’t be more correct when he said, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

I believe this applies to the work of God.

All told, my impression is that Neil and I probably agree more than we may disagree. Both of us are often associated with "the house church movement," yet I get the impression that we share a common feature here. Neither of us makes the home our center. The living room isn’t our passion. As I’ve often said, meeting in a home doesn’t make you a church anymore than sitting in a donut shop makes you a police officer. :)

While a house has many advantages as a gathering place, there’s nothing magical about meeting in a living room. Not all house churches are “organic” (the way I’ve been using the word) – so "organic church" is not a synonym for "house church." I suspect that Neil would agree with this.


If you have any further questions, please post them in the comments here at and Frank or Neil will respond when they can.

Again, comments will be moderated. Please do not take an argumentative tone, or attempt to respond to something that another commenter has posted.

I want to thank both Neil and Frank for taking the time to respond to these important questions and help provide more clarity on such an important topic.

Frank Viola:
Neil Cole:

Saturday, September 04, 2010


On Saturday, as I was visiting my friend Robert Higgins I saw nurses running into another man’s room with oxygen tanks and equipment. The man’s name was Emery. I knew him because he was a friend of Robert’s. On my way past his door, I got to see Emery briefly as the EMTs wheeled his stretcher out of his room and towards the ambulance waiting in the parking lot. He raised his hand to wave to me as he passed me in the hallway. “Take it easy, Emery,” I said. “You’ll be in my prayers.”

On Monday, when I dropped by to visit Robert again on my way home from work I glanced into Emery’s room and saw two administrators packing up his things into a box. One of them caught my eye as I walked by and I asked about Emery. The two of them looked at one another first, unsure of what to say since I wasn’t a member of his family. Finally one of them said, “Emery won’t be coming back anymore.”

I couldn’t believe it. He was conscious just two days before. He looked at me and waved and responded to my voice. He wasn’t in pain. He wasn’t breathing through an oxygen mask. He looked like he always did. But, now he was gone forever.

When I walked into Robert’s room I knew that he had already heard the news. Emery had been a friend to him for several years. In fact, it was Emery who had encouraged him to stay at this same senior care center back in January of this year. He was one of Robert’s only real friends in this world.

Robert was eating his dinner when I walked into his room. “Did you hear about Emery?” Robert nodded mid bite. We talked about how long Emery had been there at the home – over 8 years – and how everyone loved him and missed him. “He was a good guy,” Robert said. And in his own way, he was a good guy. Emery was always sharing his cigarettes with everyone and he never asked for anything in return. He argued hard to defend his friends whenever he felt they weren’t being treated fairly. Emery also cussed like a sailor. Even though he knew me as “Robert’s pastor” he never held back the F-bombs whenever we talked, and he never apologized either. “This is me,” he seemed to say. “Love me or leave me, I’m not going to pretend to be anyone other than who I am.”

My visit with Robert was too brief. It was getting near my own dinner time and I had my oldest son, Dylan with me, so I prayed with Robert and we left for home.

During dinner our family small-talked about how our individual days at school and work had gone, but I couldn’t get Emery’s death out of my head. When we were finished eating I took my Bible and kissed my boys goodnight. After my wife prayed with me, I went back to see Robert.

When I walked in he was shocked to see me, but he quickly admitted through his tears that he was very glad I came back to visit him.

“I kept thinking about what happened today with Emery and I realized I needed to talk to you about some things that are very important,” I said.

After muting the television, I pulled his wheelchair close to his bedside and took a seat. “There are some things I’ve been wanting to say to you, Robert, but I’ve been waiting for the right time. You know that I care about you a lot, Robert. You know that I’ve never tried to force anything on you in the past, and I’m not going to do that now either. I just know that there are some things that I need to say to you while I still can, or I won’t be able to live with myself.”

So, I started in Romans 3 and I read to him the verses which explain that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. I read in Romans 6 about how the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus our Lord. We talked about how none of us is good enough to earn life. Even Mother Teresa and Billy Graham won’t be in heaven because of anything they’ve done, but only if they’ve accepted this free gift from God. “None of us can ever do enough good things to erase the bad things we’ve done,” I said. “We all need the free gift of God which is life through Jesus.”

I finished by reading Romans 10:9-11, which says, “That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."

I left my Bible open on the the tray table between us and said, “Robert, one day I’ll come into your room and you won’t be here anymore. One day you’ll be the one who dies here. You and I both know that’s true. I can only take care of you until that day comes, but after that I can’t go with you any further. I need to know that you’re in the arms of Jesus.”

Robert’s lower lip started to tremble. His eyes filled up with tears. “I do what I can to talk to God,” he said. “But I’ve never been very religious. I was raised to pray the Lord’s Prayer, and to pray every night before I go to sleep, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

I closed my Bible while Robert tried to compose himself. “Robert, you and I have talked before about this, remember? I’ve said before that I think sometimes we make things more complicated than they really are. Being a Christian isn’t about attending church or joining this meeting or that group. It’s simply about trusting Jesus and admitting that you can’t do life on your own. Admitting that we need his help, just like in that prayer.”

We talked a bit more about Emery and what a good friend he had been to Robert. We both shared memories of things he had done or said and we both agreed he would be very missed. As usual, Robert changed the subject and said, “Do you have some time to take me outside for a cigarette?”

I helped him into his wheelchair and pushed him outside. We sat in the cool dark of the night and talked a little more about the uncertainty of life. After he finished his cigarette I wheeled him back to his room. In the hallway on the way to his room he said, “I’m real glad you came back to see me tonight and to read those verses to me,” he said.

After I helped him into his bed and he laid back against the pillows, I took his hand and prayed with him. I prayed for Emery’s daughter and his family to be comforted. I prayed for Robert to be comforted, too, and I prayed that the Holy Spirit would open Robert’s heart to the scriptures we had read together. I reminded Robert, through my prayers, that God was near to him and that Jesus promised never to leave him or forsake him. I reminded him, as I always do, that he can just call out to Jesus anytime he needs to. Even when I’m not there and no one else is around.

“I love you, Robert,” I said before I waved goodbye.

On the way down the hallway I felt the weight of discouragement. My grand scheme to lead Robert to faith in Christ had failed.

As I walked past Emery’s now dark and silent room, one of the residents was rolling by on her wheelchair. She smiled as she saw me coming and held out her arms to me. She wanted to say something to me, so I slowed down and stood beside her. She lifted her arm and put it around my shoulder. She gently pulled my face near to hers and kissed me lightly on the cheek.

“God bless you,” I said. She smiled, and then she laughed softly. “God bless you, too!”

As I continued down the hallway and out towards my car I started to weep. Somehow I knew in my heart that this kiss was from the Lord to me. Somehow my time with Robert that night wasn’t empty or meaningless anymore. It was all part of God’s eternal plan.

What mattered most to Robert tonight? I wondered. Was it that I had come to preach to him, or was it mainly that I had remembered that he was alone and that I knew he was feeling sadness after the death of his friend? Maybe the very fact that I was willing to take an hour of my time and go back to encourage him was enough of a blessing in itself?

This morning when I woke up, I was still thinking about Emery’s death and what Robert and I had talked about the night before. Laying there in the silence, in those precious moments before my alarm went off, I started to think about all of the conversations that Jesus had with people in the New Testament about eternal life in the Kingdom. In every case Jesus gave an individualized, custom response to their question. Whether it was the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Nicodemus the Pharisee, or the thief on the cross, the answers were all unique. But what was the same in every case was this: the person had come to Jesus and asked about what was required to enter the Kingdom of God or to receive eternal life. In every case, although the answers were different, the question and the need was the same.

Maybe what’s missing for Robert right now is a desire to know the answer to that question? In all of our conversations about Jesus or about life and death, he has yet to show any real curiosity or hunger to know the answers.

The time I’m spending with him as his friend and his servant has made an impact on his heart. I’ve seen him soften over the last year and I know that God is working through these simple acts of service. Trusting that God is in control and that He has Robert in his hands is probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. What scares me most is that Robert might die without me ever knowing for certain that he has placed his hope and his heart fully in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Keep Robert in your prayers, please. Pray that God will do His work on Robert’s heart, please. And also pray for me that I will have the faith to be obedient to Jesus no matter what happens.


Friday, September 03, 2010


Our idea of what is essential for Missions and/or Church planting:

Finding a strong pastor and leadership team, raising enough money to rent or purchase a building and marketing the new church in the community.

God's idea of what is essential for Missions and/or Church planting:

"James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do." - (Galatians 2:9-10)

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." – (1 Cor 12:12)

"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many." – (1 Cor 12:14)

"But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be." – (1 Cor 12:18)

"…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." – (Matthew 16:18)

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Our idea of Faith:

To believe that what the Bible says is true and to agree with doctrines that our church upholds as truth.

God’s idea of Faith:

"What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." – (James 2:14-19)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


Our idea of knowing God:

To study the Bible and to learn as much as we can about His character and His covenant and how it all fits together.

God’s idea of knowing Him:

"He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD." – (Jeremiah 22:16)

"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." – (John 5:39-40)