Friday, April 29, 2016

Optimistically Organic

[My response to Frank Viola's recent post about Organic Church]

A few days ago, author Frank Viola shared an article about Organic Church that has garnered much attention. This isn't surprising given that Frank Viola is still seen as an authority on the movement, even though he hasn't been involved in an organic church for 8 years. He also admits that he's not interested in writing about the topic and he isn't planting organic churches and he typically refrains from posting anything at all about organic church on his blog, although he does still believe what he's written in his books.

So, this post was a bit of a surprise to me, given his inactivity in an organic church for nearly a decade now and his admitted lack of personal interest in the topic.

Still, he did write the definitive book on the subject and therefore his opinion carries a lot of weight with many people in the organic circles.

That's why his post caught my attention, and it's also why I felt the need to respond to some of what he shared.

It's probably a good idea to mention that I contacted Frank privately about this before I wrote this response. He and I corresponded back and forth on this already. I'm not against Frank. I love him and I do sincerely believe that Frank loves me, too.

Frank also mentioned to me that he had shared his post with several others in the Organic Church movement and that about 95% agreed with his statements. So, please keep in mind that my opinion on this matter is in the apparent minority.

Please don't read this article as an attack on Frank or an opportunity to pick sides. I'm simply responding to what Frank has said as a way to add to an ongoing conversation about a topic that we all happen to have an interest in.

So, having said all that:

In his post, Frank points out several things about the Organic Church today that I totally agree with.

*He says that it's not as popular as it was back when he wrote his books.
*He says that it's very hard to find an organic church in most communities.
*He says that most of those involved in the movement tend to be in the 50's and older range.
*He says that God isn't fanning the flames of revival in America like He used to.
*He says that many "organic church" groups aren't truly organic.
*He says that the term "organic church" is misued and abused.

I honestly agree 100 percent with all of that.

But the relative popularity of the ekklesia of God isn't relevant to me. What's relevant to me is that God has identified a specific design for His Body. Even if I was the only one following His instructions, it would still be important to obey Him in this area.

Are organic churches hard to find? Yes, they are. Mostly because they are word of mouth and not visible on the street corner or found in the yellow pages. It has always been that way.

For example, someone in Orange County, California [where I live] could search for an organic church and very easily conclude "there aren't any organic churches here" simply because they are hard to find. But there are at least seven organic/simple churches in Orange County that I am aware of. There most certainly could be more, but I haven't heard about them yet.

Simply put, just because they might be hard to find doesn't mean they don't exist.

But, what if they really DON'T exist in my community? Well, I would encourage you to start one in your home and begin to pray that the Lord might help you connect with others in your community who are yearning for the same organic expression of His Body.

Are most organic church members eligible for a Senior Discount at Denny's? Yes, maybe. I agree that there was a time very recently when I was beginning to despair that the next generation wasn't going to pursue the organic church. Our local conferences were beginning to look like my High School Reunion. But lately we've experienced a very encouraging shift. Our house church family is now mostly single adults in their 20's and 30's. Another new house church group has started recently among students at Biola University. This is encouraging. Granted, my experience isn't necessarily indicative of the rest of the movement, but it does give me hope.

I also noticed when hosting my "Jesus Without Religion [Or Politics]" groups on that dozens of young adults were very desperate for community and searching for other young Christians who wanted to get together and focus on Jesus. They wouldn't call that "organic church" but regardless, what they're hungry for is what we have and maybe we just need to find more creative ways to share it with them.

I also agree that many "organic" churches are not truly organic. They do not practice the priesthood of all believers. They still have a designated pastor or central teacher who makes all the decisions. They still operate like an institutional church but they've traded their pews for sofas. I get that, and I agree, that's not something I want to promote.

That being said, here are a few things I feel like I need to stress:

*Church has always been what God is doing, not what we are doing
*The growth of the Ekklesia might be hidden, but it continues to thrive apart from our observation
*Organic church has never been about numbers or popularity
*God’s design for His Ekklesia has never changed
*If we truly desire Ekklesia in our community we can start one now

For the last 10 years now, my family and I have been very blessed to experience the true Koinonia in the Body of Christ.

Yes, I do understand that not many people have this same experience, but I want to encourage you - if you're still searching - it’s not impossible. It will take a resolve and a determination – and it might be just you and your family for a long while before God sends others your way, but giving up isn’t a solution. Starting one in your living room, is.

Here’s my optimistic view of Organic Church:
*There are more free resources for the organic church today than when I started 10 years ago
*Most of those who are leaders in this movement are highly accessible and willing to help you
*There are people near you who are just as hungry for community and ekklesia as you are

Finally, as I read Frank's insightful post one sentence jumped out to me:

As I write this, we’re in a season where the waves of a Spirit-generated revival are non-existent in North America. There’s also no significant awakening regarding the restoration of God’s house.

My first thought after reading that was a quote I heard from an old surfer dude once. He said, “We don’t make the waves. We just ride them.” Which is great advice for those of us in Organic Church! But then this thought came to me:

“If you’re not in the water when the wave comes, you’ll miss it.”

So, my resolve is to stay here in the water. Maybe there are no big waves coming along at the moment, but every good surfer knows that if you stay in the water long enough, you’ll catch the big one when it arrives.

I would also encourage you, and others in this movement, that there are organic churches being started outside of our field of vision. For example, through my friendship with Herb Montgomery, I’ve discovered a new movement within the Seventh Day Adventist denomination which is identical to organic church in every way, but they don’t call it that.

It’s my firm belief that God is stirring up many other such movements like this here in the States, and all over the world, that might not bear the “organic church” brand but is still based on the simple church model found in the new testament where the priesthood of all believers is freely practiced and encouraged.

Thanks for taking the time to read my perspective and for allowing me to contribute my voice to the ongoing conversation. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

NOTE: If you're currently searching for an organic church in your area, please feel free to contact me. If I can't help you find one, I can help you start one. I’ve already made almost every mistake possible, so you can benefit from my failures.

Also: Be sure to search out the numerous Organic Church groups on Facebook. I'm a moderator over at the Organic Church Movements page along with Jon Zens, and Richard Jacobson. We'd love to have you join us.


Anonymous said...

Better, much better. I was really bewildered by Frank's article. Thanks for bring this refreshing narrative as a kinda damage control.

Unknown said...

I have nearly but not completely given up all hope of being part of a genuine expression of the Body of Christ. (I will not even refer to institutional churches as such.) I was part of a struggling but very real expression of the Body of Christ meeting in our home in the early '70's but nothing even close since then. There are a few groups meeting in homes in my area but the devotion to religious ritual and religious law (like "women must not teach men" or even that we must have a formal sermon each and every time we gather, or the insistence that we pour grape juice into teeny cups and eat tiny squares of cut up bread!) absolutely wears me out as it quenches the Spirit of God as completely and clearly as it does inside the walls of any institutional church. I always hear "start your own" and marvel. Where am I supposed to meet these people? The assumption is that I have the ability to do this which I absolutely do not. And then there's the possibility that Frank is correct on some level. Because I can't remember the last time I met and talked to another Believer who actually sounded like Christ was even equally as important to him or her as, for example, the abortion issue or who is running for president or--- I don't know--- ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE!!! So, the question really becomes, exactly how do FIND people who actually love the Lord at least a teeny tiny bit more than EVERYTHING ELSE.

roger said...

Excellent post, Keith, echoing most of my own sentiments. I appreciate you taking the time to respond so well. I'm with you in the water...

Unknown said...

Great thanks, I'm with you in the water too! There are two things I'd like to say:

1.) I DO sense by the Spirit that the waves of revival ARE beginning to move. I believe now is a season of "The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few." So it is time to pray the Lord of the harvest thrust out laborers, and be thrust out ourselves.

2.) I believe wholehearted in simple organic church and can't imagine ever going back, however that is NOT my mountain to die on. We must NEVER allow this to become a divisive topic in the larger expression of the Body of Christ. The Lord will open the eyes others in His time, just as He has opened ours.

When Revival is in full swing it will not limited to organic churches only. The Lord spoke to my heart earlier this year that He is giving us our community! That is exciting but brought up questions in my mind: what does that look like? exactly who are You giving it to? our church? another church?? all the churches??? The Lord responded to my questions with this thought: "I am giving it to whoever is willing to take it." In other words: the laborers, the ones willing to pray and contend and reach out with the Gospel. This is obviously not limited to organic church or any one church.

So my response to what the Lord is saying and doing now is to stay true to my convictions on organic church, continue meeting, worshiping, fellowshiping organically. To continue to reach out to others with God's love power truth. ALSO during this season to cultivate relationships with other christian leaders in our community, to pray together, to work together to reach our community. Sadly some churches may not respond positively to what God is doing, which usually happens in times of revival historically. But I will continue to love them and invite them, the rest is up to God.

So hold onto your surfboard we're in for one huge wave! And have fun!!

Wesley Rostoll said...

Spot on.

Keith Giles said...

Dona: I feel your pain. It's not easy to find other Christians who are more in love with Jesus than with their politics or traditional ideas of what "church" should look like.

I hope this doesn't sound trite, but prayer is really all that works in these cases. Jesus said he would build his church, and I am convinced that he is telling the truth.

Start meeting by yourself or whomever else you can find who is on the same page. Pray and ask the Lord to connect you to others who are like-minded.

When new people come, make sure you explain to them exactly who you are and what you're about - just as you did here on this comment thread. Don't allow them to focus on politics or traditions of men, or anything other than simply Jesus.

I do believe that there really ARE other Christians near you who feel the same way. I'll pray along with you that the Lord starts to connect you all with one another.

Let me know what else I can do to help!

PS: Where are you living now? Maybe I can help you find others!

Unknown said...

Thanks. I used to feel very anxious about being "out of fellowship." But I remain in contact via email many times a day with long distance Christian friends. So for now I tell myself that the Lord knows my needs and has always been faithful to give me what I need when I need it. So this too is in His hands. And I pray continually for the Bride of Christ because I know she is beloved of the Father.

Katie said...

So glad I stumbled across this. As a former surfer, I chase 5 kids now, I resonate with this idea of staying in the water and with the secret of waiting. I've always been exceedingly hopeful. I was the girl who went to the beach on flat days and just waited. I just wanted to be in the water! Often you don't even see the big wave coming, you see little waves and theres a feeling, or hope if you will, that the big one is just behind them. The Lord is doing something here in our little beach town and I'm still hopeful. Hopeful because I know he's faithful & this is what He's spoken into my heart & the hearts of these people. Im learning that waiting can be beautiful & it's even more beautiful when you have others who wait with you.