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Words are funny things. Sometimes a word can get into the drinking water of a subculture and morph into clay. A word becomes clay when it loses its universal meaning and becomes molded and shaped to mean different things to different people.

Enter the phrase organic church.

Organic church, or "organic expression of the church," or "organic church life" are terms that owe a debt to one man who's rarely mentioned in these discussions—British author and teacher T. Austin Sparks. As far as I know, he is the first person to use this term, and he used it often.

When T. Austin Sparks employed the word organic to refer to church, he was not speaking of a system, a method, a technique, or even a movement. Instead, he was speaking of the particular expression a church takes when she is living according to her God-given nature as a living organism.

Note his words:

God's way and law of fullness is that of organic life. In the Divine order, life produces its own organism, whether it be vegetable, animal, human, or spiritual. This means that everything comes from the inside. Function, order, and fruit issue from this law of life within. It was solely on this principle that what we have in the New Testament came into being. Organized Christianity has entirely reversed this order.

Taking my cue from Sparks, I've been using the terms organic church and organic expression of the church since 1993.

For Sparks, myself, and many others, organic church refers to a body of believers who are learning to live by the indwelling life of Christ together. And out of that living, the church takes on a certain expression. That expression is marked by some of the following features: the every-member functioning of the body, the centrality and supremacy ...

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