Why Organic Church Is Not Exactly a Movement
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 of Jesus Christ, consensual decision making, open-participatory gatherings, and passing through seasons (meaning the church is not tied down to ritual, but moves according to the season she finds herself in).
Today the phrase organic church is in vogue, but it has been converted to clay.
Some mold it as a method of church to win souls and change the world for Christ, a sentiment that harkens back to D. L. Moody and J. R. Mott. These advocates see the church as a soul-winning station. Its chief mission is the evangelization of the world.
Others mold it as a synonym for house church. A house church is simply a group of Christians that meets in a home for their corporate worship. That can take countless forms and expressions. House churches can range from institutional services in a living room with pews firmly bolted to the floor, to glorified Bible studies, supper-fests, "bless-me" clubs, healthy Christian communities, or first-rate cults.
As I've often said, meeting in a home doesn't make you a church any more than sitting in a donut shop makes you a police officer (no offense to police officers; the better part of my family is in law enforcement!). There's nothing magical about meeting in a home. And the living room, while a great place to gather, should never be the Christian's passion.
Consequently, those who are regarded as voices of what some are calling the organic church movement do not agree on what the church is, nor how she expresses herself on the earth. Nor do they see eye to eye on God's ultimate intention.
That said, organic church is not a monolith, and therefore, it cannot rightly be called a movement.
I believe it would be more accurate to say that there is a phenomenon today where countless Christians are leaving institutional forms of church and exploring non-traditional forms of church in pursuit of authentic, shared-life community.