Defending Organic Church (Part 1)
A diagnosis of Brian Hofmeister's problem with organic church.

In the spring issue of Leadership journal, Brian Hofmeister wrote an article titled "The Dirt on Organic." Hofmeister shared his experience as the pastor of a network of small, minimally structured, churches. While he celebrated the rich community and evangelistic vigor of his organic churches, Hofmeister was also honest about the struggles he faced. In the end he left his organic experiment for a more traditionally-structured church with paid fulltime pastors. Neil Cole, also a Leadership journal contributor and the author of The Organic Church, was written this response to Hofmeister's article.

The issue Brian struggled with appears to be about finding qualified leaders in a fast growing work with conversion growth. Every missionary must face this and the solution is not to import seasoned leaders from other cultures into new works and thus create an unhealthy dependency. This will result in the establishing of a church culture rather than releasing a catalytic movement within a culture. The solution is to grow leaders from within the soil itself. Does this take time? Yes. It takes longer than a year. There are a few barriers that often prevent us from raising these leaders, and Brian apparently hit these barriers and chose not to continue.

Here is a diagnosis of the issues Hofmeister faced:

Recruitment of mature leaders. Recruitment of leaders for ministry is an epidemic problem in the Western Church. We all have more ministries than we have leaders. But recruitment is not the solution—in my opinion it is part of the problem. Recruitment is a consumer orientation that expects others to grow the leaders so we can benefit from them. When everyone is shopping for leaders and no one is farming we will soon have a serious demand and very little supply. If everyone buys bananas at the store and no one grows them at the farm, bananas will become very valuable and rare…even the lesser quality ones. This is the sort of leadership vacuum we face today in the Western Church.

In our organic church movement, we see our entire leadership farm system as starting with lost and broken people, not already saved and committed folks. We believe that many of our greatest heroes of the future woke up this morning with a hangover in the wrong person's bed. That broken life, transformed by the power of the gospel, actually will become the energy of a movement when released to affect others. To try and coral that energy and consume it with Bible study lessons by older Christians who are far removed from a changed life is to lose all the inertia of a movement. We need mentors who will release and empower rather than hold people back and create dependency.

May 10, 2010

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments


May 26, 2010  7:44pm

I believe that the idea of going out in pairs as well as recruiting leaders for the intercity efforts, fits in what Niel said. There is a difference in sharing the simple gospel to people and taking on the circumstances of the marginalized society (Drug abuse, prostitution etc. I fact Jesus did precisely what Niel says about "Planting Jesus" he first spent his time with able members of society, who were working and contributing secularly. He shared Himself. Planted Himself; and then told them freely you have received, freely give. it was before they were mature that he empowered them to cast out demons and heal the sick (remember when coming back from the transfiguration they were spare in their prayer and fasting). What I believe Niel is trying to say, and I agree, is to recruit, you make disciples. Obviously this does not mean that if someone from an existing church shares the vision you are living (remember Paul an Barnabas departed because they differed on crucial aspects of their vision) there is no reason to reject them. that wouldn't be actively recruiting, that would be a joyous occasion of God bringing good company. In my limited experience, I have found it easier to teach the simplicity of the Gospel to a non-believer than to tear away the religious calluses from the seasoned parishioners. The latter being something that is inevitable, only not with the pretense of finding quick help for the service of the Gospel. Last thing: of the two examples in my previous lines, the converted non-believer will show the life and enthusiasm of a new born, and the one retrieved, the restful whew of the weary. (I do not mean to consider him the lesser - only considering the fact we are talking about recruiting, this is an important thing to ponder) His Peace James - Organic church in Brazil

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Jamie Arpin-Ricci

May 17, 2010  9:19am

While I agree to these points on a basic level, I think you make a potentially dangerous over-generalization, as though all contexts fit these convictions equally. As a church planter in an inner city context, recruitment is not necessarily a consumerist response to a problem, but a recognition of unique dynamics. Be it the challenge of discipleship & leadership development in the face of a community with significant (meaning the norm) of addiction, mental illness, abuse, etc or the lack of necessary cultural & socio-economic diversity, finding leaders outside of the community can be a helpful, even necessary option. Again, I affirm the intent of this post as it applies to many (perhaps even most) contexts. However, I worry that they are communicated almost as absolutes. I have seen communities buckle and collapse in their attempt to try and adhere to these kinds of ideals when, in their cases, they should have done otherwise. Peace, Jamie

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brian hofmeister

May 16, 2010  9:17pm

Neil, I appreciate your response to my article. It's very true to the "organic way." I suppose I'm seaking more of a hybrid model these days, a blending of the best I can find in both camps. I understand where you're coming from on the leadership issue. Using recruitment instead of development of leaders is a cop-out if consistanly turned to as the answer. There are few reasons however for being more opent to leadership recruitment than you seem to represent: 1) Jesus always sent people in pairs, so it seems we'd always do well to recruit at least one leader join us, 2) leaders of the first century church are recorded transferring to where the evangelism fruit was to offer support (Barnabas to Antioch), 3) Paul regularily recruited a leadership entourage (Timothy, Silas, John Mark, etc…). As much as I loved your book Organic Church, and grew from it immensely, I was unsettled on your willingness to throw young believers into leadership. I Tim 3:6 tells us not to allow new converts into leadership. The organic church I was a part of, as discussed in my article, needed new leaders to continue on. Faced with the choice of either recruiting leaders elsewhere, or bending God's standards for leadership, I feel I sought the lesser of two evils in suggesting recruitment.

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Pastor Lin

May 11, 2010  10:40am

AMEN Neil! I whole-heartedly agree with you! THANK YOU so much for stating the truth so eloquently! I haven't read Organic Church but after reading this, I plan too! I have based much of the last 20 years of my life on all that you have stated here! I was not raised in the church and did not become a Christian until my early 20's. The church was a total turn-off to me think it actually was a stumbling block to me early on. Who knew I'd become a church planter? ...te-he...certainly not me! My number one goal has been to see lost people come to know Christ (the treasure in the field that I found!). Everything else I've done (author, writer, church planter, pastor, etc.) has simply been the means of ways that I reach people for Christ. None of them mean anything short of that. I sure wish the 'Church' had come to me or come looking for me and my family way back when.....instead of waiting for us to discover them! Keep being the voice of truth Neil! (or the rocks will cry out! :-) Peace in Christ Alone, Linda Wurzbacher

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May 10, 2010  7:10pm

Hello! I love dialogue on this - when I read the article in Leadership Journal, I did find myself resonating with a lot of it as that is the experience I generally have had when exploring organic churches and following what happens with them locally. I also agree with Neil with what the Bible doesn't say, "For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten church" in John 3:16 - but don't forget what Jesus said in John 20:21 " Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." and in Matthew 28 and Acts 1:8 - and Matthew 16 etc. about the Spirit empowering disciples to build HIS church - and be in the world. Then we read in the epistles about elders and roles and gifts being given and assigned to people in a church structure as we are on mission, not as the Savior, but to represent and share about the Savior. I went through an "organic" and house church phase after responding to a larger church context. But now see great value in all types of churches, large, small, organic, mega - and if they ae seeing new disciples made and spiritual formation and life - I think Jesus would be pleased. I believe all the more now do we need not to be criticizing each other in the evangelical world, as to be uniting with one another on mission. We don't have the luxury today to be fighting attractinal vs. organic etc. - let's celebrate what God does in all the various expressions of the church. I also think that we overlook people's temperaments and how church communities even draw and are shaped by people's temperaments and personalities. That is a whole other discussion, but it shows all the more there will be a great diversity of the church - and let's unite all the more and yes, defend orthodoxy and truth, but for those especially in the evangelical world, let's unit and celebrate each other more and not spend as much energy on attacking and picking on each other.

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May 10, 2010  6:07pm

Great article Neil. The religious church really does things backwards.

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