So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. – Ephesians 2:19-22
I would propose that many Christ followers have overlooked the fact that the Bible teaches that the church is an organism and not an organization. No doubt part of the reason for this is the influence of our culture and its great love for institutions. But we must also own that since the beginning of the church, man has often attempted to improve on God’s design and the result has led us to where churches today often function very differently from what we see in the New Testament. We need to be reminded that God designed the church to be a living breathing organism that is constantly growing and changing. The church was born and is sustained by spiritual life. It was not constructed as a human institution.
What does it look like when a church functions as an organism and expresses itself organically? Here are just some of the characteristics:
- It is unified around Christ alone.
- The organization of the church follows the life of the church.
- It affirms that people are the church (not a building or service) and functions as such.
- It recognizes and affirms the priesthood of all believers.
- All Christ followers are encouraged to serve and minister within the church.
- It celebrates the uniqueness and diversity of its members.
- It views Christ as the head of the church and not an individual or a group of individuals.
- It is not dependent upon building(s), program(s), or paid professional(s).
- It focuses on pursuing Jesus Christ corporately as a kingdom community.
- Spirit guided change is embraced and the traditions of man are not clung too.
- Spiritual gifts are emphasized, not offices.
- It is a close-knit community. Members are truly family who live a shared life in Christ.
All life forms contain DNA. DNA gives each life form a specific expression. For example, the instructions to build your physical body are in your DNA. Now let us apply that to the church. Since the church is an organism, it too has a DNA. Where do we find the DNA of the church? Since the church originated with God, that is where we should look. The Bible communicates that there is a multifaceted relationship within the Godhead. In our triune God we discover authentic community, divine life, divine love, and divine fellowship all unified around an eternal purpose. Amazingly, this relationship through Jesus Christ’s redemptive work has now moved from God in the heavenly realm to the church on earth.
You may be thinking, “I agree that the church is an organism but it must have organization too, right?” And you are right, to an extent. It is important to understand that every organism has a form that it takes as well as a predictable way in which it behaves. For example, your physical body, although an organic entity, also has a form that it takes. And within that form there is specific organization. Because the church is organic, it also has a natural form or organization. When the church follows its spiritual DNA, its organization will reflect God’s character. There will be mutual love, mutual unity, mutual dependence, mutual submission, mutual service, and deep meaningful community.
It is important that when we think of the form or organization of the church that we first look to God and not the traditions of man. Many churches today have placed the primary emphasis on the organizational aspects of the church and not the organic expression of its spiritual life. Sadly the result of such an emphasis has resulted in blunting the kingdom impact of the church. It is clear from the New Testament that when a local church is planted properly and is free from human traditions and institutional interference, it will express the character of God and it will multiply itself as disciples are made through the proclamation of the Gospel.
The brutal reality is that God designed the church, not man, and much of our function today revolves more around the traditions of man than the organic expressions of a life filled organism. I encourage you to take time to reflect on how we as a church function and to list out the ways you perceive that we have prioritized the organizational over the organism. Then consider what can be done to re-align the functioning of our church with the way God designed it to function, as an organism. I look forward to hearing what God reveals to you!
Written by Sam McKeen