DJ's Book Rants

A Seminary student and pastor trying to find an outlet for all the books he has to read.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Organic Church

Neil Cole desires to strip the church down to its DNA and from this basic unit to restore health and maintain healthy reproduction and multiplication. Cole’s focus is on growing the Kingdom of God rather than an individual Church expressed in a one-day, one-hour worship event. The basic unit of the church is not simply an individual, but two or three individuals. At this size he argues community, accountability, confidentiality, flexibility, communication, direction, and leadership are all operating at their strongest levels. The model for Coles understanding of Churches DNA is taken from the life and ministry of Jesus. He uses an acronym to simplify the goal of the church as being expressions of divine truth, nurturing relationships, and apostolic mission.

The nature of Cole’s arguments and solutions reminded me of the books and articles I have read by Joel Comiskey, Ralph Neighbors and M. Scott Boren. The reduction of the church to its smallest parts is a common approach taken by the cell church and house church movement. Cole’s advantage and distinction over these other authors is simply that his movement is American in origin. Most cell church authors and leaders have seen great success in other countries and transport their models to the stagnant church in the West.

In a chapter called “We all began as Zygotes” Cole makes a statement that has stuck with me. “Realize that no matter how inflated you think the world population is we are only on generation away from extinction if we do not have babies.” He was making an excellent point about focusing on shaping healthy people and communities that will shape the next generation. Simply reaching more people is not a good enough goal. The cause of the Kingdom needs the reproduction of healthy people and systems who are fruitful and multiply their efforts.

I find myself more and more frustrated when authors represent Jesus ministry and the early disciples as cell churches and accountability groups. Jesus did his ministry with a small group of disciples inside the practice of synagogue and temple Judaism. Paul shared with the Jews in the synagogue, not to ask them to leave the synagogue, but to embrace Jesus as Messiah. The other assumption about organic churches I would like to challenge is their dependence on a myopic reading of scripture. The divine truth component of Neil’s DNA is accomplished through reading large portions of scripture. While the practice has a high potential for spiritual formation, it assumes if people simply read the Bible through their lenses with 1 or 2 other people they will have no problem discerning the direction and will of God. This assumption ignores the benefits and wisdom of tradition, reason, broader experience and spiritual gifting (teaching & prophetic).

Cole has a strong understanding of Kingdom multiplication and health at the smallest levels. Any cell church or small group would do well to model their discipleship on the characteristics Cole gleans from the life and ministry of Jesus. The description of the churches DNA as an expression of divine truth, nurturing relationship and apostolic mission is validated by both the Biblical commission of the church and its historical purpose in God’s salvation plan. Organic Churches will certainly help bring the Kingdom of God to the world. The weakness of the Organic Church is its lack of vision for larger organization that brings the fruits of the Kingdom like national peace and justice. The Organic Church is overly focused on personal holiness rather then a more holistic social holiness. Finally, Organic Churches promote a strong but naive understanding of the Bible and it role in forming Christian community.