I’ve been thinking a lot about why significant segments of the organic church community in the Western hemisphere have failed to achieve Biblical viability – becoming instead anemic, self-focused and insular.
Even a casual observer must acknowledge that “organic” or “simple” churches in the West (unlike other parts of the world) seldom exhibit dynamic spiritual power; consistent reproduction, growth and maturity; or tangible, transforming impact.
In a word, why isn’t there consistent external fruit?
If you doubt my concerns, a very compelling survey from last year paints a grim picture. It’s the 2011 Report on Simple/Organic/House/Missional Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland (I’ll use “organic” to include all categories), and it confirms my own observations: Too many organic folks – and fellowships – are weak, anemic, introspective, insular and stagnant.
The conclusions documented in that survey are not isolated to just the UK and Ireland. From my own travels, and more recently from contacts I’ve made over the last several years, I have no doubt of similar “organic” problems prevail throughout the Western world – including the United States.
How to break out of this malaise has been a burning passion of mine, because the conclusions in that 2011 survey are very much contradicted by our own experiences where I live. While the folks I hang with are thoroughly “organic”, we definitely see passion, life, reproduction, maturity, spiritual power, transformation and impact.
Why the difference?
My Story and Experience
My spiritual roots are organic, going back to the Jesus Movement of late 1960’s and continuing into the early 1980’s. As that movement began to fizzle, however, many of those early “organic” fellowships slowly drifted into traditional, institutional structures.
Fortunately, God has been renewing a passion once again for open, participatory, multi-gifted, “one-another” and thus Spirit led gatherings and community – and that certainly has been true with me.
Like many, I finally left the institutional church a number of years ago following a major scandal. I and some others unexpectedly discovered the misappropriation of around a million dollars by one of our institutional church’s “pastors”. When we tried to Biblically address the problem, there was a heavy-handed hierarchical backlash, cover up and purge of all questioning members – including me.
Regardless, even before that happened, I had been moving more and more back to my “organic” roots and seeing great fruit outside that church as some of us started ministering in the jail and in other places where people were hungry for Jesus. Our raw, non-churchy proclamation of God’s Kingdom and Christ’s rule was having great effect.
Many were coming to Jesus in dramatic ways, but they just couldn’t “relate” when we tried to bring them to the Sunday morning “show”. So we started having gatherings in my home for those of like passion.
Although I’d filled many institutional church “leadership” roles over the years, I now felt I was in over my head. So I did what any good “organic” oriented Christian would do – I read all the books and eventually followed up with one very popular organic church author, Frank Viola. He had (and still does) a web site which solicited requests for a “church planter” to come and help new fellowships like ours.
As part of that process, I had some very pleasant communications with some of the “big names” of Organic World – especially those who write books and blogs emphasizing the need for a “church planter”to come assist folks like us. I was impressed with their accessibility and willingness to help.
But I had been around long enough to also do some behind-the-scenes fruit inspection before opening our fellowship to them.
And wow, was I shocked when I started doing some quiet checking. I found that generally speaking, they and those they promoted – like Frank Viola, Milt Rodriguez, Jon Zens, Ross Rohde and others – generally were not themselves in committed, local, and accountable fellowships.
I found they typically had a string of not just failed fellowships from their itinerant “ministries”, but a pattern of disastrous implosion after disastrous implosion extending over many years.
I found that they were very personable but also, to varying degrees, secretive and evasive about their own history of church problems and past affiliations, their personal lives, and their inevitable shortcomings (we all have them – just ask my wife, or even me!) – with a corresponding lack of healthy accountability that comes from the kind of transparency that authentic servant-leaders display.
And when I talked to others who knew them about whether they showed evidence of tangible, external fruit – beyond being really charming guys who had great aspirational ideas, liked to write books, organized workshops and spoke at conferences, and were generally good at promoting themselves in otherwise disarming ways – I largely came up blank.
Our fellowship made the wise decision to not to invite any of them to “help” us.
Now, I want to be clear. There are many mature, balanced organic church authors, bloggers and teachers – both men and women – who have proven fruit and a history of actual commitment to a local, healthy fellowship. They just weren’t into promoting themselves as the itinerant answer to all that ailed us – which I guess should have told me all I really needed to know – and so in our naivety, we didn’t think to approach them.
Since then, as we made our own necessary mistakes and learned more and more how to be an authentic community, I started looking into the the history of the “organic” scene in my part of the world – which is northern Virginia and the metropolitan, Washington, DC, area.
To be blunt, the very men we initially approached to help us – and I owe it to everyone to be frank and candid – had previously decimated the organic scene in our area as they foisted their pet theories, doctrines and practices on various fellowships that subsequently shriveled up and died. The more I learned, the more I was shocked.
To share just one example, our young fellowship eventually had a shared meeting with the one remaining older “organic” fellowship in our area which had ties to Frank Viola and his band of “workers” (their euphemism for “apostles”) like Milt Rodriquez and Jon Zens.
I was so excited about our upcoming get together, but what we actually saw as deeply disturbing. They were nice folk who had been in existence for many years, but with no growth in numbers, new believers or apparent transformational maturity.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not into numbers. But I am into fruit – like life reproducing life.
Instead of life, they were anemic. They were self-focused. They were introspective, very post-modern and existential. Even our youngest believer after just a month in the Lord could run circles around them when it came to real life, discernment and tangible fruit.
I’m sure they loved one another, and I’m sure they loved the Lord (at least, in their very limited post-modern, existential way). But they seemed all cut out of the same cookie cutter mold and their fellowship was largely irrelevant to anyone but themselves.
As I did some checking, I learned that they had longstanding ties with the very “organic” author and band of itinerant men we previously had considered asking to help us.
I also learned that those men had held one of their conferences in our area a year before, and that their prior influence and then subsequent conference effectively resulted the death of all things “organic” in our area – for reasons I list below.
Since then, I have seen time and again the same dead-end influences in other organic believers and fellowships around the country – and heard the same sad stories.
Yet it seems that the same teachings and practices that have failed over and over and over again continue to be touted in books, blogs and conferences among a small cadre of mutually-promoting authors, itinerant men and their followers. And because of it, I believe, the entire organic church community suffers.
Three Prevailing Hindrances
What I’ve seen, and my ongoing research into the history of the organic church community keeps confirming, is that our fellowships were fortunate. Unlike other fellowships, we avoided the three big hindrances that produced widespread wreckage among the rest of the organic community in our own area – and that continue to produce unhealthy dependence and irrelevance elsewhere.
Yet, despite the historic lack of real, tangible, external fruit – and in fact a history of resulting disaster after disaster – these three organic dead ends are still being promoted in various books, blogs and conferences today.
1. An extreme existentialism, often promoted under slogans like “Christ is All”, “deeper life” or some grand “Epic”. In fact, I’m expecting Frank Viola’s upcoming new book, Theography, to be yet one more step in his continuing decline into Karl Barthian existentialism and Barth’s associated “Christocentricity”.
(Note: In response to a comment below, I describe Christian existentialism in more detail for those who are interested.)
Such unbalanced existential focus elevates my personal experience of Jesus and any resulting personal “revelation” above all other attributes of Christ and all that He has given and commanded for us to grow up and advance His Kingdom.
Lately, this extreme existentialism is resulting in a growing failure to recognize – especially among second-generation devotees – valid distinctions between the Person of Jesus (and our experience of Him) and, for example:
- His creation (with gnostic tendencies that emphasize so-called “spiritual” matters to the exclusion of Christ’s Lordship and His continued engagement over all aspects of His creation and all spheres of human endeavor);
- The continuing validity of His external moral precepts and scriptural commands (with a seeming unease over the Great Commission, holiness, and discipleship);
- His multifaceted nature (with a de-emphasis on the diversity of gifts, callings and motivations within the Body of Christ, as they promote their own sensibilities and measure of Christ as normative for all); and
- The plenary authority of the Bible as the written Word of God (with a denial of our need to submit all personal “revelation”, subjective experience and life itself to the external standards God has given to insure healthy believers, fellowships and even societies).
The result is a purely subjective faith; introspective and anemic fellowships; and, frankly, the distraction of consistently weird theology.
2. The unbalanced teaching that dependence on a highly specialized itinerant “apostle”, church planter, teacher (or whatever else they choose to call themselves) is required to start or maintain a fellowship – rather than simply letting LIFE reproduce LIFE as God’s people naturally and dynamically express the passions He unleashes in them.
In reality, this dependence on itinerants often morphs into an unhealthy, limiting bottleneck that prevents exponential growth – especially when coupled with the very stifling view that only a handful of such qualified “apostles” and “church planters” actually exist today.
More often than not, the reality among those who promote itinerant dependence has been detached, unaccountable individuals who have a history of moving from disaster to disaster as they create cookie-cutter reproductions of themselves – their own individual limitations, sensibilities, pet doctrines, gifts and motivations – rather than diverse, free standing, self-governing and healthy fellowships.
As I have communicated over the last couple of years with some of these itinerant or otherwise detached authors, I have been struck by a very common trait. When I ask them about things they’ve written that seemed questionable, they would almost universally deny the clear meaning of their words. When then shown other things they wrote which said the same thing, they would then fall back into vague generalities or, in all candor, outright deceptive denials.
These guys often have very thin skin, because they are not accustomed to being directly questioned or held accountable. But it is critical that we ask hard questions – just like the Bereans did with Paul in the Book of Acts. And when you find a popular author, blogger or speaker who refuses to own his stuff or give clear, responsible answers, that is another very strong warning signal.
3. A misplaced focus on trying to build organic fellowships primarily by attracting those who are discontent and disillusion with the institutional church – rather than going into all the world (including your own community) and building ekklesia through the liberating proclamation of the good news of our glorious King and His liberating Kingdom to those who have never accepted, but are desperately receptive to, His transforming Lordship.
Jesus commanded us to go … into all … the world. This is so fundamental and important, that Jesus said the Holy Spirit specifically comes to empower us to fulfill this mandate. (Acts 1:8)
Instead, we often try to use the attractional model of the traditional church – come to us and experience Jesus with me and my like minded friends – to build new fellowships with those who are fed up and wounded by that model.
You may need to re-read that last sentence and let the irony sink in!
Sorry, folks, but it just doesn’t work. If you ignore the Great Commission and the command to go into all the world and make disciples of all cultures – including those in your community not cut from your own mold – you will remain stuck in your rut.
Our hurt, reaction and opposition to the institutional church can become the biggest rut of all. Yet this defines much of the organic community. I’m not saying it’s wrong to draw contrasts or address real problems, but finding our identity and fellowship in shared discontent will never produce long-term fruit.
True organic, we have found, means breaking out of those ruts. We do this by going into new places and help others experience Jesus in the context of their lives – among them and their friends.
It is not enough to expect others to come and find Jesus in my context – whether it be discontentment or even something positive – among me and my friends.
In fact, this third hindrance often goes hand-in-hand with many itinerant “church planters” who, if truth be known, seldom if ever “go” into the world to start truly new, indigenous fellowships.
Rather, many find it easier to attach themselves to struggling existing fellowships (which seldom seem to subsequently get much better and often actually die following several visits from the itinerant – after all, that fellowship’s problems came from reading the same guy’s books).
Or – and I find this especially bizarre – the itinerant tells you it is necessary to “come” to him by selling your house, giving up your job, moving across the country and relocating under his ministry.
Can you say “cult”?
On each of these three points, I am NOT saying it is either/or. We need the ongoing vitality of the existential, subjective experience of Jesus; there is a role for proper, balanced, transparent and accountable itinerant ministries; and there is a place for folks to come to existing fellowships – even if hurt and wounded by the institutional church.
But we can’t build healthy ekklesia around any of those as our primary focus.
Rather, it is a matter of balance and proper focus.
What Is Your Experience?
As I reflect on why some segments of the organic church community have borne authentic external fruit, but others have not, I am interested your own experiences.
What do you believe have been some of the biggest hindrances and dead-end beliefs and practices within the organic community in the Western world?
What have been the keys to real external fruit, and can you share your own related stories to illustrate your points?
If you have any personal experiences or stories that illustrate healthy organic fellowship, or hindrances to healthy organic fellowship, feel free to share them below.
If you don’t want to do so publicly, you can always pass along your thoughts and experiences by contacting me privately.
As I continue to ponder all this, I value your input.
~ Jim Wright
- Organic Worship (crossroadjunction.com)
- Half Grace – Part 1 (crossroadjunction.com)
- Myopic Ekklesia (crossroadjunction.com)
Appreciate this article… relate to lots of it… Was part of 3 different “organic” churches that all crumbled over time.. ugh… Understand the need for reaching out and making disciples and not trying to follow the “attraction” model of traditional church. We find ourselves simply calling ourselves Christian and hate attaching ourselves to a “church”… We go to different traditional churches on Sunday, fellowship w/ parts of the body for different things – wherever that may be – but find ourselves not sure who to deeply fellowship with. Sometimes I feel like a lost puppy wanting to find a home on one hand, on the other hand we just call “our church” all our Christian brothers/sisters we’ve met over time from several different denominations that we fellowship with…I do pray for a place to call home though where we are known and still loved.
I am not in the organic community, but your entire article describing the frustrations and train wrecks or other errors in that community can be found alive and well in the so called ‘institutional’ church. I did study some Church History and found there to be some blatantly immoral and scathing reports of the behavior of some Church Leaders through many different periods since Christ returned to the Father. From what you have described it seems that the organic community has the same things. It’s called humans endeavoring to do God’s bidding, failing, trying to find the ‘secret sauce’ to run their world the way they think God would want them to, operating in the flesh because they are mad at ‘so-n-so’ and then going off half cocked when they don’t get there way, etc, etc. I believe that God can use any person, who is sincere in there desire to serve Him and any institution whose leaders and people are the same. What I see as the ‘face’ of American Christianity is extremely disappointing (Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, etc). And I used to be in the Word/Faith movement and still have many close personal friends and relatives who are currently involved in those deceptions to this day. Don’t get me wrong; They have just enough truth to lure people in and then they got ya. I once had a Bible College teacher who said that “truth is truth, even if a dog barks it”. I am frustrated with the ‘institutional church’ as you put it, and yet I am called to be an Elder who attempts to lead, persuade, example and do God’s will as I see His Word say. You have heard me say this before: It has a lot to do with ‘Authority’. God’s Word has the ultimate, The Father has designed it to be that way, even tho He authored It (The Word) begot His One and Only Son (The Living Word) and then sacrificed Him for our sins. When we as His Church are submitted to His Authority as found in His Word, things do go better than what you have written about in this article. I think that we, as Americans want some big pop or bang to prove to our culture that ‘hey, we’re really cool, come be a Christian’. I know that’s not where you are coming from, but our culture permeates everything it touches and it’s hard to not be ‘of it’ and not just ‘in it. Anyway, thanks for listening to my rant! God speed!
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As one who has never been in an identifiably organic church either, I especially appreciated your observation that the big 3 also appear in the institutional church. Lately my big frustration has been itinerant folks coming to speak with little notice, presenting great ‘new’ revelation from God that the rest of us have somehow missed…I discovered that Gnosticism had that as one of its traits–special revelation to the specially initiate.
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Good article. I am in a similar experience-thread as you; but you are much further along.
I was run out of my home congregation but I still wanted to be a part of a faith community. I did NOT want to start something that in any sabotaged the church I just came from; but I did want to be successful. So I read “the books.”
Currently, it is just my family—and we have pet traditions (maza and small-communion-cups, a cappella singing) and doctrines (Arminian). Just reflecting on this article, I can see how a broader community could happen with some of our friends who have some definite faith-expression differences than we… and it could be a growth exercise for us. Don’t know if it will happen but the wheels are turning in the noggin.
Kirk and Tom, I was so focused on the field where God has called me to labor that I didn’t stop to think about how those same problems – in different contexts – are common also in legacy churches. But you are absolutely right! I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Although my focus often is with the organic community, please know how much I respect and honor those who are laboring in some of God’s other fields. Thanks.
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Something tells me I just witnessed David taking on Goliath. Jim, I’m glad to see you are feeling better. Goliath’s head is a bit grotesque. Okay, go clean up, it’s time for bed. Clint Eastwood was taking on Obama earlier tonight, sort of an imaginary punching bag. I guess if you are going to fight, you should pick something worth fighting about. A good fight is one you win! Hang in there Jim.
Ah, now I understand what, or more precisely, who you’re railing against. I wouldn’t know much about them because I have never read any of their books and very few of their blogs. The Holy Spirit has forbidden me to do so. But the authors and the circuit riders are not the organic church and I for one am offended when you lump us all together using vague language like “the organic community”. You see, you need not worry about us ignert peasants following the wrong shepherd. We know the difference between what is produced by the will of man, and what men spoke and continue to speak that is from God as they were and are carried along by the Holy Spirit. And I’m REALLY offended when you make snotty remarks about the Jesus is all people because Jesus is all to me. And still, I didn’t see any direct quotes, careful lawyer that you are, please rail against the false teachers and wrong teachings, specifically,
and leave me out of it.
Sorry to have triggered you, Tamera. That was not my intent, but there are valid issues that are worth discussing even if they transcend your own experience. I am glad you have avoided these problems, but give the rest of us the grace needed to discuss them openly, with civility, and with candor.
I think that’s the most condescending non-apology I’ve ever seen, Jim
. I’m sorry that what I read on your blog is not valid discussion. There has been no “civility” on your part but mostly attacks, baseless accusations, negative assumptions and down right slander. There is your explanation of what other bloggers are “essentially saying”, your twisted interpretation, without quoting them or even including them in your “worthy discussions”. You ask for grace? How ’bout you extend some grace to your brothers in Christ, get off your judgemental high horse and stop setting them up as the bad guys in your self-righteous heresy hunting.
My initial response to you wasn’t intended as an apology, but just a regret that you were triggered – as evidenced by your own admission that you reacted even though you haven’t read any of the books or have any background in any of the related issues. Thus, I’m not sure the basis for your reaction to the validity of my observations, especially given the multiple voices in these comments that have confirmed their validity.
I do note that on Facebook, where I have quoted extensively from some of the “Beyond” authors, you likewise have repeatedly reacted to me the same way – which is OK, I don’t mind criticism. But my particular experience with you is that when I provide extensive quotes, you are triggered and reactive. When I don’t, but only provide a summary, you are triggered and reactive.
Finally, I’m not sure what you mean by not including others in the discussion. I DO NOT exclude comments except on the very rare occasion where they cross the line of civility and sink into truly personal attack. To the contrary, my attempts to enter into civil, open, questioning dialog with some of the “Beyond” authors in comments to their blogs have routinely been deleted – which others likewise have experienced. There have been NO comments deleted here, and I have NOT excluded a single contribution to this discussion. That is just not what I’m about.
Really, Tamera, I’m at a loss.
Jim, I appreciate all your comments.
You said “There are many mature, balanced organic church authors, bloggers and teachers – both men and women – who have proven fruit and a history of actual commitment to a local, healthy fellowship. They just weren’t into promoting themselves as the itinerant answer to all that ailed us – which I guess should have told me all I really needed to know – and so in our naivety, we didn’t think to approach them.”
Can you point me in the right direction for these teachers?
You also asked for pointers on helps and hindrances to healthy organic fellowships. I can think of too many to list here, so I will give you one along with my personal experience to show it.
Controlling leadership is a massive hindrance. It seems you can have massive amounts of freedom with a church group, but when push comes to shove, the leadership can crush it by exerting control. It seems to be bred by fear in the leadership. I will give you one example.
Around 7 years ago my wife and I joined a house church, they wasn’t calling themselves organic (I don’t think they had even heard of the term). There was a couple there who was looked to as leading the group. They really wanted the members (mostly made up of people who had been Christians for a number of years, some from charismatic backgrounds) to participate and engage in the meetings, but seemed at a loss to know how to make that happen.
A few non-christians and new Christians started to attend. My wife and I suggested running an Alpha Course (a basic intro to the Christian faith), which we had done a number of times before in an Institutional setting with much success (people gave their lives to Jesus).
The course lasts 10-12 weeks and is marked by a meal, a short talk on an aspect of the Christian faith, a friendly open participatory discussion group with no leader and prayer. Deep relationships are formed and a bond is felt between group members.
The problem doing this in IC is that at the end of the Course, the minister would expect the group to just attend church; which is not what they had just bought into. Any suggestion of allowing the group to continue as one of the house groups that the church has is also dismissed out of FEAR that the new believers will go off track somehow.
But this was not IC, this was a free house church, unbounded by hierarchical leadership structures……. or was it?
During the last couple of weeks of the course it was suggested to the group that they could carry on meeting once a week on the same evening to enjoy fellowship and perhaps study the bible and pray or watch some teaching videos and discuss or something else.
Everyone agreed that they would love to carry on meeting as a separate group alongside the other house church meetings….. the beginnings of a newly birthed organic fellowship were being formed.
Tragically the two, very well-meaning “leaders” put a stop to it. Why? Because of FEAR and the feeling that they needed to control and make sure the new believers were not going to go off-track somehow. My wife and I quickly left the group. That house church no longer exists and none of the Alpha Group members fellowship anywhere now.
I have been in touch with a couple of them recently through Facebook in an attempt to build bridges, but they have been very hurt by that church.
The way I see it is…
If 5000 people come to faith in one day, you cant worry about them all getting off track. All we can do is lay a good, quality foundation based on Jesus Christ and biblical authority….. (the Alpha Course does this extremly well by the way).
Also it is helpful to model a simple, un-cluttered, open participatory, loving, friendly, focused way of gathering around Christ, with a non-hierachical, servant style leadership structure. But they will find that in the Bible anyway. Left to just the bible and their own devices I believe all Christians will naturally meet organically.
BTW God has blessed us, as we are now part of a loving, fruitful and growing organic fellowship. We had a baptism last weekend. Praise Jesus!
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Thanks, Pete, for your story. I think as we all share our stories – the good and the bad – we actually encourage each other and help each other.
Regarding your question of who I think are solid voices in the organic/simple community, someone who I have particularly come to value is Felicity Dale (http://www.simplychurch.com). She stands out in my mind because she is not trying to push pet issues under the guise of “organic” and is herself rooted in, and speaks from, actual local fellowship.
I also like Alan Knox (http://www.alanknox.net) and Katie Driver’s blog (http://www.thoughtsfromabackseatdriver.blogspot.com/) for the same reasons. (Katie, you really need to shorten that name!)
Miguel Labador comes more from a missional perspective, but he and his wife are bearing much fruit as they minister in Ecuador. His blog is at http://www.pathwaysinternational.org/author/miguel/.
Many people who I respect like Neil Cole’s stuff, and I have been impressed with his books. However, I am not as agenda-driven or oriented towards systematic approaches, trans-local organizations, or an overt focus on one or two things being key – but I do think his underlying principles are good. Some who have attended his conferences seem to feel his approach is a little too packaged, but for others it seems to work.
All of these people share solid, practical wisdom rooted in actual fellowship. That doesn’t mean they will agree with everything I say, or vise-versa. But I listen very carefully to whatever they say, because I know they are coming from healthy perspectives.
Jim, thanks for the mention. It’s interesting that you identify me as “more from a missional approach.” It’s true, my focus does seem to be on sendedness. That said, and relating to this article, I have been frustrated by many of the things you point to within organic circles. Particularly the existential and gnostic tendencies. Both the “Organic” and “Missional” camps have their issues. It was because of these issues that I could not, in good conscience, name myself as part of either camp and coined the word “Missiorganic.”
It is my quest to find and foster those people who gather organically and produce mission and other organic gatherings without the weirdness. I’ll be glad to clarify my statements to any who have a notion to inquire.
Miguel, being hard to label is a good thing!
I think what you and your wife are doing is an example for all segments of the Body of Christ. I also know how you have been concerned with the same crazy stuff, and have tried to approach some of the same authors and itinerants with similar frustrations over their consistent refusal to give clear responses and their tendency to want to talk around the issues.
I have valued our dialog as we’ve gotten to know each other over the last year.
Sorry if I got the description wrong. I stand corrected. I guess we need to start a new movement – the True Church of the Missiorganic Faithful. You can be the head apostle! 😉
Tell Claudia I said hi.
I have received a number of private emails (http://www.crossroadjunction/contact) with amazing input from the experiences of others, which have been helping me continue to think through these issues.
What is most striking is how similar our story is to so many others – both the good and bad.
For those who didn’t want to post publicly, but took the time to write to me, thanks! I will be getting back to you over the next several days, as able.
I have actually met Felicity about 8-9 years ago, she came over with Tony and they did a mini-conference for simple church. This was my first involvement with organic church and have been striving to attain it ever since. I read “getting started” at the time, but still found it very difficult to actually apply when we shortly after moved to a new area where we didn’t know anyone.
I will however get hold of some more stuff from them and your other suggestions.
Although I cannot point to any specific success in either legacy or organic church functions, it seems important to incorporate the life of the kingdom of God in daily life and work. That said, I was disillusioned in the simple church movement when it became clear that there is a value placed on some “leaders” who are not actually a part of the life where you are (itinerant might be applicable) and that these actually expect that others will value their place and their word above the others. Almost like mentoring, but without these self appointed “leaders” accepting that others in the body of Christ might have an insight that they need to hear. Your dialog explains it very well, and is very encouraging.
Helpful analysis, if not a bit heady :-).
Your first two points focus on the Frank Viola type streams, which I think have a very limited scope and shelf life.
The third point, in my view, cuts across all streams of North American “organic church.” The issue is how DNA affects reproduction. If what you are is a transfer-member-fellowship, that is what you will reproduce.
The DNA principle is that it doesn’t really matter what you teach with your mouth because you will reproduce who you are (which is what you really teach).
In the USA in my opinion, we don’t need to teach people how to do organic church. We need to evangelize new disciples who will go and teach others to obey Jesus as Lord. Their DNA is go not come. In that context, Jesus builds His church, which is more than organic: it is glorious, militant, humble, loving and a tangible expression of His hands and feet to the least of these.
We must teach new disciples to look for where church is NOT (not how to do church), and NOT to build on another’s foundation. My 1.3 cents (used to be two cents, but your currency is doing very well against ours :-).
Brian, I totally concur. Good analysis.
Although you are right that the Frank Viola “tribe” (to use his term) has very limited scope and shelf life in the real world (there are very few actual fellowship left anymore – most that he and his itinerants have tried to oversee tend not to last long and most have folded), the influence of their books and blogs continues to influence a much larger audience.
It often takes a few years for folks to see the traps, and by then the fellowship (even if not under their direct oversight but from simply trying to follow their books) often is dead and the people very wounded and disillusioned.
I hear from these folks all the time, and it breaks my heart. Even folks in the few remaining “Viola” fellowships increasingly are contacting me, and their stories and struggles are very, very disturbing and cult-like.
Frank is a brother in the Lord, but I just wish he would own up to his stuff and all the associated problems – along with his fellow authors and the itinerants he has promoted. Their accelerating decline into Christian existentialism is only going to compound the problems.
I don’t have much experience with the organic church. I do know abuse in traditional churches caused me to get out of my cocoon and become friends with those who are not christians. I’ve seen it kind of like the persecution of the early christians which caused them to leave the comfort of their homes to take the gospel to other places. My experience with some christians has caused me to be ashamed to tell others that I am a christian. I am not ashamed of Jesus. I am ashamed of what people do in his name. Yet, I have been compelled to intentionally befriend those who are not christians and the “unlovely” of this world. As my heart is healing, I am able to be more intentional about bringing up God in conversation in these relationships. Is this church? I don’t know. I do know that I also need to meet with other believers to be confronted by God’s word in ways that I would not do it for myself. I am thankful for the traditional church that we are attending that is more concerned with Jesus and loving people than in all the rules and expecting everyone to follow them.
I appreciate your honesty. A red flag for me is when someone promotes organic church as being all roses. I’ve been married for 25 years and I can tell you that any real, fulfilling relationship is going to be filled with challenges. Our relationships in the community of Christ are no different. Let’s face it, relationships are messy. I think it’s healthy talk about the dangers and pitfalls of organic fellowship as well as the benefits.
I particularly resonate with point 2. The self-promoting, truth-for-sale experts are practicing the very things that drive many away from institutional churches. How tiresome to hear believers quoting the flavor of the month as if they were the very mouth of Jesus! The guru that really gets to me is the one that claims to have discovered the secret to experiencing the real New Testament church or some such nonsense. They then proceed to inform you that for only $19.99 an hour they will share these lost secrets with you. All I can say is Jesus is waiting to talk with these so-called shepherds.
Both this article and the comments that follow, are helpful contributions to any discussion on Organic Church. I must say that after 40 years of Organic thinking and ministry, there is not one point that you made I would disagree with. I wrote to Frank Viola about the idea that there has to be an apostle involved in the planting of every organic church, as here in Germany this idea has severely crippled a local network that seemed to have started three or four churches, but now believe that they are not true churches because no apostle was there when they started.
I’d be interested in Frank Viola’s response, if any.
Frank’s repeated insistence in his books on the need for an itinerant “apostle” comes directly from his Gene Edwards days (in fact, many of Frank’s books largely are re-writes of Edward’s teachings, as I’ve been confirming based on my ongoing research into that history and interviews with those involved).
Frank was one of a small handful of Edwards’ handpicked and officially designated “apostles”. In fact, according to Edward’s, Frank was one of only around a half dozen men in the whole world who, along with Edwards, were God’s solely authorized, qualified and chosen “apostles” and “church planters”. Frank went right along with it, and even co-authored a book with some of his other Edwardian “apostles” which promoted all that crap – until it finally imploded about ten years ago.
Although Frank now disclaims that book, its major themes surface time and again in his subsequent books.
His Edwards’ days were an unmitigated disaster, but he didn’t seem to learn and instead figured out how to promote the same ideas but in a much more attractive and personable package. Milt Rodriquez, another carry-over from Gene Edwards and continuing itinerant “apostle”, is an ongoing colleague of Frank’s who has been doing the same. They have frequently teamed up to push their shared pet doctrines and practices.
Although Frank eventually distanced himself from Edwards’ belligerence, Frank has continued to uncritically promote most of his ideas – including Edwards’ own brand of existentialism, being dismissive of the plenary authority of scripture, unease with the Great Commission and the need to “go”, urging people to relocate around the itinerant “church planter”, and associated itinerant dependence.
I have no animosity towards these men. My interactions with them, by and large, have been civil. But they need to start facing hard questions and some fruit inspection before people continue to blindly buy into their aspirational books that have no foundation in actual, sustainable, committed, healthy and diverse fellowships.
I did get a reply from Frank with appreciation that I could be there to sort it out. It is fair to say that Frank and I relate in another way, that is all I can say.
It seems you have some real issues with frank and choose to spend a great deal if energy trying to tear this brother down. I’ve read a great deal if franks writings, blog posts, interviews, etc, and I don’t think I have ever seen him demonstrate the spirit that you demonstrated towards him in this blog post towards any other brother or sister in ministry. In fact I’ve personally seen him do the opposite and honor others for the sake of unity in the body, even though he may have some disagreements with their theology. You may want to work on refining your delivery to better pass along your message. You speak with great authority about the churches planted by this brother but you only attended one gathering if one fellowship and presume to know everything about them and everything about the other fellowships based on this one meeting. It leads me to believe that you already had an opinion before you ever attended that fellowship to begin with.
I find this pretty interesting to read about. I must say, I thought Americans had it more together in regards to organic church. But yes it would be naive to think that 95% (or more?) of Christianity has got it all together – whether it be the institutional model (the worst off all perhaps) or the organic scene of us scattered sheep trying to find reasons to stay together.
I guess at times, and lately, I have a different perspective on these things. I have always wanted to be in a Christian group that would act like my eternal family in heaven, and even though I had experienced bits of this in days long gone pass, I guess such is as hard to find on earth these days as chicken teeth. Quite frankly I’m just glad to know the Lord, knowing also that I am a very very very small part of his large puzzle. I’m just glad I’ve got married recently and am enjoying family life as well as the peace of God.
My motto has changed from being desperate to find a spiritually vibrant and caring fellowship (because right now there aren’t any where I live), to simply having a more “hard to get” attitude. If fellow Christians want my fellowship, they must know that it’s not going to be cheep. Even Jesus did’nt make it easy on people. There is a sacrifice and commitent to spiritual friends walking together in covenant relationships. And if folk aren’t willing to pay the price, it’s not going to work or last. It’s actually not about “church” but rather about the basics of friendship, which – “hello!” is the essence of Christianity, including it’s reproduction. Where I live, just about zero Christians seem to be interested in orgnanic church, let alone have a clue what it is about. Finding REAL friends to fellowship with and pray with is simply a matter of obeying the basics of Jesus’s teachings and about growing up and acting like spiritual grown-ups. The fact is, we can’t have fellowship if we refuse to walk in the light (as John wrote), and so, Christians who refuse to grow up will not be able to enjoy the benefits that grown-ups have – including those Christians who may think that they are grown-up and lead organic churches and write books. We can only truly fellowship on a worthy level with fellow grown-ups. And when the Lord sends such Christians my way, then, hey, that would be a bonus as I make my ALREADY VERY FULFILLING journey to heaven.
I hope I’m not sounding arrogant, but I’ve made the mistake in the past by selling myself short – just like most of us who chased after group fellowships as though the “church” experience is love and salvation itself, only to find a bunch of shallow motives and religious agendas. Now days I am thankful to find one faithful friend – even if I never have group fellowship again in this short little life-span I have here on earth. I am just so thankful to have known Jesus for the last 20 years of my life! What we must realize as Christians is that we DONT need the body in order to connect with the Lord for His fellowship and presence. We already have this priviledge as believing individuals, seeking Him by ourselves. With all of the spiritual clutter, selfish ambition and confusion doing the rounds, genuine Christian fellowship, when you find it, nowdays is a bonus priviledge – an add-on to what I already have with my relationship with Christ. If and when the Lord sends some sprititual grown-ups over my path – then authentic fellowship will happen, and will even be perpetuated. But I am not going to allow my disappointments with the rest of Christiandom to distract me from my relationship with Jesus.
And perhaps many of us have been temtped to think that we can save and deliver God’s church. But such a task is too weighty for us and may only succeed in discouraging us. God Himself is quite able to to do this. We should all thank God that we are not in His shoes! We only have to build where He gives us influence.
Paul: You say “What we must realize as Christians is that we DONT need the body in order to connect with the Lord for His fellowship and presence.” That may be true, but let us not forget that the growth from the head, spoken of in Eph 4, takes place whilst being joined to the body. I hear what you say, and I agree. Yet I think our tragic experiences (IC & organic & everything else) may never detract from the vision of the Ekklesia as seen from God’s eyes. We should not think that a local, healthy functioning body of believers is out of our reach or an impossible ideal. I suspect it is much simpler than what we have been led to believe (but that it becomes complicated when we interfere with God’s formula.) Two verses that are foundational: Matthew’s “Where two or three gather…” and Acts’ “they devoted themselves to…” When you pray earnestly with one or two brothers, devote yourself to the teaching of the apostles (as contained in the Scriptures) and fellowship & eat together, you have all that is needed for an authentic fellowship. It will grow from there. That is what “organic” is.
Excellent and timely cautionary article Jim, expressing the dangers of organic church group meetings. Its by knowing and being aware of these traps that they can be avoided. Thanks
Thanks for the article Jim, I have been helping to plant relational based fellowships for over 30 years now, 24 of them have lasted more than 3 years and 4 failed, your warnings are valid
and I confronted both Edwards and Viola in the past, for us it is all about relationship with Jesus and one another. Many who fellowship with us are recovering addicts because I tent make as an addictions counselor, Please check out my blog if you get the chance?
Thanks. Thanks. Thanks. Many of these same thoughts have wandered in hazy regions of my spirit for some time but your articulation of them is profound. By the grace of God I left the seminary where I taught preaching to plant a church-planting church some 22 years ago. Also by the grace of God, 7 churches were planted in the first decade and hundreds of church planters were trained, mentored, coached to plant churches around the world. But most of these churches were in an attractional mold and although they saw significant conversion growth and because of our emphasis on one-to-one, life-on-life discipleship great transformation of lives and fruitfulness resulted, I was always dissatisfied with the lack of movement mentality. I loved the church I planted and the plants that occured but something in me said God wanted something different.
Then I started reading some of the organic church material. It was intoxicating. Here was a model that would be less dependent on me and more on the Holy Spirit, less driven by human organization and more by the internal power and DNA of the gospel. But the more I read, and interviewed, the less confident I became in the stories being real. You have put your finger on some important things here. I think I will be re-reading this article for the next six months. Thanks brother. May your tribe increase and may God help all of us, legacy and organic leaders alike, to become truly missional heralds of the gospel.
great article and discussion! As I’ve said before I have disagreements with your particular views of what valid fruit and obedience look like.. add to the the distinction between subjective and objective truth. That said even in my limited experience I have seen what you describe play out and have fallen into those traps myself. Over time I have become more weary of authors/leaders who aren’t primarily concerned with the lost and who instead seem overly concerned with doctrinal and conceptual purity within their little band of ‘true’ followers or real NT church. I too started off reading some of Gene Edwards writings and although there is much to glean from his writings, one is also left feeling only Gene and co have the knowledge and experience to start and sustain something truly organic and christ infused… even though guys like FV tend to say that more inbetween the lines.
I have to ask myself what is the point of simply getting together a bunch of people who are convincing each other they are experiencing the real life of christ… if in reality heaven is not coming to earth in their lives and those around them. Many people are experiencing more liberation, healing and charity through all forms of churches less concerned about status. So yeah its not helpful promoting things we’re not delivering on personally or as a community.
Jim, I am new to organic church thought -about 4 years ago when I became so disillusioned with the institutional church.I have been reading a lot of books by frank viola. I am still trying to understand his core beliefs. What do you mean about his “Christian existentialism”? How do you know “there are very few actual fellowship anymore ” that are of his “tribe”?
Denise, Christian existentialism is very appealing because, at first blush, it seems so right because of its focus on our personal experience of Christ.
Essentially, it says that Christ is so pre-eminenant that we can’t let other things that He’s provided for our benefit – like moral precepts, scripture, His commands (like, for example, the Great Commission) – or anything else of Christ interfere with our experience of the Person of Christ.
This comes from a existential theologian named Karl Barth, who some organic authors like Frank Viola strongly praise and tout. His view is sometimes labeled “Christocentricity”.
The result is an emphasis on knowing Jesus only through our experience of Him, and thus they take the position that the most authoritative revelation we can receive is personal and subjective. As a result, you will see them discount the plenary authority of scripture – which authors like Frank Viola have openly and explicitly done.
Some of Frank’s colleagues who he heavily promotes, like Jamal Jivanjee, Milt Rodriquez and Jon Zens, have recently written stuff that denies that that the Bible is the Word of God, arguing that it has utility only to the extent that it points to a deeper, personal revelation which only they seem to understand – which according to them transcends the Bible itself. They also have written very harsh and derogatory things against those who believe Jesus has called them to ministry outside their local fellowship, like engaging the culture, saying this is a “distraction” from Christ. It is very insular, results in a new legalism of an enforced “group think” as they seek to impose their own measure of Christ on everyone else, and becomes cult like.
When we seek to promote the person of Jesus – with slogans like “Christ is All” – in ways that diminishes all that He’s commanded and also provided for us to know and obey Him, then that is a problem. When we want a purely subjective Jesus by denying His objective, propositional truths and the plenary authority of scripture as the standard for evaluating the maturity and validity of the life in Christ in me and the life of Christ together among us, then that is a problem. It creates an introspective, anemic faith and it destroys the basis for healthy fellowship.
Our ongoing, vibrant experience of Jesus is extremely important, but when it becomes so out of balance that it comes at the expense of all that He commands and all that He has provided – including the validity of holiness, continuing moral precepts, His written Word of Scripture, accountability to His objective external commands, and the like – then the result is always disaster.
Like I say in the blog, it is not either/or. We need both the subjective experience of Jesus and also His objective, authoritative, propositional truths.
Each of the authors I mention, to varying degrees, have been leading the Body of Christ down the path of existentialism.
In a nutshell, this has been the main downfall of a large segment of the organic community, which has followed these authors down this very tempting but destructive path.
I did a series that touches on some of this, called “Beyond Evangelical?”, at https://crossroadjunction.com/2012/02/20/beyond-evangelical-1/.
Jim, thank you for explaining Chiristian existentialism to me, though I am still fuzzy. You also stated that there are very few fellowships of Viola’s tribe, how do you know this? Since you publicly take issue with Viola, Zens, Jivanjee, and Rodriguez , have you dialogued with them ?Are those dialogues available to review? I would be interested in hearing their responses.
There have been public dialogs on Facebook that have involved most of them, as well as in private. I would never raise these kinds of issues in a public blog without first having tried to address my concerns with them, which I and many others have tried to do, but with no success.
The public FB dialogs have included very specific and numerous quotes from their recent writings – like where Frank has dismissed the “plenary authority of scripture” or written that the Great Commission generally doesn’t apply today. Other public FB dialogs with them have been over three of them having explicitly rejected in writing the Bible “as the Word of God”. All of those views come from an existential theology.
When challenged with their own writings, they have universally avoided addressing straight up what they wrote. As my wife commented to me, “they try to talk around the issues” when properly and in a civil manner confronted with their own words.
It has been a very frustrating experience for several of us who are actually involved in healthy organic churches and trying to write about these issues from that perspective – and who have tried to get them to own up to their stuff. They simply won’t do it.
Jim, Great article and I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for helping me understand these other streams I run into especially online and where they are coming from in denying the power of the written word and their Christian existentialism. The organic streams I’ve be apart of would never even dream of downgrading the Bible. Some of these Christocentric streams have more dogmatic theology than the IC on certain topics.
Any church movement will become corrupt. Church is made up of imperfect people. Therefore an authentic Christian community or the Body of Christ is a gathering of believers were by every person is connected to the Holy Spirit. Anytime we replace Jesus Christ our head with a “leader”, the gathering will not be church anymore. Organic church is just a name and should describe the church as something living. Also something other than organized church. We need to be interested in going back to the original intent of what church ought to be and not get “hung up” over the name, and movement, and theology. Church is all about doing. Every member of the body needs to reflect Christ in them. Reflect means act out Christ in them. That is the Fruit of the Spirit.
I really like this. Thanks!
Just out of curiosity, may I ask what specifically causes you to believe in scripture being the word of God and not a collection of eyewitness accounts and apostolic communications that paint a picture of Chris and his church, one of many revelations in creation of who he is?
Jesus Himself repeatedly calls scripture “the Word of God”, like in Matt 15:1-7.
Yet God speaks to us in many valid ways – through nature (Romans 1), to us subjectively, through prophetic messages, through others and wise counsel, and the like. Those who limit God’s ability to speak to only the Bible must deny all the passages in the Bible about the many ways God in fact can – and does – speak.
The issue, however, is whether scripture is the standard by which we judge the validity of what we think we hear God elsewhere saying. This concept, that scripture is the final standard, is known as the plenary authority of scripture. This, I think, is an essential of the faith.
Yes, God speaks many ways, but He has chosen the written Word of God as the standard for insuring that what we think we hear subjectively or from other sources in fact is from Him. It is the standard for faith, doctrine, maturity, and all of life, as 2 Tim 3:16 says.
I also agree with the ‘plenery authority of scripture’… difference is I think using terms like written word of god are not helpful as they go beyond what jesus and the apostles stated. So just because someone refuses to call the bible the word of god is not any sort of test of how they understand or apply the scriptures.
I think what you seem to minimize is the reality of pervasive interpretive pluralism and the fact almost all authors and leaders have a strong leaning to claim their interpretations are correct. ie that they are obeying, listening and doing closer to gods original intention.
Scripture is the final standard as you say but the point is that the lens with which we view scripture impacts what we take away. So the so called objective standards difference from believer to believer.
Ironically you point out flaws in the thinking and practice of FV and co, yet you then setup yourself as a measure of what correct thinking and practice looks like even if its unintentional. I would just be careful in that regard.
Eli, thanks for the warning. There’s some good discussion on this very point over at Miguel Labrador’s blog from earlier today. As you will see, I don’t believe scripture is a matter for purely private interpretation, and there are other points you touch on that are discussed there. Miguel often generates probing dialog, and you may want to join in: http://www.pathwaysinternational.org/2012/09/are-the-scriptures-the-bible-enough-or-do-we-need-just-a-bit-more/.
For those who follow my blog, I strongly encourage you to “friend” me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/wright.jim). Often, there is very good follow up discussion and civil debate on the points raised here – and Facebook is better at active dialog. One such follow up discussion is at https://www.facebook.com/wright.jim/posts/10151207961430730. Lots of good, in depth back and forth there on the role of scripture as against existentialism’s subjective “revelations”.
I also think that Peter got it right. In 2 Pet 3:16, he writes that Paul’s letters are twisted and misused by some, who don’t understand them or have ulterior agendas. Yet he still affirmed that they are scripture. The fact that some abuse or don’t understand scripture, for Peter, was not an excuse to diminish scripture.
I know you are not diminishing scripture, but Peter explicitly recognized the problem of subjectivity when it comes to scriptural interpretation. But he refused to let that be an excuse when it comes to the authority of scripture.
I have found that God’s written Word is effective to accomplish what God wants it to accomplish, when He wants to accomplish it, so long as there is a humble respect and submission to its plenary authority. It will not return void.
Thanks Jim. I’ll take a look. As to ‘private interpretation’… to be honest what I see happening on a wider scale is groups of believers forming certain interpretations/beliefs and practices so it forms a strong basis for their confidence as their opinions do not stem from just 1 or 2 people. Its easy to point to certain leaders or authors but reality is they attract people who are looking to confirm certain persuasions… confirmation bias.
Anyways probably one of the big issues is our need to major on minors which keeps us distracted, divisive and ineffective.
Seems like a belated comment, but I spent some time thinking things over. First of all thank you for not replying to my private questions to you (I am not sarcastic). It forced me to also consult your posts re “Beyond Evangelical?” I had an uneasiness about the way said parties were dealing with the Bible. I can see that they are taking the Bible out of its historical context. I have always been hyper sensitive of interpretations because most times we start interpreting before we have observed well what is written. Being new to the organic way I was perpared to ease up on my stance. Jesus being alive I also accept that he still speaks to us today (in line with his revelation in Scripture).
I have been following the blogs of Jamal and pointed out to him that he was reducing everything to Christ. He reiterated the importance pre-eminance of Christ. I do think we must put Christ first and foremost without reducing everything to Christ.
I also felt that their point of view is more of a philosophy than a standpoint based or in line with Scripture. So I want to thank you for being an instrument in the Lord’s hand to make us aware of these dangers.
I need to ask you to help me with your statement “A truly authentic Jesus in me, and together in us, will be expressed through us to all aspects of life, culture, and history – both relationally and propositionally.” I think this can be applied practically either institusionally of organically. I am trying to understand how to apply it in an organic way. Can you please help me?
Why is all the focus on the gathering style and context? Legacy, traditional, organic church? Why is it so necessary to validate the group setting. Is not the body of Christ alive? Does it not function anytime two or more are together?
Does he not live in us at all times? Does the Holy Spirit not come to function in his own capacity when the gathering occurs, whether at work, or at play, or together? If we expect the kingdom of God to be now, and not yet, and the Holy Spirit to speak, to move, to guide, to endow, then are we not at all times and in all places to be the ambassadors of heaven?
Whether together with those most famliar or those we have just met, the word of God, alive in us, speaking to this world, seeking what the God of heaven wills to be done on earth, is our motivation and our existence. Somehow it begins to seem off focus for the discussion to be centered on the structure and type of gatherings we have because it limits the function of the Holy Spirit to those times and places. This should not be.
We live in him, but he also lives in us and must be allowed to have his life in this world thru us, doing the works he did on earth, and even greater works than these. It was for this cause he rose and ascended that the Holy Ghost might come, and enable the kingdom to function. If we had no ability to gather, would we ever see him work? Surely we would!
I don’t have much new or profound to say here, except that I enjoyed your post as well as reading the comments. It has certainly caused me to think a little. Peace and blessings.
I was expecting to see what killed the dc area organic “movement”. As you stated, I also learned that those men had held one of their conferences in our area a year before, and that their prior influence and then subsequent conference effectively resulted the death of all things “organic” in our area – for reasons I list below.
Are those three reasons you mention, what you consider the death of all things organic?
Also, I saw someone comment a couple of times about the number of fellowships planted by Frank and company. Do you know of any other fellowships? Have you visited them? If not, why do you feel you are able to speak so authoritatively about this after having visited one church, on one occasion? It sounds a lot like making a judgement on a first impression.
As someone who has taught church history at a college, and as someone who has been involved in building “organic” fellowships in our own area, I have been very curious about the influence of Frank and his books and – more significantly – the apparent failure of his views and methods to bear much fruit in the form of actual, healthy, sustainable fellowships. I have never had anything personal against him. But given the impact he and his views have had, and the disconnect between his books and reality, I decided to dig deeper.
I have interviewed and also been contacted by many people who have been or are still part of fellowships started by those you mention, and have read all of Frank’s books – even those that are out of print. I have been very thorough in my research, have had some communications with him, and have confirmed things by multiple witnesses and sources.
This is not a personal attack on anyone. However, those who want to be teachers to the Body of Christ are held in scripture to a higher standard, and we are told to be discerning both as to their doctrines and their fruit. The harm caused by having failed to do this for too long is too high.
It is easy to question methodology when you don’t like the results. Do you, however, have any refuting facts to show I am incorrect? I would be surprised if you did.
Well, it seems like you have done some research, visited a church, sent some messages, and talked with some people to form your stance. My desire isn’t to refute what you say, or your methodology, but to understand how they were formed. But since you asked, I’ve personally known Frank for several years. I have been a part of a couple of churches started by him, still active in one, and have regular communication with members of other churches. The devastation that you speak of and lack of health and sustainability are simply not true based on my personal observation, and the testimony Christ has developed in me personally through my relationships with my brothers and sisters I have met through these organic fellowships. Being a part of an organic church I have learned that there isn’t a reliance on an itinerant planter, but a reliance on Christ. The workers have certainly helped give us a revelation of Christ, practical help in working out our community, and friendship, but their itinerant for a reason that we don’t have to rely on them. I for one am thankful for this emphasis and their commitment to remain itinerant because it allows the body to truly meet under the headship of Christ. In our meeting today we heard testimonies about how The Lord has healed one sister from depression, how another sister was encouraged through a difficult trial, and how the church has been a light to one brothers neighborhood. Next week, we will gather and some saints will be putting together supplies for another brother to take with him to aid a church in Kenya. In the past we have help comfort a sister after her biological sister was murdered, we ministered with and to a church of homeless brothers and sisters. However, we are not perfect and have much more to learn and grow in our expression of the love of Christ. I appreciate your desire to seek the truth but remember that Christ is the truth, and we are all members of him.
“Instead of life, they were anemic. They were self-focused. They were introspective, very post-modern and existential. EVEN OUR YOUNGEST BELIEVER AFTER JUST A MONTH IN THE LORD COULD RUN CIRCLES AROUND THEM WHEN IT CAME TO REAL LIFE, DISCERNMENT AND TANGIBLE FRUIT.”–Jim Wright
For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.
2 Corinthians 10:12
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
1 Corinthians 3:18 KJV
Think about it…..
Well, the Wise Berean did not think enough of his opinion to use his name… Always be skeptical of points made by a hidden person… If we are going to dialog let us do so as real, identifiable people rather than labels or markers that give a representation of who we would like to be. Perhaps my methog is a very unscientific (and perhaps gnostic) method of evaluating a written work about the church or the kingdom of God, but when I try to read one that just doesn’t sit well, and that I find takes mental gymnasitics to comprehend, and I seem to have to really work to read it, then it gets put down on the shelf. If when I try to read it later, I find the same experience, then I figure that the Holy Spirit is not speaking thru that author in that book and I am relieved of any need to try to incorporate that person’s thought into my own understanding. Frank Viola’s works are this was to me… At first I subscribed to the newsletter, but that didn’t work either. So, this was the first explanation of what was really wrong.. thanks.
What are you talking about Carolyn Spence, I did use the author’s name. Another rush to judgement without fully examining or at least taking the time to pay attention… Is it not “Jim/ James?” In my second post, I referred to him as such. Whether I used my given name or not is beside the point so let’s steer clear of trying to offer a diversion…. Let’s stick to the topic at hand, which are the original posts and the questions I asked. It is obvious that you have a subjective, partisan perspective Carolyne. There is no need for me to engage you.
Wish you well.
Oh one last thing to you, Caroyn….
CAROLYN SPENCE STATED: “Perhaps my methog is a very unscientific (and perhaps gnostic) method of evaluating a written work about the church or the kingdom of God, but when I try to read one that just doesn’t sit well, and that I find takes mental gymnasitics to comprehend, and I seem to have to really work to read it, then it gets put down on the shelf.”
—But you waste no time formulating an opinion and passing it along as though it is a revelation from God though. The Word of God is my FINAL source of authority and it says this about you, imbalanced way of evaluating, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,”–James 1:19, but I guess none of this matter if your focus is to 1. be right in your own mind and 2. affirm James Wrights imbalance assessments as outlined in this post.
Thanks, everyone, for your comments – whether you agreed or disagreed. At least this blog got the issues out for open debate!
To sum things up, and to respond to some of the more recent reactions, I simply note that not one person has provided a single fact disputing my conclusions.
There was one comment, however, which discussed some good things happening in one of the few surviving Viola affiliated fellowship – as to which I honestly do rejoice. However, it really didn’t address the bigger picture or even refute my actual points.
Instead of providing facts, those upset with my blog have chosen to challenge my motives and methods – which is OK. I have no problem with that. I put myself into the fray with my blog, and I accept all which that entails.
However, the most common way to avoid an unsettling issue is by questioning the motive and method of the person who raised the issue – thus deflecting attention from the lack any refuting facts.
Again, not a single contrary fact has been offered. The dead ends exist, and the resulting fruit has been a pattern of disasters over the last fifteen years by those who have most vigorously promoted those dead ends. If that is not true, then it would be easy to refute. But no one has.
Facts can be such inconvenient things, provoke intense anger, and spark furious attempts to distract from their sting. But what is true will always stand the test of scrutiny.
Thus, the failure to offer disputing facts makes me more convinced than ever that I generally got it right – maybe not perfect, but generally right – and thus this blog was timely and needed.
The few remaining true believers – despite the carnage caused by these dead end doctrines and practices – will never be swayed.
But the blog, I think, will continue to give sufficient pause to those who otherwise might have been tempted by these dead end practices, proponents, books, and conferences – and cause them to also ask tough questions and conduct their own investigations.
That’s all I can expect, and for me, that is enough.
All this talk is lunacy and precisely the reason I’m no longer a Christian.
Every one of you sounds foolish to the core.
To Brawling with sincerest love,
Where you following the Christ or individuals? Christ has said that he would never leave you or forsake you. He says that he would never put any who are in Him to shame.
It is very easy for people who profess to be of the faith to burden and even discourage you, but one resounding thing that must stay present is that Christ is alive and that no matter the attacks, doubts, horrible examples (people who profess Christ, but live hypocritical life, sigh), you know Christ for yourself.
Lastly, Brawling, you also have to remember that the scriptures testify to us fighting against invisible spiritual wickedness, principalities (i.e. spiritual, intelligent, wicked beings) that want to diminish the faith, no steal our faith and assurance in Christ. Therefore, they inspire direct persecutions against the saints, they cause internal strife among those who profess to be of the Way, they tempt, seduce the people of God and then for those that yield to sin, they seek to bring to an open shame, the name of Christ so that people like you, Brawling, can get discourage, come to the conclusion that there is no hope, and say to yourself that you are better off trying to find God by your own means.
Be not discourage and I want you to know that Jesus does love you and He is truly waiting with open arms if ever you chose to come back to him. Remember the story of the prodigal son, Brawling.
Hello Again Jim,
(I WILL NOT BE SURPRISE IF YOU DON’T READ THIS (ALL THE WAY THROUGH) , BUT I WILL POST ANYWAY)
Whether you choose to accepted it or not, your research, data, and analysis are tainted—period. This is fact! Additionally, you were asked straightforward questions regarding “how” you came to the conclusions in your data processes, which is what would happen in an actual applied research project, which I am sure you know… Unfortunately, you’ve failed to defend your position. You’ve made sweeping statements and rushed conclusions, which is what is typical of accuser of the brethren. I don’t think the responses to your blog post here, have come from a place of trying to figure out your motives. Without sounding redundant, when reading through the comments to this post, particularly from those who’ve challenged your position, I find were fair, logical, and reasonable questions—what have “YOU” James Wright (and your congregation) done to reach out to this apparently DYING FELLOWSHIP you reference? The reason I reference this is because it seems like you are basing a lot of your research on this particular experience(s) you had with this particular group. How often did you spend time with them? Do you know the individuals by names? Do you even care what their names are? Perhaps if you would have taken the time to sincerely get to know them (because it does not seem like you did), you would have reached a more informed conclusion….
Again, what were the queues that you picked up on that lead you to make these conclusions? Can you answer any of these questions? NO! Why? Because you have no answers, just opinions based on a presupposition you brought with you when you came, perhaps and were thus more focused on having that presupposition realized. This is obvious to anyone who is looking at this forum from an objective perspective. Furthermore, what concerns me is that you attempt to present this information in such a way to suggest to your reader (and those who are a part of your following, perhaps) that you have embarked upon a huge undertaking, which involved extensive research before you arrived at formulating these conclusions. However, it is clear by your vague indirect responses to the valid questions asked, that you only have a presupposition and that your focus her is other than Christ and having His body formed. You made comparisons between yourself and other fellowships, which the Word of God says is not wise and is a sign of carnality. I would hate to be the one overtaken by a fault and you knew about it…. I would probably experience either of two things from you, a condemning, self-righteous attempt at reproving me or quiet, dismissive judgment like that, which the Pharisee in the temple exhibited when he looked down upon the tax collector (in his heart) and condemned him.
I have a challenge for you, Mr. Wright—reach out to those who are sick, as you suppose. Never mind the fact that they are not a part of your church fellowship. Remember, this is about the BODY OF CHRIST, not individual cliques or church fellowships—but Christ for “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me”—Matthew 25:40. If they are truly on life-support or “anemic” and you have that compassionate heart of love and “ministry of reconciliation” that is promised to every believer in Christ, then this fellowship needs your help. Will you reach them and reach them beyond “just” praying? Will you “SINCERELY” break bread with them? Will you come alongside them and help them along the way if they are truly lacking in “transformational maturity?” I can’t imagine the Lord telling you not to do these things as there are instances presented in biblical narrative that speak to and commanded this.
Oh, one last thing, one of the earlier posters DID “offer [a] disputing fact,” but you conveniently choose to dismiss it. Contrary to opinion, this not has not gotten as much attention as you think it has… I’m done–there is nothing here.
I wish you well. Sincerest blessings ❤
Despite all your offense, do you dispute the survey I referenced at the start of my blog? Are you really trying to say that there has been good fruit from the pet doctrines and practices that have dominated the organic church movement in the West based on the writings and influences of the “Beyond” authors?
Even if you are correct in disputing my motives and methods, you still are left with other external data and the raw reality of the many fellowships that have ended badly or been stuck in the very insular, anemic mentality documented in that survey. I did not do the survey or have any hand in it, but the results, it seems to me, are all too evident to those willing to open their eyes and ask honest questions. The organic church movement in the West has been stuck in a rut for too long. It is time to break out and move forward in making a difference as God challenges us to examine our ways, repent, and change.
There are pockets of health in the organic church community, and by and large they exist where the dead ends I mention have been avoided. On that, I find hope.
This has been a painful dialog for some, I am sure, but a needed dialog nonetheless.
I wish you well in your endeavors brother, but as your brother that judgement you have of us hurts. You might be better off sharing your own experiences, your own thoughts, your own observations rather than publicly judging your brothers and sisters on Christ. I know you feel like you are serving The Lord through this post, but we are real people, who have been accepted by The Lord in his family. I would encourage you on the future to please treat us as brothers in The Lord and not simply as an abstract church model for you to deconstruct. You may not have seen the growth that you were looking for but we can all personally attest to the growth The Lord has brought us. Again I wish you well in your pursuit of The Lord and know that he is faithful for both of us.
I also would like to say a thing about Frank Viola. Don’t worry Troy I am taking a vacation day so you don’t have to worry about me giving a honest days work.:) I have never read a complete book by my brother Frank. At most I have read maybe 10-20 pages of all of his books combined. And I probably will never read a book by him. It is just who I am. I like the Bible and biographies. I am new to the Organic Church movement and I want to compare it with scripture to see if it is consistant with what I believe the Holy Spirit is teaching me. I don’t think it is bad reading this books and I am thrilled when people read them and get something out of them. It is more just more who I am. I think about two years ago as Jim you put out there was a house church conference where Frank and Alan another brother in Christ came to share with us. We were going to have a gathering in my house before it started. I realize there would be some people I did not know in my house for this gathering. So we are meeting and someone had to tell me that the guy next to me was Frank Viola. I was sort of taken back because he was such a normal person and fit in well with us. He seemed like one of the guys. Actually it says a lot about him. He is not full of himself. He naturally fits in. We have been studying the life of Christ and one of our wonderful brothers in Christ has been sharing with us how strange it is for us but not Jesus obviously in how Jesus behaved after the ressurection. It is odd to us because he walks through walls and carries on as if he is one of the guys. He is not proclaiming from the roof tops that he is the Messiah resurrected. He is very natural and sees all those he meets as just one of his friends. He helps them in fishing just like he had done when he was with him. Just one of the guys very natural. I think that is very much like Frank. A very humble guy and he sees himself as one of us. He shows Christ to me in that he is not full of himself and is very humble.
Another event I had with Frank that weekend was at our weekly assembly to worship. Many people for the conference were there asking questions. Now I was not from the Charasmatic Christian Commnunity but I know Frank was. Well one of the questions that was asked had to deal with an issue that has cased division and denominationalism among Christians but was not a critical issue. Franks said that was not important for the assembly of the Saints which is to worship and lift up Christ. If people want to study and debate it they should do it outside of this time. Wow would confidence in Christ alone and good advice. Don’t limit or hinder the Saints for investigation or study but lets focus on Christ alone during our gathering time. He will take care of everything else even our understanding of God Himself. I have been a recipient of blessings from this brother in Christ. It is so refreshing to push everthing aside and worship Christ alone with His Body. And it blessing me to no end that it was some Charasmatic Saints in this case that brought a much better understanding to me of how to be a better follower of Christ. Really it is Christ who did this wonderful thing working through them. I am very thankful for both Frank and Alan and I probaby will never read any of there books. And I really don’t think they would mind one bit.
Steve, I readily concede Frank’s charm. I’m not sure, however, why that’s relevant. I never questioned his charm. Nonetheless, in my experience charming people can be charmingly wrong.
He and his itinerant colleagues also have some good things to say. I have openly acknowledged that. But on the three dead ends I identify in my blog, I believe they have been very wrong and have thwarted mature, sustainable healthy fellowships. I think the evidence of that is overwhelming. Even the defense of your Viola-related fellowship has focused almost exclusively on internals – which kind of supports my points.
If you’ve not read their books, then I’m not really sure how you think you can respond to my critique of their published views as they related to the three dead ends that are the actual subject of my blog.
Some keep wanting to avoid discussing the three dead ends, and keep going off onto tangents by defending things that have nothing to do with those three dead ends. I have given you and others wide latitude to use my blog as a forum for you to do so, but the actual points in my blog still stand.
When it comes to the dead ends discussed in my blog, I urge you to deal with the actual issues I raise and avoid sacrificing your fellowship on the altar of charm.
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Whoa! Lots of feedback! As for your assertion, “There are many mature, balanced organic church authors, bloggers and teachers – both men and women – who have proven fruit and a history of actual commitment to a local, healthy fellowship. They just weren’t into promoting themselves”, I just want to affirm this, I personally know many of them; you are right, they are busy decreasing so Christ may increase…but their fruit tells the story. They may be called “leaders”, but a leader is not really a leader if no one is following.
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