Organic Church Leadership (Part 1)

Last night, two other men and I met with one of the indigenous churches some of us helped start in the jail four years ago.

The wonderful, multifaceted Body of Christ

The wonderful, multifaceted Body of Christ

This fellowship is one of several that we have seen emerge in various housing units within the local jail.

That particular church (typically numbering six to eighteen men) has been a powerhouse for God, as the guys have learned to express Christ to one another through open, participatory fellowship.

Literally hundreds of men have come to the Lord because of them, and they’ve been effectively discipling each other in the faith

In addition, many, many other fellowships have sprung forth from them, as the men in that indigenous church – rooted in the specific cultural dynamics present in any jail or prison environment – are then transferred to other units and facilities.

As they are “sent”, they in turn start new churches without needing any particular outside help, because they first learned how to be the church in our local jail.

Restoring the Foundations

As you might imagine, the composition of that fellowship is constantly changing as men come and go from the jail and that particular housing unit.

Over the last several months, however, their fellowship started drifting back into the mentality of needing someone from the outside to come “lead” them in a directed time of “worship” and “Bible study”.

So two weeks ago, I started joining with them to help restore their Biblical foundations of what it means to be the wonderfully diverse, indigenous, multi-gifted and participatory Body of Christ.

New Beginnings

Healthy churches, I have learned, seldom arise from some leader trying to create “community”.

Rather, they take root within the context of existing communities – whether it be the unique cultural dynamics of a jail, a workplace, the homeless living in the woods, middle class suburbia, or wherever.

After all, Jesus said to “go” and make disciples of all “nations” (actually, that word in the original Greek means distinct ethnic and cultural communities) – rather than “come” and be a disciple in the context of my own culture.

Laying the foundation for that to happen is really not that hard.

It is not telling folks how to do church, doing church for them, imposing my own measure of Christ on them, or trying to reproduce my own idea of community among them.

Rather, it is letting them know it is OK to be what should come naturally for any believer – which is to express the participatory life of Christ one to another in the context their own culture and existing community.

As that starts happening, it then means getting out of the way.

Natural Life

As we’ve been re-affirming that foundation, the men in that part of the jail – like ducks taking to water – are discovering the freedom to be the Body of Christ. Last night, they started openly sharing His life with each other, ministering to each other, challenging each other, and encouraging each other.

It doesn’t take months for this to start happening. After just one prior gathering with a renewed focus on them being the Body of Christ with each other, they were doing it.

As a result, Jesus once again is coming alive among a body of believers in that housing unit – and through those men He’s starting to be more fully expressed to the jail community where God has placed them.

For me and the two other men who have been going in to meet with them, our role is to just lay the foundation of Christ in them, among them and through them – then sit back and let it happen.


One of the things I’ve been doing lately is to mentor others in how to start and encourage such fellowships – whether in the jail, the homeless community or the white-picket-fence suburban neighborhood down the street.

For those with the leadership motivation to see such fellowships emerge, the biggest impediment is our impulse to want make things happen – not in a control-freak way, but rather from our natural impulse to want to help the gathering be focused, relevant and interesting.

After all, if we don’t initiate and keep things on track, it won’t happen, right?


In fact, that inherent impulse – which is present in anyone with leadership abilities – will surely keep authentic Biblical fellowship from emerging.

Authentic Fellowship

By “authentic Biblical fellowship”, I mean letting Jesus come into a community and be expressed in the context of that community. It’s allowing folks to fully express His life to each other their way – rather than your way.

Often, this means letting the Lord emerge and find diverse expression through and within existing community (rather than trying to artificially create community that revolves around your own “vision” or measure of Christ).

This involves an entirely new mentality about what it means to “be the church”, and it comes down to this:

Going into existing communities and letting Christ take root in them – and then letting Him be expressed among them and through them, according to the unique and diverse measure of grace and gifts that He bestows among His people in the context of their own culture.

By “culture”, however, I don’t necessarily mean some tribe in New Guinea (although culture is certainly found there, and God can certainly send some there!).

In your own town or county, there are many, many distinct cultures and sub-cultures – each with their own unique ways of relating, acting and living.

So why not do what the Great Commission says?

Rather than say “come” to a meeting and find Christ among me and my friends, can I “go” help Christ emerge within the community and culture that already exists among you and your friends?

Buzz Word Movements

Some leaders get it, but many don’t.

Some are secure enough to allow Christ to organically take root and bear fruit within existing, diverse communities – while others think it’s about reproducing their grand vision of what Christ and the Church should look like.

The former allows His life to find varied expression in unique contexts.

The latter, however, often is little more than artificially imposing someone’s cookie-cutter image – borne of their own gifts, motivations and cultural imperatives – of Christ and “community” on others.

Programs and methods come and go, fads emerge and die away, and some author’s grand concept of Christ and His Church will be hot today but gone tomorrow.

Although there often are good ideas found in each new buzz-word “movement”, the real work of the Kingdom of God seldom occurs there.

God just never seems to thrive very long in a neatly packaged box, no matter how catchy the buzz word, enticing the book, charming the visiting “worker”, or thrilling the conference.

(Be sure to read Part 2 on Organic Church Leadership.)

~ Jim Wright


15 responses

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  2. Thanks for sharing so openly, Jim. The positive and negative experiences that you have shared have helped to make the truth about leadership in the Body of Christ, which is so different from that of this world, more easily understood.
    Excellent post!


    • Thanks, Rob. We need to keep it real, which also means being transparent over the good and the bad in our lives and in the churches we work with. It’s the guys who always put a positive spin on things and never had any failures, according to their bios, who scare me.

      And thanks also for the re-blog and Tweet. I’m deeply honored.


  3. Fantastic post Jim! This seems to be one of the biggest hindrances I see – leaders who want to control, manage, build networks around themselves for credibility, self-esteem, etc. THANK you for posting this, and maybe this could be developed into a book? I know Chris Jeffries has also written some great stuff on leadership and you two together would be a great team! When Neil Cole wrote his book Organic Leadership, I hoped many more books would follow in the same vein. Sadly, non have to my knowledge. In my opinion many of those who “lead” simple, organic churches are turning them into not much more than “honey I shrunk the church” – we need more voices to model and teach on servant, free-handed, encouraging, and father/mother style leadership where God is trusted to be enough as Leader of His Church. I like to say, if I can teach someone how to ride a motorcycle in 17 hours of instruction (over the weekend) through a good curriculum, how much MORE could the Holy Spirit do if we’d just let Him and get out of the way!

    Keep talkin Jim!


    • Thanks, Katie. Your’s is one of the voices I definitely listen to by following your blog. Your recent series on the legs of the table is especially good because it is borne of real experience. I also like Chris Jeffries’ blog for the same reason. We need to encourage more “keepin’ it real” voices, I think.


  4. Most Excellent Post!

    One thing:

    In our setting and in other contexts, I’ve seen that there can be no preexisting community without the Gospel, a robust understanding of the Trinity, and a desire to flesh out being a disciple of Jesus. Tp put it more simply, a community without Christ is not a real community.

    From my perspective, we don’t seek to create community, but foster it. We see those things which divide people before Christ and seek to minimize them afterwards. We make disciples and let them gather in the manner that seems best to them but simultaneously provide the guide rails of the the Gospel. Philippians 2 comes to mind.

    We have seen community members who were once antagonistic towards each other become unified by making disciples of them. So Jim, do you see a difference in “fostering” and the “creating” of community? Between fostering and forcing?


    • Thanks, Miguel. I plan a follow up post on some of the issues you raise. My main point here, however, is that Jesus told us to make disciples of existing communities/cultures (ethne, mistranslated “nations”) in the Great Commission. Likewise, in Luke 10, He told the disciples He sent out to find, in essence, the focal point of existing community in any new town they entered. If they were not received there, they could do nothing and had to move on.

      I don’t think it is an absolute either/or, but generally speaking it does not work to create “church” and hope that “community” arises. Rather, what we are seeing is a more rapid expanse of the Kingdom of God when we go into existing community, bear witness to the Lord, and let fellowship then emerge in their own existing context.

      Certainly in any culture there are things that are counter to the Kingdom. But it is also true that the Kingdom finds expression in existing cultures. Wisdom is understanding both of those realities.


  5. Thanks Jim-we have a small group that meets on sunday night and it seems most of them feel the need to simply “be fed” after a hard week of giving of themselves in various ways. I want church to be a lifestyle of giving and I would love to see our gatherings be a sharing of Christ among all of us. Any ideas of how I can emplore us all to live for one another and at the same time step back and allow Christ to lead?


    • I know you didn’t ask for my thoughts, rather Jim’s – but maybe you’d find merit in my comments to your questions Rob.

      When people have come from traditional church venues there are usually two options they fall into:
      1. leaders/initiators
      2. followers/consumers who tend towards passivity

      Both of these roles are hard for people to break out of when they gather in Simple Church. They are patterns they have learned,and been reinforced in.
      We need leaders (they have gifts they are called to use – but often it inhibits others, and for a season, in order to break these patterns, just like moms/dads, they need to step back).

      I usually do a couple things to help reorient people to the new paradigm of ALL participating in gatherings, (and in saying that, I don’t mean every single meeting everyone has something to share/give/serve – but overall they are all equally participating).

      1. We move the group around to everyone’s home. We don’t meet in the same home all the time. When the fellowship gathers in their home (or in a place/setting/event,etc that they supply) – THEY are responsible for the hospitality, what the “theme” is for that gathering (i.e. includes “fun nights” of play, an outreach of some sort, in depth Bible study, prayer ministry, getting the word out to everyone, etc. etc.). They are responsible to listen to God and obey what He says for the group fellowship – however that is. We really lower the bar on what’s expected, and raise the bar on trusting they can hear God and have faith that God desires to speak to them uniquely. We expect the gatherings to be different in style, function, how they are facilitated, because the goal is not to create cookie cutter meetings, but rather release people from passivity and into finding their own adventure in listening, obeying and seeing the blessing of God through them.

      2. I ask those who have been leaders to “sit back and relax” as much as possible for awhile – to fast in a sense from the drive and the patterns they have established to allow others to step up and build confidence without them having to feel like they don’t “do it as good as …..” and to allow an atmosphere of experimentation and adventure and freedom.

      3. We spend time in “mining for diamonds”. Meaning – finding out what each person has inside them in gifts, interests, skills, imaginations, inclinations, dreams, passions, etc. because if you know them, and can ignite, support, and encourage them in those things- then you see them branch out of their passivity because THAT’s what God has put inside them for the Kingdom, and He wants to see them walk and be blessed in it.

      I have seen over and over again: that it is much easier for the passive group to step up, with this type of environment, than the leaders to sit back and allow the process to unfold.

      It takes time, and intentionality to see passive members arise – but it does happen, and they do step up and break their old patterns. (I wrote a few blog posts on this last year if your interested at Backseat Driver).


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