Organic Church vs. Traditional Church

Today’s post is a guest post from my awesome, talented, and brilliant husband. I asked him to write this and he kindly agreed.

It’s not a competition. So why use such a divisive title? Because, somehow, that’s what it’s become.

When Nicole and I started down the road of beginning an organic church–The Foundation, for those interested (pardon the placeholder website)–we knew in our earliest of conversations with people that the greatest “persecution” we would face would be from those we loved most. From other believers, friends, even family.

The reason Nicole asked me to write this was due to my sadness, confusion even, in reading some of the comments she’s received the past few weeks when writing about organic church. They are the same types of remarks we have become accustomed to hearing firsthand. Things like…

  • Are you just a group of people who are disenfranchised with the church?
  • You clearly have a problem with authority.
  • What did the church do wrong to you?
  • That’s not church.

That last one hurts the most, probably. Allow me a moment to share a story.

A few years ago, there was a young, independent filmmaker soon to begin his third production. His first two were rather successful and he became known as a new auteur–someone to watch out for in the years to come. But, by his third directorial effort, he felt like his previous two films had prepared him for a new direction. He decided to make a silent film.

The filmmaker poured his life into the new production, modeling its qualities after those of its predecessors, but modernizing it at the same time. After years of work, the time to premier his junior film had come.

At the red carpet affair, the lights went dark, the film began to roll, and…people were confused. Upset, even. Even in the midst of the screening, many walked out. Despite the film’s silence, people were not.

After its release, many called the filmmaker pretentious. Others said that he clearly “hated” modern day movie-making and the art of film as a whole. Still others wouldn’t even call it a movie.

To be honest, the filmmaker didn’t expect everyone to love the work. However, for those who accused him of “hating” film as a medium and being “against” the modern day movie, they were simply wrong. In fact, he was even saddened by their reactions.

If anything, it was his deep love for film that inspired and compelled him to make the silent film.

Of course, this is simply a metaphor. Being the movie-lover (see: complete and utter film geek) that I am, I hope it is an example which you can appreciate and understand.

You see, Nicole and I do not hate, or even dislike, the traditional church. We have served on the leadership teams of denominational and non-denominational churches that we love dearly. We have supported these churches with our time, prayers, and finances. We would (and have) recommend these churches–and many others–to friends, family, and others within our networks of influence based upon what different people are looking for at different times.

Like the modern day silent filmmaker, we also know that organic church isn’t for everyone. We don’t expect it to be. But it is something that our previous experiences and the Lord’s direction has led us toward over time. You must understand that fact: it is our previous church experiences, training, and discipleship that has prepared us for what we’re doing now. For that, we are deeply grateful to the traditional church.

And you know what, we’re not the only ones who feel like this. In fact, we have now met hundreds of people who feel the same way. They are not “out to get” or “hurt” traditional churches, nor do they expect organic church to be “the only way you can do church if you’re a God-fearing, Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ.” Rubbish. There are those people out there, I’m certain, but I will tell you that it’s not the norm from our experience.

All this is to say that I–and Nicole–hope this clears the air and opens up an intellectually honest debate here on Modern Reject and elsewhere about why one expression of church might be better for you than another, what you’re feeling drawn to, what you’re questions are, and so on. Let’s discuss it as Christians should: in love, seasoned with both grace and truth.

So long as we are all built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, we have the One thing in common that truly matters. So let’s stop making it a competition.

Do you feel like there’s a competition between different church “movements” and missions? Have you felt pressured to choose sides? Share why you’re thankful for both traditional and organic churches.

20 thoughts on “Organic Church vs. Traditional Church”

  1. Top notch explanation. Don’t be discouraged the traditional church of the time criticized Jesus when He came and “unveiled” a new Way. I am not calling the traditional church today Pharisees just making a comparison. The problem (IMO) is many times constituents of a particular brand of church, be it traditional or organic, or be it a specific denomination venerate the church above the relationship of the Christ who founded it. I have been pondering doctrine of late. What “doctrine” did the church of Acts follow. It wasn’t the Law and the New Testament hadn’t been written. They were “just a bunch of people” who were set on FOLLOWING Jesus. Thanks for the guest appearance.

    1. Ken, thanks for the comment. You asked, “What ‘doctrine’ did the church of Acts follow.” I myself have been dwelling upon this question. Paul best summarizes my conclusion in his first letter to the Corinthians:

      “…when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

      “Nothing”! The doctrine was a Person.

    2. Ken,
      You said: “a particular brand of church, be it traditional or organic, or be it a specific denomination venerate the church above the relationship of the Christ who founded it.”

      Bam. I think that about nails it. Churches, no matter the expression or denomination, have been guilty of exalting the church and its practices above the Head who is Jesus Christ.

      Well said and thank you for commenting.

  2. Great post! I think what you are doing is so far out there-but in the BEST kind of way. Just like “home is where the heart is”, “Church is where Christ is”. And Christ can be in your living room, etc. I am thankful that there are people out there who are so moved by their convictions that they actually listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and move-image that-a spirit led Christian…who would have thunk it!? :)
    Since I know you both personally (minus sometime while I was out of the entire social loop from having a child, ahem) I can’t think of two better Jesus Freaks to begin a mini-Jesus Freak-movement in their own home. Don’t get me wrong, my family belongs to a Traditional Church and for now we will stay there unless led to move, but I see nothing wrong with what you are being called to do and I AM SO EXCITED!!!
    I am also thankful that you are not blasting Traditional Churches (not that I would have thought you to do) but instead you are sharing with the world what God has shown you both.
    Keep on doin’ what He has called you to do, and you can count on me to be encouraging, excited and prayerful!
    Ash

  3. People are funny about their traditions. If something presumes to disrupt one of their pet traditions, there is a perception that the threat is against all of the elements associated with that tradition – as if changing how we worship God actually threatens our core beliefs about God, or somehow even threatens God himself.

    Lots of church splits begin over very simple things like the color of the carpeting in the sanctuary. It’s really, though, a change in a tradition that makes people defensive.

    Perhaps disruptions like this are also a threat to the power (or control, or influence) that people have within their various churches. Somehow our self-esteem is wrapped up in our perceived ability to influence what is decided and how things are done. Propose a change in the sound system or decorations, and you may have a fight on your hands. Propose something as radical as eliminating the basic structure of facilities or clergy or order-of-worship, and you may have a war.

    Every new idea that has ever changed Christianity has faced similar opposition. Methodism, as I recall, got its initial boost because its leaders were banned from preaching in traditional churches, so they held meetings in fields and empty lots. The idea that God could be worshiped outside of a dedicated sanctuary horrified some traditionalists. Yet, God didn’t seem to mind, and blessed their efforts.

    Hang in there. What the organic church movement is suggesting is neither heretical nor inherently dangerous. Don’t take the criticism too personally.

  4. Ed, thank you for the comment. So much truth in what you’ve shared here. “People are funny about their traditions,” indeed.

    We definitely don’t take it personally–it’s spiritual, after all. But we do want to clear the air. More than anything, when a negative comment or two pops up, hopefully we can just point people this way rather than reiterate our perspective every time. Ultimately, we simply want to share the truth of our hearts in love and that we desperately desire unity in the faith, not division.

  5. People know what “traditional church” looks like, and they have been quite content with it, seeing many good things happening within that context. When you say, “We are not going to do traditional church” they might hear

    – we don’t think you’re being biblical
    – you really aren’t getting the job done
    – the things you are doing aren’t good enough for us
    – we know better than you what God really wants
    – traditional church just isn’t cutting the mustard

    And, unfortunately, how can they hear it any other way? When we choose to stop doing something we have been doing with others, the implicit message is one of judgment and rejection.

    Perhaps part of the solution is for people to see what it is you are choosing to do instead. They will see the similarities. They will better understand the differences. They will see that you are in no way rejecting the church or the Lord of the church, but adopting some practices that they will be able to observe and evaluate for themselves.

    People need to see. For the most part, their hearing and imagination are not up to the task of understanding what you are talking about. So keep on track, trust the Lord, do what you have been called to do, and show the world a church that does what the church is supposed to do.

    Your Lord and your family are proud of you.

  6. Nicole,
    Very well said.

    I’m not 100 percent out of the traditional church yet. I’ve been slowly moving in that direction over the past year. In the process, I’ve been going to traditional church services less, and been having gatherings with fellow followers in homes more. It’s nothing I set out to do, I’ve just chosen to be more of a Martha than a Mary.

    In this journey of mine, I have been judged. I’ve been called unfaithful. I’ve had people pray that I will get my “life right and priorities right.” I don’t bite back, but no explanation I give is good enough.

  7. I guess I’ll “take the bait” one last time since you made it a point to seek me out and point me over here to this post.

    This won’t be very long so no need to stress.

    I would encourage you stop assuming that you are going to meet adversity as you share your hearts. Feel free to go back over everything I have commented with.

    I apologize if you feel I ever attacked anyone. I didn’t. I simply asked questions and never got my answers. When someone did attempt to answer one particular question, they contradicted themselves and I felt no need to respond.

    You keep assuming everyone doing “traditional” church is doing it for the wrong reasons and keep feeling the need to tell me why I am wrong. Everyone outside of “organic” church keeps getting lumped into all of your conclusions, assumptions, training, discipleship, etc.

    I do not hate dislike or disapprove of your preference to engage with other believers. I commend anyone’s efforts to reach more lost people. God receives glory when tell others of what He did by asking His Son to go to the cross.

    If there is one thing that I do know is that people need leaders. People in mass need to be led.

    Jesus did this Himself. He drew people in. Sometimes by performing miracles. rejectdad said it himself, people need to see. Sometimes Jesus drew people in because He was the most talented, most prolific communicator and teacher of all time. Either way Jesus was attractional, weeded the people out who were playing games and invested in people for the purpose of them going out to do the same. When people are led to the cross, it is what you choose to do next that matters. If all we are concerned with is punching our holy ticket and sitting in a holy huddle, then we have done a huge discredit to what the Holy Spirit is capable of through us and a disservice to the almost 2 BILLION people on this planet who have never even heard the words Jesus Christ.

    14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? 13 And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

    I fully understand that I AM the church and I can promise you Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ ALONE reigns over me.

    But as Brian concluded, and I feel the same in this case, “no explanation I give is good enough.”

    Forgive. I am a pastor and communicator. I have tendency to “run a little long” in my messages. :-)

  8. Jonathan and Nicole,

    What can I say? You know my heart already. The fire is burning and I am waiting on our Father to give me His green light. IN the meanwhile I spend time debating with Jonathan (over the phone) and wondering if cheesecake really is a perfect food. :)

    It would seem your postings on organic church and the like have struck some ugly chords. Shame, that. Anyone with a 5th grade ability to read and understand the English language can see you are not hateful about the American churches we have today. (I am, but that’s because I’m a jerk.) You are simply presenting, for lack of better way to say it, the democratic response to these said churches.

    Good for you, and bravely spoken. The only problem with change is that, well, it shakes up those who have the most to lose.

    You know my heart. I’ll do my best to not draw my sword on your behalf. But no promises. :)

    1. I think Jesus might ask, What are you doing to help the wdiwos, poor, aliens? Why do you have such a large building when so many in your community are hungry?

  9. Hi Jonathan,

    As an outsider, I’m not sure what the controversy is here.

    Your first paragraph indicates you expected persecution from the word go. I’m not sure I understand why anyone would object to your getting together in your own home with your friends and doing your thing in the way of worship.

    Perhaps a change in language might relieve some of the pressure.

    Years ago I did some street preaching. It involved using paints and poster boards to present simple evangelistic messages in parks and on the beaches.

    Occasionally a heckler would ask, “Who is paying you to do this?”.

    “Nobody”.

    “What church do you represent”?

    “None”

    “Why are you doing this”?

    “It’s my hobby”.

    That answer dumbfounded them as I’d explain that other men might play golf on a nice afternoon, I came out to the park to paint pictures and tell bible stories just because I enjoyed doing it.

    The use of the word “hobby” made all the difference in their perception; and it actually meant the same activity as “preaching an evangelistic message of eternal salvation to lost souls”.

    Perhaps instead of “organic church” you simply said “We’re having a Jesus party at our house Sunday” or maybe even just “party”, it would tone down some of the opposition you face.

    Just a thought.

    John Cowart

  10. This reminds me of the passage on new wine skins v old wine skins (Mark 2:19-22). I think the Organic Church is a type of new skin to be filled with “new” wine! Old skins contain the “mature” wine :) We should celebrate because God is always making new wine in every generation but also keeping the old wine on reserve for the right moment!

  11. I’ve been reading through Viola’s ‘Reimagining Church’ in preparation for a class I’m teaching on Pauline evangelism here in the UK. What strikes me is the bold claim he makes that institutional or traditional churches have actually departed from the biblical model in the NT. That’s a big claim, and one that will certainly raise more than a few hackles if we are pursuing the possibility of organic church. I think whatever we do, we have to be careful not to be merely reactionary against traditional churches, which is difficult as many of us who were formerly in ministry have been scorched by those same churches. It’s taken me a lot of years to get over those experiences, but I’m about to plant something here in the UK that may just work… who knows. Great post–

  12. I realize I’m a year and a half late to this particular commenting party, but I just stumbled across the blog, loved it, and thought this post stood out as a particularly fantastic way of explaining some things and showcasing the truth that discontent or dislike of authority is not at all the reason many of us have stepped out of an institution we grew up in.

    I deliberately walked away from my position of “worship pastor” about four years ago after coming to an awful lot of the same conclusions noted in many posts here. Yet people still often assume it was because I somehow “got burned” by the church. It’s nuts, really.

    It’s refreshing to find other organic-expression-of-the-Church peeps. Thanks for that encouragement!

    1. Dean,
      Thank you for the encouraging words. Happy you “found” me and thank you for introducing yourself. Here’s to those of us led away from institutional church by the Spirit of God, not because of the hurt done to us by the saints.

      Also, if you are looking for some more organic church reading, I’d highly recommend my brother Jamal Jivanjee. He is the real deal. http://jamaljivanjee.com/

      I hope to see you around these parts. Blessings.

  13. Yonatan,

    Really great information in this post.

    One of the interesting things you mention is the doctrinal issue and that it is more about a person.

    One of the things in the New Testament is a progressive greater revelation about that Person.

    The earliest manuscripts of the New Testament universally position the seven books of James, I and II Peter, I II and III John and Jude right after the book of Acts and before Romans. This makes sense culturally in the culture of the time and because these men were believers (even apostles) before St. Paul, as Paul even tells us himself in Galatians (1:17).

    When you analyze these seven books, you will note that they were directed to Israelite believers in our Lord Jesus in the region of the Mediterranean. Study them and you will find the subject of the Person of Jesus was something that they were still developing an appreciation for and a greater understanding of.

    This changes with St. Paul (due to his much greater knowledge of the Bible and God’s choice of selecting him for a mission) because then the discussions about the Person of Jesus multiply. If you simply add up the number of times ‘Jesus’, you will find ‘Jesus’ is discussed as a subject 16 times more than in the seven books I mentioned earlier. Count them, it is easy. For example, Jesus is mentioned twice only in James, but in Romans, He is mentioned over 30 times. This is significant because as St. Peter tells us, Paul is going to talk about more detailed and sophisticated information about Jesus than he and his colleagues from Christ’s own family and His relatives were going to be discussing. That is what he said at the end of II Peter. (Another interesting indicator along this same line is the word ‘ekklesia’, which you find also used much more by Paul than James, Peter, John or Jude. Check it out.)

    This is a big problem in most Bible versions who have followed the Hieronimic (named after St. Jerome) order of Scripture found in almost all Bible’s today. This order is not the original one. For more info on this check, http://www.originalbible.com.

    In conclusion, I totally agree with you, it is all about a Person and His Body. Keep up the great work.

    Peace to you from Jerusalem.

    Samuel Martin

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