At a basic level, something is considered “organic” when it contains life inside of it. It’s in its healthiest state when that life has been able to flourish and grow it into what it was designed to be. This happens when it’s given the conditions it needs and is unhindered by toxins in its environment. When the environment isn’t healthy, that thing either dies or doesn’t flourish like it was designed to.
In recent decades, it’s become more popular to apply this concept to church life…and rightly so. After all, the church has the Life of Christ inside of it. It’s in its healthiest state when that Life is what orders its functioning and growth. But this will only happen if the environment is right for it to do so. If the environment is filled with conditions that aren’t conducive and even toxic, the Life inside of it will be hindered from causing it to flourish like it was designed to.
But what are the conditions that make the environment healthy for a church to grow into what it was designed by God to be? What does it mean for a church to be organic and allow Christ’s Life to order it’s functioning and growth?
Building what we want ourselves
At a conceptual level, it means that you don’t control, program and manufacture it like you would do with building objects without life in them. It’s just like you don’t build a tree in a yard. If you control, program or manufacture the building of a tree, it doesn’t contain life.
You would have to make it out of inanimate materials. It would be something dead that poses like it’s a tree. This would be your option if you wanted to have a tree in your yard, but were in an environment that wasn’t conducive to the tree’s growth. It would also be an option if you were impatient and wanted a new tree right now.
This is what happens to many churches. They may sincerely want the Life of Christ to be what leads, orders and grows it; but those that are a part of it have little to no idea of the characteristics of the environment where this can happen. So inevitably there are controllers, programmers and manufacturers that build something that doesn’t spring forth from Life. They operate in mechanical order as they build what they want to come to fruition.
Artificial trees can look so real they fool you…until you examine them really, really closely.
What must be learned for a church to be truly organic – that is a community that grows and is sustained by the Life of Christ – is how to operate by the principles of organic order. This produces the environment that can allow the Life of Christ to be the Source of all it is and does.
Operating in mechanical order
People that operate with mechanical order treat the church as an object and attempt to program church order into being. As they do, they program the Life right out of it. They create plans that intend to control the future. When things happen, they always look at them in light of the plan that’s already been established and how they think the plan is being served.
As Joseph Myers says in his book Organic Community about mechanical order…
The future seems safe, less messy, and less chaotic. People settle in and obey the master plan, trusting that it will bring a future unburdened by anxieties and complexities. They are often disappointed. After all, the very existence of a master plan means, by definition, that the members of the community can have little impact on the future shape of their community, because most of the decisions have already been made.
In a sense, under a master plan people are living with a frozen future, able to affect only relatively trivial details. When people lose the sense of responsibility for the environment they live in, and realize that they are merely cogs in someone else’s machine, how can they feel any sense of identification with the community, or any sense of purpose there?
Mechanical order works really, really well for manufacturing inanimate objects like cars and refrigerators. But something with Life inside of it requires an environment of organic order.
Destroying the unity of the Spirit
On a more practical level, mechanical order is found in churches where people concoct plans and pathways and then impose them onto others.
Organic order is found where Life emerges the plans and pathways through the vessels of all the members together with an inherent flexibility.
When a church operates by mechanical order, it’s inevitable that it will reject the leading of the Spirit through His Body. This is because the Spirit will desire to lead the Body in ways that will not seem to align with the predetermined plans, which are inevitably those held by the most influential people. When He does, they will say no to Him to protect their predetermined plans and pathways that were believed to be from Him in the first place.
As this happens, the unity of the Spirit (the real goal) is destroyed or kept from ever existing in the first place.
Relationships that flourish by the Spirit
Now before you make the mistake of thinking that what’s being talked about here is a call for chaos and no order, listen to how Myers describes the difference between being purely organic and having organic order…
It is the difference between an infant’s response to her body’s need to release waste and her father’s need to do the same. If her father were to respond to this need in a strictly organic way, he too would need diapers. Thankfully he has developed an order for an organic process. It is not enough to simply become more organic. Seek organic order.
Just like God created environments conducive to being ordered and flourishing with life in Genesis 1, so we reflect that when we create environments conducive to relationships being ordered and flourishing by the Spirit.
Humans were made for order to spring forth from the Life of Christ inside of them. Every church should be an organic church, whether or not that’s what they call themselves. It’s being a church that agrees to cultivate an environment where order springs forth from His Life and causes it to flourish and bear the fruit of the Spirit.
We must let go of being controllers, programmers and manufacturers…and make the switch to being environmentalists.
In the rest of the posts in this series, we’ll be taking a look at how to make the switch and what the conditions are in a church that operates by organic order to allow the Life of Christ to be its Source.
The rest of the posts in the What It Means To Be Organic series are here.