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church as organism

What you are describing is church as an organic creature, going through the life, death, rebirth process. By trying to artificially keep it alive through programs and whatnot, we have a truly man-made construction: a soulless machine.

This was a comment on naked pastor’s blog made by jovial_cynic and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The phrase, ’soulless machine’ has been as a bur in my heart. What with the talk about being the “organic church” and the book the book by the same name, my recent thoughts aren’t likely news to anyone (least of all me). But sometimes things move from the front of my brain where it’s “good and interesting” to somewhere in the depths of my brain where I chew on it for awhile and if it’s real, if it’s going to last, if it has any substance and possibility of fleshing out in the real world, it lands solidly in my soul where it becomes a part of me.

I feel like this concept of “church as organism” is somewhere between my deep brain and my soul. Last year, I wrote a blog entry about church communities compared to organic produce - ugly, messy, difficult to cultivate, requiring extra attention and care but much better tasting and ultimately much healthier. At that time, this idea was probably in the front of my brain, percolating. Now that I have seen this concept fleshed out in our own community and upon reading that comment, it shifted.

Communities of faith are comprised of individuals. Living, breathing, growing, failing, broken, thriving, laughing, crying human beings - - or human becomings as I have heard said, and prefer. So when those human becomings, who are also followers of Jesus come together, they form a living, breathing, growing…and so forth…organism. Or they should.

These communities have a life force and a life cycle. They get sick, they experience developmental milestones and moments of stunted growth. They go through phases where they will only eat chicken nuggets and apple sauce and they have periods where tantrums are a daily occurrence. They multiply and grow, lose pieces and die.

Or they should.

When we remove the breath from our faith communities to create monolithic structures, we might be able to sculpt flawless facsimiles of humans that even look and last better than the original, but we also remove the good bits that make us in the image of God, the flesh and blood, bones and sinew, tears and sweat that allow us to be incarnations of Christ and advancers of his Kingdom on earth.

Naked Pastor said it well:

Our poor communities suffer under the same dilemma. We persuade them to live according to a definition of what we think a successful, influential, vibrant and growing community should be, rather than just letting it be what it already is. And we are constantly measuring our communities against the definition of what we thought it should or shouldn’t be.

From the beginning we are taught envision and to plan, and through proper techniques create a church that is more an institution than a muddy creation of God, more a marble statue than a crying, bleeding, dying emissary of Christ. I believe we are in an era where the Church is seeking to regain her humanity. And sometimes, like a person being brought back from the dead, we vomit and cough and bleed. We go through shock and we stumble as we rise. We’re not always pretty - but we are alive.

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  1. Jamie Arpin-Ricci — July 25, 2007 #

    Great thought, Makeesha. In many ways, true organic community is like a AA gathering, where success is not measured by the achievement of a lofty ideal of sobriety, but rather it is defined by the acknowledgment of both past and present, looking to the future with mutual awareness of our fragility and brokenness, but tempered by the grace and hope that overcomes inevitable failures in our pursuit of wholeness, not “perfection”.


  2. Erin — July 25, 2007 #

    I had to sleep on this one. That comment caught my attention, too.

    You are so right - and an interesting thing came to my mind…when I am criticized for leaving the church, the argument is inevitably that the church is made of imperfect people, or as you said “Living, breathing, growing, failing, broken, thriving, laughing, crying human beings”. And I don’t fail to recognize this - but the reason I have always rejected that notion is what you have articulated here - it’s not that I expect the church to be made up of perfect people, but that I want it to be a place which acknowledges that life (death, mistakes, tantrums) has to take place there - that if it truly is comprised of imperfect humans then it cannot be the “monolithic structure” it strives to be.

    And what you said about “sculpting flawless facsimiles of humans” made me think of “The Stepford Wives”.

    And the second quote - the one from NP - can you say “gentrification”?

    Great one Mak - thanks for resolving this for me.

  3. Mak — July 25, 2007 #

    thanks Jamie, good stuff.

    Erin, I’m glad this provoked some good wrestling.

    What you said made me think of the man in the iron mask. The people in IC who are saying those things to you are right in so far as it goes…the problem is that it only really works in an organic structure. putting a beating heart into a metal case doesn’t make it human. putting a man in an iron mask destroys him

  4. Mak — July 25, 2007 #

    gentrification - yeah, man, that’s for sure. That’s a whole other post in itself.

  5. jovial_cynic — July 25, 2007 #

    I’m glad to see some folks chewing on my thoughts. That’s always fun.

    The whole idea of the organic church and the “babel” reference David made actually congealed into a new post on my blog, so if you want to check it out, here it is:


  6. Erin — July 25, 2007 #

    Question for you:

    What would you say to people who say we have a perfect “Church” made up of imperfect people?

    Because to me it’s used as an excuse for individual people behaving badly while the entity is still trying to create some perfect structure.

    “People aren’t perfect but the church is.” How can that be? CAN that be? I know there are a myriad of ways to look at the word “church”… I think this idea is referring to Christ’s Church as a whole. But is it even supposed to be “perfect”? Are we really to expect that?

    Looking for your thoughts…

  7. Mak — July 26, 2007 #

    the universal Church? perfect? pshaw.

    nothing is perfect on this earth and the Church is on this earth.

    we see in part, we prophesy in part, we see through a mirror dimly - - - no, we’re not perfect, nor is the Bride.

    but that’s ok and people should stop getting defensive about it.

  8. Mak — July 26, 2007 #

    thanks for stopping by jovial :)

  9. jovial_cynic — July 26, 2007 #

    No prob, mak. Seems like a place I’d be welcome.

    As for the “perfect” church — I think we tend to get tangled up in the English meaning of the word. Earthly perfection is the notion of flawlessness, and it only exists in the form of concepts, mostly in mathematical principles (perfect triangle, perfect circle, etc.) We try to apply those principles in terms of beauty, the tasks we do, and in our morals.

    Biblically, perfection means completion. We are perfect in Christ when we are completed by Him, and the bible uses that language when describing the perfection of His bride.

  10. Mak — July 26, 2007 #

    that’s a good way of putting it, I like that a lot. thanks again jovial :)

  11. Erin — July 26, 2007 #

    Hey this is a great conversation - helpful to me as I am still shedding my church baggage.

  12. Mak — July 26, 2007 #

    that’s good, it’s been helpful to me as well.

  13. jovial_cynic — July 27, 2007 #

    … as I am still shedding my church baggage.

    What’s great about this is that we’re doing the exact same thing that the first church had to do. For the first century church, the conversations spiraled around adherence to the Torah - ceremonial laws, circumcision, eating particular foods… and much of Paul’s writing stands in stark opposition to the teachings of the religious leaders of the day. It makes me feel like we’re on the right track, you know?

    Anyhow, I have a label for all of that church baggage: churchianity.

  14. Mak — July 27, 2007 #

    hey that’s my word! :)

  15. Paul — July 27, 2007 #

    grin, churchianity, yeah but then us in the deep church groove are stealing it back ;)

  16. Pingback - all said and done » Starred: May-September — September 10, 2007 #

    [...] Church as Organism - Swinging From the Vine This got me thinking quite a bit [...]

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