Thursday, October 16, 2014

Organisms and Organization

One of the more popular ways to "do" church (oh I could write a whole blog on that one!) is to have small groups. 

Small groups are more intimate. People get to know one another. They can pray for each other. In principle, that is. 

The early church thrived and spread on the back of small groups.

However, I really don't think that they had people sign up for them based on interest, or age, or socioeconomic status, or education level, or whatever other kind of pigeon-hole one might slot people into. 

No, their small groups grew. They were organisms. They were alive.

There was no "structure." People got together - as often as they could - because they wanted to share how wonderful Jesus was in their lives. They were bubbling up inside with His love and they loved talking about it with people who understood! They were full of stories about how God used them since the last time they met (usually the previous day or the day before that) to spread the Good News, and they were eager to share what God was teaching them about how wonderful He was and how much He loved them. Songs would spring up spontaneously. There was no "order of service," no "topic." They'd share a meal together - nothing fancy - not trying to outdo each other (like I've seen happen in some places.) The point wasn't the food; the point was Jesus!

The groups didn't get "established" or "assigned." There was one group, and if the group got too big and risked attracting attention by the religious authorities (there's another blog post... but not now...) God already had it set up because there was usually a group within the group that just gravitated toward each other (something like a baby growing inside the mother's womb). It would split off (naturally, not by argument!) and another small group was born. Each one was called a church. Paul often closed his letters by sending his greetings to this or that one, "and the church that is in his house." 

What happened? Where did these alive, vibrant organisms go? 

Photo "Center Of Church" courtesy
of Keerati at
Around 300 AD, the emperor Constantine "converted" to Christianity. Suddenly this new sect of Judaism was 'in vogue' and had the backing of the money and power of Rome. 

Abraham Lincoln said something like, "Nearly every man can stand adversity, but if you want to test his character, give him power." THAT - in my opinion - is what happened to these beautiful, tender, alive communities. Groups now could get bigger. The intimacy was lost. People started thinking in the mind-set of the world: "we have to get organized." "Someone should look after the children." "Someone should lead the singing." "We should set a time to take up a collection." "We should get Mr. X to speak - I wonder what he'll talk on this time?" The Holy Spirit - instead of being the orchestrator of the gatherings, quietly said, "I guess you feel you don't need My anointing anymore. So I'll just go somewhere that does." 

Without the anointing of the Spirit, without the connection with other people and the excitement of sharing how good God was with each other, the church just became another compartment of people's lives, and it changed from being an organism and became an organization.

That's the thing about organizing an organism. When you start cutting off parts and reorganizing them so they'll "fit" ... the organism bleeds to death.

And on and on it has gone for centuries. 

And the church has slowly gotten the idea - just in the last little while - that small groups are the way to go. But it's so stuck in the organization mentality that it feels it has to legislate love, regiment relationship, and elicit edification. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Small groups exist and they have for quite a while; we just don't call them churches or small groups. I've had such wonderful times of true Christian fellowship with one or two other believers over coffee at a doughnut shop or even in chats over Facebook that I (and my companions) have felt built up and energized spiritually: wonderfully so! 

What am I saying? Not that this way or that way is right or wrong - just that perhaps ... PERHAPS we are trying too hard. Perhaps we just need to let it happen naturally, let it live and breathe; don't smother it with trappings and structure and "should" statements. Let it flow naturally from our relationship with God, out of His love and care for us.

This week, perhaps it might be worth your while, my while, to look for opportunities to connect with people in a meaningful way and share what God is talking to us about, not theoretical or esoteric things but rubber-meets-the-road stuff, useful, thoughtful and caring things that speak to the heart and build each other up. 

Who knows? Church just might happen where you least expect it.

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