Organic Learning Within The Church.

moss-growing-on-cobblestoneYou may have heard of “Organic Church.”  Most of the time it’s positioned or offered as something contrary to “Institutional Church.”  If that’s confusing, then let’s look at a couple of cursory descriptions of each, and take it from there.  

Institutional church, at its core, is the most visible and culturally recognizable manifestation of organized religion that finds its primary definition and purpose in the weekly Sunday morning meeting.  It has been the accepted expression of the church for most believers since way before the reformation.  While the church has changed greatly since Martin Luther and others, it’s still only a continually modifying form the Roman Catholic institutional church.

The theology is radically different but many of the practices remain the same: a formal and rigidly scheduled weekly gathering, mute observance by most of the church during that gathering, a ritualistic observances, a clerical class that is distinguished from the laity by extra-Biblical educational standards, and a focus on performance and consumption rather than mutual edification and participation.  The work of the ministry, is carried out by the select few instead of the entire body.

Organic Church doesn’t seem to have a “core.”  It’s also known as “simple church,” or even “house church.”  It can not be denied that there is a growing trend within Christendom away from institutional expressions of church to more organic ones.  Here are two explanations of what “Organic Church” is:

1.  Neil Cole ~ I have come to understand church as this: the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.

2. Frank Viola ~ By “organic church,” I mean a non-traditional church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grass-roots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.

I think the differences between organic church and institutional church is clear enough.  But, this post is not about the merits of either expression of church.  I wanted to lay the ground work beforehand to discuss a more organic approach to teaching and learning within the church. 

Organic learning is learning that occurs in a natural state.  It is learning that develops from within as one goes and grows with others.  Isolation from community limits learning.  It’s unnatural to learn alone.  The motivation to learn and the search for answers is placed within the regenerated heart of any believer.  To those watching from outside, it may appear as play or unsafe curiosity seeking.  To others, simple foolishness, rebellion, or disobedience.  But satiating curiosity has been encoded into the genetic DNA of every believer.   Creativity and problem solving are nurtured when outside forces are minimized and that inherent curiosity is given a a communally conducive environment.  The desire to over structure another’s learning often squelches it.  Christ’s teaching and those that learned from Him, flourished while life happened.  In Him we live and move and have our being.  (Acts 17:28)  Organic learning tends to cost very little and has vast natural resources.  

Institutional learning is any learning that attempts to modify the organic. It’s often identifiable by attempts to control what, how, or when a believer will learn.  Institutional learning could be a textbook, lecture, church-imposed curriculum, or the myriad of other methods or tools Christendom uses to attempt to teach its adherents.  Institutional learning often comes at a great financial cost and always has limited resources.  Certain sections within the church are always attempting to “corner the market” on resources etc.  Equipping others for the work of the ministry becomes “training.”  Discipling others becomes “coaching.”  It always seems to boil down to a sub-set of the church teaching the rest of the church what that sub-set thinks the rest of us should know.  Institutional learning also seems to slow down, impede, and discourage mission.

I’m not saying that some structured or traditional learning within the church isn’t warranted or needed, but I have to wonder if it should be placed at the core.  When we say that there are varied and valid expressions of church, I think we’re also implying that there are many states or forms of the church too.  Like any living organism, the church’s form should arise from its nature.  A few questions:

Is the church by nature, or by design, organic or institutional?

If we say that it’s organic, then shouldn’t learning and teaching within the church be primarily organic?

What would an organic learning environment look like to you?  




0 thoughts on “Organic Learning Within The Church.

  1. Kirk Stephens says:

    I want to expand upon the organic church. It can exist with a man and his God. It can exist within the immediate family structure, schools, AA. Anywhere, anytime, and should all of the time. As rays of light cross in the heavens, so do the paths of man cross. Example: I do this often. Go into a convenience store, with a radiant smile, and as I am greeted, “Hi, how are you”. My response very often is ” I am blessed and hope you are”. Instant healing? CHURCH. Sometimes my response is “Merry Christmas”, in the middle of the summer. Same results. A hand shake, a holy kiss, hug, shared moments, shared lives, shared cares. The sound of life, or the birds sing the hallelujah chorus in the backround. Every breath of our life then becomes worship. Too often church, becomes a focus on bible studies, and structure rather than just enjoying life and love. It took the apostles three years to realize this. And then on the day of Pentecost, Christ returned, with power, and might, to firmly establish the Church. It had always been here from day one, but man forgot who he was. A son of God! I go to corporate worship often. You see I have a very large family. Seven billion brothers and sisters. And as an heir, being the bride of Christ, seven billion children too. And everywhere I go, my God, goes with me, and I am in a constant state of thanksgiving, joy, peace, and try to share it. Sometimes, though, being carnal, I fall down hard, get frustrated, hurt, and loose my joy, or stick it in my pocket. Until someone raises me up, or a crisis does. But it is Christ, for I have been crucified and raised up with Him. blessings

  2. Marshall says:

    [to note: “organic” and “simple” (and a plethora of other terms) may only remain in vogue for a generation or less; these words don’t firmly define ekklesia, they are bridge words amid radical transition.]

    the ekklesia is, by divine design, administrative; She is the government of Christ on earth. not of this world, and so unlike any human government (infer: ekklesia is not an institution).

    the English word “teach” of “teaching” has become weak, just as has the word “study” [as in, “study/endeavor to show thyself approved unto God”] This gradual shift in word-meaning has its “core” in the forms & weaknesses of Greek-style education today so popular in the western world. Possibly the word “training” is closer to what we would impart, and then through being disciples/learners? Christ is the Source of our training/teaching, and not the ekklesia per se. (this is a vital distinction, aiding to avoid regression to institutional modes.)

    ideal learning environment is daily/hourly & mobile. ekklesia (those called out, coming together) is not appointed or suited for steady training of members (though some training does occur in ekklesia). Ephesians 4:11-12 is not merely identifying graces in effect when we gather together. The largest portion of our training/learning needfully unfolds within the on-going walk/journey of brothers/sisters in Christ.

    Viola, Cole, me, you, and others, have been graced to see with a slat removed from centuries-old blinds — the same blinds that hid men beneath historic Dark Ages of institutional religion — and of the world. We note that too often men paint-in much of their own musings to complete their picture, rather than coming together with Christ’s brothers upon the same canvas that He has called us. so often, as book authors may continue to turn out additional volumes which drift the reader further & further upon their own thoughts & fantasies.

  3. Jonathan says:

    My beloved Marine Corps, my friends who completed sniper school, another friend who was an Army Ranger, and yet another who spent years on a Seal team, all experienced tried and true training that had one focus: creating warriors. If our warrior creators moved to an organic model, the face of the globe would change dramatically within a generation…and not for the better.

    Each of these training methods have developed over time as each generation faces new challenges. But the basics are the same: there are clear measurements.

    Outside of formal seminary training, we don’t like to talk about specific measurements in disciplemaking. There’s probably a reason for that. I speculate that it involves a desire to be thinkers rather than doers.

  4. Marshall says:

    God forbid that we ever move again into the training of Crusaders or pawns in brutality such as the world’s military systems evoke. The measurements & systems of men are of no worth to the Almighty One.

    • Jonathan says:

      Marshall, either you missed my point or I did not articulate it properly.

      I was not suggesting that church’s create systems that created Christian armed militias that rampage around the globe like those in the 11th – 13th century (or Islamic counterparts today). I referenced elite military groups because their training is directly related to the stakes they face. A person who begins the training must exit the training with the tools and the ability to use them in such a way that the mission may be achieved. And, it is important to note, the individuals produced need to be able to perform within a group such that the group succeed. A willingness (an eagerness) to sacrifice is key. One can evaluate the training program for these elite military units by the people produced.

      Likewise, the Scriptures provides clear skills (“spiritual disciplines”), characteristics (“fruit of the spirit”), and mission. A training/educational program can be evaluated by the quality of the disciples produced. One of the glaring problems in the evangelical community is that we tend to evaluate such training by how faithful it is to the Text. In other words, as long as what is taught is done so with fidelity to the Scriptures, it doesn’t really matter if the teaching is producing quality disciples. Over the centuries, this thinking has, IMO, moved the emphasis of the church from the building of disciples (see Acts 2-6) to today’s environment with seminaries that are essentially factories that produce preachers and seminary professors in a sort of self perpetuating scheme.

  5. Marshall says:

    Jonathan, my reply was not intended to be taken for surface value.
    Institution breeds brutality, as power concentrated in men further corrupts.

    to “The measurements & systems of men are of no worth to the Almighty One.”
    Our legitimate training comes from God. Seminary & Military of the nations are of the institution and “scheme” of men.

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