You 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?