Who Needs ‘Leaders’ in an Organic Church?

Our church’s culture exists within the tension between organism and organization, just like every church should.

Of course, we tend to put the stress on the organismic. We live among and serve a generation that is suspicious of institutions. At the same time, even those who have grown weary of the evangelical subculture’s hyper-institutionalism aren’t fond of being all at sea, especially when it comes to gospel, community, and mission.

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How do you make sure that in the organism of your church, you’re still organized enough to stay alive? You need ensure that you’re doing what all living things need: having an identity, having unity within diversity, and playing your role successfully within your host community.

We’ve gravitated toward the language of Up / In / Out. (We stole it from 3dm.)

Up is about our identity in fellowship with Father, Son and Spirit.

In is about our unity within diversity as we fulfill the “one anotherings” of the New Testament.

Out is about our calling to our host community, those we serve in word and deed in Jesus’ name.

What is a leader? One way we look at it in our context is this: a leader is someone who advocates for one of these trajectories (Up, In, Out), and who organizes opportunities for the organism to move deliberately along that trajectory. 

So, does a gospel community on mission have a single leader, or shared leadership? Does it veer toward the organismic or organizational? Does it flow freely or does it have structure?

Hopefully you can see that these are not well-framed questions.

The most important thing for me as a leader is not which trajectory I’m predisposed toward. The mark of a community group leader is not whether they are balanced balanced across these trajectories or skewed toward one of them.

Rather, the mark of a healthy gospel community on mission is that all three of these trajectories are progressively pursued, one way or another. 

If you happen to have a leader who is incredibly balanced, perhaps they could lead the community along all three trajectories. More often than not, the unity of the the body and the balance of its pursuits, even in the body’s smallest expressions, is accomplished as different champions of Up, In, and Out arise from within the group.

When such champions are able to successfully advocate for their respective trajectory, they are leaders. And when the organism is led and organized in each of the three trajectories,  beautiful, powerful things happen.

Why do we need leaders in an organic church? Every organism that wants to be survive and thrive must be organized. Leaders organize the organism for life-sustaining and life-giving action.

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3 thoughts on “Who Needs ‘Leaders’ in an Organic Church?

  1. Andy, great thoughts here, as usual. I recently saw someone post a image/quote of Jim Collins (Good to Great, Great by Choice author) in an Inc. interview where he essentially said, all of our problems (context of our country/nation) is a result of a leadership problem. I think that resonates with life in general as well as in particular to a church or church plant. Organic growth is great, but there’s a difference between a community garden and a wild forest. It takes structure, design and intentionality (hallmarks of leadership) to steer the former towards reproductive and beneficial growth.

  2. Great post. It reminds me of a part of a book called “Organic Community” in which a useful metaphor is given…

    “There is a tendency for some to read into a call for being organic as a call for chaos. But, what is not understood in this case is that there is a difference between being purely organic and operating by 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.”

    The big mistakes seem to be made in the process with which we go about the order part. We tend to do it mechanically, instead of organically. We want to establish leaders right from the start for many different reasons; maybe they’re the most vocal, or the most passionate, or the most talented, or have more time on their hands, or they’re the only ones willing, etc.

    We do this before they’ve proven themselves, before they’ve grown up, before they’ve experienced the cross of biblical-Kingdom-organic-church-body life and before their behavior looks like Jesus. It’s like putting jeans and no diaper on a baby and expecting them not to mess themselves and create a mess for everyone else.

    Instead, organization needs to grow organically according to the DNA inside of the organism. It decides which parts grow where and when.

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