Dan Herford

Receive, juggle, pass

Decision Making in Organic Church – Part 4


This is the fourth installment in a series of blog posts that seek to speak to the topic of decision making in the organic church.  It seems good, before sharing my thoughts, to briefly summarize what has been brought out so far:

From Richard Jacobson:   There is authority in the church, but not hierarchy.   Disputes are settled in community, rather than appeal to higher authority.  “Jesus relocated the locus of authority from the ranks of the hierarchy to the midst of the community.”    Richard ended his post with this question: “So what about bigger disagreements in the church where the group can’t seem to reach a consensus?”

From Jon Zens:  “To Christ, every person and their voice is precious and significant.”  “The easy way is to let one or a few give direction. The way of the Cross is for the body to hear Him by caring about what every person has to bring of Christ.”  “As body-life is incarnated, one of the most important matters a group must process is how to work things out together.”

From Keith Giles:  There is leadership in the church, but it is not the domineering, tell-everyone-what-to-do sort.  Jesus will give direction if decisions need to be made by speaking to the group through members of the group.   The need is for everyone in the church family to work together to submit to the Holy Spirit, and to one another, to arrive at the answer that the Lord desires.  “Ask Jesus” and  “pray together and wait on the Lord and see where and how He is leading you to act or move.”

There were some additional comments, from which I’m including these thoughts:

From John White (on his blog):   The church is a family, and there are more and less mature members.  There is a need for spiritual parents.  Their level of direction and decision making depends on the relative maturity of the rest of the group.

From Ben Cooper (in a comment):  Church structure is of secondary importance.  Fruitfulness is a better indicator. “… if the fruit is there, what more is there to criticize?”  “… God will not be confined to any system, organization or structure, even an “organic” one.  …His people, are far too diverse, and full of untapped potential to be confined to any one model of fellowship.”  “…what is the ministry that God has placed in my unique heart, and who around me might I be able to co-labor in the effort to fulfill it?”

The general theme is that in an organic church setting, decisions are made by giving space for all believers to share their thoughts, recognizing that the Holy Spirit is the guide, and that Jesus is capable of speaking through anyone.  There is open dialogue in the community, humbly facilitated where necessary by those with gifting and maturity.   Key concepts are humility, community, patience, listening, and prayer, in contrast to pride, individualism, speed and efficiency, and dictating.

Now, let’s note that the participants in the conversation so far all affirm the notion that the church is not an organization with structure and roles so much as it is a living organism.  The range of viewpoints in the discussion is therefore fairly narrow, and assumes a number of ideas, including a relatively small and intimate gathering.

We might reasonably ask if this model of decision making scales.  Can we take this approach and apply it effectively to larger groups of believers?  If not, would that negate this approach?  What would negate any approach we might take to making decisions in the church, or (to pry open another can of worms) sorting out what the Bible says?  What is our standard of judgement in these things?  Certainly, the Bible is our guide, but how do we bring it to bear?

Ben Cooper made some statements and asked some questions in his comment, with the thought that we should be less concerned about ‘doing church right’ than doing what God has called us and gifted us to do – that our concern should be fruitfulness.  I agree that trying to ‘do church the right way’ is a trap, but the reality is that wrong structures and wrong ideas do get in the way and limit fruitfulness.

So, we need to consider the fruit of the process.  Not just the results of the decisions, but the fruit of the decision making process.  Buildings and numbers may be the exciting fruit of certain leadership models, but the fruit of the process is the real measure.  The smoking rubble of failed institutions is a warning here.

Whatever the size of a group of believers, the standard is love.  We meet to edify, to encourage, to teach, to stir one another to love and good works, and ultimately to manifest Jesus to the world with all those who will.

The kind of fruit which is edification, love, help, encouragement, humility, forgiving, serving, submitting, bearing with, confessing, and honoring one another is the right reference.

If a group is too big to have the kind of environment to bear this fruit, the group is too big.  If the style of leadership thwarts the kind of process that bears this fruit, the leadership model is broken.  If the church in a place is fractured on the basis of preferences (as is typical), then preferences must give way.  If a disagreement is intractable (to reference Richard’s question), then perhaps the decision needs to be deferred until relationships can bear the process.

As we meet, and as we consider and discuss, let’s evaluate our choices, posture, and actions – are they bearing the kinds of fruit, individually and corporately, that God is concerned with?  We don’t need a rule book.  We need a sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit, so that we can hear and follow – not just in getting to the right conclusions, but all along the way.


PS   Neil Cole has his post up now here!  Check it out!


  1. Dan,

    Great job with summing up the gist of each participant’s contribution, and particularly with connecting the dots between. I am always impressed at how well you interpret my ramblings and grateful that you often even concur!

    You really do have a good grasp on the bigger picture (what the end goals and the intermediary goals are for a healthy and vibrant church life) . No doubt, we are reading from the same blueprints; now we just have to figure out how to work together as a real team.

    I plan to give more specific feedback on this later, when I am more awake.

    Thanks for making this exchange happen!


    • Dan

      December 16, 2014 at 8:51 pm

      Thanks Ben. Well, there you go. We do need to figure out how to work together as a team! That’s where we figure out where the grasp is good and where it’s not.

      Looking forward to your feedback!

  2. When I look around the universe I see structure from God as essential to accomplishing his purpose. Specially regarding a human body which is the identity marker of fellowship with each other and God. He has confined himself on earth with these structures. He can intervene any time he wants but he has not given us deity status to restructure any thing he has orchestrated. There is so much revelation on the structure of church and so much of it is ignored by those who think it is optional and does not matter. So much of it is driven by “this is my calling from God” and “these are my gifts”. When you check their calling and gifts, they are using twisted texts. Why would we go there? We’ve been there and seen the flesh rather than the Spirit. There is some fruit but there should be much more.

    I don’t consider pursuing doing church right as a trap. Do we label anything else we pursue a trap? The fact that this pursuit has been difficult and on a flesh reinforcing path for almost 2000 years means we give greater diligence to fight off the flesh elements. I’ve been reading 2 Thes. 3 where Paul pays great attention to these saints to doing ministry in the pattern he established for them. For some who claim a calling or an excuse not to work in the marketplace he said to not connect with those brothers. They aren’t the enemy but don’t treat them like their aberation is just one more calling or gifting.

    I would like to see some addressing the scriptures that are used to support top-down structures. If we leave these unchallenged, the saints will continue to cling to them. If they read our writings without these debunked they will just think “we don’t know what they know…we just have an authority problem…” I know there are millions of saints who sit in their pew and say nothing from their heart to the others and are convinced they are “filled with the Spirit”. They walk in the door to hear a Bible lecture and they feel great that they are “not forsaking the assembly.” They may choose to cling to them anyway. We’re the messengers and God makes things grow. He knows what to do with wood, hay and stubble. We have truth to help believers build with gold, silver, and precious stones.

    Great structure drawing. Great series with body dynamic involved.

    • Dan

      December 16, 2014 at 8:35 pm

      Tim, thanks for reading and sharing. I think you are saying that God does have a structure in mind for the church, but it is not the top-down institutional structure we typically see. You mentioned the patterns that Paul advocated in 2nd Thessalonians as a corrective for an attitude that would treat structure as a trap.

      For a bit of clarity on my thinking, when I say that trying to ‘do church the right way’ is a trap, I’m talking about those who leave the institutional church because they do it the wrong way (and I think they often do), and the focus becomes trying to ‘do things’ correctly.

      The thing is that the NT doesn’t describe a particular liturgy or order of worship or ecclesiastical structure – it describes a family or a body. It’s people in relationship with each other. It’s a structure of relationships so that there is shared life, rather than the structure of an organization or the order of a meeting. The structure of a meeting can get in the way of shared life or encourage shared life, but there’s not a particular meeting ‘blueprint’.

      The need is for people willing to share life under the direction of the Holy Spirit, versus people who are trying to find a place that has everything arranged just so.

      Out of curiosity, did you find the sketch at the top of the page to be fairly self-explanatory? Anyone have questions or pushback on it?

  3. Tim,

    Thanks for your input. I appreciate all of your points about correct structure, and the necessity of calling out structures that are clearly flawed, or not supported by the scriptures.

    I too am disturbed by the methods of man, disguised as “a calling” or “a gifting” or even worse, “an anointing”. And I am pretty sure this dysfunction is damaging both to the image of Christ, and to those who are immature believers and ignorant of the truth.

    What I am really coming to believe, however, is that the remedy for this is not counter arguments, but fruitful servant leadership. It seems people can make the Scriptures say just about anything they want it to say these days. We even have mainstream evangelicals coming out in favor of homosexuality! And they pretend to defend it Scripturally! Believe me, I’ve read their books!

    Now, as tempted as I am to say, “Hey, just wait one cotton picking minute! You are playing awfully fast and loose with the Word of God.”, I have to realize that for someone to come to such an errant position they obviously have bigger issues than a flawed hermeneutic. They have a flawed worldview altogether! and it wasn’t just formed overnight. What people are often trying to do is reconcile some of the harsh realities they are facing, while at the same time hold on to the benevolent Creator, whom they also cannot deny. The obstacles that keep them from an orthodox faith are not theological concepts, but practical problems which disturb them deeply.

    Recently, I read through Mere Christianity with my family. My daughter who is a thinker like myself found the presentations and perspectives very illuminating and edifying. My wife, on the other hand, who is very sceptical, and unimpressed by mere articulation found Lewis to be a philosophical snob, and was not impressed at all with his conclusions. And nothing I could say in his defence could persuade her otherwise!

    No doubt, this was troubling to me, as the very reason I read the book was to convince my wife of some of the positions that we differ on, but to no avail. The reality of the matter is that even if we can convince someones mind on a matter, converting their heart is another thing altogether! And so, for those who are ruled largely by their feelings, philosophical debates are neither definitive nor compelling,… just annoying.

    The most compelling gospel is the one that shows first and then tells, but only when asked, “What is the cause of our fruitful life?” And the reason why is because people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

    For the past 14 years my family and I have visited a nursing home. Over the years we have gained intimate relationships with dear people who have opened up their hearts and lives to us, and let us sing, speak, pray and minister to them in many and different practical ways. Many Sundays I have brought a prepared scriptural message that seemed insightful and useful for their place in life; while at other times, and more typical of the recent years, we bring home baked treats to pass around, feed them to the residents, and then simply sit and talk with them casually. Our specific agenda and people that we meet with are in constant flux, but the fruit of our investment is always mutual love and encouragement. And we always leave with a greater realization of how blessed we are, indeed!

    Many times, I have wished that we could perform for them with some accompanied instrument, to make the praise time seem more impressive, or that I could deliver a message that brought all the heathen in the house to repentance. Often I have wanted to correct the doctrinal errors of the Catholics and JWs and other cult believing folks who would meet with us, or simply have the time to really connect with some of these folks whom I have some kind of communication barrier with. But in all of these years no one has ever demanded these things of us. In all of this time, I have never heard anyone say, “Why do you do that?” Or, “Wouldn’t your ministry be more effective if you did this or that?”

    Certainly this is not because we are the perfect nursing home ministers!
    At times we have seen other folks come into the nursing home and minister in ways that we have neither the talents nor the time to, and with varying degrees of reception and fruitfulness. Most of them have not invested as much as we have, however, and so they don’t have the liberties that we enjoy in sweet fellowship and sharing. They don’t get invited to the Christmas dinner party or have their kids showered with gifts, like they do for ours. And finally, those who haven’t invested what we have don’t have to the power to speak into these dear saints lives, to effect lasting encouragement or change.

    Anyhow, I may not have said anything you or Dan or anyone else reading this blog already knows about servant leadership but I hope this brief testimonial fits somewhere in the framework of the intended discussion.

    Is this looking like teamwork to you, Dan?

    • Dan

      December 18, 2014 at 8:59 pm

      Hey Ben, I appreciate how you paint the picture of trying to figure out how to get (understand or perform) things ‘right’, over against figuring out how to simply love and care. There is a very direction connection between the kind of servant leadership you are testifying to and the process of walking/learning/deciding together.

      Regarding knowledge: As you know, Ben, I like to know stuff and sort things out. And, I think there’s great value in getting to the best understanding of things. However, I observe in my life, and in looking at the lives of people I respect and admire, that the best indicator of fruitfulness isn’t having the ‘right’ answer. In that vein, there are many within the institutional church, including some in leadership, that I greatly admire and who demonstrate real fruit. Whatever other things make for good structure and order, a character that is being shaped by God is the right frame for hanging a fruitful life on.

  4. Dan, you understood correctly. Organism has an amazing structure that boggles the human mind. Your drawing shows structure and that’s only .01% of it.

    Your diagram shows the paths of decision making. Group decision making involvement is important for every child or adult to participate so they learn how to make personal decisions. All believers must learn to make personal decisions. Participating in group decisions is training for personal decisions and for acknowledging God’s design of delivery of his truth to the body. The process involves searching the scriptures, calling on God for wisdom, contemplating both together, interacting with saints close at hand. What an amazing asset for perfecting the saints. How could a leader think that fencing off believers from this process would be God’s plan or be beneficial to them? Most of them do and that blindness is stunning for me to consider. It is merely one of many corruptions that flow from the IC form of church. Mutual participation in decision making is part of the foundation laid by the apostles and the majority of Bible experts are unified in throwing it out. Your diagram is the best I’ve seen!

    There is much more. The NT does give descriptions of liturgy. Your diagram does also. The order of the gathering is “each one has” in 1 Cor. 14. Paul wraps it up with let everything be done decently and in “order”. The order is mutual submission and participation. Isn’t that an order? There is latitude and creativity within the right way. The right way is the foundation laid by Christ and his apostles. We are called to build on that foundation, not build our own. IC has a different foundation all together. Is there anything in the universe or in heaven without structure? I don’t think so. If the foundational structure of anything in the universe changes, what will happen? I won’t know because I’ll be dead. God is long suffering with believers tweaking the foundation he has laid for his church, but it will come to an end. We can be his messengers to call for repentance before the end.

    I left institutional church because it wasn’t done right. I want to do things right. There are right ways. There are also varieties within the right way. I don’t want to squander my giving. I don’t want to be a codependent with others on an addiction to being fed by an expert. I don’t want to pander to a small group of men who put a fence around decision making, or the rest of the saints who don’t want to learn through the decision making process. I left to set an example for them and admonish them with the truth they will never hear from the pulpit. The 4th purpose of the inspiration of God’s word is “for instruction in righteousness:
    That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Rightness + perfect (complete) + furnish for ALL good works. IC does not take you there. You are not allowed to fix anything. That is considered divisive. If you want to grow up you have to leave. They won’t let you stay. That’s an easy decision for them.

    I’m not willing to throw out counter arguments. I consider the counter as “rebuke and correction” or admonishing not merely arguing. Paul used both serving example and admonishing. They go together. Consider 2 Thes 3:6-9 where Paul both teaches and sets the example of combining marketplace work and spiritual ministry. In this text has has already done this but he is now writing to correct them because he has heard some are rejecting both his instruction and example. Paul used both with the unbelieving Thessalonians when he met them. See 1 Thes. 2 where Paul reminds them how he first ministered to them as pagans.

    Thanks for sharing your story of delivering Christ with love and mutuality in the nursing home. That will be rewarded greatly.

    • Dan

      December 18, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      I appreciate what you are saying, and how you are saying it. I would be interested to hear your story. Since leaving the IC (institutional church), have you been able to experience the kind of structure and order that the NT (New Testament) describes? As someone outside the IC world, do you seek and find opportunities to show them the more fruitful way? That’s the process I want to be involved with, having spent too much time as a separating criticizer.

      Edit: Note! Not saying you are a separating criticizer! That’s been me. Looking for good examples of those who have step outside the system to encourage and edify.

      • The 15 year story is packed full of amazing steps directed by God. There isn’t room here to tell even 5%. Main characters: an black brother with severe cerebral palsy. A 10 year old girl asks if we can sing “Man of Sorrows” in our gathering. A 6 year old adopted boy whose parents were so evil the CA state terminated his parents rights. A marvelous Christian couple adopt him and his 4 siblings. Children who gather with adults prepared every week with scripture to share and challenges to serve EVERY WEEK, some barely able to read. Ten year olds helping 5 year olds learn to pray in intergenerational prayer time. Twelve year old boys being taught to be entrepreneurs make banana bread, sell it to other saints who distribute to neighbors as witness connecting points. Business men who put their whole business on the line to serve needy people, loose the business to one he served and keeps on serving without a business because God supplies. A brother who comes prepared every week to testify to the power of abiding in Christ every day, all day. A brother who asks you, while driving down the street, Do women dressed like that pose a test of your purity? Meeting with a brother every week, memorizing Proverbs 5, urging him to throw off porn and thinking about affairs. And on and on. All so very unpredictable and so very soul building to walk with Jesus.

        Every year I go to Mexico with 400 high school students and 100 parents and teachers to build 18 homes in 4 days. 12 hour segments of fellowship on the way down, sleeping in tents, building all day, eating together and talking about living the body of Christ all week. Part of my plan is to set aside one Sunday a month to meet with saints I know in an IC to fellowship and remind them of call of God to do “the new and living way” Hebrews 10, not an old tradition of men that is the opposite. I share the truth and wait for God to make things grow.

        I have an idea for a organic to IC ministry up in your neighborhood that could involve you.

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