In Jim Belcher’s book, Deep Church, he has a chapter (10) on “Deep Culture”. In it he says regarding his church’s embrace of the church as institution and organism:
We recognize that we will have no impact on the culture if the institution is not strong. This means preaching the Word and administering the sacraments faithfully and consistently. It means taking discipleship … seriously. We have regular discipleship classes on the foundations of the faith. We teach, exhort and organize for community in our weekly community groups that discuss the sermon, pray for one another and carry one another’s burdens. We strive to be a church of mercy to our community through a myriad of avenues. And all of these wonderful core commitments are undergirded by a mature, mission-oriented elder board and deaconate. These institutional priorities go a long way in engerdering a distinct people who think, act and live differently from our surrounding culture, but at the same time remain deeply hospitable to the stranger in their midst.
He then goes on to discuss the church as organism and discusses “training secret agents.” In this section on organism he says:
So if the Sunday-morning sanctuary is mainly about the church as “institution,” the weekday basement is about the church as “organism”: training its members to be secret agents in the world creating and renewing culture for the glory of God …
I will start by saying one thing: I do not think “secret agents” is a good term at all for discussing the call of mission on followers of Jesus. Especially here in the U.S. of A. We don’t need to be “secretive” (or even speak of being secretive) in any way toward those around us who are already suspicious of people’s motives because everyone is trying to sell something.
I should also state what I already emphasized in a prior post: I really like this book, I just don’t agree at every application point like this one.
I can’t figure out why Belcher regards everything in the first paragraph I quoted as being institutional. I am a firm believer in doing church in as organic a way as possible (read: be faithful to God and the Gospel and his Word and leave it in the hands of God himself to “cause the growth” – that’s my abbreviated version of what “organic” means [feel free to disagree on my definition]) and don’t understand why everything in this paragraph is institutional? I believe that he is discussing some structural things that need to be in place for organic growth to occur. I’m no scientist, but when it comes to talking about organicness (that’s not a word, is it?), we’re not talking about “wild, unstructured growth”. There are structures/rules that nature “plays by”. I would contend that the same is true in the church organic – structures/rules apply.
Perhaps Jim Belcher’s interaction in his book with a “house church” that eschewed all notions of leadership and regarded all the members of the group as equals in their roles in the group is what he may be reacting/responding to here. I would agree that it is not helpful to eschew all notions of leadership and structure, but I don’t believe it requires embracing the institutional church - hook, line and sinker (which I don’t think Belcher intends to do here – it just looks like it). I am grateful for the traditional/institutional church. I don’t have a desire to disrespect the traditional/institutional church, because I have gained (and am still gaining) much from it (including my growth as a believer and it’s where I came to follow Jesus). I just don’t believe I need to (like Belcher) join a denomination like the PCA. I’m not “throwing off the shackles of authority”, but I am saying that I favor “organic structures” over “set programs”. Is this all a matter of semantics (that’s rhetorical, but feel free to answer it)? Perhaps partially – but I would contend not fully. Perhaps someone else can weigh in on this?
My bottom line is that I do not personally wish to keep the notion of “institutional church” in my methodology of being the church. I agree with Belcher’s contention that there is a need for every gathered church body to be “preaching the Word and administering the sacraments faithfully and consistently. It means taking discipleship … seriously.” I’d simply rather affirm the notion that “organic church” requires structures for healthy dynamic growth rather than institutionalization (who really wants to be instutionalized? ;o) ).