For us humans, the family is genetic to our species. There will always be a father, a mother, and children. That cannot be broken. It’s written in the arteries of creation.
In the same way, Body life . . . the experience of the Body of Christ . . . is instinctive to our species as Christians. It’s woven into the bloodstream of God’s universe. Provided that certain bare ingredients are in place, Body life will organically and spontaneously break forth in the midst of a group of believers.
The problem we have is in getting all the baggage out of the way so that Body life can arise naturally. This puts us on a collision course with the principle of church planting.
The great challenge for those who plant churches is to provide the necessary ingredients for organic church life to be born. But it’s also to prevent foreign elements from entering into the church. Elements that will choke church life.
An admirer once asked Michelangelo how he sculpted the famous statue of David that now sits in Florence, Italy. Michelangelo responded by offering this simple explanation: “I first fixed my attention on the slab of raw marble. I studied it, and then I chipped away all that wasn’t David.”
Michaelangelo’s description can be applied to the task of planting organic churches. The goal of those who plant churches is to remove everything that isn’t Jesus Christ.
My introduction to this principle began in 1988 when I left the traditional church and found myself in the midst of a spontaneous burst of church life. There were about six of us. We all loved the Lord and spontaneously gravitated toward one another. No one organized it. No one promoted it. It just happened. It was organic . . . primitive even.
We began meeting rotationally in our homes. Starting with six adults, we grew rapidly. Throughout the course of eight years, we fluctuated between twenty adults and fifty adults (and a few thousand children.). We went through two very bloody church splits. We multiplied into two separate groups. And we became involved in many different ministry endeavors. It was an intense experience to say the least. I’ve often told people that we crammed sixteen years into eight.
Our meetings were simple. They were void of the presence of clergy and the (artificial) “covering” of the traditional church. We encouraged one another to participate in Spirit-endowed gifts. And we sought to put ourselves under the exclusive Headship of Jesus. As a result, the Lord honored our efforts. The Holy Spirit revealed a different aspect of Christ in virtually every meeting.
The freshness of relational Christianity and mutual ministry thrived among us. Without fully realizing it, we were tasting the culture of first-century church life. In many respects, we lived as a family. (Later, I learned that the New Testament is packed to the gills with the language and imagery of family when describing the church. But at the time, we were just living it.)
We knew full well that we had much to learn. Yet we were keenly aware that despite our ignorance, God was with us in a special way. Admittedly, in our naivety, we mistakenly assumed that we were the only ones meeting in such simplicity. But it didn’t take long for the Lord to shatter that notion.
During our first two years, we wrestled with the searching question of who we were and what we were doing. We knew that God had called us to meet around Christ in the beauty of New Testament simplicity, but we were all green. With no one to lead us, no model to follow, and no friends who were doing something similar, we found ourselves walking through a forest not clearly blazed.
We were living on the raw, bleeding edge of a limited but profound vision. So rather than seeking to adhere to some putative New Testament model of church organization, we forged onward to follow faithfully the present leading of the Holy Spirit through Scripture.
Note that because we refused to capitulate to the traditional church system, we received our fair share of opposition, relational tensions, apathetic dismissal, misunderstanding, and raised eyebrows. No one was beating a path to our door in those days. Some of our friends looked at us as if we had come from Planet 10 when they learned what we were doing.
But since I’m not looking at our story with an eye to emphasizing the hardships right now, I’ll spare the maudlin side. So bracketing the times where we had a rough go of it, those days were precious. As we sought fidelity to New Testament practice, God began to teach us many precious lessons.
What is more, the Lord sovereignly chose to pour out His Spirit upon us in great power. We had many occasions where people would visit our fellowship with severe problems—bondages to specific sins, mental illnesses, depression, etc. Oftentimes, we prayed with these individuals and saw them melt in the presence of the Lord’s love. We witnessed firsthand a few extraordinary cases of deliverance. Those encounters served to increase our belief that the path we had taken was indeed carved out by God.