The Diseases of an Organic Church

Pathology is the study of disease. Medical experts tell us that in order to remain in good health, one must have a proper diet and exercise regularly. They also recommend periodic physical examinations. The reason? A person can get infected with an acute disease and not know it.

      Since it’s possible to unknowingly acquire a terminal illness, many researchers say that the best prevention against certain diseases is early detection. And early detection necessitates periodic physical exams.

      The New Testament repeatedly envisions the church as the Body of Christ. Paul spins the body metaphor again and again to describe the ekklesia. For Paul, the church is like a physical body. As such, it’s a living, breathing, vital organism. It’s born. It experiences growth spurts and growth pains. And it passes through specific developmental stages.

      To put a finer point on it, a church’s physical condition can range from healthy and vibrant to the spiritual IC unit (barely alive). Since the church is a living organism, it can even contract spiritual disease.

      According to my experience, many organic churches seem to expire within two years. Some, however, keep on meeting even though they are living in the precincts of death. See Revelation 3:1. In both cases, the church dies from a fatal illness. Consequently, if a church doesn’t know how to build a healthy immune system, it sits wide open for serious sickness.

      In this chapter, I would like to introduce you to four common diseases that afflict organic churches. As such, this chapter can rightly be titled, Church Pathology 101.

      Please note that I’m not speaking as a theoretician. I’ve watched these diseases afflict non-traditional churches for almost two decades. The good news is that none of these diseases is hopelessly terminal. All have a cure. The bad news is that without preventative maintenance and early detection, the chances for a church’s survival is slim to none. And slim left town.

      As we explore each disease, I’ll be spinning a lot of medical terminology, building upon Paul’s body metaphor. I’ll also be employing a few nonbiblical terms to make specific points. The four diseases are: Koinonitis, Spiritual Myopia, Spiritual Dwarfism, and Hyperpneumia.

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The Seasons of an Organic Church

      The traditional church doesn’t pass through seasons because it’s tied to a ritual that continues unmoved every week of every month of every year, world without end. Consequently, the spiritual temperature of a traditional congregation is hidden underneath the ritual. The performers perform, and the congregation watches, regardless of the congregation’s spiritual condition. To spin that point around, religious institutions and programs are life-support systems when a church is spiritually dying.

      One of the wisest men who ever lived taught us well about the different season of life. He wrote,

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to plant, and a time to pluck what is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance; A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; A time to gain, and a time to lose; A time to keep, and a time to throw away; A time to tear, and a time to sew; A time to keep silence, and a time to speak; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

      What is true in the natural is also true in the spiritual.

      At bottom, a season means a change. As fallen creatures, we don’t like change very much. We fall into ruts and routines quite easily. We’re bent that way. But science teaches us that all living things grow or else they die. Change, therefore, is a basic law of life.

      For this reason, it’s important that a church always maintain a spirit of exploration, experimentation, and discovery. I’ve learned that if you don’t have variety in your church life, you will grow stale. There’s an infinite number of ways to express the Lord, there’s an infinite number of ways to explore Him, and there’s an infinite number of ways to have meetings. 

      I’m convinced that one of the reasons why God wrote the seasons into the script of the universe is to illustrate the changes that a church will pass through. To frame it in Paul’s language, “Does not nature teach you?” 1 Corinthians 11:14.