Tag: Organic Church

Regrounding Ecclesiology in the Spirit

With all the pop ecclesiology floating around, I’ve begun to dig a little deeper for more biblically grounded, historically informed, theologically reflective ecclesiology. It seems like there is a new book every day that is going reform church, make it more successful, relevant, early churchish. It is remarkable how few of these books exegete biblical texts, dialogue honestly with church history, and reflect theologically. How many of them ask the really hard and helpful questions like:

  • When did the Church start and how should that affect the way we are the church?
  • How should the East/West division of the Church affect our understanding and practice of Christian unity and mission?
  • How should the Old Testament shape our practice of church?
  • What can we learn from the medieval Church besides pope-bashing?
  • What is God trying to teach the Church with the shift of the center of Global Christianity from the West to the East, from the North to the South?

The Church didn’t start with Jesus, though he did speak of the Church. It didn’t even start with the twelve disciples, though they were an integral part. The church started with the Holy Spirit, yeah Pentecost, the most understated event in the non-charismatic Evangelical world. One look at the Evangelical Church and you would think that the Church started with Jesus. To be sure, he is the Head of the Body that is the Church, but he did not bring about the new creation; that was and is the work of the Holy Spirit. If the Spirit is the starting place of the Church, what would it look like for churches to be planted, not by books, manuals, bootcamps, or methods but by the leading of the Holy Spirit? What if churches decided not to “launch” because they were listening to the Spirit? What if they refused to build because they were listening to the Spirit? What if they paid no pastors? What if they built schools instead of Christian Life Centers? What if they became so united that cities were renewed and disputes were resolved? What if we planted churches by actively relying on the Holy Spirit?

There are many helpful answers to the five questions above, but interestingly, one answer they all share is the Holy Spirit. The Church started and should continue with the Holy Spirit. One of the reasons for the East/West division of the church was over the filoque clause in which the Western Church subordinated the Holy Spirit. The direct result was division not unity. A biblical theology of the church reveals that the Spirit worked in creation and the people of God throughout the Old Testament to bear witness to the coming messiah and his kingdom, of which the church is a part. Most churches today ignore or moralize the OT. The medieval church demostrated that identifying the Church with land eviscerated it of its life, marginalized the Spirit, and promoted greed and politicization of the gospel. The Western church has become known for territorialism, greed, and politics. The leading denominations of the majority Church of the non-Western world are charismatic, Spirit-led churches. If we are to reground our ecclesiology in Bible, History and Theology, it would serve us well to begin with the Holy Spirit.

Roland Allen on Church Planting

Roland Allen is basic reading for a church planter, Missionary Methods: Paul’s or Our’s, in particular. People like Tim Keller, David Hesselgrave, and Ed Stetzer have relied on Allen’s foundational insights. J.D. Payne offers a guided tour through Allen’s life and thought in the following article: The Legacy of Roland Allen: Part One-His Life. An excerpt:

In 1912, Allen published his classic work Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? The title of the text revealed much about the book’s content. Allen advocated that the missionary methods of the Apostle were not antiquated but rather to be applied to missionary endeavors in any day and time. Allen stated that “I myself am more convinced than ever that in the careful examination of his [St. Paul’s] work, above all in the understanding and appreciation of his principles, we shall find the solution of most of our present difficulties.” Toward the end of the work, Allen poignantly wrote that “at any rate this much is certain, that the Apostle’s methods succeeded exactly where ours have failed.”

The following year saw Allen’s publication of Missionary Principles. In this work Allen advocated that the indwelling Holy Spirit provides the missionary zeal. For Allen, the end of all missionary desire is a worldwide “Revelation of Christ.” It was his desire to discuss principles not only related to foreign missionary work, but principles that “could be applied to any work anywhere.”

Review of Neil Cole's Search & Rescue

Neil Cole’s Organic Church was an overnight success. I have referred back to several times for organic church principles that have shaped Austin City Life. However, Cole’s newest book Search and Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference struggles to stay afloat.

The hyper-sensitive Calvinist shouldn’t judge the book by its cover. This is not an Arminian tirade on Calvinist failures at mission, though recent research appears to support such conclusions. Using the metaphor of “search and rescue”, Cole is not trying to make a statement regarding Total Depravity, that we are alive and afloat in our sin, versus dead and drowned in depravity. Rather, Cole uses his lifeguard experience as an illustration of how the church should make disciples, which includes “seeking and saving the lost”. And here is his where the book begins to drown.

Part 1

The book is littered with pictures and inundated with stories from Cole’s lifeguard days in California. I’m all for a good illustration, but Cole takes this way too far, dominating the entire book. Not only is this filler, it obscures some of his helpful comments on discipleship. In addition to riding the wave of lifeguard stories, in the first half of the book, Cole also attempts to surf 2 Timothy for discipleship principles and insights. Unfortunately, he offers mainly superficial observations and poor exegesis, particularly his comments on why we should not follow the reward structure of farmer/athlete/soldier in 1 Timothy 2 at a motivation for discipleship. He doesn’t seem to get Christian Hedonism. However, it’s great to see him addressing the notion of motivation in discipleship, in which he deconstructs religion and other forms of external motivation, pointing to the gospel as “that which transforms the soul” (97). You can skip the first four chapters of the book and go straight to chapter five, where he develops his insights from Organic Church on building the church by multiplication, not addition. If this is new to you, its worth reading about in either book.

Part 2

The second half of Search and Rescue is self-admittedly a rework of Cultivating a Life for God, which rehearses the story and structure of Life Transformation Groups (LTGs). These groups of 2-3 are formed around three practices: 1) Confession of sin 2) Reading lots of Scripture 3) Praying for the lost. They are simple, reproducible, and strategic. Before I came across Cole, I had been doing something similar with friends for several years. I really like the simplicity and reproducibility of the LTG concept. Cole has inspired me to implement my own version—Fight Clubs—in our church. A summary of LTGs is found on page 175.


Cole’s strength is questioning the status quo. He doesn’t do a lot of that in this book. However, when he does it is refreshing and edgy. Like saying that we slow down the obedience of disciples when we run them through content heavy discipleship material. Or that the Early Church met in accountability groups. Or that when pastors talk about Greek and Hebrew from the pulpit they separate themselves from the flock and distance the church from the Bible.

All in all, the book isn’t worth buying, especially if you have read Cole’s other stuff. I’ve shared most of the nuggets and purchased it in hope of finding much more. In fact, the richest paragraph in the book comes from Alan Hirsch’s preface:

It was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity the other side of complexity.” Simple answers, offered without taking into account the vast intricacies of human life in an infitine universe, are close to being out right worthless to any human being in need of real truth that addresses real, live situations. Simplicity this side of complexity simply doesn’t fit or resonate with our condition and is not worth a dime. However, when simplicity presents itself beyond the complexities that we all face, and it takes into account the nuanced and often perplexing situation we find ourselves in, the these truths are worth all that we own.