Just finished Neil Cole's book Church 3.0. This is the first thing I have read by Cole and as the foreword from Francis Chan said, "You will be stretched and challenged in your thinking." From what I had heard of Cole, I didn't want to read this book, it was Chan's recommendation that this book will help an established church learn from the organic church movement, is what made me pick it up.
There were several times I wanted to put the book down, but I kept thinking about one of my professors in seminary who said, "To be an effective Christian leader today, you must read those you disagree with to learn from them, so you can sit across from them at Starbucks and lovingly disagree and have a conversation."
So I pressed on.
Let me start with some learnings or things I agreed with before talking about where I disagreed.
He used an example of The Shaping of Things to Come where the authors discuss the idea of extraction. This for me was really challenging and had me thinking for days. What happens in churches for many new Christians is that they get saved and immediately enter the safe Christian bubble, leaving behind all of their non-Christian friends (and losing the possible influence they can be on those friends for the gospel). This seems to make sense on the outside because you don't want them to fall back into their old ways. But, it can be counter productive. By extracting them, we actually keep them from living out their newfound faith and "from stepping into an environment where she must choose to exercise the very faith she is purported to have." While you don't want to move back into certain situations, the Holy Spirit is living within every new Christian, let Him do His job.
Another thing he pointed out was the church will ask, "How can we get people to our church?" instead of asking "Where is Jesus working and how can I work alongside of Him?" What I wonder is whether or not the organic church movement wrestles with how to invite people into it or to their gatherings. At some point, it has to come up in the conversations if it is to grow and reach more people.
Cole also pointed out that we wrongly evaluate our success. Church's base their success on numbers, size of buildings and budgets instead of basing it on influence. Who is being influenced for Jesus? Is that influence growing?
He also talked about challenging people in the way of Jesus. Too many Christians and churches seem very lazy and not on mission. I love this line in the book, "I want to lower the bar of how church is done so that anyone can do it, and raise the bar of what it means to be a disciple so that they will do it." Too many churches and pastor's do not cast a vision that is worth someone's life. People walk into our churches every week looking and longing for something hard, something worth their life, worth giving everything to. Jesus is that. It will cost us everything (Luke 9:23).
Now, let's switch gears to where I felt like Cole set up straw men just to blow them over.
I felt like many times, to make the leap that organic church is the only way to do it, you have to toss out many New Testament passages. Specifically, the ones that have to do with preaching and leadership. Here is a great example: One thing he talked about was the involvement of an organic church and what that can mean for individuals. He said, "In organic church thinking, Christian leaders are no longer to do the work of the ministry, but to equip the Christians to do the work. Evangelists are not called to reach the lost, but to equip the saints to do so. Teachers are not just called to teach, but to equip Christians to teach. We could see ordinary Christians fulfill the great commission by "teaching them to observe all that (Christ has) commanded (us)" (Matthew 28:20). This is a revolution that will turn church as we know it upside down, and in the process all the passive Christians will be poured out into the world like salt out of a saltshaker. Wow - now, that will change the world!" Uh, my question is, what church isn't doing this? This is what the church is supposed to be like. What I failed to see is how only an organic church can do this and how this will revolutionize the church. So, following Ephesians 4 and Matthew 28 will revolutionize the church? I believe that, but that isn't new and every church should be doing this (not just organic churches).
One of the things I have always disagreed with the organic church movement is in the area of leadership, specifically, what they need to leave out to have the vision of church they do. While he mentions elders in the book, he doesn't mention why he doesn't use them and what to do with the fact that we are told to have leaders. The organic church, in an effort to be decentralized, stray away from a hierarchy. While many people say this can lead to abuse of power because of lack of accountability, Cole handles that very well. He talks about vision and how "if the vision comes from one person and is carried out by others, then there is a dependency that curtails true reproduction. Sound leadership in a movement is not coming up with the vision and then casting it to others, but instead helping others find a vision for themselves and releasing it to the ends of the earth."My problems with this statement are numerous. One, most of his ideas in the book are based in scripture with references. This idea is nowhere in Scripture. While it sounds nice and communal, an idea needs to be Biblical when it comes to the church. Second, this isn't even working in the business world. While Cole points to organizations like Wikipedia and Craigslist as decentralized organizations, those were started by someone, given a vision by someone. He, Cole, is giving a vision to the organic church movement that other "leaders" are taking and running with. Third, why can't a Biblical vision, given to a leader, not lead to helping others find a vision for themselves. Again, and this is my big problem with many of his "organic church only" ideas is that many of them are happening in established churches, should be happening or are happening.
My biggest problem with the organic church movement is how they consistently use Matthew 18:20 out of context. The verse says, "For where two or three come together in my (Jesus') name, there am I (Jesus) with them." Throughout scripture we are reminded of the presence of God. We cannot ask for more of God's presence than what we have (like when a worship leader asks God to pour out His Spirit, uh, we have all we need and as much as we are going to get). My problem is the context of this verse has nothing to do with the way it is used. This verse has to do with conflict, community, and church discipline. This verse does not mean (to quote Mark Driscoll), "If 2 guys are having a beer and one guy sneezes and the other says "God bless you" that church just happened."
While I got a lot out of this book and had a lot to chew on, I was frustrated with the use of passages out of context to make it possible for Cole to say, "The way I do church is the only Biblical way to do it." At one point (p. 129) he says that "the organic church will give more glory to God than a non-organic church." That is a huge statement.
As I said, what I struggle with (and I do this) is when an author or leader talks about how they do church as the only right and Biblical way of doing things. While you should be passionate about how you do church (I know I am) and it is easy to think this way, but it is shortsighted and actually does more harm than good. It says, "If you don't do it this way, you won't be able to fulfill God's will and mission here on earth." Do I agree with everything Cole and the organic church movement do? No. Are there things we can learn from organic churches, missional churches, seeker-sensitive churches? Yes. That is the beauty of the church and the kingdom.
This book will stretch you, it stretched and challenged me. I would say that if you want to read a book on what a biblical church looks like and should be in our culture, this would be a good one, but a better one is Vintage Church. As I said, I feel like Cole had to throw out some Bible verses to make his points, as well as saying things that weren't true (everytime he points out what an organic church can do that an established church can do).
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