JohnSWilson3 Blog


An Opinion of Two Views of Organic Church

Below is an edited opinion I shared with another brother who asked about the difference between Neil Cole’s organic church focused on Life Transformation Groups (LTGs) and Frank Viola’s organic church focused on being built together.

I’ve read Neil Cole’s books and they almost always focus on the LTGs, with lots of stories of their success. The LTGs appear to be more or less an accountability group with similar kinds of questions from Promise Keepers or a cell church groups accountability groups. (I know, I did both, lol.) One side of the LTG card lists questions you ask each other, e.g. reading the Bible, sharing your testimony, loving others, etc and the other side is a list of different ways to pray for one another, e.g. identifying lost friends to pray for, etc. In fact I find little if nothing at all written by Neil about the fitting of the body of Christ together.

What Neil has generally done is taken away the hierarchy of a church structure and essentially made the cell group or home group a house church. If you read “Cultivating a Life for God” and his updated version “Search & Rescue” you can see his transition from a cell church philosophy to a network organic philosophy. I even messaged Neil about this some time ago on facebook and had a constructive conversation on the topic.

Neil’s approach is essentially the reverse to Frank’s in that Neil believes we should focus on mainly the 2-3 person accountability groups that reproduce to form more 2-3 person groups in order to disciple the nations and build the Kingdom of God. This lends itself to appearing works focused. I guess with the focus on “making disciples” the organic church life will handle itself. Neil’s philosophy is that every believer is a church planter, who is called to make disciples. I do not agree with that statement.

I’ve read all of Frank Viola’s books. Frank Viola’s focus is more on learning to allow the Spirit to fit the body of Christ together and allowing Christ to express Himself through the full functioning of the body to build up the body and then that expression grows to neighbors/friends/coworkers forming churches organically. Then the Spirit calls out those with apostolic functioning to share the message and form churches where He calls. Frank tends to focus on body life with the philosophy that in body life making disciples is done by the community together enabling Christ to express Himself through each person as He desires.

In my opinion, I’m more inclined to see Frank’s view of organic church life is more wholly organic than Neil’s. Frank’s view is one where the Spirit does the building of the body together with focus on Christ alone and not a system to focus on. As a result it tends to be messier, enables Christ to show the flesh as dead, which isn’t pretty in community, and to put on Christ together, and see His life expressed in a way that actually is shown in the New Testament letters of the apostles.

Neil comes from a cell church background and for those from that form of church LTGs would seem to be a good fit. This might be a good fit for some leaving the institutional church to more freely function in the body of Christ but still enjoy the accountability focus of the cell church. For me, I’ve got no taste for institutionalism in any form. I do have to admit that Neil does bring up some excellent strategies regarding expressing Christ in the work place, the Luke 10 type that Tony & Felicity Dale promote in “The Rabbit and the Elephant” who are the advocates for “simple church.” I have used some of his strategies related to expressing Christ at the middle school that I work at and facilitate/initiate a more organic form of gathering among students. I do not believe God has called me to an apostolic functioning but only to provide a place to enable students to learn to gather freely and to learn Christ together. With Frank’s books I have seen a vision of the body of Christ and the importance of relating to one another by the life of Christ with a focus on relationships, since our God is all about relationships.

The bottom line is that while I prefer the understanding of organic church life and the learning to express Christ through the building of the body of Christ together in close community described by Frank Viola, the stories shared by others such as Neil Cole and Tony & Felicity Dale have merit when expressing Christ with neighbors/friends/co-workers. My hope is that we do not condemn one another for our perspective or opinions of organic church life, or divide the body of Christ in our minds, but to learn from each other, not supposing someone is more right than another, but let us be “fully convinced in his own mind.” At least this is how I see it from my perspective.

Some time ago an excellent interview was conducted by Keith Giles (http://subversive1.blogspot.com/) between Neil Cole’s and Frank Viola’s organic church thoughts. It is a long interview but provides some excellent insight in understanding the nature of the body of Christ and living by the life of Christ organically and some differing opinions. Here is a link to that interview: http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/missional-organic-church-an-interview-with-neil-cole-frank-viola/

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10 Comments so far
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Good summary of both views. Thanks, John!

-Alan

Comment by Alan Knox

Thanks Alan for the kind words. Love both Neil and Frank and the work that God has blessed them with. Blessings brother.

Comment by John Wilson

To limit Neil’s view of organic church to LTG’s or to base his view of Organic church solely on those, does not do justice to Neil’s position.

Quote from Neil:

“There are organic churches all across the spectrum and all can be healthy and good churches. To us, organic church is not a model; it is a way of understanding the church. Organic church is really a set of kingdom principles that work in any model.” (Neil Cole in “Church 3.0” p. 121)

Comment by Miguel

Miguel, it was some thoughts of my opinions that were shared. I appreciate you providing some additional thoughts on the matter. Blessings brother.

John

Comment by John Wilson

Good summary, John. My view is the same as yours. Just because Neil’s way is not my way, doesn’t make it wrong. It just isn’t what Christ is leading me to. I always appreciate the effort you put into your posts. 🙂

Comment by Peter

Thanks Peter, totally agree. Same here bro.

Comment by John Wilson

How did I miss this article bro? So glad I stumbled upon it, searching for a good read. I love how you stated your opinion with respect and love, so important! I am learning to do that as well. I know I sometimes lack the social communication; I had to start with the basics, lol. And too, I felt your words were easily understood, which a lot of the varying ways of church out there can get extremely confusing as to specifics in how exactly they differentiate. Yes, I’m so glad to have read your article.
Thank you my brother!

Comment by Kat

Thanks sis! Even though I wrote the article with only to share the different views and my own convictions some still took it as controversy and dividing. I guess even though writing may be done with respect and grace the words may not appear as such to the reader. Still learning as well. 🙂 Blessings Kat!

John

Comment by John Wilson

“I’ve got no taste for institutionalism in any form”

This sums up my feelings as well. I have also been involved in home groups, cell groups,or whatever the particular group is calling it and I have found it wanting for my personality and taste. I have found that it is too constraining as there is an agenda and a formula that all involved must on some level perform.

There is for sure value in both approaches I just find Viola’s approach a better fit for me.

Comment by linda

Linda, thanks for the comments sis, of the same spirit. 🙂

Comment by John Wilson




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