Reflections on Reimagining Church I

A few weeks back I was sent a copy of Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church. baby s day out divx It has sat in the ‘to do’ pile but lately I have picked it up and have been enjoying reading it. It has been written as a complement to Pagan Christianity free cursed movie download – almost as if it were the ‘positive side’ of a pretty strong critique.

I wasn’t overly taken with Pagan Christianity. In many ways it was the tone of it more than the content that left me feeling a bit cautious.

Re-imagining Church has a different flavour. While drawing from the critique of current Christian practices (a critique which is quite valid) it seeks to offer an alternative way of being the church. Viola states he is seeking to re-imagine the present practices of the church rather than the church itself, (believing that many of these practices have their roots in the pagan world). p. 13

In essence he is arguing for an organic expression of church… oh there’s that word ‘organic’ again… what does it mean?… He uses it by contrast with the institutional expression of church and therein states that the two are mutually exclusive.

To give definition to what he means he writes:

“The church you read about in the NT was organic. By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by a human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals and held together by religious programs.” p. 33

He goes on to say that the DNA of an organic expression of church will be fourfold:

a) It will always express the headship of Jesus Christ in his church as opposed to the headship of a human being. I’m using the term headship to refer to the idea that Christ is both the authority and the source of the church.

b) It will always allow for and encourage every member functioning of the body

c) It will always map to the theology that’s contained in the New Testament giving its visible expression on the earth. (I don’t know why he didn’t see the OT as important here)

d) It will always be grounded in the fellowship of the triune God.

I’m still chewing on whether the organic and institutional are necessarily mutually exclusive or whether they can overlap. I’m also pondering how a church retains its ‘organicness’ once it gets larger and is part of a society like ours. Viola states that the clearest metaphor for church is ‘family’ and on that I am right with him. It has been my belief for a while that as the church we must return to this as a primary lens thru which we view ourselves.

However we exist as both a family and an organisation. Unless we choose to fly very light and free then it almost inevitable in the structure of our society that we will need to organise ourselves with some level of structure. While it may not be staff, constitutions and the like there will be some level of formal identification as a group that will see us become an organisation.

Viola’s ecclesiology revolves around a trinitarian framework and I found this to be a solid foundation for what he goes on to say. He argues for a complete equality of all members where no one is given any higher status or priority. He argues ardently against any form of church that seeks to use one person as a source of knowledge or leadership. In Viola’s view this is the beginning of the end for the church and evidence that it is not functioning as God intended.

In p.55 he writes ” Perhaps the most starling characteristic of the early church meetings was the absence of any human officiation. Jesus Christ led the meetings by the medium of the Holy Spirit through the believing community.”

I read this book as I look at making a move back into leading a local church community and much of what he says disturbs me.

I find Viola to be a touch idealistic about how church can and ought to function, but I also find him to be a prophetic voice with enough accurate content to rattle the cage of any paid church worker!

More to come…free city of rott night at the museum movie leon professional the divx

25 thoughts on “Reflections on Reimagining Church I

  1. I’m with you Andrew. I’m not convinced that organic and institutional are mutually exclusive. I believe they can be (and in some cases they are), but they don’t have to be and that’s our challenge as leaders; to ensure that as a congregation grows its people stay connected and included. I hold to the view that in order to maintain that “family/organic/connected/inclusive” atmosphere as a church grows bigger it must also grow smaller by developing a solid small group ministry that revolves around relationships, hospitality and empowering people to minister individually and collectively.

    Can’t say that Viola’s statement on the DNA of an organic church is groundbreaking.

  2. On one hand I want to go organic, but on the other hand I find that it seems inevitable that organic also involves organisation. A flower is organic and free and beautiful, but there is clearly a structure, down to the number of petals and the way it disseminates its seeds. It seems that keeping the balance is the key. Perhaps it’s a bit like a wildflower on the side of the road or a GM plant that is prepared for commercial sale. The funny thing is that when we want to give a flower to our loved one, its usually the flower we bought in the shop rather than the wildflower (we’re not even allowed to pick the wildflower – where is this analogy going??)

  3. Interesting direction with the analogy Rob… but I suppose that the flower we buy is one we want to show off. It is not useful as itself, only for what it looks like (usually no scent to a store-bought rose either).

    It is the rose grown with love and manure in the old ladies house down the road that she has grafted onto a good root stock, and looks kind of messy when she hacks it back in July, and draws blood when she gets out among them – they are the roses that have a depth and maturity about them, and a scent that is often very particular to that type of rose… usually different from the rose next to it.

    I’ve also found that these roses look crap in a vase, cos that’s not what they’re for. They look great when connected to the bush, in context with the other roses growing next to it, on top of it, all around it… in a messy hedge that has taken it’s own path over several years, but is functioning to produce what it is designed to produce (including thorns).

    I dunno Rob – I reckon the analogy was going ok!!

  4. Hmmm. This is interesting. I think it is a mistake to make a clear dichotomy between organic and institutional expressions of church. There is a major flaw with Viola’s position, and that is that it implies that the Holy Spirit had no part to play in the post-biblical shaping of the church, as the church came more fully to terms with the reality that Christ wasn’t going to return in one generation (or, indeed, hasn’t yet). That most of church history has been a falling away from Christ, with his Spirit intervening from time to time to woo us back.

    I think there is another problem, too. How things start out isn’t necessarily how they are supposed to remain. God creates the world, and then – before it is cursed as a consequence of human rebellion – asked us to work it, tend it, do things that release it into fruitfulness. Creation wasn’t a static perfection; it was good, with potential.

    God created the church. Is there an analogy here? Was the NT church static perfection? I don’t think you can read 1 Corinthians and come to that conclusion…Structure can train life, enabling it to flourish; or constrain life, slowly choking it.

    Perhaps, rather than an organic/institutional model, we might do better to think in terms of *inherited* church: good things, and bad things, and things that were good in their day but have served their purpose…and to ask, what do we need to be and do in order to faithfully write our chapter in the story, to run our leg of the race?

  5. Great thoughts. I really like the rose thing.

    I just attended one of his conferences last week and I walked away struggling with some of the same things. As one who is “bringing the church to my neighborhood,” I find some of Viola’s ideas to be difficult to do when reaching “outsiders.” It is much easier to bring lifelong Christians who are disgruntled with “traditional church” and come together to read and contemplate scripture and seek out Christian community on their own. It could be very freeing for many. But how do you do that with “outsiders” know very little about the Bible or faith, without someone to model the life just like Jesus did with his disciples? In the eastern world discipleship and community mean very different things than they do in the west. As someone who is embedded, I can’t not function as a point leader/facilitator. I certainly don’t think its unbiblical to have people who serve as a discipler for the group. My concern is that Frank’s vision of organic church is an exclusive option that can serve a modern context to some extent, but fails to break out of the traditional mode that is driving the church to extinction. Just some cursory thoughts as I have been contemplating over the last week.

  6. My take on the leadership thing is that churches are meant to be elder led. One of their main functions is to train up and encourage the mutual ‘one anothering’ that Frank describes. All to often it ends up with one or a few leaders doing the ‘ministering’. Another is to lead the church in making wise decisions. All too often it can end up with leaders making decisions without any reference to the rest of the body/family, which is where I feel it moves from ‘elder led’ to ‘elder lorded’. Wise elders see their job as doing themselves out of a job – training others to do as they do so that everyone minsters and the church grows organically.

  7. Thanks for the comments. Pagan Christianity is on my to-read pile, perhaps I’ll consider putting this one before it.

    I find Viola to be a touch idealistic about how church can and ought to function, but I also find him to be a prophetic voice with enough accurate content to rattle the cage of any paid church worker!

    Interesting comment about idealism and the prophetic. This is not an attack on your comments, but more just my thought… I don’t think that someone can be both truly prophetic and idealistic when presenting a message. I wholeheartedly agree that idealism is not helpful and I think we serve a pragmatic God. Therefore I think true prophecy cannot be idealistic. It can be dangerous to write-off things as idealistic, but equally dangerous to impose idealism on people. We need to critique prophecy in the light of other historical and current prophecy, I think.

  8. I’m also with you in seeing the church as a family Andrew. However, I’d be interested to know if your readers think that Viola’s arguement for complete equality of all members is a tenable position. I see that all people and their contribution are of equal value (absolutely), just like all members of a family and their contribution to the family are of equal value. Each one and the uniquesness they bring is precious. But the distribution of authority in a family is not equal. Idealy the knowledge, experience and wisdom of parents ought to give them the authority and the responsibility to provide leadership (Sometimes parents will abdicate this authority to the children and our culture calls this dysfunctional – though we laugh about it!). So if the “family” really is a picture of the church should we expect spiritual infants within that family to be making leadership decisions?

  9. interesting thoughts wayne.

    following on the same line of thought, i would have to throw into the mix the often-held assumption that paid leadership positions are the most appropriate members of the family to hold the most authority, especially when there are often many older and/or wiser members within the family outside of those official positions.

  10. Going on from the comment by ‘otherendup’ the effect of giving most of the authority to paid leaders regardless of age is to often to rob older and/or wiser Christians of the role in the family of God that Scripture envisages for them – older men teching younger men, older women teaching younger women – and reduces their input in terms of accumulated wisdom to absolutely zero. Instead almost all teaching and decisions making functions are vested with the paid leadership instead and others, who by their age and experience could make a useful contribution, are left ‘out of the loop’.

    The key to this debate is what we understand by the word ‘authority’. My understanding is that the authority held by elders within a church is similar to that held by a husband in the husband-wife relationship. They are to love, protect, nurture and ensure those they are responsible for flourish to the greatest extent they can. In the church family that means equipping them to minister in whatever way they are gifted for the building up of the whole body. Its difficult for us, so used to hierarchical leadership, to grasp the concept of this loving leadership among equals. We wouldn’t expect a husband to make decisions without discussing them with his wife, neither should the elders make decisions in isolation from the church. But ultimately the husband is responsible for loving leadership of his wife and so are the elders responsible for the church they have been called to serve. Too many elders slip into the mindset that they are executive bosses rather than loving husbands when it comes to leading the church. Jesus made it VERY clear that any lording it over other Christians should not be happening among us.

  11. I like where Goblin and Otherendup are going with this, if we are to see church-as-family. The tendency, however, is to put the leadership (particularly the CEO pastor) in the role of “father” in the church family, and everyone else in the position of “children”. I think this is a long way from the biblical picture of the church, where God is the Father, represented by Christ as the head of our ecclesial family. All other roles are informed by and are equally subordinate to Christ, who is our head.

    Maybe this has some relationship to what Jesus has to say in Matt 23:9 – “call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven”?

    I think the minute we, as pastors or leaders, see ourselves in the position of “father” within the ecclesial community we end up treating our fellow disciples of Christ with condescention and risk committing abuses of control and power within the community.

  12. yawn

    I think we have been down this same path before have we not?

    pastors can abuse people

    people can abuse pastors

    I have come to the conclusion that the system does not matter much….it can be abused by those ‘in positions of leadership’ and those not.

    What I do agree with Wayne about is the fact that the distribution of authority is not equal. Some people need to lead.

    As much as this style of leadership has needed to change with the advent of pomo’s, you still need leaders…

  13. i guess what you fail to recognise in the midst of your boredom with this topic Mark 😉 is that what is being suggesting is that the pastors are in fact NOT the most appropriate people to hold the authority within a church body – something that has not been considered with any sort of legitimacy by many paid pastors at all – precisely because this undermines their own legitimacy and vocational future.

    Maybe what we are advocating is that those most qualified to lead, might actually be empowered to lead – not those who are simply paid to do so. (maybe the two can be the same thing – but it should not be assumed as being the same).

  14. and although I know this is going to open up another can of worms….after which neither of us will likely change our views (which gives rise to my yawn comment)….I would say this.

    Most of the time…the pastor is full time, has studied, considers themself a professional, is giving their lives to the local expression of the church, and is probably a leader. Not all the time. But most of the time.

    What many people who are not full time in the ministry may fail to realise or truly understand, is that for us this is our real work. It is what we dedicate ourselves to.

    And if most (not all) pastors are allowed to lead, they will do so with creativity, energy and grace…in my view.

    Sometimes though, (only sometimes) they are stymied by misguided, misinformed people who dedicate 5-10 hours a week to the community and yet think they know better.

    And…because I know this to be true as well….sometimes they (Pastor) is a sycophantic narcisstic…or lazy…or incompetent…sod (!)

  15. Maybe this is simply a question of semantics, but perhaps it would be good to qualify or define what you mean by “full time ministry”.

    This is one of the problems I have with the popular church leadership models, as I understand them – they tend to put the pastor in the exclusive position of being the only one (or one of the only ones) seen to be active in ministry in a full time ministry.

    Now, as I said, maybe this is just semantics, but I would think the call of God to his church is such that it involves all believers actively involved in full time ministry. That is life-as-ministry.

    As a “part time” pastor (what that actually means is that I am paid on a part time basis, not that my “ministry” is part time), I do take exception to the suggestion (it’s implied and may simply be a matter of semantics) that unless I am in a full time paid position in a church I’m not really involved in ministry.

    I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked by other pastors, if I have “ever considered going into full time ministry”. Now that really makes me want to yawn!

    Perhaps you could clear this up for me Mark.

    Cheers 🙂

  16. no disagreements from this end Mark, just that the issue of authority within the church has been side-stepped again.

    there is no doubt in my mind that most pastors are in their jobs because they feel called to that by God. And most of those pastors (maybe not youth pastors) are trained in some strains of theology, church history, leadership etc – hence their qualification.

    but none of this necessarily means they are the best people within a particular congregation to hold the authority for making the decisions of where and how the church moves, grows, acts etc. yes they are often paid to do just that – but this doesn’t address the wisdom and God-ordained leadership authority embedded within the fathers and mothers of the congregation – often older and wiser than the qualified, passionate, employed clergy.

    This is also effected by the very real possibility that any given pastor may choose to leave their congregation any time and take up a similar position in a new congregation – should that authority simply pass with them into their new position? That seems a bit out of whack, considering the people who have called that place home long before that pastor ever passed a single thought about that group of people.

    you may continue to yawn 🙂

  17. Not for your benefit Mark, but for those reading who don’t know where i stand from a practitioners point of view, I was a part of a local congregation for 20 years, the final 6 of those were as full-time paid pastor (see Andrew, I was a real pastor – 😉 )

    My role involved the facilitating the care for some 200+ young adults, running our sunday night services, preaching, and finally working as at an Associate level overseeing our Youth and Young Adults, and assisting in the oversight of our second campus congregation.

    It was precisely these sort of issues that are being discussed, as well as a growing dissatisfaction with the leadership style we promoted and reproduced, that led to my ultimate demise – resignation.

    The reason i added this is because i know precisely what it means to believe in a pastoral vocational calling, I know what it means to sacrifice my time, energy, passion, gifts, money to the place I feel is truly my spiritual home. I have held this position and therefore feel I am able to critique it, with some sort of understanding and experience.

    Disclaimer ends 😉

  18. I find this discussion both encouraging and sad at the same time. I find it sad because rather than getting to grips with the issue of ‘authority’ in church and what it should look like, we revert to phrases like ‘pastors’ who are ‘full time’ in ‘the ministry’. Until we put to death the concept of a professional salaried pastor separate from other elders, until we put to death the idea that some Christians are in full time ministry and others are not, until we start to shape our ecclesiology on what the NT describes rather than what church tradition and secular culture teach us, we really are condemned to go round and round in circles. But will it ever be any different? The bottom line for me is this: church ‘leaders’interpret these issues and lead in the way they do because THAT IS HOW THEY WANT TO DO IT – nothing more and nothing less. Sadly, too many seem to rely on their leadership position for their affirmation and identity (rather than relying on their identity in Christ)and react when anyone questions the leaders role and authority because that would threaten something which gives their life shape, meaning, income, a special avenue for serving God, satisfaction and affirmation.

  19. Why did this turn back into a discussion about ‘to pastor or not to pastor’?

    That IS an old discussion!

    And it is not the sum total of what FV is talking about in either Reimaginging Church (from what is described) or Pagan Christianity (which I have read, often).

    Whilst he critiques (strongly!) the purpose, role and effectiveness of paid staff (pastor, worship leader, etc), his main beef is with the actual structure of what ‘the church’ has become, in revolving around the Sunday event where the Pastor is centre stage, and the congregation is in the ‘yawning’ audience, permitted to participate only by singing (in most services).

    And THAT remains a key discussion to have. To be honest, I don’t give a fig if paid staff are involved or not.


    It is really the height of rudeness for one person to assume all knowledge and set themself as ‘expert’, to the absolute exclusion of all (or most) others.

    A paid staff member who works alongside elders in building several teachers and avenues by which people come to know Jesus is of value.

  20. Sorry folks – i am not keeping up real well!

    I am reading the comments but my limited headspace means i am not processing well.

    Some immediate reflections

    – I agree with Wayne that in families not everyone has the same degree of authority. I reckon in churches there are ‘father’ types who guide things – elders perhaps

    – I agree that the pastor is not necesarily the ‘father’ type – but then sometimes he/she is…

    – I reckon the clergy/laity divide is a pivotal part of Viola’s argument. Once you create paid family members you have two categories of people. I do think this may depend on how its viewed – ie payment for services rendered v support of an individual who is vocationally placed to devote their life to leading a community.

    Hey that’s not a bad effort for a bloke who didn’t have much to say! 🙂

  21. Good summary Hamo.

    Although some people seeem to think the ‘paid vs. unpaid’ question is off the subject of leadership authority I really do see a very strong link. Hamo alludes to it when he summarises that “Once you create paid family members you have two categories of people”. firstly let me state that I see a world of difference between temporary and ad hoc financial support of those who are labouring in teaching and preaching and the extreme of paying someone a salary to do a job. Once you introduce the concept of someone being paid a salary to be an elder/pastor AS A JOB you change the relationship dynamics completely – you have elevated them to a wholly different status within the body of Christ where they are THE professional, they are the main minister, they are ‘clergy’ status and, inevitably, they have to have the authority ‘to do the job’. And the type of authority that is involved almost always goes beyond that which I believe Jesus talked about, Paul talked about and the NT accounts describe.

    Please do not think that I am suggesting that not paying a salary is the solution to the authority question. The solution has got to be that we all need to develop a renewed scriptural understanding of the subject of the outworking of authority in church which means we need to approach it afresh without our cultural mindset, without our traditins, without our pragmatic ‘it works for me’ thinking and without our self centred agendas of what we want it to say because it gives us the authority and affirmation we crave.

  22. I tried to reimagine church .. I closed my eyes and thought and all I could see was – ME!!!

    The Church needs leaders? – no, what the church needs are servants. But then who is going to fill out the roster? – I don’t know and I don’t bloody care!!

  23. I’ve read “Reimagining Church” and found it to be insightful and right on target. It seems some of those posting here haven’t actually read the book because Viola specifically answers many of their criticisms in the book itself. They are also misrepresenting what Viola actually believes and has written. For example, Viola doesn’t say that to be organic you can’t have ANY structure. His position on the church functioning as family is also not clearly represented here.

    Also, some of the objections to these criticisms are answered at

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