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Simple Structures for a Decentralized Movement by Neil Cole

Is structure a bad word in organic church? Can systems be organic or are they only institutional? How do you organize a decentralized, rapidly expanding, spontaneous multiplication movement without killing it in the process?

Perhaps the real question is this: can we be out of control and still have order? I believe the answer is yes. We can have order in chaos and structure without control, but it must come in a different pattern than what we are accustomed to and emerge from a very different foundation.

Structures are needed, but they must be simple, reproducible and internal rather than external. Every living thing is made up of structure and systems. Your body has a nervous system, a circulatory system, and even a skeletal system to add structure to the whole. The universe and nature itself teach us that order is possible even when there is no control but God Himself.

Exoskeleton vs Endoskeleton

Compare the two types of skeletal systems in nature: the exoskeleton and the endoskeleton. Both are used by living creatures. One is outside, hard, inflexible, established at the start. This structure becomes a ceiling for growth and development of the organism. A lobster, crab or shell fish uses an exoskeleton. The endoskeleton, however, is internal, not immediately visible, more flexible and expands and grows with the life of the organism. The exoskeleton is the first (and probably last) thing you see with the organism, while the endoskeleton is rarely seen at all, but its support of life is obvious. The body of Christ should have an endoskeleton that can grow with the body to meet her needs as she develops. The main purpose of the exoskeleton is protection, while the main reason for the endoskeleton is support and strengthening of the organism. Most churches today have an exoskeleton, but organic churches should have endoskeletons.

As someone once said, "Our current systems are perfectly designed to produce the results we are now seeing." With the measley results our churches are experiencing, we must reevealuate our current systems. More of the same will only produce the same meaningless results in more abundant supply. We must see a new system that can emerge naturally and easily from the person of Christ and that will never be a top-down overlording system, but one of servanthood and grace.

The structure should not be seen, but the results of it should be evident throughout a body. Organization is not a bad thing, but it must be secondary to life and must exist to help support the organic life of the body. Organization can support emerging life, but it can never start it.

In the modern western world, we have become enamored with models. We seek out new models as though they will be the solution to all our difficulties. Even those of us who are advocating organic house churches spend too much time pushing a model rather than the man Himself-Jesus. I liken models and structure to pipes.

If I was very hot and tired on a dry day and I asked you for a glass of water and out of the tap you poured me a glass of pure and refreshing water it is highly unlikely that I would say, "My what nice pipes you have!" Pipes are important. Without them we couldn't have water delivered to our tap, but water is the main thing. We keep the pipes hidden behind floor boards, dry wall, and ceiling tiles. They serve a valuable purpose but it is all about the water.

Structures and models are like pipes in that they are a means to get to the living water, but they are not the main thing. Of course, there are good pipes and better pipes. Rusty pipes can pollute the otherwise fresh water of heaven. Some pipes have a greater capacity and longer life span than others...but essentially, pipes are pipes and all pipes serve the same function. When you taste the pure, clean and refreshing water of life you'll never thirst again. It would be sad to give glory to the pipes rather than the Spring of eternal life Himself.

Unlike an exoskeletal organism, it is imperative in organic churching that you create structure only when it is necessary. Life should dictate structure, not the other way around.

Occasionally, even organic bodies require some external support, such as a cast, a cane, or a sling to help heal an injury. These, however, are not the norm and are only considered temporary until health is restored. If you find that you have external structures that are holding up your church, look to bring health and internal strength to the church so that the external structure is obsolete and "cast" aside.

In a typical institution, one can diagram an organizational chart to explain the chain of command. This form of structure has a direct line of command from the top down and is rigid and inflexible. It is limited for expansion and influence. Worst of all, it is a system full of subordinates each one lower than the previous. It is also full or superiors, no matter what disclaimers these superiors offer. In speaking about leaders who are over others, Jesus said, "It is not to be so among you." This structure has a limited scope, both in time and space. It can only influence those who fall under its shadow and will end when the top crashes or crumbles or fades away.

In constrast, an organic flow appears out of control, scattered and has no limit to its expansion of influence. Each member is of equal stature and potential.


Influence Beyond Driving Distance and a Eulogy

This flow of order is not limited by space or time. Most churches' influence stops where driving distance ends. For most Christian leaders their influence ends at their eulogy. But the Lord has always intended that our influence spread further and longer than this. Jesus, in His last words, commissions us to have an influence that goes to all the nations and to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20). The traditional organizational form can never do this. We need a new and living order that empowers every member and frees every group.

The complaint that will arise when such a form is suggested is that there is no "quality control". There is something wrong with this complaint. The delusion is not only that we have control, but that we actually have quality. Why do we feel that more control brings about more quality? Actually, much beauty and power is lost when we are managing life with human controls and restraints.


Fractal Design--An Organic Structure for an Expanding Movement

In all of nature there are repeated designs found in the structures of life. This is called "fractal design"-a very simple, repeating pattern that is found in an organism. Each unit has similar patterns and similar purposes. This repeated design can often be found from the most obvious external appearance all the way down to the microscopic features of the organism.

Take the following right triangle and multiply it into larger joined units and it will still maintain it's same core shape. You can continue to do so into infinite space and no matter how large it becomes the core shape will remain the same.

The pattern remains the same no matter how many times it is multiplied. To have a leadership structure that grows with the body, we need to have a similar design that maintains its own integrity no matter how many times it is multiplied. This can provide a pattern and direction for units exploding in a chain reaction, the traditional organizational model cannot.


DNA is the code that dictates the life and form of the universal emerging church

In the organic world, whether crickets or churches, the DNA becomes the internal code that maintains the integrity of each multiplied unit. In every organism the DNA is that which encodes each cell with its proper process and place in the body. In the expansion of the kingdom of God, it is the DNA that will maintain the strength, vitality and reproductivity of every cell in Christ's body. The DNA is exactly the same in every single cell of a body. In the same way, it is important that the whole DNA of the kingdom be found in every cell of Christ's body...the church. The DNA is the pattern of kingdom life from the smallest unit (the disciple in relationship to Jesus and others) to the largest unit. The pattern is the same and its expression remains constant.


What is the DNA of Christ's body?

After some research and thinking, I have come to understand the DNA of the church to be simplified to three things. These three things are needed in every part of the church, from its smallest unit to its largest. These are the three things that make up the DNA of the kingdom of God:

Divine Truth: Truth comes from God. It is the revelation of God to man. It is best seen in the person of Jesus and the Scriptures. In both cases, there is a mysterious connection of both God and man. Jesus is both and the author of Scripture is both. Nevertheless, they are without blemish.

Nuturing Relationships: Man was never created to be alone. We are social creatures and have a natural and intrinsic need for relationships. Our relational orientation is a reflection of the image of God in us. God is Himself relational and exists in a community-Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is love because God is relational.

Apostolic Mission: Apostolic means sent as a representative with a message. We are here for a purpose. We have been given a prime directive to fulfill-to make disciples of all the nations. This part of us also comes from who our God is. Jesus is an Apostle. He is the chief cornerstone of the apostolic foundation. Before He left this planet, He spoke to His disciples and said, "As the Father has sent me, so send I you."

Churches around the world will claim to have all three of these componets. The key is not in having a separate ministry committee to handle each area. DNA must be whole and in every cell. In other words, every meeting, every ministry, every disciple must have all three components at the same time. To breakdown the DNA into separate components and place them into different places in the body is to unravel the DNA.

If this is truly the DNA of the body of Christ then you would think that Jesus would emphasize them. He did just that. He said that the greatest commandment of all is to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength." This is the Divine Truth instilled in us.

Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to "love your neighbor as yourself." This, of course fulfills the Nurturing Relationships component of the DNA.

Finally, Jesus' last words on earth before He ascended to heaven was the Great Commission where He said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..." This is an Apostolic Mission, the third component of the DNA.

Why is this so important to structure in a spontaneous church multiplication movement? There is a risk in spontaneous reproduction without controls. For instance, a photo copy of a previous copy will lose some definition in the image. Another generation of photocopying will become even more corrupted. Every succeeding generation of photocopying will pass on the flaws of all the previous generations. Eventually, the copy will be indistinguishable and the image is lost. Many will object by saying that loose expansion without controls will lack substance and quality, and every succeeding generation will get worse.

The solution to multiple photocopies is to copy from the master rather than other copies.

Every disciple we reproduce, every church that is birthed, and every movement that is ignited must be directly connected to the Master Himself in a context of growing relationships and mission. The DNA in like manner, gets passed on to each and every generation, thus maintaining the connection needed to the Master. This DNA is the quality "control" for the body, whether we speak of our own bodies or Christ's body. The DNA can maintain the integrity of the growth without needing human management or controls. In fact, it will probably maintain better integrity because it is connecting to the Lord for its strength rather than any human agency.

I feel comfortable releasing control of disciples, leaders, churches and movements as long as I know that each unit is connected to the Master. This is as it should be.


All the members have one head

With a top-down structure of church, delegation is critical. Commands are passed down, layer upon layer, and is subject to confusion, corruption and condescension. It is slow-moving and slow-changing. Imagine if our actual bodies worked this way. What if the head had to inform the neck who then passed the information down to the shoulders who then delegated it to the biceps, unto the elbow, delegated to the forearm and assigned to the wrist who passed out the permission to each finger to pick up a glass of water. What if one or two fingers got the message and the others did not. In our body the fingers all work in unison and collective response as a single functioning hand. Why? Because each member is connected to the one head.

The core issue where all this becomes most difficult is in giving up control. We are afraid of "all hell breaking loose" but our insecurities and resulting control has often kept "all heaven from breaking loose." Can we trust the Holy Spirit with the control issues and allow the body to function in an orderly fashion apart from human hierarchies? It is possible...but, is it desireable? I hope so.

(c) 2004 Neil Cole

See also The Unstoppable Power of Multiplication by Neil Cole

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