Churches are organisms not organizations

Remember who you belong to has stuck with me over the years and I confess I have used it with my own sons as they were growing up. Cconversations with my Dad pushed me into academic, personal and professional reflections. “Who am I?” and “how do I see myself?” have proven helpful questions for practicing my own self awareness. My inquiry has expanded from these individual or familial questions of identity into my basic identity as a Christian. I am not only connected to the people named “Flowers” but my self definition is even more closely bound to my identity as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Self definition helps us understand ourselves, not only as individuals but also as members of distinctive communities like the Christian church.

A barrier to gaining clarity in our self definition as a Christian church has been our tendency to think of all local churches as organizations rather than organisms. Local churches are not organizations. Local churches are organisms, living, breathing, evolving things. This is deep in our Judeo Christian life. In Exodus, when Moses encounters the burning bush at Horeb, (themountainofGod) and asks the question;

Exodus 3:13-14a “But Moses said to God, if I come to the Israelites and say to them the God of your ancestors has sent me to you  and they ask me ‘ what is his name?’ what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, I am who I am.” (NSV)

Since there were only 450 words in ancient Hebrew, one word, or a single phrase might take on multiple meanings. The translator’s guess recorded in the NSV is “I am Who I am” but it could just as easily be “I am who I was” or “I am who I am becoming.” This last phrase communicates an evolving God who leads an evolutionary faith. Inspired by this new, imaginative way of seeing God I opened my eyes to a new, imaginative way of seeing the local Christian congregation.

The local church is not a static, fixed organization. To the contrary, our self definition is that of an evolving organism. It is when we remember who we belong to, a God who is becoming, and a savior who adapted his teachings to meet people where they found themselves, we are able to understand local congregations as organisms, not organizations.