What Does Non-Institutionalized Church Look Like?

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We’ve spent the last several days discussing a variety of issues stemmed from Brenda’s very important topic of institutional churches failing to meet the real needs of their people who are suffering abuse.  Quite a bit of the conversation shifted to the subject that church as an institution is the root problem as boatrocker suggests here:

For me, what I believe about the ekklesia is not based upon how the traditional church paradigm is run, but whether it should exist at all. I’m not one who was hurt by “bricks and mortar”, though I attended for 47 years, very regularly and with much involvement, as had my family for generations.

My objection is to the very existence of pastor, assistant pastors, board of directors, running a Christian organization that sits in pews every week to watch the backs of the heads of people who sit and stand on cue. It is the thing itself, not how they run the thing, that I do not find in scripture. And as noted, people are leaving the thing in droves, many of whom fall into atheism or paganism. This is serious and not a matter of mere semantics or personal preferences.

I look at the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, I look at their actions, and I see no organizations, no committees beyond temporary bodies to address specific problems (e.g. the 7 chosen to see to it that Greek widows were not neglected). I see no liturgy, no oratory by one person on a regular basis, no “offices”, no chains, no prison doors for those Jesus freed. I see instead real people living real lives in homes, marketplaces, and public gathering places. I see families, singles, and even vigorous debate.

Above all, I see the traditional, religious structure as the root of many evils, regardless of how benevolently it may be run. It’s an institutional, paradigm problem, a matter of kind rather than degree. It’s very much like the debate over taxes in the US: flat tax vs. Fair Tax. The former simplifies the tax code, while the latter eliminates it. The former still allows the eventual return of corruption and oppression, while the latter keeps them in a very tiny box. Kind vs. degree.

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1 Corinthians 12:18-26

But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”  On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;  and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,  so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.


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 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.  And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations,various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?  All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?  But earnestly desire the greater gifts.

And I show you a still more excellent way.

1 Corinthians 12:27-31

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There were a number of you who echoed similar sentiments about church as an institution while some (including me), for whatever reason, prefer church as we know it – the brick and mortar building.  It dawned on me that I really do not know what this kind of “church” looks like to those who no longer go to institutionalized churches.

I am tired of the hierarchy that I see.  Sometimes when I hear the words “senior pastor” from the elders at my church I want to scream and say, “KNOCK IT OFF!”   But I excuse it and cut them slack, primarily because our pastor doesn’t introduce himself as senior pastor, and also the guy is a pretty darn humble dude.

So, can we talk about what church looks like – the kind of ekklesia without the hierarchy, the hoopla, the brick and mortar, the business meetings, the membership agreements and covenants?

Where do you go to church?  What does it physically look like?

How often do you meet?

What about the music?  I’m a musician and it dawned on me as I’m typing this that worship is very important to me.

Who runs your churches?

Do you collect a tithe?

Where are the children?  How do you ensure they are safe?  The last couple of churches we’ve gone to have had robust policies to protect children (background checks for those who care for children, rules for picking up kids, etc).

How do people find you?

Do you advertise your “church” anywhere?

Most importantly, what about the Brendas?  How do you address the needs of the many Brendas who have real financial needs?

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Final note:  when searching for scripture to use for this article, I was struck by the last line of Chapter 12 which was discussing the Body of Christ:  And I show you a still more excellent way.   Is this more excellent way referring the next chapter – the chapter on love?   I never put that together before – they’ve always been separate for me:  Chapter 12 = the body of Christ and Chapter 13 = love.   Maybe whomever numbered the chapters had it all wrong and should have kept the love chapter together with the Body of Christ chapter?  Doesn’t that make better sense?

photo credit: Martin LaBar via photopin cc

160 comments on “What Does Non-Institutionalized Church Look Like?

  1. Barb Orlowski

    As you can tell by now…
    Today I’m NOT a fan of those who call themselves – “Leaders.”

    Here’s a question for you to think about – and answer…
    Can someone, who calls them self “Leader,” be one of “His Disciples?”


    Haven’t you ever wondered why?
    Jesus taught His Disciples NOT to be called “Leaders?”
    For you have “ONE” leader – the Christ. Mat 23:10 NASB

    And NONE did… 😉
    NOT one of His Disciples called them self – “Leader.”
    NOT one of His Disciples called another Disciple – “Leader.”
    NOT one of His Disciples called them self – pastor/leader/reverend.

    What did His Disciples know? – That many today have missed?
    Maybe, His Disciples, actually believed what Jesus taught them?

    Mat 23:10-12 NASB – New American Standard Bible.
    Do NOT be called leaders; for “ONE” is your Leader, that is, Christ.
    But the greatest among you shall be your “Servant.”
    Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled;
    and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

    Then step down. – Be a **Servant.**

    Mat 23:10-12 TM – The Message.
    And don’t let people maneuver you into taking charge of them.
    There is only “ONE” Life-Leader for you and them—Christ.
    **Do you want to stand out? – Then step down. – Be a servant.**
    If you puff yourself up, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you.
    But if you’re content to simply be yourself, your life will count for plenty.

    Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to be called **Leaders** – NONE did.

    Rom 1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,
    Php 1:1 Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ,
    Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ,
    Tit 1:1 Paul, a servant of God,
    Jas 1:1 James, a servant of God
    2Pe 1:1 Simon Peter, a servant

    **His Disciples** all called themselves **Servants.**
    None called themselves “Leaders.” None? None.
    None called themselves “Servant-Leader.” None.

    If Jesus instructed **His Disciples** NOT to call themselves “leaders”
    and someone calls them self a “leader” or thinks they are a “leader;”

    Are they one of “His Disciples?”

    Can someone, who calls them self “Leader,” be one of “His Disciples?”

    Why isn’t what Jesus said important? 😉


  2. Barb

    You write…
    “God has instituted leadership.”

    And that “Leardership” has a name – A name Above ALL names…

    And His name is…

    {{{{{{ Jesus }}}}}}


  3. Thank-you, Thank-you, lydiasellerofpurple
    September 13, 2013 @ 2:50 PM http://www.bethelfc.com/messages/warrior-a-study-of-biblical-womanhood/warriors

    O, wow, I’m simply floored after listening to that. You were right on that it would lift me up! My role as a helper is defined by God, as a warrior, not a doormat. More than thirty years as a Christian and that is the first time I have ever heard that I am God’s provision, the mans warrior partner. Ladies need to hear this!

    Thankfully, I am married to a man who is secure & kind. The last church we attended together (10 yrs ago) did their best to teach him that I needed to submit to him, he didn’t buy it for a minute. Thank God!


  4. @ lydiasop~

    Thanks so much for the sermon recommendation. I listened to the first one and was amening all the way through. Can’t wait to listen to the rest. Have shared. Thanks!!


  5. Barb Orlowski

    You write @ SEPTEMBER 13, 2013 @ 2:26 PM…
    “God has instituted leadership. It is all throughout the Scriptures. Yes, there is the ‘priesthood of all believers’ but that does not imply that there should be no leaders and a non-leader structure.”

    That is what I believed and taught at one time…
    When I thought I was called to be a “Leader.” – but NO longer…

    Since leaving “The Abusive Religious System” I see, OT and NT, God/Jesus wants to be our “ONE” Leader – As you say – “It is all throughout the Scriptures.” – And – Again, and again, God’s People reject God’s Leadership – For that of a “Mere Fallible Human.”- I’ll give you a couple of examples…

    Have you considered the ant?
    An ant is small and insignificant. – Or is it?

    Proverbs 6:6-9 KJV
    Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
    Which having NO
    **overseer,** or
    Provideth her meat in the summer,
    and gathereth her food in the harvest.

    NO  Guide – Strongs # 07101 qatsiyn – a magistrate or other leader.
    KJV – ruler 4, prince 4, captain 3, guide 1
    Thayers – 1- chief, commander, dictator. 2- ruler (of one in authority)

    NO Overseer – 07860 shoter – officer, overseer, ruler.
    KJV – officers 23, ruler 1, overseer 1; 25
    Thayers – 1 – official, officer.

    NO Ruler – 04910 mashal – dominion, governor, reign, rule, have power.
    KJV – rule 38, ruler 19, reign 8, dominion 7, governor 4, 81
    Thayers – 1-to rule, have dominion, reign 2- to exercise dominion.

    Seems Jesus has a unique take on “Leadership” for **His Body.** “ONE”

    And I’ve found, for me, “The Ideal” Leadership Team… 🙂
    The Father – The Son – The Holy Spirit…

    So, when you say..
    “that does not imply that there should be no leaders”

    I would add – Some scriptures imply – NO HU-man Leaders…

    Why “Follow” a “Mere Fallible Human” who thinks they’re a “Leader.”

    When you can “Follow” Jesus?


  6. Barb Orlowski

    Here’s another example of God’s People rejecting God – Reigning over them.
    And wanting a “Mere Fallible HU-man” to – “reign over them.”
    “That we also may be like all the **Churches**;” ooops – Nations…

    Hmmm? Was the idea of having a King rule over the people God’s idea? Or man’s idea? Seems God gave the people kings because they didn’t want God Reigning over them. Oy Vey! ;-(

    1 Sam 8:7 KJV
    And the LORD said unto Samuel,
    Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee:
    for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me,
    that I should not reign over them.

    And how did having Kings turn out for Isreal? My.. My… Tsk… Tsk…

    1 Sam 8:11 KJV
    This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you:
    He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots,
    and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots…

    Your King will take your sons.
    Your King will take your daughters.
    Your King will take your fields.
    Your King will take your vineyards.
    Your King will take your oliveyards.
    Your King will take the tenth of your seed.
    Your King will take your menservants.
    Your King will take your maidservants
    Your King will take your asses.
    Your King will take the tenth of your sheep.
    and you shall be the Kings servants…

    (Hmmm? Reminds me of many of “The Institutional Churches” of man.)

    1 Sam 8:19-20 KJV
    Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel;
    and they said, Nay; but **we will have a king over us.**
    That we also may be like all the nations;
    and that **our king** may judge us,
    and go out before us, and fight our battles.

    Wow – God was offering to reign over them,
    To go before them and fight their battles for them…
    Like He did against Egypt…

    And these humans decided another human would be best for them.
    Kings don’t look like such a good idea now, do they?

    How come us “Mere Fallible Humans” do NOT believe…
    God Can Lead Us? Lead “WE?” Lead His Ekklesia? Lead His Sheep?

    Who taught “WE” that?

    Did “WE” forget???

    For with God nothing shall be impossible??? – Luke 1:37


  7. @Lydia.
    “Barb, Viola, Barna and Dash all make their living from ministry in some capacity. I realize most folks don’t think that is a problem. But, I always take it into consideration. That book made a lot of pastors, evangelists and mission folks very upset. And Viola (and Barna) laughed all the way to the bank because it sold well with the plebes and launched some other projects.”

    Hi Lydia.
    I will need to find a link, but I have heard and read more than once from Frank Viola that he takes no money from the sale of his books. It goes to charity of some sort and he makes his living in other ways. Also, I completely understand the issues that Pagan Christianity as brought up for many. I read it over 2 years ago and it changed my life for the better in terms of my walk with Christ and church experience. But to be fair, P.C. is the first in a series and really should not be read alone. I have read all the following books on these important issues and I highly recommend them to other believers as well. Here are a couple of links that talk about the other books along with answers to the many critiques. 🙂 http://www.paganchristianity.org/answers.php http://frankviola.org/2010/02/01/10-straw-man-myths-about-pagan-christianity-reimagining-church/


  8. My church experience has gone the full gamut since I gave my heart to Christ as a 12 year old back in the mid 70’s on my neighbors back porch. I had attended their medium sized Baptist church’s vacation bible school. Over the years I went from that church to a mega/prosperity teaching/name it and claim it black church, to a Pentecostal storefront, back to the ‘name it and claim it’, then to one of the largest suburban mega churches in the country, to a small ’emergent’ type/full of college students church, to what I now call an organic-ish church experience. I came across the books of several house/organic/simple church practitioners(including Felicity Dale, Keith Giles, Frank Viola) and it has indeed changed the lives of my husband and I for the better. We meet in 2 different, yet related lifegroups(small groups). One, we host in our home and the other where we rotate homes throughout the month. Those groups were actually groups that we helped facilitate when we were on staff at our former church. When we officially left, the groups stayed the same. We just continued to meet. I realize that we also have special circumstances in that we are still friends with many at our old church(most of them are in our groups) including the pastors. Yet, their set up includes several elders(male and female) without the hierarchy common in the typical institutional system.

    Our meetings include studying of scripture with everyone taking turns to share(if they desire to), sometimes going through a book together, sharing struggles and praying for each other, reaching out to others in need, and often just having fun together. Over the last 4-5 years we’ve become like family to each other.

    For me, reading the works of those who champion house church and the like has not made me into someone who views the church building as ‘evil’. ( But I have come across some pretty extreme stuff in my journey through this topic) I can see the value in the IC(institutional church). I found Jesus there. I have made many friends and learned much about the Lord. And even discovered small groups in that suburban mega church we used to attend. So, I guess my point is that God can use anything and anyone, anywhere. I do believe though that we in the West especially have turned what was supposed to be the Body of Christ, in essence a family, into a business. I think we can be addicted to the Building. Every other religion on the planet(please correct me if I’m wrong) needs their temple. When the Church was born, the Holy Spirit moved into US. The people, WE are now the temple. The same Holy Spirit that can speak through the pastor, elder, priest, evangelist, etc can speak to and through us, even if we don’t have an official ‘calling’. If you get right down to it, we’re all called anyway, just with different gifts.

    And let’s face it, those buildings, big and small cost money. Salaries cost money. How much more could we feed and clothe those we’ve been called to, if those expenses weren’t seen as so essential by our modern church mindset. And tithing? Don’t even get me started! lol
    Sorry for being so long winded my first night posting. 😉 Love your blog JA btw. Been lurking for months.


  9. Hey Val – Thanks for your comment – glad you are silent no more 🙂

    I loved reading your church history and how you are doing church now. It is sure diverse. It sounds like you’ve got something going on that is working well for you.

    This comment had me woohoo-ing:

    I do believe though that we in the West especially have turned what was supposed to be the Body of Christ, in essence a family, into a business. I think we can be addicted to the Building. Every other religion on the planet(please correct me if I’m wrong) needs their temple. When the Church was born, the Holy Spirit moved into US. The people, WE are now the temple. The same Holy Spirit that can speak through the pastor, elder, priest, evangelist, etc can speak to and through us, even if we don’t have an official ‘calling’. If you get right down to it, we’re all called anyway, just with different gifts.


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