Talk of "organic ministry" is not lacking, that's for sure. Whenever people ask me about how I planted Colossae Church, follow up with me about one of my books, ask me to further explain my philosophy of ministry or even more specifically how I approach discipleship, they often say things like, "Oh, so you just want it to happen organically." I think I get what they are saying, which is why I don't agree. Let me explain a little.
Typically when people talk about organic ministry there seems to be an underlying assumption that as a leader I don't provide structure, lack focus and intentionality, but instead just sort of hang out with people, sit back, and let things happen. But this is the myth of organic ministry. And people who start churches with this understanding of organic quickly realize that that approach doesn't work. Ministries (all organizations, actually) need direction and leadership. Every community needs leadership, which means every church does as well. Without structure and leadership the community will inevitably lack focus, become ingrown...and die.
And the truth is even the most organically minded house-church planters I know end up providing structure...they just don't call it that. The numbers of people they lead might be less, but there is structure no doubt. They have someone in charge of bringing food. Someone prepares songs and leads singing. Someone plans camping trips. There is structure and leadership. The idea that they just let relationships dictate everything is a myth...or, (at risk of sounding overly harsh) it is the thing that will lead to their demise as a leader.
Here are a few distinctions/thoughts I will offer with this:
- Relational and Organic aren't necessarily the same. I have a relational focus in everything I do, but I don't just sit back and let things happen. Some things, of course, take time to develop but that doesn't mean I lock myself in a closet, pray, and hope it all works out. If organic means I prayerfully and intentionally spend a lot of time with people and think everyone has different needs so we intentionally structure to meet those in the context of relational communities, then I would say I'm organic.
- Intentionality and Formality are not the same. We can be very intentional with people without formality. For instance, we don't have to provide a 4 step process for everyone in our church to formally go through in order to be intentional in their lives. We don't need to provide a curriculum for a group to go through in order for them to grow spiritually, although that can be helpful. But if organic means we sometimes have classes for things, sometimes recommend content but place our priority on relationally connecting people to others who can help them, offering tools as needed, then I guess I'm organic.
- Our culture is horrible at cultivating relationships. In western culture we are very slow to trust and truly commune with others in every aspect of our lives. So, if organic means we understand this and thus provide room for relationships to naturally develop over time, but also provide some intentional structure and avenues for people to do so in the context of community, then again, I guess I'm organic.
All this to say, just because our church doesn't provide a bunch of classes, studies, programs, etc. for people to become a part of, it doesn't mean we sit back and just let it happen organically as some might define that term.