Living Free in the Spirit of Christ

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Organic Authority

Prophets are examples of organic authority

I read Neil Cole’s book, “Organic Church” when I first left the professional clergy system. It was and still is a great book. I like Neil’s writing style. He used many stories to illustrate the organic church experience. That was 5 years ago. I do not consider a gathering of believers as the organic church anymore. Neither in a house church setting nor at Starbucks. Organic church is not an activity. It is not a mission. It is simply all who are grafted into the life of Jesus Christ through the new birth regardless of what they do or where they are.

The organic church is not directed by people. It is the life of God Himself flowing through all His children. This understanding of the organic church is shared by Frank Viola, Neil Cole, Wayne Jacobsen and many others. Each of these authors have different priorities in understanding this concept. For Frank Viola it is to see Christ glorified as head of the church in gatherings. For Wayne Jacobsen, it is helping individuals live by the leading of the Spirit. For Neil Cole it is in organic church planting and mentoring.

Neil Cole's book

So it was with eager anticipation that I read his book, “Organic Leadership.” There were parts of sublime inspiration, but most of it seemed mechanical and was somewhat boring to read. The problem with this book, in my opinion, is that Neil tried to combine two books together that should have been two separate books. The first book should have been a discussion on what an organic leader is and looks like. It was in these parts that sublime writing occurred. My wife and I were deeply touched in his illustration of his father-in-law as an example of an organic leader that touched his life.

The second part which should have been a different book was his strategy for mentoring organic leaders. Combining this manual with his descriptions of organic leadership created an uneven read. If he had separated the two topics as two volumes for the same book, those who want to know what they could do to help others become organic leaders would have been read with interest in the second volume. But those who do not have such a call on their lives but still need help in recognizing organic leaders that God has brought into their lives would be content with reading only volume one. But, alas, this is not how he wrote the book.

It is for those who need to recognize organic leaders, but are not called to mentoring others, that I write this post. The Bible is full of examples of organic leaders and their characteristics. In all these examples they are people who did not seek their own promotion, but were servants merely obeying God, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Organic authority has its weight, not in titles, but substance. Jesus, as a man, may have been a rabbi, as some people contend. I do not know. But the Bible is clear that He was recognized as an organic leader by the substance of what He said and did, not by any claims that He made.

For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matt 7:29 KJV)

In the film industry there are people called “heavies.” The heavies are not necessarily famous, though, they may be, nor carry any titles, though they may have them. Heavies are people of authority who get things done and know what they are talking about. This is a secular example of organic authority.

In the Old Testament two sources provide good examples of organic leaders. In the book of Judges when there were no titles, except for the Aaronic and Levitical priesthood, organic leaders were raised by God as judges who delivered the Israelis from enemies for a season. In all these examples the men and women God used were not people seeking leadership. They were raised up by God for a need, and leave the narrative when the need is met. There is no indication that they were given any titles, even though the narrator calls them judges. There were all just people recognized by their abilities in the times of need.

When the recognized leadership, that is the priesthood of Eli and his sons, followed by the abuses of Samuel’s sons, became unbearable to the Israelis, they cried out for kings like the other nations. Apart from David and a few other good kings, the rest of the kings who had “titles of authority” were not organic leaders. The organic leaders were the prophets that God raised up to speak to the kings and people. They all came anonymously and disappeared in like fashion, unless they wrote down their prophecies which make the canon of scriptures. The Bible indicates that there were multitudes of unknown prophets that God used organically to speak to Israel. Elijah, for example, comes out of nowhere as an unknown person who speaks to Ahab.

The New Testament is completely organic, but because we view the document through the lens of 1500 years of church hierarchy, we tend to read into the text titles and church structure. But the early church did not have this structure (that is the first generation of believers). The ugly head of church structure tried to rise in the second century and finally ascended by the fourth century, but did not exist in the first century church.

I believe God does use some of our man made systems of mentoring, as Neil Cole describes in his book. What I disagree with is the thought that we are the mentors. We are used by The Mentor, who is Jesus Christ, but none of us are the mentors. Only God disciples His children. God uses His children in discipling other children, but that is only for a season. As Paul told the Corinthians,

1 Cor 3:6-9
6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.
7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
8 Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.
9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. (KJV)

And I believe that Neil Cole thinks this same way. What he is sharing in his book are practical means of being used by God during that season.

For example, in my own life, I know of several men and women that God had used for a season as He discipled me. As a brand new believer, the man who led me to Christ, Igor, had a profound influence on my understanding of God. Yet, what I took from him was not his thinking, but the many times I recognized Christ speaking through him.

After leaving his fellowship due to work and a move, God raised up another organic leader named Susan, who owned a Christian book store near where I lived. I used to go to her store just to hang out because I was both hungry for literature on Christ and conversation with believers. The Lord spoke through her in a crisis situation I went through. Yet she was not trying to be the voice of God to me. She was only speaking from a heart of compassion.

After I married my beloved wife, Linda, we had an organic pastor who did not bear any title other than being a Sunday School teacher at the congregation we attended. Mike is an IRS agent and an accountant, but he is also a natural pastor who cares about people in truth. Perhaps his accounting skills makes him aware of keeping account of other people. Whereas the man who wore the title of pastor was no pastor at all, (his gift is as an administrator) God gave us pastoral care through Mike. Mike never called himself a pastor. He was merely a brother in Christ who cared. But his organic authority was recognized by all, and he became a threat to the administrator that bore the title. Mike left the congregation as did many others because of this rivalry. Mike had a season in the life of my marriage, but his time in our life has passed on. But our Pastor has never forsaken us nor left us. We know we lack nothing because our Heavenly Father will raise up organic leaders in our lives when we need them.

Organic leadership is not something to try to obtain, it is the natural result of following Christ in truth. Neither are we to decide who should be made into organic leaders. That is the Lord’s work. For men like Neil Cole, they are merely following the lead of the Lord in mentoring those whom He wants trained as leaders. But it will be the Lord that ultimately raises them up as organic leaders when the time and need arise. Neil’s book describes our co labor with the Lord in that preparation. What matters for all of us as children becoming sons of God, is to recognize the organic leaders that God brings into our lives. They will not announce themselves as organic leaders. If they do, flee from them. We recognize the leaders God brings to us because we know Jesus. Those that are used by Jesus will have the voice of the Lord speaking through them. If you do not see Jesus speaking through them, they are not organic leaders. The more you press into Christ the easier it will be to see those who are His and those who are not.

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