Some people want balance. I think balance is good too, but there are some things that don’t really work well with the concept of balance. There are times that nothing but tension will do. For instance, in putting up a tent, you can balance poles against each other, but they’ll inevitably fall down. What you really need is some tension to pull in opposite directions so that the canopy is pulled up. Sometimes I think that way about the structure of the church.
Now, before we go further, let me be clear that I know the analogy doesn’t hold all the way on all things at all times. I’m just saying it can be useful to think this way and here’s why.
Institutional and Organic
I’d better clarify before we go any further. In this instance I’m being specific and non-derogatory about either modes. By institutional I am thinking of the more classic form of church structure, with corporate meetings, always present leaders and some form of liturgy (even if those practicing it would never label it liturgy). By organic I am referencing the form of the church that is spread abroad, with less focus on prescribed meeting times and more intentional practice of integrating faith into all of life.
Those in the institutional church worry that the organic people are going off on a wild, rebellious, dangerous path, whilst those living organic faith are certain that the institutional model is pagan in roots, disastrous for souls and so forth. OK, those are stereotypes, but I have read plenty of stuff that supports those stereotypes.
At Cornerstone, we’ve taken a good long look at the issue and concluded that there is something essential in both things. The church is told to gather, we are commanded to worship and should receive authoritative teaching and preaching. And we are also sent ones, into all the earth, to proclaim the good news, to live as Christ to people so that they can see him and know him. We incarnate Christ as we live our lives, and as such no area of life is left untouched.
But it is not one or the other. We embrace both like some hybrid mutant who doesn’t fit in at anyone’s party. And that’s ok.
Joy to be Found
I sincerely believe there is much joy to be found in both ways. I love to gather with the whole body and worship. I have also found such beauty in the life of our home church that meets throughout the week to live life together and to be on mission together. Sometimes, one of the two areas might be easier than the other, but I make a choice to celebrate both and thank God for the life of his church.
Not everyone feels the same way I do, though, and I have thought about this in terms of the tension analogy from earlier. Are you a tent peg on the fringe of one side? It might feel like the rest of the tent is pulling against you, but you are part of the structure that keeps the thing raised. If you are deeply passionate about the institutional church then the drive of the organic, holistic church may seem very strange and difficult. Alternatively, the institutional church may feel like it is just holding you back from pulling in the direction you want to go. But remember, this is not your tent. And it does seem that God honors both forms of his church (and more forms too!).
Dear tent peg, you are planted and rooted by God. You are being used to lift up his tent.
When considered this way, the tension is a wonderful thing. The pull of the opposite side does not have to elicit defense, but can be understood as an integral part of the structure of the church. And it must never be about proving our way is the way. It must always be about God’s glory, his mission and the love he has for people, shared through us.
And the more we pull in these two directions simultaneously, the bigger the tent can be. Here’s to the tent pegs.