In full disclosure: I hate the title of this book. When I hear the word Organic, past experiences flood my mind. I used to work with a guy who overused this word and misunderstood what it meant. Apparently his definition of “organic” was not preparing. For something to arise organically, meant that it was unplanned, unorganized, and unprepared. This caused him to do no work. To this day when someone uses the word “organic”, especially in the context of ministry, I cringe. Cole uses this word to explain a church movement that is living, breathing, and changing. In his book, Organic Church, Neil Cole argues for a church that embraces the living aspect of the Kingdom of God.
Cole, as the main church planter, is a facilitator as near as I can tell. He acts as a coordinator of sorts to all of these smaller churches that arise as leaders arise, at times when leaders can lead. One thing that he does extremely well in this book is point out the qualities of a Church. Lately this is something that I have really struggled with. The question what is a church? Cole cites three qualities that make up a church in the acronym DNA: (1) divine truth, (2) nurturing relationships, (3) apostolic mission. A church is committed to understanding the source of Truth (God), the embodiment of truth (Jesus), the Spirit of truth, and the word of truth (scripture). Without these things a church is no different from 4-h, the masons, or a bridge club. The second thing that makes up a church is the nurturing relationships. The church is a community because God, in his triune nature, is a community. Finally, the apostolic mission, is what we were sent to do. We were made to serve and the church is a service minded entity. Like him or not, Rob Bell said it best: “The church is the only institution on earth created for the sole betterment of the people outside of its walls.”
Another thing that Cole challenged me on in the pages of this book was his view of leadership. Not his structure of leadership per se, but the quickness of placing and utilizing people in leadership roles in ministry. How quick should a new convert be placed in a role of leading people? Teaching? Serving? At the church where I formerly served, we once let a new person start teaching Sunday school…the only problem was her theology was so far off that to say heretical would be an understatement. She referred to herself as the prophetess, we never gave her any curriculum, and she was crazy. She should have never been in a position to teach our kids that early. Would Cole want her too? I have just seen it go wrong too many times to agree with Stanley, Halter, and Cole.
In Part 1, Cole tries to look deep inside the Church and provides his opinions on the nature and qualities of a healthy church. He says that these are Jesus opinions about healthy churches, but scripture isn’t quoted as much as church growth books are. He also de-bunks myths about churches with the same mentality. This section also gives the background of the organization that he has led and been a part of. Essentially, Cole is a “house” church planter (more on this later) and leadership developer. What I don’t understand is if he is a house church planter, but not the leader of any particular house churches, and not connected to most of them…what exactly does he do? He does ask the ultimate question in chapter 4 of this section: What is the church anyway?
Part 2 is devoted to understanding the living fluidity of the Organic church. Basing his main study on the three living parables of Mark 4, Cole argues the churches growth and multiplication are living aspects of the Church. Throughout this section he lays out the biblical understanding of planting seeds via evangelism, growth via discipleship, and multiplication via house churches. The strength of this section was the years of experiences and the number of contacts that Cole has been working with in the Long Beach area.
Part 3 explains the DNA (spoken of earlier) of healthy churches and understanding how it starts small and grows exponentially. He explains the leadership structure, organizational aspects of the movement, and the role of evangelism within the body. His message is simply that growing churches are ones that devote themselves to Divine Truth, Nurturing Relationships, and Apostolic Mission.
The final section of the book shows how churches go from a microscopic/DNA level to a world changing movement. How is it that a harlem shake video can change the world but the church isn’t? How does the church become an epidemic? Life on life discipleship, Life groups, and shared experiences are Coles answer.
This book was frustrating for a couple reasons: 1) Cole refuses to call his “house churches” “house churches” because of the negative connotations. Forget the fact that his “Awakening chapels” of 12-15 people meet in houses. Call it what it is man…you do church in houses, its “house church”. (2) Scripture was used throughout the book a lot, but some of it was not used very well. “Where two or three are gathered…” is not a scriptural basis for accountability. (3) I still don’t know what he does. He is a church planter, but found out one day at the store that there was a church meeting across the street from him for a year, that was part of their movement. As a church planter shouldn’t you know this stuff. (4) I understand that lives change lives, but teaching has to be part of it. Cole seemed to take a very hard stance against doctrine and apologetics within the church and in discipleship, a frightening development amongst churches. This was a challenging book to read. I liked a little bit of it, but as a movement, I didn’t agree with some of his ideas on churches. I definitely struggle to see it working out in the Midwest.