Jesus Has Left the Building Paul Vieira in his book Jesus has Left the Building looks at the institutional church and the organic church — the structure and the actual life it contains. On p. 22-23 he writes,

What we traditionally call “church” is often two entities, a blend of mechanical and biological elements held together by a form of fusion. There are two churches, the institutional church and the organic church. The picture I see is a living plant intertwined with a lifeless silk plant. The silk plant looks real, but it is not alive and doesn’t produce fruit. It is the inorganic, fake plant that is falsely called the church. It may be an organization of the church, but not the church itself. The question arises, “Is this organization perfectly suited to fulfill the basic mandate of Christ’s ministry on earth?” All too often we see that the mechanical parts inevitably only restrict and repress the genuine life of the organic members.

I found this to be a helpful picture, as it doesn’t present an either-or view of institutional versus organic church, but shows how the organic church can grow up in and around the structure. It’s appropriate in that at a glance you can’t tell the difference between the two, and in that the structure isn’t integral to the organic life.

To strip off the metaphor, we could say that what we often see as integral to the church really isn’t, it’s just structure. One of the tasks I’m about is separating the structure from the organic matter. That done, the organic matter can be better understood to see what kind of structure (if any) can best support it. An attempt can then be made to place a new kind of structure in such a way that it can be distinct from the actual organic matter supporting it without overpowering it, without starting to masquerade as the life itself, and without overpowering the life it supports.

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