The Church Isn’t an Organization or a Movement; It’s a Household

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God

Ephesians 2:19 ESV

When discussing the nature of the church, it is not uncommon to hear two concepts being proposed. One says that the church is an organization or corporation, and the other says it is an organism or movement.

Those in favor of viewing the church as an organization tend to emphasize the need for clear structures and guidelines. For them, the lead pastor ought to be something of an entrepreneur or even a spiritually minded CEO. Indeed, while spiritual matters are certainly not dismissed, there is a clear emphasis upon the practicalities of administration.

On the other hand, those who view the church as an organism tend to emphasize the need for adaptability and growth. They often see hardline structures as insufficient for handling the unpredictability of life and a hindrance to following the leading of the Spirit.

Both can make their case from Scripture. The organizational crowd might rightly note that God is a God of order, not chaos, and that pastors are also called overseers, which implies a structure to be overseen. The organic crowd might say that God has a long track record of breaking out of men’s systems and that the word pastor means shepherd. And shepherding sheep was a somewhat structured but ultimately highly organic task.

Which, then, is correct?

As with many such questions, I think the answer is yes. The church is both an organization and an organism, both ordered and natural, both structured and free. And it turns out that the Scriptures have already given us imagery for reconciling these two concepts: the church is a household.

It does not take long to see how the two thoughts come together in a household. A household without structure is pure chaos, and without order, home very often becomes a place of stress and strife. And a household that is nothing but structure feels more like a prison camp than a place to call home. A healthy household (brokenly, of course) blends the two. There is structure, routine, and order, yet there is also flexibility and constant growth. Indeed, the structure serves growth rather than stifling it, and the growth is rooted in the structure.

This is why Paul said that an elder “must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:4-5)?

Notice the implication that the church is like a large household. While individual households are of course composed of individuals, the church is a large household composed of many households. Therefore, if a man cannot properly shepherd and oversee his own wife and children, he lacks the most basic qualifications to shepherd and oversee other households under his pastoral care.

Of course, viewing the church as a household does not entirely erase the organization/organism tension, for every individual, every household, and every church will tend to lean more toward one side or the other. Yet we will come ever closer to a place of health and flourishing as we reflect more and more on the vision of the church as a household rather than as a corporation or as a movement.

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