Monday, March 22, 2010

The Kingdom of God is like...

This past Sunday at church we talked about being organic. It is easy to think about church organically, especially because of all the times that Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is like..." and then used some kind of farming or other nature metaphor. So we believe that Jesus could easily just have said that the Kingdom of God is like a starfish.

Really, it's not original. It's a reference to the book The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (Brafman and Beckstrom). Funny thing is, it's not even a "church" book. But some perceptive Christian out there once baptized this book, and now just about anyone who leads organic type churches knows about the starfish thing. So that's textbook organic church education that we had no choice but to cover eventually. But there's no shame with's become one of the best recent metaphors for church, and it wasn't even created for the church.

In the beginning of the book, the authors describe the characteristics of the starfish, especially in comparison to the spider.

With a spider, what you see is pretty much what you get. A body's a body, a head's a head, and a leg's a leg. [And if you chop off the spider's head, it dies.] But starfish are very different. The starfish doesn't have a head. Its central body isn't even in charge. In fact, the major organs are replicated throughout each and every arm. If you cut the starfish in half, you'll be in for a surprise: the animal won't die, and pretty soon you'll have two starfish to deal with.

Starfish have an incredible quality to them: If you cut an arm off, most of these animals grow a new arm. And with some varieties, such as the Linckia, ...the animal can replicate itself from just a single piece of an arm. You can cut the Linckia into a bunch of pieces, and each one will regenerate into a whole new starfish. They can achieve this magical regeneration because in reality, a starfish is a neural network. Get this: for the starfish to move, one of the arms must convince the other arms that it's a a good idea to do so. The arm starts moving, and then--in a process that no one fully understands--the other arms cooperate as well. The brain doesn't "yea" or "nay" the decision. In truth, there isn't even a brain to declare "yeah" or "nay." The starfish doesn't have a brain. There is no central command. Biologists are still scratching their heads over how this creature operates...(p.35)

So I think 1 Corinthians 3:1-23 is all about viewing church like a starfish instead of a spider.

In this passage, Paul addresses a church in Corinth who struggled with many of the same basic dysfunctions that any church faces: gossip, division, favoritism, pride, disorderly worship, etc. This passage in particular is all about divisions over authority, church structure, and leadership recognition--Who's in charge? Who's doing church right? Who should they follow? They were essentially putting certain leaders on pedestals and centralizing the intelligence of the gospel in each of their preferred all-stars. In other words, they were making church into a spider where each leader figure was a "head" of the church.

We can't fault the Corinthians...we do the same thing. How often do we rely heavily on head pastors for spiritual growth, make distinctions between the clergy and laity, reserve "church" to the weekly Sunday gathering at the church building, or depend on lots of money to do ministry? Every church does that! And it's almost feels natural for us to do that.

But it's not natural to the way Paul planted churches. And so it "naturally" causes problems. Among many other things, it creates division within the community of Christ, puts lots of pressure on mere humans, and paralyzes the legitimate spiritual gifts and contributions of everyday church members. So this was not cool for Paul, because it would prevent the churches from growing and spreading.

Because think of what happens when the pastor moves on or (heaven forbid) gets caught up in a scandal, or when there are popularity contests in ministry, or when a recession hits and the money runs out. Then what? Churches have a hard time bouncing back when the "head" gets chopped off because that was their central command.

So we talked about how Paul is making at least three main points to the church:

1. There is no hierarchy (3:5-7)

He answers his own question, "Who is Paul? Who is Apollos? We're just servants!" There are no all-stars; no one is any better than anyone else, especially the apostles. There is no "head" except Christ! So everyone in the church must contribute something, while God does the real magic. It doesn't mean that there is no structure or's just that it's not that hierachal kind that we want to make it out to be.

2. The purpose, not a person or place, is the center (3:8-9)

That purpose is the Gospel of Christ, which is like the DNA of the church, the central intelligence. So again, it's God's gameplan, and everyone should be on board with that, not just some dude's own gameplan here or there.

3. YOU have it in you (3:16-17)

Probably the most important point. Paul asks the Corinthians, almost impatiently, "Don't you know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" Duh! This line is fascinating, especially if you understand the temple and it's place in the story of Israel. The Israelites were always trying to make spiders out of starfish--centralizing God. They whined about not having a king, although God warned against it...but he still gave them one. If you read through 1 and 2 Kings, you see exactly how that turned out. And they also thought they couldn't live without a temple for God, even though God said that he can take care of himself. But he still gave them one.

Nevertheless, the purpose of the temple was to have a centralized presence of God where Israel could worship. It was supposed to be the center of their lives. And if you read 1 Kings 8, you'd see how beautiful the temple was; everything was made of gold! Unfortunately, it didn't last forever, because when Israel continually turned from God, they consequently were oppressed by other nations. And the temple was eventually destroyed.

So Paul makes this very interesting point...YOU have the "temple" inside of you. The very presence of God, what it means to be church, the gold...all of that--the center of everything. Each person in the church is as important or "central" as the next. So there were no all stars or professionals. This ministry thing wasn't like rocket science or the Olympics or anything. Paul basically said, "Look man, all we're doing is planting seeds and watering them!" How easy is that!? And since the regular Joes and Janes of the church have the temple in them, how much more central are they in doing those simple tasks in which God is ultimately responsible for making things grow?

And those three points make a world of difference when taken seriously. You see, because Paul and the apostles planted these ideas into their minds is exactly why the gospel spread so fast and that the entire Roman Empire (the biggest spider of all) crumbled under Christianity within a couple of centuries. It was like a simple virus that anyone could pass on. And it's no wonder that when the Romans tried to stop the Christians by persecuting them and killing its leaders, that the church just continued to spread. "We don't die," they said. "WE MULTIPLY!" There was no "human" head to cut off, because the intelligence was spread throughout the whole body of Christ. The Head (Christ) was in each person!

So the main argument for us was that it is harder (but not impossible) for people to come to know Christ, especially fringy people, and for the church to grow when it becomes centralized like a spider, even though we are pulled so strongly toward that.

But Michael Frost asks a great question, "What would church be like if you no longer had a building, could no longer meet on Sundays, had no head pastor, and had no money?" What if it all got cut off? Then what?

What would happen would depend largely on how we view a spider, or as a starfish?

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