The Organic Reformation

I recently finished reading The Organic Reformation by Tom Johnston and Mike Chong Perkinson. I have to say, while the book isn’t the greatest book ever written, it is unquestionably a timely book worth reading. It’s thoughtful, well-reasoned and has some theological depth to it.

As with many pastoral resources published these days the underlying premise is that something is wrong with the Church in the West (see also The Forgotten Ways, Organic Church, Simple Church, ad infinitum). For example, some of my favorite quotes…

The Body of Christ in the West has [a genetic flaw] – it is unhealthy through flawed spiritual DNA – and it can’t reproduce.

Many are Christianized, know the Bible, the principles of holy living, but have not met Christ or do not meet with the Christ daily – instead meeting with the principles and practice, and not the Person.

The compartmentalization and mechanization of the modern Western Church is resisting the natural life-flow of the Kingdom. Churches are now processing factories and production plants, attempting to mass produce Christians through their programming.

We have nullified the call to discipleship by substituting a call to belief and attendance.

The culture is slipping into the hands of the Enemy. The Church has been self-marginalized and continues to decline in the West – the only place on the planet where it is not growing.

And my absolute favorite,

Many ‘leaders’ in churches are simply mid-level program managers, and not missionally focused at all.

If you don’t buy this diagnosis then the book is probably not worth reading. However, if you’re in agreement that something is not quite right, that the Bride of Christ is a bit beleaguered, then this book is worth a read. And here’s why. Many of the books that attempt to fix the Church’s woes prescribe pragmatic fixes. Johnston and Perkinson buck this trend by prescribing a principle. And in my mind, a principled solution always trumps a pragmatic solution.

The heart of the book is the call to reorient all of life around the Irreducible Core of loving God, loving people, and making disciples. The beauty of a principled response to church health is that,

The Irreducible Core (IC) functions as a powerful and simple framework that allows every pastor and leader to frame their ministry around the heart of Jesus. The beauty of the IC is that it can flex into a myriad of traditions and forms and still be the IC. 

Johnston and Perkinson see the IC as a “New Testament Shema” or “Shema 2.0” and the summation of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The Irreducible Core lived out means that as a way of life believers are encountering and knowing God and His love for them, they are learning how to love Him through every aspect of their life, they are living in such a way that the love of God flows out of them as love for others, and as rabbis themselves every believer is teaching others to do the same. In their words,

We think you can do more than this and be a Christian. However, we do not think you can do less than this and be a disciple of Jesus.

When you think about it, that’s a pretty radical statement!

If every believer were to reorient life around this Irreducible Core there would be verifiable outcomes in the life of the disciple—think metrics here. They would believe what Jesus believed (transformed mind), live as Jesus lived (transformed character), love as Jesus loved (transformed relationships), minister as Jesus ministered (transformed service), and lead as Jesus led (transformed influence). Those are soft metrics indeed but metrics that get us much closer to real church health than the hard metrics most churches rely on. In short, an IC way of life would lead to a movement of disciple-making disciples. And that, in my mind, is a healthy church.

Now on to one small critique. For me, having on occasion led workshops and spoken publicly about the need for many of the changes Johnston and Perkinson prescribe, the most poignant part of the book was a too short section on obstacles and objections—things that keep this kind of organic reformation from taking root. Johnston and Perkinson highlight five blockers:

Thought blockers (2 Corinthians 10:3-5) – inculcated ways of thinking that have become encrustations on the ship of the Kingdom. 

Theological blockers (John 5:39-40) – theological, doctrinal or worldview issues which prevent an organic movement from being formed.

Cultural blockers – church and denominational cultures, perhaps originally birthed in revival or renewal, or even the Protestant Reformation, which now stand in the way of the future thing God wants us to do.

Polity blockers – governmental systems that are built around ‘command and control’ versus ‘empower and release’ 

Systemic blockers – within each group, church, network or denomination there may be systemic things present that can restrict the life of Christ moving. 

I think their assessment is right on; I’ve seen these blockers operative in the audiences I’ve addressed. I just wish they had taken more effort to expand and explain these things as well as share how they’ve dealt with these issues when they have faced them.

Again, there is much to commend in this book and not much I disagreed with. If you are tired of pragmatic solutions to doing church, this book is for you. If you are a “submitted subversive” and in the position of leading church, denomination, or organizational change, this book is for you. If you long to see the Kingdom Way of Life lived out in your family, this book would be a good place to start.

Bottom Line: The Organic Reformation is a book worth reading a second time, which makes it better than most church books out there.

Seven Leadership Observations From the Life of Spurgeon

Drawn from Arnold Dallimore’s Spurgeon, Moody Press, 1984.

1. Covenant of Service

Spurgeon made a covenant with God to serve Him as long as he was on this earth. This statement written just days after his conversion hints at the dedication, zeal, and commitment with which he would serve Christ throughout his life.  He says,

O great and unsearchable God, who knowest my heart, and triest all my ways; with a humble dependence upon the support of Thy Holy Spirit, I yield myself up to Thee; as Thine own reasonable sacrifice, I return to Thee Thine own.  I would be forever, unreservedly, perpetually Thine; whilst I am on earth, I would serve Thee; and may I enjoy Thee and praise Thee forever!  Amen.

Spurgeon worked tirelessly for the sake of the Gospel.  Behind much of what he accomplished was this simple yet genuine desire to give every ounce of his physical and mental capacities to his wonderful and loving Savior.   

2. Constant Prayer

Spurgeon was a man of prayer.  Prayer sustained every ministry endeavor he undertook.  Likewise, an attitude of prayer infiltrated the daily life at the Tabernacle.  Members of his congregation followed his lead in prayer by meeting regularly throughout the week to pray.  I have come to believe in a direct correlation between the fervency of one’s prayer life and the degree to which God uses a person for His Kingdom work.  A friend of Spurgeon, Dr. Wayland Hoyt, had this to say about him, 

Kneeling…he lifted up his soul to God in the most loving and yet reverent prayer.  Then, rising from his knees he went strolling on, talking about this and that.  The prayer was no parenthesis interjected.  It was something that belonged as much to the habit of his mind as breathing did to the habit of his body.

O, that the leaders of our churches and seminaries would submit to God in prayer! What would our lives look like?  How would our witness to the world around us change?

3. Humility

Too often Christian leaders, especially leaders of large churches, are obsessed with their own persona. Spurgeon appeared to remain free from this snare.  Note his wife’s comments as she read his autobiography.    

How marked is his humility, even though he must have felt within him the stirrings and throes of the wonderful powers which were afterwards developed.  ’Forgive me, Lord,’ he says in one place, ‘if I have ever had high thoughts of myself’ – early did the Master implant the precious seeds of that rare grace of meekness which adorned his after life.

Similarly, Dallimore states, “Amidst a success so great that it would have driven many a man to unbounded pride, [Spurgeon] remained humble and was often utterly broken before the Lord.”  This humility affected much of what he did.  For example, in his later years, Spurgeon calmed his preaching down for fear that his gestures and oration would draw attention to himself rather than to God.   I pray that God and His agenda would continually be more important our reputations, ministry, or even physical well being.

4. Boldness

If Spurgeon believed God was calling him to do something, he boldly did it and trusted God regardless of the consequences.  Many times Spurgeon’s bold leadership placed the Tabernacle and its ministries under financial duress or criticism from the press, yet God continually provided miracles to sustain the work. 

5. Voracious Reader

At the end of his life, Spurgeon’s personal library consisted of 12,000 titles. He constantly read and reviewed books.  This continual thirst for knowledge proved to enrich his preaching and kept his theological mind sharp.  It enabled him to converse on many different levels with his flock and reach many more people.  

6. Invested in Others

Spurgeon’s development of the Pastor’s College left an indelible mark on England. His willingness to help others become the people God called them to be was a highly admirable characteristic of his leadership.  The pastors he trained at his college had a profound evangelistic impact upon London.  It was reported that in 1888, “the 370 College men had, during the preceding year, baptized 4,770 persons, and the increase in their membership had amounted to 3,856.” This one-year impact, let alone all the preceding and following years, would not have taken place if Spurgeon had not had the vision to train pastors.  

7. Disciplined Personal Life

For God to use Spurgeon in the way he did required Spurgeon to be disciplined in his daily life.  Dallimore says that he,

Exercised an unyielding self-discipline. To him the Christian life must be fully governed, and he put that ideal into steady practice. Rising early, he filled the day with labor, studying and visiting, praying and preaching. He gave no attention to sports and had no personal friendships with members of the opposite sex, but all his time and thought were given to the Lord.

How much greater would God use us if we were not so concerned about our own selfish ambitions and instead used His time more wisely.