Whenever I share the vision for the next1000 Aussie churches I get asked, “But what kind of churches?”
To answer I’ll use an analogy from science.
According to Austrian astrophysicist Erich Jantsch, every living thing is both constantly changing and constantly remaining the same. If an organism doesn’t do both it will cease to exist. A living organism is ‘a never resting structure’ that constantly seeks its own self-renewal. He uses the Greek word autopoiesis to describe this principle of self-organization.
There are two implications for the church. First, the body of Christ is a living organism that must retain its essential identity or cease to exist as the church. Second, the body of Christ is a living organism that must be constantly changing and renewing itself or it will cease to exist. That’s why we need 1000 “autopoietic” new churches.
1. Churches that remain the same
There are some things about the church that we must never change. John Wimber called them “the main and the plain”—belief in the Trinity, the Incarnation, Atonement, and the Resurrection, Salvation through faith in Christ, the work of the Holy Spirit and the authority of the Scriptures, Christ’s Return, the Final Judgment.
In addition there is the call to follow Christ in costly obedience; the Great Commandment to love God with all our heart, mind and soul, and to love our neighbour as ourselves; and there is obedience to the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the world.
The Lausanne Covenant expresses both the need to adhere to biblical orthodoxy and the need to live out our faith in loving obedience.
These are non-negotiables. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other issues we can disagree on!
Autopoietic churches are united by their commitment to biblical orthodoxy and loving obedience to Christ. That’s the first half of the autopoiesis equation. These churches remain the same in the midst of a world that seeks to squeeze them into its mould.
2. Churches that are constantly changing
The church needs to constantly change primarily because it must live out its mission in a changing world. The church must also constantly change because it is forever drifting or even running from the authority of the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit.
The dynamic of constant change is manifested in the variety and diversity of ministry models and expressions of Church.
This is why Australia (and the rest of the world) needs more house churches, mega-churches, contemporary churches, emerging churches, evangelical churches, Pentecostal churches, charismatic churches, traditional churches, multi-site churches, campus churches, workplace churches and forms of the church we haven’t even discovered yet.
We are all called to love the church we’re in, but we must not confuse what we are called to, with the totality of what God is doing in the body of Christ. Unity is not uniformity. It is partnership in mission.
Autopoietic churches: they know what unites them and they affirm the diversity of what God is doing in the whole body of Christ. They affirm their unique expression of biblical orthodoxy and they work in partnership with the whole body of Christ to reach this generation.