Authentic Church. Is this really about structure?

A Conversation of Authentic Church.

We can begin here. Authentic church. I have had some really helpful and insightful [along with some challenging and difficult] conversations around the topic of church. Some of these conversations are based on articles I’ve written, if you missed them the first time around, here are a few you’re welcome to [Spiritual Authority?Not at Church? | Do I Fit the Model?].

From here, I’d like to delve a little deeper into the church conversation through the language of authenticity, rather than structure. The language surfaced in a conversation with a good friend and it was so helpful for me as I think through building Christ centered communities, that I thought we would all benefit from the conversation highlights.

Everything in life that lasts has structure

I think it’s safe to say that most things of value grow through some kind of structure, order, or system. For example, there are detailed processes and systems that a seed goes through to become it’s future self.

Systems exist even when you think about the way members of a family relate to one another. There are structures and rhythms that keep the family connected — whether it’s “dinner at 6pm” or “exchanging gifts the morning of December 25th.”  These systems are all helpful… until they aren’t.

What if soccer practice moves to 3 nights a week at 6:30pm? While it still may be possible to keep to the structure of dinner at 6pm, the environment of dinner will shift drastically from a laid-back, 30 to 45 minutes of relational connectedness over food and conversation, to a mad-dash waypoint on the way to the soccer field. The same goes for Christmas morning. The value is consistent family togetherness during the holiday season. But, with all the kids married, with 1-3 children of their own, being pulled in several directions Christmas day because of new family and social obligations, the 25th of December may not keep the magic twinkle it once held. Maybe we need to approach this differently?

Observing the life and structure of a tomato plant

If I grow a tomato from seed. The only fortification needed is the soil itself. After a while [hopefully] the seed will sprout and break through into daylight. Still, the soil itself is the only container I need. The plant continues to grow upward and as a response to life and growth, I support that life as needed. Perhaps only a small stick in the ground tethered to the young stalk is needed at this stage. Eventually [again, hopefully], the stalk will mature and develop, with shoots of life coming from every side. At this point, a tomato basket [umm… it’s called a tomato basket, right?] would be a helpful support to the life of the plant. AND if I’ve done it all correctly, I’ll begin to see small tomatoes taking shape. Which means I’ll also want to make sure the fruit is supported by the basket itself as the fruit continues to develop.

Authentic Church. Are we building to maintain a structure or are we building to rightly foster the life within it?

I think we approach building authentic church in the same way that we look at the tomato plant. We cultivate values and we watch them grow, giving the necessary time and energy it takes to grow them. And most importantly, we don’t let the assumption of how it has been done before dictate the structure that these new fledgling values require. We simply wait. Then, we add needed structure as the values grow and as people gather around them [whether we are talking about 4 people or 40 people or 4000 people]. We build structure to support growth and life, rather than building structure and hoping for life to find it.

We build structure to support growth and life, rather than building structure and hoping for life to find it.

Every structure can be as diverse as the people within it.

Every structure has the potential to be as diverse as the people that reside within it. And with a whole planet filled to the brim with cultural [and subcultural] diversity, we have such a gloriously creative opportunity here!

And I don’t mean diverse like “we meet on Friday evenings instead of Sunday mornings” … our community is so creatively diverse. I’m saying the structures and rhythms [and platforms even?!] of any gathered people of God should be as true and authentic to them as every other piece of their cultural diversity.

So… let’s bring this conversation home. Do the structures, rhythms, and platforms of my local expression of church nurture and cultivate the authentic life within it? If so, then awesome! Keep rockin’. If not, it might be worth taking some time to work through these thoughts. Who are we as a spiritual community? What is it that we’ve been created to do? When we look across our community, what has life? How can we help foster that life?

This is all a journey. Things will shift, grow, and change. We don’t need to have all the answers. But I do think it’s important that we become comfortable with this particular conversation, as we continue to develop that which we have been given to steward. Are we building structure to authentically foster the life within? Or, are we stunting what could be because we are unwilling to consider that a given rhythm or structure may no longer be necessary?

Any [Authentic Church] Thoughts?

Can you relate to the conversation of authentic church? What ways do you [in your own little piece of Christendom] develop or participate in authentic rhythms with your own spiritual family? This is not grounds to bash others in discrediting what they’ve built, rather, it’s a question for us each individually. How can we [each] aid in cultivating authentic spiritual community where we find ourselves? I’d love to hear your thoughts, feel free to reach out.

Thanks for journeying alongside,
Phil Rice


Oh yeah, and if you resonate with this article, consider joining the conversation more regularly!

I send out a super helpful [I think it’s helpful] short email with [5] highlights of content over the last month [or so], my 5-things email — meaningful content for the religiously disillusioned [or spiritually tired] seeking to practically and authentically follow Jesus in real life.


Phil writes like he speaks – with a God-centered, challenging, winsome humility. He gives permission to reflect on the edge about what it means to be the Church. — Lance H.


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