October 25, 2020

Frank Viola’s New Book “Finding Organic Church”+ My article at Mod Ref + Theology Program

FOCFrank Viola’s new book “FINDING ORGANIC CHURCH: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities” (David C. Cook) releases today at a discount from Amazon.com.

This is the practical follow up to all of Viola’s other books. It’s also a stand alone book exploring the subject of organic church planting in great detail. Here’s an early review:

The author of “Pagan Christianity?” (with George Barna), “Reimagining Church,” and the bestselling “From Eternity to Here” has written a detailed manual on how to start and sustain an organic church. Everything from what to do with the children, to the developmental stages of church growth, to the diseases of an organic church and their cures are all covered in this comprehensive volume. Church planting principles for organic styled churches are packed together with the author’s practical experience of living in and starting such churches. Each chapter is full of advice, outlining the unique problems that such churches will face and their solutions. Church planters of all types will benefit from this book as well as those wishing to explore an alternative way of church gathering. — Christian Book Reviews, 2009

You’ll see a Theology Program ad in the “Endorsed” section under this post. I know that Michael Patton’s Theology Program has received many students from this website and I hope that it will receive many more. And here’s why: As a new theology program affiliate, I will receive a nice affiliate fee for everyone who enrolls in the program or buys the entire DVD/workbook set from Renewing the Mind using that icon. So click, enroll and help me buy new tires.
You will also see a new ad from Modern Reformation magazine. I have an article on discipleship in the current issue and they have a nice introductory offer for IM readers who click through from the ad. This is a great time to subscribe to the magazine. Liturgical gangsta Eric Landry is editor and I appreciate his support of IM and of the opportunity to contribute to a journal that is way above my pay grade.


  1. I’d be a lot more impressed with Viola and Barna if they hadn’t tried to claim that Jethro’s advice to Moses to set up a heirarchical structure was bad advice, and that it was really unBiblical. What I see is two guys who are so opposed to the abuses we’ve seen that they’re throwing the baby (any type of heirarchical authority structure) out with the bathwater (the overly authoritative system we see all too often today). Other than that, though, I really like their stuff.

    • Not sure of the reference, but let me say that in the old testament we see the setting up of a kingdom. This was not God’s best. The nation of Israel wanted a king like the other nations. This being the case, I hear all the time that the government of the OT kingdom is an example for us. And I say YES! Its an example of what not to do.

      Likewise, when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, His preference was to speak to them all, but the people rebelled and said, “Let it not be so, instead speak to Moses and let him tell us what you want.” So God’s first choice was not to set up a hierarchy with Moses and then under Jethro’s advice the rest of the structure. This is a structure that is the result of rebellion to God’s best for us.

      Jesus taught NON-authoritarian [Luke 22:24-27]:
      Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.

      Children and servants, people specifically without authority.

      It has become clear to me that the leadership structure that Jesus and the rest of the NT teach is very much unlike the ‘kingdom leadership structure’ and the ‘Moses/ Jethro leadership structure’.

      • The context would be Exodus 18:13-27, where Jethro warns Moses that he’s wearing himself out. The solution is to appoint chiefs over groups of 1,000, 100, 50 & 10, and only bring the weightiest of matters to Moses.

        Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and implemented the plan, and I’ll bet he was much more able to handle his duties as a result. But Viola and Barna, in their haste to restructure the church, seem to think that Moses erred in so doing.

        • I understand the reference to scripture but not to Viola and Barna’s work.

          I agree that implementing Jethro’s plan was a help to Moses and similar implementations would help others in a hierarchical mindset. And I wouldn’t say that Moses erred but that he was making do the best he could given the circumstance.

          I would sat that this is not a model we would want to peruse if we want to become the kingdom of priests that the Israelis missed the mark on – both with in placing Moses in the gap between them and God and in setting up an earthly king.

          • Ah, sorry about that.

            The Viola/Barna reference was to one of their most recent books – I believe it was Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity. A friend of mine, whose concerns about the church mirror mine, has a copy of the book, and pointed it out to me.

    • joshuaschow says

      In the constitution of Israel’s covenantal politics, God intends for there to be a king over Israel (Deuteronomy 17-14-20). 1 Sam 8 does not condemn kingship, but rather the motive behind the kingship (e.g. be like other nations in trusting a king to deliver the nation out of troubles). At least this is a viable interpretation.

  2. I hope it doesn’t have to be said that i am not in complete agreement with Frank Viola, but I also will ask him to be a reader and hopefully endorser of my book, because I do agree with the Jesus Manifesto and many other things he says.

    • I seem to recall some prior endorsements you’ve made, like Love is an Orientation, where you were clear that while the book had some good things to say that you didn’t agree with everything. So yeah, that’s pretty much a given.

      And of course I’m coming from essentially the same perspective – Viola & Barna have some good things to say. But some of their stuff needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, as well.

  3. I probably won’t read the book, but will look for I-Monk’s upon its release. My question/concern is that many seem to view the planting of new churches or congregations as the viable (only?) way for the church to grow and thrive in these times, or am I missing something? We all at times are probably, shall I say, tempted to start/plant a new church to “get it right.” As we all know, we have thousands of existing churches, most of which are plateaued or declining after 25 years or so. I know that well, but is the answer always to start/plant a new church? Do we muddle along until conflict over something or the other arises, then quit trying to be the Body of Christ in this place, but move somewhere else to start/plant another church “the way it should be done” or according to the New Testament (whatever that means)? Of course, these new starts/plants will face the same issues down the road at some point.

  4. I think a person can find “organic” church within a structure. I do believe Viola thinks that also by what I have read of his stuff so far.

    There are just some of us (myself included) that have chosen to not partake of a heirarchial institution. But I do have many friends that do. If they are following Christ and serving His Church in that type of environment where the Gospel is being taught, then so be it.

    It is all about community unifying in Christ.

  5. I hope the (lack of) scholarship present in Viola’s “Pagan Christianity” doesn’t show up in this volume as well. I was fine with the organic movement until that book came out – it sort of destroyed their case when they attempted to argue that all the practices of the modern church are found in pagan religions while completely overlooking the standard practices of synagogue worship. Could it be that the disciples and the early church simply continued the practices they were used to in the synagogue? I find that much more compelling than the formerly devout jewish disciples (and their fellow early christians) running to paganism.

    Probably not going to buy this one.

    • I agree that the scholarship in that volume was less than convincing. I gave a very strong review to From Eternity To Here and would strongly recommend it.

      This isn’t a review btw. It’s an announement.

    • I did not read their “Pagan Christian” book (yes, I pre-judged it — shame on me, I know). But I suspected — based on the subtitle and gist of it — that it would be short on scholarship and long on condemnation for historical Christian streams. (Oh, yeah, and the fact that my mother-in-law swore BY the book seemed to condemn it to my mental dustbin.) Most modern reformers who want to get back to that “Acts 2 church” (whatever that means and however they’d arrive there, much less recognize the place once there) ignore (willfully?) the long history of Temple and Synagogue worship which birthed not only Jesus’ church, but Jesus Himself, in a manner of speaking. I am neither Orthodox nor Catholic (nor any other flavor of liturgical Christian), so I do not have a dog in the fight. But I will say that most folks who lob incindiary criticism grenades at Liturgical churches do so from the dense thick cover of stupidity. Just saying…

      • Scott – if you didn’t read the book, you really shouldn’t call their criticism incidiary and stupid. Frank Viola and George Barna is neither of those. You can disagree on their points (which would require actually reading the book…what a thought), but your generalizations get you nowhere in convincing people like me that there isn’t alot that needs reformed in our institutional church system.

  6. I am totally excited about Frank Viola’s new book. I found much of the scholarship in Pagan Christianity quite convincing, but I will admit that I read it during I time when I was easily convincable on issues related institutional church flaws having just come out of a very painful church situation. I have read alot of the criticisms of PC (i.e. Ben Witherington), and I’m sure much of the criticism is valid, but haven’t heard anyone mount a convincing challenge to the premise of the book: that much of the modern institutional church structure is based on traditions and practices that were picked up some time after the new testament church was started by the Apostles and is open to questioning. Finding Organic Church should be a big help to me and my little church family as we explore what it means to simply be the church in our city.

  7. Great article iMonk, btw.

  8. Michael, I particularly liked your first paragraph in your article wondering what happened to various people in the Bible after their encounter with Jesus. Can you imagine how scary it was to see Lazarus raised from the dead? And what did Lazarus “remember” about being dead, I wonder? We will have to ask him when we get to that other life.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      And what did Lazarus “remember” about being dead, I wonder? We will have to ask him when we get to that other life.

      By which time the point will be moot.

  9. A very good friend of mine sent me this when he was reading Pagan Christianity. I am gonna send him a copy of the new book to get his blood pressure up.

    “I am about half way through reading this Pagan Christianity book, and this book is full of poop. The authors have not used a single verse from the Pastoral Epistles correctly, and they are not even considering the whole of the New Testament. They are emphasizing the communal aspects of Christianity and they are not even dealing with the passages that deal with church order, pastoral authority, differing spiritual gifts, or the Biblical model of preaching. This book is horrific and very disingenuous. This book may persuade some morons that know nothing of their Bibles, but this a pathetic attempt to undermine the Scripture. IT has been a long time since I have read a book that abused Scripture so horrifically.”

  10. I always keep in mind that those who scream the loudest against PC are those who make their living with some title in ministry.

  11. Thank God for people like Frank Viola. People like Him are the Wycclifes, Huss & Luthers of this century. As someone who has been brought up as catholic but has known Jesus by the Word in the Protestant-evangelical church, I believe God is bringing voices that point us the next steps to partake of the restoration of the ecclesía as the fullness of Him that fills all in all.

    From Argentina, with love

  12. So the guy who wrote a whole book against the current structures in the church and that supposedly our current expression has pagan roots, has now published a book to structure “organic churches.”


  13. I think it is intreging that someone sees the “Church” as something organic. And why would it not be? The Church is changeing and growing in directions that do not set well with the “traditional” church. I see young adults craving for church and community. Jesus has the answer, and YES God is Organic. I love what God is doing. WOW…..

  14. OK. So can one of you payed pastors make a biblical case for taking a *yearly* salary with benefits. And perhaps some of you can explain your basis for paying a secretary to ‘help’ you out.


  15. Presently I’m a pastor in an Evangelical church. I’ve been a pastor for 18+ years and the church I’m presently ministering in is 100+ years old. Lately I’ve been soaking in the flow of the following books: Search & Rescue, Organic Leadership by Neil Cole, The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, Finding Organic Church, Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola.

    In Pagan Christianity, Barna & Viola provide truckloads of footnotes and endnotes. They encourage you to examine the evidence that they have put together. I understand that it is very easy to misquote a reference or pull something out of context. Still, the questions that are asked in the book cry out for legitimate soul and Bible searching.

    As an individual who “earns his check” from the “local church” I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching. I’m totally not sure where I will land on that, but as one who is a pastor and even elder in a church I wonder if we’ve crafted something to fit ourselves more than to fit what God has for His ekklesia. Part of my “job requirement” is to teach a class that I’ve developed to help people get connected into our local church. In it I point out in scripture that we all are ministers and royal priests. It’s amazing to see the lights go on in people’s minds. What’s also amazing is that I have to teach a class and basically try to sell people on a Biblical truth like that. Why is that? Is it because of the almost 1700 year old tradition of paid clergy and the clergy/laity division that it has caused?

    In response to Paul’s instruction in 1 Corinthians 14 I’ve begun to invite a good number of people to join me in planning our worship gatherings via a blog. I’m thinking of it as baby steps towards the “So each one bring…” ideas of Paul. In response to my invitation I received a scathing email from a “volunteer” who instructed me that it was my “job” to do what I was inviting others to join me in doing. If the flow of being a pastor/teacher is to EQUIP THE SAINTS TO DO THE WORK OF THE MINISTRY why are people so resistant to go any further than handing out bulletins, greeting, passing offering plates, singing, pushing a couple of computer buttons or doing baby sitting?

    To me, Viola and others like him are asking hard legitimate questions of all of the saints including those of us who are pastors and elders. I do believe that much of our history has added unnecessary girth to our midsections. Largely due to the fact that we’ve successfully raised a host of consumers who come to a 1.5 hour event to watch one or more paid professionals provide a service for them. After successfully doing church the gathering of people leaves to go onto their regular secular lives until the next week’s church service meanwhile critiquing the performance to their friends and family members. Hmmmmmm…..