By Wil LaVeist / Mennonite News Network
Imagine hearing the word “church” and thinking not about a building or institution, but of two or three people gathered at a restaurant or bowling alley during the week with God in their midst.
It’s a concept called simple/organic church that Marvin Lorenzana believes can provide a meaningful discipleship experience for followers of Jesus, and particularly a younger generation.
Lorenzana has begun introducing this model to churches as part of his new part-time role as Christian service racial/ethnic church networker and recruiter for Mennonite Mission Network. He develops tools that can help church leaders improve how they mentor believers, especially youth.
To apply the simple church concept, Lorenzana suggests the use of discipleship groups comprised of individuals of the same gender. He advises pastors to first identify a mature, trusted person who is already a congregational leader. That person finds another committed church member. Together they find another person, who may be in or outside the congregation. The small group meets regularly to read scripture, pray and maintain accountability for one another as they serve and seek to disciple non-believers. The small group is a micro church.
Lorenzana said that the concept is taking hold among leaders in the emerging church movement, but it’s also a good fit for Anabaptists.
“What I’m suggesting is that we can use simple/organic church principles from an Anabaptist perspective to provoke a culture of missional discipleship within our churches, putting disciple-making right in the center of what we do instead of relying so much on a programmatic mindset of operation,” Lorenzana said. “Let’s go back to basics – making disciples!”
Simple/organic church emerged from evangelicals as a way to refocus believers on building a Christ-centered community where discipleship and accountability to each other is paramount in relationship with God. For many Christians, “church” translates to what happens for a few of hours during the weekend inside a building.
Simple/organic church emphasizes the morning service as a celebration and replaces programs at the church building with small groups that meet in informal places such as homes, libraries or cafés. This is particularly effective for younger people who may view going to a church building as being ritualistic. It also encourages them to realize that God is omnipresent and can meet their needs exactly where they are.
“Jesus taught in Matthew 18:20 that ‘Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them,’” Lorenzana said. “Therefore, all we might really need to have ‘church’ is to have two or three people in the name of Jesus and that can very well be called the most basic expression of ‘church’ there is.”
In addition to his Mission Network role, Lorenzana heads the Mennonite Hispanic Initiative (MHI), which has been planting churches, developing leaders and offering theological education to Latinos in innovative ways. He also directs the multicultural student services department at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.
Lorenzana began focusing on mentoring while working with Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s LEAP365 (Learning Exploring And Participating) project under Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA’s executive director, who was then the seminary’s dean. LEAP365 mentors and encourages youth to seek ministry as a vocational option.
Lorenzana recently returned from visiting two Garífuna (Afro-Latinos from Central America) Mennonite congregations in New York that are implementing simple/organic church principles. He has also introduced the concept to Philadelphia Praise Community and to Indonesian and Latino churches. The Mennonite Hispanic Initiative, as part of Virginia Mennonite Missions, is also exploring ways to implement simple/organic principles among participating churches, such as Iglesia Discipular Anabaptista and Enciende Una Luz Church, both in Harrisonburg.
The biggest challenge for church leaders is to re-think what it means to be the “church,” Lorenzana said. Simple/organic church is not a new model of doing church; it’s a new mindset that informs what it means to be “church” in a post-Christian, post-modern society. Once people learn this fresh way of being “the church,” they may become more confident to invite others to experience Jesus Christ in the same way.
“True discipleship does not happen by chance, unintentionally,” Lorenzana said. “True discipleship happens when one person invites another person into his or her space to participate in a high-commitment, high-accountability relationship where the goal is to learn together what it means to live in the way of Jesus.”
Published with permission from the Mennonite Mission Network.