Jesus simply cannot be institutionalized. He said the Spirit is like wind. You can’t put wind in a box and make it happen. Inherent in wind is freedom. The only image that really captures reality is Vine-branches, organic relationships….

Visible Christianity is trying to serve an organic Jesus in non-organic structures. Is it any wonder that things work out like they say in the commercials –”your results may vary” — “some assembly required” — “batteries not included.”

On May 22, 2012, Jamal Jivanjee interviewed Jon Zens.

To read the interview click here.

In the responses that came, Jon replied to several of them. In combination, these replies seemed to complement the blog-post several months ago, “Uninstitutional.” Here, then is “Uninstitutional 2.”

Comments from Ari-Amber:
I’m fascinated with this interview and your writings, Jamal. Probably because it speaks truth to my soul about how the Body should be and interact – something that has been stirring inside of me for a while now.

I think the push for “small groups” in so many denominations today is trying to accommodate for the “one anothering” that is missing by just showing up on Sunday and listening to one person speak. What do you think about this?

What do you say to those who have a church family that really feels like family, but it is formally set up as an “institutional religious system”?

Thank you for this and your other articles.

Reply from JZ:
Ari-Amber, those are two very good questions. I think you are right on the button — huge churches in the past 25 years have realized that people just coming to hear a sermon and put money in the plate does not cut it. So they usually find some “cell group” materials, and start a program of “small groups.” But in many cases it still ends being about control, and they still want you to attend the big event on Sunday mornings. Some folks enjoy the home groups so much that they wonder why they are still going to the mega-meeting on Sunday.

There are churches that in some important ways have a family atmosphere. But the institutional structure has a propensity to kill life (see my blog, “Uninstitutional”). Thus, usually the family-feeling can only go so far, and then there is a line that cannot be crossed. Some churches that have 35-70 people do have some good fellowship, but if the group “grows,” then that family life tends to fade away. When the church gets to 300, the old-timers look back and say, “Boy, I miss those great times around the table we used to have.” There are many groups that start in a home, then go to a rented facility, then obtain land and build a structure. Often, there is good fellowship in the first two stages — but once the building is up, koinonia disappears into the bricks. – JZ

Ari-Amber — Thank you for taking the time to respond, Jon.

Response from Jamal Jivanjee:
Ari-Amber, thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate your words of encouragement. I am very glad to know that the blog has been confirming what the Spirit has been doing in you already.

Thanks for the question as well. I have had several people tell me that the institutions they are a part of are like the New Testament church simply because they have ‘small groups.’ I then ask them what the name of their church is. For example, let’s say the name of the church is ‘crossroads community church.’ I will then ask them why their small group is not simply the church. What makes it part of ‘crossroads community church’? The answer is because that ‘small group’ meets around a ‘leader’ who has been approved by the crossroads community church leadership.

This also means that the small group operates ‘under’ the clergy and doctrinal charters of those institutions. The New Testament church is not built around a specific leader or group of human leaders, nor is the New Testament church built around a charter or doctrinal statement. The New Testament church can only be built on a spiritual revelation of Jesus Christ Himself. When a group of people operate and function from a revelation of Christ, it is not possible to gather around another center or another ‘head.’ There can only one head of the church. I hope that makes sense. 🙂

Comments from Mike Kesselring:
I get really confused and conflicted about all of this organic vs. institutional stuff.

The doctrine, theology, rules, and truths that have been perverted, twisted, misinterpreted, and used against me can all just go to hell. I had a peace come over me this evening while reading Jamal’s most recent interview with Jon Zens. This peace was rooted in a quoted portion of scripture that gave place to a still, small voice that said to me,

“All of these problems have been going on for many years before you, Mike. And they will continue many years after your death. Just keep your eyes on me, and you’ll never go wrong.”

Brought me to tears, to know that He cares amidst my failures with all of this church stuff.

Response from JZ:
Mike, I can feel your pain and frustration. Be comforted in knowing that Jesus is building His ekklesia, even though what we see around us looks very iffy.

As I see it, it isn’t really organic vs. institutional. Jesus simply cannot be institutionalized. He said the Spirit is like wind. You can’t put wind in a box and make it happen. Inherent in wind is freedom. The only image that really captures reality is Vine-branches, organic relationships.

I think this highlights a lot of the tensions we experience. Institutional Christianity dominates the landscape. So well-meaning people are attempting to put Jesus in structures that do not foster the expression of His life in the saints. I believe that in the innumerable church buildings we have every 1/2 mile in America, Christ’s life is still coming forth in varying degrees. That’s because even human structures and rules can’t stop Him from showing up. But the disheartening tragedy is that His life appears in spite of the religious structures that He is confined in. Wouldn’t it be glorious if the way believers functioned and came together welcomed and encouraged Christ to be present and expressed!

Visible Christianity is trying to serve an organic Jesus in non-organic structures. Is it any wonder that things work out like they say in the commercials –”your results may vary” — “some assembly required” — “batteries not included.”

A Response to an Illuminate blog post by Jamal in 2011:

Comments from Lincoln, May, 2012:
Dear Jamal,

I’ve enjoyed reading through several of your blogs. I am also uncomfortable with some of the ultimate conclusions drawn in, which is how I stumbled upon your blog site. And my spirit agrees wholeheartedly with you and your explanation of the absolutely central importance of Christ’s headship and our proper understanding of our position within His Body. So I am encouraged and refreshed by the above post — and I am similarly burdened with the need for other believers to “get” these truths.

But here’s where I get confused. Please help me understand why Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was directed to write clear qualifications and standards for elders and deacons (1 Timothy & Titus), if these roles were not intended to help Christ’s Body to function the way He desired? I don’t pretend to completely grasp the headship of Christ and how that is practically expressed in His Church, but I do not want to ignore all of the New Testament’s passages regarding elders, overseers, shepherds (the various names used for church leaders) either.

So please share how you would interpret the following passages: Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 5:17-22; Titus 1:5-9.

I absolutely agree that every body part — every believing member of the Church — is critical to accomplishing Jesus’ mission here one earth. And yet, Scripture seems to be very unambiguous about the role of leaders within local church bodies. Are we to ignore this in order to avoid the follies of a flawed “institution”? I believe that all members of Christ’s body are ministers, and I also share your frustration with a false “clergy/laity” distinction that seems to pervade many spiritually lifeless churches here in the U.S. But addressing the problem by abandoning the New Testament instructions for church leaders altogether? That seems like “throwing the baby out with the bath water” to me.

And one last practical question. I love the idea of all believers gathering in a meeting to share with one another the beauty and practical implications of our relationship with Jesus. And how wonderful it is when all have something to share that edifies and builds all the others up! I have experienced this in my life with fellow believers! But inevitably, there are new believers who are still learning and have incomplete knowledge of how to apply faith and practice, or (I hate to say it), “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” who very intentionally come in to sow disunity within a church body. So the elders or leaders within that local church gathering must be acknowledged and identified in order to preserve and defend the pure doctrine of our faith. In this sense, we must look to and trust “human leaders.” Have there been horrendous abuses by “human leaders”? Of course. We all know that. But we must continue to trust Jesus, the Head’s provision of these people as gifts to the Church. These leaders are not only guardians (and I should mention, by no means infallible), but also equippers to the less mature in the faith. And again, abuse is possible. But so is great growth and discipleship, and true protection for the new and most vulnerable sheep.

Much of what you say resonates with me, Jamal. But please do consider my perspective on this. I am a pastor, so I do have an obvious bias. If there is another biblical way to look at this, I respectfully ask for you to share it.

Your brother in Christ,

Reply from JZ:
Brother Lincoln, if you will bear with me, I’d like to share some perspectives in response to your concerns and queries. Please understand that my reply is at a more foundational level. Most of the issues you raise, I believe, would be better discussed further down the pike.

Of course, I can only scratch the surface here. If you are interested, you can listen to a session I presented in Cove, Arkansas, this year – #4 “Body Life & Leadership” that goes into more detail. Click here to listen.

The truth is, the starting point for the paradigm we’ve inherited is “leadership.” Over the years I’ve seen places where the pastor leaves and the body steps up to the plate in the interim. Often, people will enjoy the body ministry, but usually after about 4-6 months people start clamoring for a pastor. The office of pastor has been created by tradition. There is no NT basis for it. Thus for a church to “fill the position” of pastor is a huge step in the wrong direction in the first place.

I think in Western churches there is a lop-sided emphasis on “leaders.” For example, in a blurb about the Global Leadership Summit hosted at the Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois it was said, “Thousands of leaders across North America gather together to hear speakers from all over the world, participate in interactive dialogue, and have practical training — which focuses on helping the church raise up leaders, as well as helping leaders in churches develop their leadership gifts.”

The key point is this: in the NT, the organic way for everything to develop is through the functioning of all the living stones together. The starting point of assembly-life is the priesthood of all believers as a living reality. To focus on, or be concerned about “leadership” without a fully functioning body in place is just a disaster hiding in the bushes. My counsel to new groups is to function together with leadership as a non-issue for two to five years.

Assembly-life is the context for decision-making. Leaders are never mentioned in what Jesus teaches about problem-resolution in Matthew 18:15-20. The final context is “take it to the congregation.” The NT letters were written to assemblies, not to leaders. The Corinthian church had a lot of issues, but Paul assumed that the body could take care of them – “when you come together as a body” (1 Cor. 5:4). Leaders are never chided for failing in their responsibilities.

Traditional church practice puts decision-making, and the nuts-and-bolts of church machinery in the hands of “leaders.” The New Testament puts the responsibility of carrying out the will of Christ on the shoulders of the entire body. In the lop-sidedness of our leader-dependence, we have lost the vision of an assembly listening to the voice of Christ together. To focus on leaders without having first a functioning body is to put the proverbial cart before the horse – with far-reaching dire consequences.

Most groups in America are not ready for “leadership.” Most agree that specific giftedness is revealed only after the ekklesia takes hold. But at the same time many feel that the reason many groups outside the IC fall apart is because they lack good leadership. Why does everything always seem to come back to some aspect of leadership in Western churches?

The real issue comes down to this – is the life of Christ coming to expression through all the persons in the group? Is that Life sufficient to guide, enrich and grow all the parts as they lift up Christ together? I must put it like this: if a group is filled with Jesus and his guidance, “leaders” will probably not be on their minds; if a group lacks the fullness of Jesus, they will probably become fixated on the need for “leaders.”

Interestingly, in my experience, in almost every case where a group outside the institutional church formally recognized elders – the expression of Christ by the whole body went downhill quickly.

I have increasingly come to the conviction that if assemblies had outside help from those who lay the foundation of Christ among God’s people, there would be less concern about “leaders,” and then proper focus could be given to Jesus’ presence among the brothers and sisters.

The Bride of Christ is a family. Families have moms and dads who help the younger ones. If we end up spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about how the older ones are recognized, function and relate to one another, we will miss the beauty of Jesus in the midst of his flock. Compared to the information on body-life in the NT, the space we give to leadership issues is way out of proportion, and is filled with mistaken assumptions.

I’m not interested in throwing out the baby, the bathwater, or the tub – as they are given reality by Christ. Let me give a true illustration. At several conferences I’ve heard speakers go into great detail about how our goal should be a city-church with many house-churches networking together, and with apostles-prophets floating around in ministry. Much they say is commendable, but the problem is that the audience, and the church-at-large, is a zillion miles from any of this ever being a reality. Most people I know are struggling to find a few other people to come along on the journey! And that’s my point about groups being overly concerned about “leaders” – they are miles and miles from being ready to even give a moment to such issues.

Consider Hebrews 12:15. The verb episcopeo is used there, but is totally lost in most English translations. The author is saying “take the oversight” of one another. Here is a “leadership” verb, used elsewhere of “overseers” (elders), but is here being applied as a responsibility for the whole body. So, again, if a group of Christians cannot from their inception grow in their functioning as a priesthood of mutual overseers, how can we ever expect some future overseers to arise as servants to the body? Everything must flow and arise out of Life; in the traditional practice of church everything pretty much hinges on leadership — often brought in from the outside. If the life of Christ is throbbing in and coming to expression through each believer in community, leadership will be a non-issue – an “it” that is usually very distracting.

Lincoln, you say, “the elders or leaders within that local church gathering must be acknowledged and identified in order to preserve and defend the pure doctrine of our faith.” I think your statement shows that you need to see more deeply the Holy Spirit resources in the body. It is true that the mature persons in the ekklesia can be of critical help in the mutual care of each other. But the NT first and foremost teaches that the whole body is to be involved, not primarily the elders. For example, the exhortation to “test the spirits” is given to all the brothers and sisters, not just to “leaders.” Why? Because they all posses the “anointing.” Paul’s directive about restorative care in Gal. 6:1-2 is given to all the saints. All of Paul’s correction to the multiple issues in the Corinthian ekklesia were set in front of the body. Leaders are not mentioned. In Matthew 18, the final context rests in “tell it to the ekklesia.” Again, nothing about leaders. I do not think we have begun to grasp the significance of the fact that the NT letters were written to ekklesias, not leaders. As I pointed out above, the writer of Hebrews told all of the Lord’s people to “oversee one another,” using a “leadership” verb from which we get our English word, “Episcopal.”

We would do well, I think, to focus on knowing Christ and sharing Him with one another. If the rivers of Christ’s living water were flowing from the saints as they should, is it not possible that “leadership” would recede into the shadows? I would hope that you would agree that if we pursued Christ’s leadership, presence and expression in a Spirit-led way, all this other “stuff” would be put in its place. If Christ is not the functional Leader of most churches, what right do we have to fill books about the alleged need for “church leaders”?

Thanks for considering these perspectives, brother!

Also, check out “Questions with Jon Zens” by clicking here.


  1. The day after my most recent chemo we came across some more disturbing information from the cutting edge of cancer research:

    ‘… The researchers treated mice with breast cancer using Avastin and Sutent, both of which work by stopping the growth and formation of blood vessels, a process called angiogenesis. They found that turmors treated with these drugs developed more cancer stem cells, the cells that fuel a cancer’s growth and spread, and that often are resistant to standard treatment. Both the number of cancer stem cells and the percentage of cancer stem cells that make up the tumor increased after being treated with each of these therapies…’


    #1. Cancer once was a normal cell that has undergone a mutation, in fact quite a number of them over what could be a very long time, even years. Once they arrive at the point where they can be identified as bonafide cancer, they have mutated in, at least three ways. First, they no longer know what their function is, in short, they don’t know what they are doing. Second, they don’t know hen to die. Normal cells have a genetic life expectancy. Not so with cancer. Three, they reproduce a an inordinate rate. Normal cells are programmed to reproduce at a rate appropriate to their function. With this as background information, here’s what came in yesterday:


    #2. My chemo usually starts with 90 minutes of intravenous Avastin.

    Cutting Edge Research Findings

    #3. They are only beginning to see that cancer tumors also have stem cells, mutated stem cells that rapidly reproduce the cells that they are in fellowship with in the tumor.

    #4. These stem cells are also key to metastasis.

    What’s calling Itself “Church”

    #5. It was only in a conversation yesterday morning that the coin finally dropped into the cancer being a picture of what is calling itself “church” slot.

    #6. So its not only mutated cells in the tumor, there are these other cells in the tumor called “stem cells” these are the missionaries/”church planters” of the tumors. They are also mutated, and even without leaving the tumor for foreign fields in other parts of the body, they do everything they can to increase the size of “church” all the way to “mega church.” Institutional “dog and pony shows” are simply various mutated versions of stem cells.

    #7. I’m still thinking and praying about all of this, and not yet sure just what the religious equivalent of Avastin is, but I know this much – it is a foundational poison of choice among the big pharmaceutical companies, and conventional or systematic medicine, the kind that stands in opposition to the “Life” that Jesus came to bring. I’m sure that seminaries manufacture the stuff, once the “dog and pony show” people get it down pat. You know, people like, the Kansas City 7, and C. Peter Wagner. Even if we have been in remission, the pressure for the cancer to come back in a new mutated form is always there, that’s why we need to “… guard our hearts with all diligence…”

    #8. What hit me the day after all that, fresh from my latest blog post, which touched on “… because iniquity abounds the love of most will grow cold…” According to Strong’s, the root of that word is pretty close to mutation,.. WOW!!! It’s even more of an elaboration of “mutation” then I remembered from past meditation and study! Here are the critical Strong’s numbers: #458, #459, #3551, Wicked #4190 – mind boggling!!!” “Iniquity” is the mutated life that causes the love of most to grow cold!


  2. Frank Prescott says

    “Jesus simply cannot be institutionalized. He said the Spirit is like wind. You can’t put wind in a box and make it happen. Inherent in wind is freedom.”

    This was a great reminder. I am hearing some local leadership state to the effect that they structure small groups to be an extension, a continuation, of what is preached on Sunday. This, I feel, is very confining and actually sucks the life/freedom out of a gathering. They are saying they design things so that the Holy Spirit can speak, through the message on Sunday and questions for the small group, into the lives of each believer. It has even been said to me that Sunday is not the time for fellowship.

    I pray that local “leaders” would remember that, indeed, the Spirit goes where it will, we hear the sound but do not know from where it comes or where it is going. Wind captured in a box becomes nothing but dead, stagnate air. Solomon had it right, it is a “striving after the wind”. Leadership thinks they can catch it but only end up erecting wind screens.

Speak Your Mind