I have recently been thinking about the nature of what I call organizational
gravity. I have often found that some natural laws have
spiritual parallels. Gravity – that is, the natural force of
attraction between objects of mass – is no exception. We typically
think of gravity in relation to the Earth and to the solar system,
because these objects are massive enough for gravity to be readily
visible. We understand that the Earth attracts us, how the Moon
attracts the oceans (causing tides), and how the Sun’s gravity
keeps the Earth from spinning off into space. Gravity is a wonderful
However, gravity is a force that has to be reckoned with, and
sometimes fought against. Launching satellites is a great example:
we must first overcome the Earth’s gravity to reach a height where
an orbit is possible. If we don’t exert enough opposing
force, we fall back to Earth. A little too much force and it will go
hurling off to space.
Now, suppose we want to launch a rocket toward the sun (here’s
where our analogy kicks in, so pay attention). We first need enough
force to break free of the Earth. The Sun’s mass is such that its
gravitational pull exceeds everything else in the solar system, so
reaching the sun should be easy. However, if our flight path takes
us too close to any other large body, such as the moon or another
planet, their gravitational pull will throw us significantly off
course. We could perhaps end up being drawn into orbit, never
reaching our destination, or even worse, crashing onto its surface.
Now, as Christians (or merely as humans), I believe we intrinsically
have our “controls” set for the Son (ok, so it’s an obvious,
over-used play on words). Being the God seekers that we are, we are
heading in various paths toward God. Some are taking direct routes,
while others are taking a longer, more gradual spiraling path.
However, various other things have exerted gravitational pulls on
our lives. Ideally, however, the gravitational pull of God should
exceed all other forces in our lives.
Now, here’s my point (finally!): Church organizations – and
don’t confuse the organizations with the universal Church – can
impact us in various ways on our journey. Ideally, church
organizations should also be on a path toward God. For example, if
the organization is ahead of you on the path, its gravitational
force will join with the attraction of God and help you along toward
your goal. This is obviously a good thing.
Sometimes, however, other things happen. Occasionally, an
individual’s progress exceeds that of the organization, or perhaps
an individual will choose to take a more direct route than the
organization. At this point, we have a problem, if the organization
has developed its own gravitational force to the point that it pulls
the individual back, or holds the individual in orbit.
This appears to be an inherent danger in the traditional church
organization; it tends to view itself in a pre-Copernican manner
with itself as the center of its own little solar system. And, as
with all objects of mass, its gravitational pull increases with its
density. That is, as the organization tends to keep its members as
closely packed as possible, its gravitational forces increase to the
point that it makes it harder for individuals to break free.
Many of you know exactly what I mean. You can feel the pull of some
organizations as you walk through the front door, as they
immediately try to involve you in one way or another, bringing you
into their orbit. These particular organizations are tightly packed,
with a palpable fear of “looseness.” Whether there are 50 people
or 500, there is a desire in these church organizations to bring as
many people as possible into a tight orbit around the nucleus. Now,
I believe that this is usually with good motives, as they tend to
view the gravitational pull of the church organization as always
equivalent to that of God, when in fact it is not necessarily so.
In a “dense” church organization, your identity is rooted in the
organization, rather than merely in God. While certainly every
Christian is en route to God, the dense organizations complicate our
journey by putting us in orbit around them. As a result, our prime
focus becomes the organization, even to the extent where on occasion
the organization can even eclipse our view of God!
Another aspect of this kind of gravitational force is that it causes
division; by pulling you in their orbit, they are separating you
from those who have been pulled into other organizations’ orbits.
We now have that “us and them” mentality that is contrary to the
inclusive, unity-bound nature of the universal Church. Certainly you
see yourself as a Christian, but always as a certain kind of
Christian – Baptist, Lutheran, charismatic, evangelical, follower
of Apollos, etc.
My ideal Church universe
Now, let me paint a picture of the ideal church universe, as I
currently see it. My proposal is that we were intended to have God
alone as the center of our universe. Instead of thousands of church
organizations, each with its own system of members in tight orbit
around them, I am envisioning a solar system comprised of spaceships
(as opposed to satellites, which stay in orbit), all being drawn towards
In this system, there is a universal gravitational force that binds
us all together, and also tends to pull us all closer together as we
progress in our journey toward the center. As we look around, we see
ships that are in our immediate vicinity; obviously our mutual
attraction with these “neighbors” is stronger than with others.
There will be a natural “grouping” that occurs; however, I see a
healthy grouping being that which does not become exclusive, and
which allows a free flow of members in and out of these groups.
The problem I see with the gravitational pull of organizations is
that when a grouping becomes too dense, its gravity becomes
excessive, and therefore counter-productive. If the density of a
grouping grows to the point where exclusivity develops, or where the
free-flow of people is hindered, I believe the whole Church suffers.
The problem is not the existence of groups or organizations. These
are natural, and beneficial. The problem, as I currently see it, is
that of density. As with physical particles, the closer we get to
each other, the stronger the gravity between us becomes. Again, this
is natural. However, we need to be aware of the negative aspect of
this, and purpose to remain open, inclusive, and willing to change.
We must continue to see ourselves, as individuals and as groups, as
being a small part of a big universal church, and purpose to value
that over and above our relationships with our little groupings.
It also seems that our use of language is part of the problem. Just
the word “church” carries with it an immense amount of gravity.
There are certain expectations that come into play when a word like
that is used. Even words like “home group” create a certain
pull. Rather, I think we need to look at any gathering of the
church, whether it be a Sunday morning thing or two people having
coffee, as merely a convergence of the church. Perhaps
we could translate Matthew 18:20 as “wherever 2 or 3
Whether we are looking at a larger church body or a home fellowship
of 8, we need to periodically examine our density factor. Have we
become too dense? Has our internal gravitational pull caused us to
separate from other groups? Have we, or are we becoming, exclusive,
or separatist? Are we hanging on too tight to people? Are we
continuing to encourage people in their journey, even if it means
letting go of them?
It all comes down to faith
Perhaps the real question we need to ask is this: do we trust
God’s gravitational pull enough to let people take their own path,
even if it looks different than ours? I realize that it takes great
faith in God’s ability to attract and direct our journeys to
maintain the kind of church groupings that I am suggesting. It takes
faith that God’s gravitational pull is strong enough to reach
those who journey differently than us. And perhaps more than that,
it takes faith that God’s gravitational pull is able to keep and
direct our own journeys, even if it means occasionally traveling
alone. It appears to be this kind of faith that is essential for us
to be able to operate in healthy organizations.