Thursday, January 1

How I got into house/organic/simple church

My pilgrimage with the house/simple/organic return to New Testament ekklesia began in 1997. This was around the time when the International Mission Board (the S. Baptist missions sending agency that we are a part of) launched "New Directions." The assumption was that if we continued to do evangelism and church planting as we had always done it, we would never reach the nations for Christ. As this realization began to settle in our hearts, we missionaries were faced with the question, "what, then, should we do?"

The IMB set out a few broad guidelines, things like:
  • focus on church planting; not church buildings
  • turn over institutional church work to national entities (seminaries, camps, schools, established churches)
  • church planting movements: churches that plant churches that plant churches
  • plant POUCH churches (Participative study/worship gatherings, Obedience to God's word as the measure of growth/maturity, Unpaid bi-vocational church leaders, Cell/house churches of 15 or less, Homes as meeting places)
  • missionary roles as mentors-trainers, rather than actual church planters
All these were great, but none of us had a real grasp on how to implement these concepts. There was little help on the "how to" part. None of us had ever seen or experienced church any other way than it had "always been done." What was this thing supposed to look like that we were being asked to do?

In hindsight this bewilderment was a good thing. It drove us straight back to the New Testament. We began a reexamination of the who, what, when, where, and how of the 1st Century Church. It did not take long to discover quite a few discrepancies between what we were finding, and how we were actually practicing church.

Fast forward to early 2000 just as the new millennium dawned. In my role as team leader, I joined an online house church discussion group called House Church Connection which, BTW, continues today (for those who dare!) The purpose of the group, at that time, was to serve as a bridge for those journeying from institutional Christianity to 1st-Century NT house/simple church life. It was an extremely radical bunch for me at the time, but I was fascinated. I met and dialoged through dozens of long emails with "unknown saints" who had incredible insights on the very areas I was supposed to be an expert on. Where did they learn this stuff? I was baffled. As I struggled with the ideas and concepts shared, I received a lot of "hand-holding" and honest Biblical challenges to my questions and assumptions from new friends like Tracey Amino and Rick Carr and many others whose names I have long forgotten. Even though sometimes ultra-extreme to my own views, I was drawn to the freedom this bunch of people had to follow Christ without all the baggage that accompanies the established institutional churches I had known all my life.

One day, out of the blue, one of the participants on the list mailed me an unsolicited copy of Frank Viola's "Rethinking the Wineskin." As I fearfully read the first few pages, I knew in my heart that I too could never return to the idea of "church" as I had always known it. A seed had been planted.

The seed was watered by reading the few available writings I could lay my hands on: Frank Viola, Gene Edwards, Christian Smith's Going To The Root, and a few other scattered writings found on the internet. Other writings and books came later on, but these were my first encounters with this "new church world".

For me, the turning point was a trip I took to Cuba in the summer of 2000. I had been asked to speak in one of the sessions of the Baptist World Alliance meeting held in Havana that year. On Sunday, the visitors from around the world were invited to visit the recognized "government sanctioned" Cuban churches. I had not received an invitation to speak, but went down to the hotel lobby in hopes of tagging along with some of those headed to the Cuban churches.

Around 4pm a Cuban brother arrived. He was obviously looking for someone, so I asked him if I could help. In Spanish, he explained he was there to pick up brother so-and-so. He asked if I would be so kind to call his room to see if he was still going. When I called the American's room, he said he was sick and asked me to relay his apologies at not being able to attend that evening. Disappointed at not having a guest speaker, the Cuban brother asked if I might possibly fill in for the sick brother. I was thrilled to go with him, even though I had nothing prepared to share.

He drove us into a neighborhood and stopped in front of a house. When we entered I was delighted to see the "church" consisted of some 16-20 men, women, youth and children. Most were in the kitchen laughing at each other's jokes as refreshments were prepared for the gathering that evening. It was my first encounter with a real live house church--and Cuban at that!

As I sat with these brothers and sisters, sharing, eating and worshiping with them, words cannot express the emotions going on inside of my soul. It was all so spontaneous, yet felt so right! Even though I was the invited guest speaker, I was the one who was blessed beyond measure. In those few minutes shared with a handful of Cuban brothers, my life was forever changed. I saw in that gathering of believers something I had longed for my whole life. I now understood better than ever before, what the church was supposed to be. Wasn't this what the church looked like in the Book of Acts? Finally, I was able to see in living color what the writings I had been reading looked like! I knew in my heart this was what we must strive to recapture in our own church planting in Ecuador.

There is a lot more to the story. In a sense my pilgrimage has been the fitting together of many pieces of the puzzle as the Lord continues to gently reveal them. We still feel there is much to learn and still very much in the infancy of what I believe is an emerging house church planting movement in Ecuador. As we prepare to return to Guayaquil in a few days, my resolve is to continue to seek out a restoration of the values and principles of the 1st Century Church as found in the pages of the New Testament. In my heart, I believe it is the only way we are ever going to reach the world for Christ. I believe the existing institutional churches have a role as well, but only when the church returns to her roots, will Christ usher in His Kingdom as he intended when the command was given in Matthew 28 to make disciples of the nations.

Any thoughts or comments from your own pilgrimage?


10 comments:

jeff w. said...

Guy,

As always, I enjoy hearing how God is working. Thank you for the history. I like to follow what God is doing in your ministry and since you asked for our pilgrimage, here is mine in a nutshell.

I grew up the son of an SBC minister (education minister/head-master). He was and is a man of God, a man of faith, and one of the people I most admire in the world.

But growing up so much in the church, I saw it in detail – church is often messy and Christians often treat other Christians less than Christ-like. I remember telling God at an early age that any call for me would have to be very clear.

Run forward ten years or so and I found myself practicing law and involved in a large singles department of a very large church. A couple of us began to get together to pray and read the Word. In a short amount of time, there were between 30 and 35 of us. About 8 of the group made decisions to follow Christ in some fashion. We experience God and each other in a way that changed lives. As a result of this experience and the awakening that occurred, I became very suspicious (or careful) about anything that didn’t seem to have the life of God in it.

A couple of years later, my wife and I started a home fellowship in the new mission church where we were members. Again, it grew and lives were changed. An example is that one woman was used to cause 6 people from her work (or work-related folks) to come into a relationship with the Lord.

As we experienced these two home/house churches, I found God was doing something different in me. Our friends were enjoying being with God, but God was revealing to me how the NT Church related to Him and to each other. Over and over He would line the events up with Scripture – it was a lot of fun in those days as the Spirit taught.

It was about this time that God very clearly called me. His call, however, was to dead churches – not where I would choose to be. I have tried to be obedient to the call. I have found that most “normal” (for lack of a better word) churches don’t have the faintest idea of the type of church that you work with. It is so far outside of their vocabulary, experience, and understanding that even having a discussion about the issue is difficult. So, I find myself a radical rebel where radical rebels don’t normally live. I do try to lead people to have an experience with God that will change their lives.

However, God is still at work. He always has a remnant. He loves His church and wants the best for it. Even in the normal church, most people are sincere and many are hungering for something more. I believe that this is why Henry Blackaby’s works are so popular.

Jeff

GuyMuse said...

Jeff,

I appreciate your sharing your story. There is much there that I too can identify with. In our work with the house churches, we continue to relate to many traditional churches and pastors as well. In the beginning there was not much of an atmosphere in which to dialog, but as the years have gone by, we have worked hard to maintain those relationships. Now, more than ever, many are giving serious consideration to at least some aspects of what we have been talking about for the past nine years. It is encouraging to me, for example, that now house churches are beginning to be viewed by many pastors as "legitimate forms of church". In the past, few would have considered them as such.

My hat is off to you in your faithfulness to what God is leading you to do. Since we too work with many of these same kinds of churches, I can relate to a lot of what you share above.

This next term of service, I sense that the Lord is leading us to engage many of the traditional churches (like the one you pastor) and seek to find common ground in our mutual goals of seeing Christ's Kingdom come on earth. I have some ideas of how this might be done that I am eager to try out on some of my ecuadorian pastor friends.

El Perro said...

Bendiciones para ti y tu familia en este nuevo año Guy:

Leer "Cumpliendo la Gran Comisión en el Ecuador en esta generación" fue uno de los primeros textos que "desestabilizó" mis paradigmas y me hizo preguntarme cual es mi rol en el Reino.

Ahora que leo un poco acerca de tu peregrinar me sigo sintiendo inspirado. Que el Señor te siga usando!

Stephen M. Young II said...

Guy,
I really appreciated your post. This is the kind of evangelism and discipleship that I am trying to accomplish. Lots of near misses on the house churches, a number of salvations, still working at it.

Steve
http://smy2brazil.blogspot.com

GuyMuse said...

El Perro,

Que sorpresa grata de encontrar a una persona que haya leido "Cumpliendo La Gran Comisión..." y no han querido fusilarme! :)

Ese documento fue escrito hace varios años atras, pero no fue bién recibido. Lo escribí para la obra Bautista en el Ecuador para inspirar diálogo en cuanto a estos temas, pero parece que las ideas eran demasiada radicales para ese entonces, y pocos pudieron comprender mi deseo de estimular cambios para el engrandecimiento del Reino, y no de criticar a la iglesia tradicional.

Bueno, ya han pasado algunos años y gracias a Dios, un buen número de líderes y pastores ahora están mucho más abiertos para examinar las ideas encontradas allí.

Gracias por tus palabras de estímulo. Me han animado mucho esta tarde. Que sigas "ladrando" por nuestro Señor Jesucristo!

GuyMuse said...

Stephen,

Thanks for stopping by. I clicked on your blog link and enjoyed reading about all the things God is doing in and through you guys there in Brazil. Keep up the good work!

My wife´s cousin, Pascal Stowell and family are missionaries there in Brazil as well. Do you know them?

Dion said...

It's amazing how God leads us to different places to see his Kingdom coming. It was in San Antonio de los Altos, Venezuela that Naty and I had our first house church experience. Like you, after that experience, I knew that was what I wanted to see and do wherever we were after that. Two years later we were joining a house church planting group in Columbus.

GuyMuse said...

Dion,

Good to hear from you again. I keep up with your "comings and going" through Kafe Kakuma. Have you ever blogged about your first HC experience in Venezuela? That would be an interesting read! How are things going with the HC planting?

Scott Ferguson said...

Dude - when the PostA Comment link grays out, it disappears. I ended up posting my comment at BookSeller before I managed to stumble on it. Don't know if this is something you can fix or something weird about my browser.

Here was my comment (edited slightly to make sense):

For me, an area of concern with home churches would be the quality of theology taught and practiced. Due to a interpersonal conflict that was since been resolved my wife and I went "Sunday School Shopping" at our church recently. I was appalled at the rudimentary theology being presented and discussed. We ended up back at the class we had originally left. Even this class is moving in a more experience-sharing direction which is resulting is some really shoddy thinking. Let's face it, Paul experienced this very thing himself. My hope is that periodic use of guest speakers and quality videos will keep us grounded. I suppose the use of guest speakers implicit in your description of the home church in Cuba serves the same function.

GuyMuse said...

Scott,

Thanks for stopping by, and sorry about the trouble you had commenting. I really don´t know what happened, but glad you finally got something down!

You write, For me, an area of concern with home churches would be the quality of theology taught and practiced.

My response is to say from our own experience we have not found poor theology to be a problem in our house churches. In fact the level of obedience to what Scripture teaches is FAR HIGHER in our midst than I have observed here in the USA churches. Here, is seems, what is known about the Bible is far more than what is obeyed about what is known! Of course, like any churches, we have our problems, but bad theology has not been a real issue so far.

Blessings!