Sunday, January 17

House churches as sending centers

House churches are not permanent structures. They were never intended to be ongoing "home versions" of church. The idea that "church" is something solid, permanent, or institutional, is more what we have fashioned the church into becoming over the centuries, but not what is described in the book of Acts.

Felicity Dale over at Simply Church shares more from the World House Church Summit held in New Delhi, India, November 2009. In particular, I am interested in what she shares about house churches not multiplying if they become permanent structures.

House churches should be neither independent, nor permanent. If they are they will not multiply, but will only have shifted people from the pew to the sofa. Instead, they should be an interdependent network. Each house church is a debriefing center and a sending center that sends people out.

A starfish has no brain or head. If you cut off the arm of a starfish, it will grow into a new starfish. A house church does not require a CEO or a commander. Any of the people in it can multiply it out. The leader is more of a facilitator that cares for the household...

...Church planting is a process. Jesus stayed a few days in Samaria (John 4). Philip, the evangelist, preached the gospel powerfully there and many sick people were healed and baptized (Acts 8:4-13). Then Peter and John (apostles) came and worked with them too (Acts 8:14-25). Different people used their different giftings to see the church there come to maturity (Acts 9:31).

I have to confess that it has taken us 10 years to understand what Felicity shares above. Most of the church planting types I relate to are focused on starting churches. Once we have something up and going, we think, "Great, let's now look around and see who else we might train who might start another one." We have this mindset of permanency. If the house church continues to meet regularly, it is good. If it dissolves after a few months, that is bad. Or is it?

As I reflect upon this, nearly every single church plant connected to our house church network that I can think of, resulted from Christ followers not staying in their home assemblies. Instead, these laborers were discipled, and then sent out to make more disciples. When we make new disciples, churches are planted. The longer we stay together, the more comfortable we get with one another. Soon we want this to go on forever. We want our kids to experience the same we have experienced. We inevitably start organizing, programming, and hiring people to do what we do not have the time to do. Soon, we become the focus of ministry. What we have set into motion begins to define who we are. Before long, 10-20% are the ones engaging in some level of church ministry, while the rest become consumers. Is this what Christ really intended for His Church?

What if the church is something meant to be less permanent, and more fluid? What if we understand Christ's declaration, "I will build my church", to be about his Universal Church (all the saints throughout history), and not the building of local church assemblies? In reality, we are the ones out there trying to build His church. We are the ones trying to do Christ's job for him! Rather than equipping/sending centers; we have organized, programmed, and structured our churches to the point that permanency is what is seen as normal; when in reality, from the viewpoint of Acts, quite abnormal.

Part of the problem is that we have it in our heads that church--whether gathering in a house or a temple--is something solid that must visibly survive if it is to retain its value . In Acts we see the church as more fluid, more about "seeking first the Kingdom"--not the local ekklesia. The above Acts scriptures indicate a church-on-the-move. She is more about being the church in a lost world, and less about going to an organized, programmed, structured place.

I wonder what would happen if there was some way we could reboot our understanding of Jesus and His Church to be more in line with the concept of debriefing and sending centers, and less as permanent structures? Are permanent structures less able to multiply than those which are fluid? What do you think?

7 comments:

Strider said...

We have a Church 'plant' that is functioning in exactly this way. It makes me nervous. I keep thinking that I will see one of the leaders and they will tell me that it has all fallen apart. Organization gives the feeling of stability and dependability. I am working really hard to not mess up this Church but it seems that there are very few models to follow here.
Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit in our hearts and the Bible in our hands is enough?

Martin Fischer said...

I was thinking about the very subject these last days. I realized, that all the focus of simple/house/organic church is on "planting" and runnig the first 2 years. But what comes afterwards, when the thrill is over? Why are all older churches program and building oriented? Even if I'm thinking about housechurch for 12 years already, building/program church is still in my mind, like a brand. Therefor I'm longing for stability, security and permanence.

Off topic: Guy, are you part of a house church yourself? How are you dealing with these questions, this old church DNA, which is branded in our christian mind? Maybe this would be rather subject for another thread in your blog.

GuyMuse said...

Strider,

A few months ago, I heard Brian Hogan (author of "There's a Sheep in my Bathtub") say there are two things that keep us from CPM: 1) we make things too complicated so that it is difficult to reproduce, 2) we don't trust the Holy Spirit to guide His Church.

I have spent a lot of time trying to make things work. Inevitably most things fail. What I am beginning to see, though, is that what I might call "failure" is really not so. It is very much like the story you shared last week over at sbcvoices. God's agenda often is quite different from our own. It is HIS church, not ours. If we remain faithful to the assigned task of making disciples, He will be faithful to "build his church."

GuyMuse said...

Martin,

The old church DNA is very much branded into our hearts and minds. And yet, it is this old DNA that causes most of the obstacles in reaching the world for Christ. For us, it is a process. One doesn't switch from one DNA to another overnight. It seems to be a gradual awareness and understanding that takes place over time. In the churches we work with, people are all over the map in where they are with accepting the new DNA. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance. There are many setbacks. What encourages me is to see that more and more people are beginning to ask questions. There seems to be more restlessness within us all. I do believe 2010 will be a turning point in our work here in Ecuador. Pray for us!

Mark Finger said...

Excellent post, Guy.

"The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit," (John 3:8).

Just as the natural world conforms to the Lord's purposes and desires (Psalm 148:8), so too does the rushing, mighty wind [Acts 2:2] of the Holy Spirit direct our lives and dispense His gifts [1 Corinthians 12:11]--taking us here or there as God has need of our service--so that no man can direct or accomplish what only God can do (build His church).

"Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it," (Psalm 127:1).

Therefore, the wise servant is wholly dependent upon the work of the Spirit, and never natural wisdom, for while the mind can be renewed (awakened and conformed) to spiritual truths, it is incapable of rendering wisdom absent the influence and working of the Spirit.

"For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God .... But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned," (1 Corinthians 2:11,14).

Mark Finger said...

As long as assembling (Hebrews 10:23-25) never becomes more complicated than this, ministry to one another and the lost will abound:

And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

--Acts 2:40-42

GuyMuse said...

Mark,

Thanks for the good Scripture passages that are right in line with the point I was trying to make in the post. Oh, that we could get back to an Acts 2 and Heb.10 way of understanding what the church is all about.