Sunday, March 27

When do we start taking them to church?

Five days a week our team trains new house church planters. At this writing, we are training more than a 100 people throughout the week in the basics of church planting. Most of these come from evangelical legacy churches with corresponding paradigms.

One of the most common questions asked is: at what point do we start taking the new believers to church? This question always frustrates me, but I understand the paradigm struggle many face with house churches being "real churches."

The response I am tempted to give is, "what I hear you asking is at what point do we stop making disciples, and allow them to just start attending church services?" Of course, I bite my tongue before saying this, but it reflects the difficulty we have of understanding the who, what, when, where, and why of the true nature of the New Testament ekklesia.

A large percentage of the legacy church planters we train see house churches as yet another way to reach people for Christ and grow their church. The real goal in people's hearts is, 1) win people to Christ, 2) get them into our church. House fellowships are merely a stepping stone to help grow existing churches.

Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart...Scriptures like Acts 2:46 only reinforce the conviction that church took place in the temple. Houses were merely where Jerusalem believers ate and fellowshipped. Back to our original question...

The standard response we generally give is to try and briefly explain our understanding of what Scripture teaches about the church, the Bride of Christ.

1) Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthins 16:19, Colossians 4:15, Philemon 2 describe churches as meeting in homes. This was the standard. The norm. Small groups meeting in homes allows not only them, but us, to minister personally to one another. Special church buildings, programs, services, and crowds didn't show up onthe scene until several hundred years later.

2) Ephesians 2:19 teaches we are "fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household..." We are truly family. Families take care of each other, watch out for each other, and some 50+ other "one anothers."

3) Acts 2:42 teaches that continuosly the church engaged in at least four primary activities: 1) devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching, 2) to fellowship, 3) to the breaking of bread, and 4) to prayer.

4) I Corinthians 14:26 describes what they were instructed to do when they gathered: "When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." Everyone is encouraged to participate and bring something of edification to the gathering. Church is not a spectator sport where only a few perform and the rest are spectators.

5) Hebrews 10:24-25 teaches us the reason for gathering, " and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." The main reasons we are admonished to gather is to, 1) stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 2) encourage one another. If our gatherings do not encourage and motivate us to truly love one another and perform good deeds, then something is out of line and needs to be corrected.

There are many other passages that relate to the who, what, when, where, and why of the church. A few that amplify and describe the above in greater detail are I Corinthians 11-12-13-14, I Peter 2, Acts 2:42-47, and I Timothy 3.

If any existing church is able to closely mirror these values and characteristics, then by all means, feel free to encourage those young disciples to be part of such a church. But if not, we strongly encourage church planters to not try and short-circuit the task by handing them off to a church that is something other than a true NT ekklesia as described in Scripture. In those majority cases it is best to focus on continuing to make disciples, baptize those disciples, meet with those disciples in their homes, and teach those disciples to observe all that CHRIST commanded.

What do you think?

9 comments:

Arthur Sido said...

I understand your frustration, it does seem like the prevailing paradigm is to plant churches and then make disciples who will come to "our" church. I have also heard lots of people speak of home fellowships as something that needs to grown up and become a "real church". Great post.

Alan Knox said...

Guy,

This is a very good post. I like the way that you point people back to Scripture when they ask you about taking people back to "real" church.

Do you have any idea what percentage of the people you train continue in simple/organic type church and what percentage return to traditional/institutional church?

-Alan

GuyMuse said...

Arthur and Alan,

For someone just coming to the Lord, "real church" is the small group fellowship. Often when they begin visiting "big church" they are overwhelmed. It doesn't take long before they begin to realize that they are more at home back with the small group who really love one another, and where they are important to the group.

While we never condemn or say anything to diminish or belittle other churches (except sects), what I hear over and over again are expressions like, "all we did was sit there...nobody talked to us the entire time...I didn't know the songs...there was no food...when it was over we just went home..."

Alan, I do not have a % but a ball park figure would be that maybe 25% end up in traditional churches. The reason this % is that high is due mainly to the leaders coming from traditional churches. Like the Israelites who left Egypt, but Egypt was still in their heart, so are church planters who come out of traditional churches. It is hard to leave their "Egyptian baggage" behind.

Wendell Skinner said...

Guy,
I am struggling with the same questions in a small church that I morfed into a house church/orgnic church format. The church was dying with no life of it's own. NOw people are getting into their Bibles and praying for each other, but they still want to grow a "real" church. I can't seem to point them to planting new house churches successfully.

Aussie John said...

Guy,

"In those majority cases it is best to focus on continuing to make disciples, baptize those disciples, meet with those disciples in their homes, and teach those disciples to observe all that CHRIST commanded."

Exactly! Being church to those around them,being disciple makers themselves.

BParsons said...

Of course, my answer is "not going to happen." I also had a problem with the idea that, somehow, cell groups and house churches were "farm teams" for the "major league" churches.

As I re-read Acts again, very slowly this time, I see that, outside of a few initial meetings, the "count" was not in the number of people that were being saved, but in the number of churches that were being formed.

In Acts 11, after the believers in Jerusalem were scattered by Stephen's stoning, some went to Antioch where they witnessed to "Jews only." However, those new believers went to Cyprus and Cyrene (Libya), and it was their converts that came back to Antioch and began to win the Greek Gentiles.

Jerusalem sent Barnabas as a spy, to make sure that new church with "gentiles" was clean, orderly, and respectable, and Barnabas never came back.

I see no apostles, no leaders, no "bigwigs" starting that church at Antioch -- just disciples who never came back to "real" church. Instead, they outdid them in evangelism, in sending missionaries, and, when the famine came, in sending aid.

GuyMuse said...

Wendell,

We have the same problem here with people who are blessed to be part of the organic/simple church life, but then want to institutionalize everything and build a monument (temple) to keep it alive. They don't realize these very actions kill what they long to preserve.

GuyMuse said...

John,

We stress that all believers need to be discipling somebody at all times. How can we call ourselves disciples if we aren't discipling anybody ourselves?

GuyMuse said...

Bruce,

I agree. You write I see no apostles, no leaders, no "bigwigs" starting that church at Antioch -- just disciples who never came back to "real" church. Instead, they outdid them in evangelism, in sending missionaries, and, when the famine came, in sending aid.

A great book that deals a lot with this subject is Neil Cole's "Church 3.0" He talks there about the various models of church found in the page of the NT. Antioch is by far the most healthy and seemed to have learned what NOT to do from the Jerusalem church.