Tuesday, December 10

What if church is something meant to be less permanent and more fluid?

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 once shared ideas from the World House Church Summit held back in November 2009 in New Delhi, India. In particular, I found interesting what was shared in regards to house churches ceasing to multiply when 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?

9 comments:

Dave Kreitzer said...

I was initially very excited about the house church movement. I attended numerous seminars and actual church meetings. Yet, the problems that I encountered with the movement were multiple: 1) A large number of people who jumped into the movement did so for the wrong reasons. Many were bitter toward the institutional churches they had come from and spent a good deal of time in the meetings and seminars blasting the churches and the circumstances that led them to leave their organized church. It got so bad in one seminar, that the host had to publicly rebuke the audience and remind them that those who sit in the pews of a dedicated church building are still brothers and sisters in Christ. 2) The question of leadership and authority becomes an albatross around the church's neck. There was always a good deal of in-fighting in regards to leadership and authority. Anyone who attempted to point a general direction in the meetings was viewed with great suspicion, talked about behind their backs and summarily moved out of the way often with great pain and hurt. The meetings soon degenerated into chaos. 3) Error and even heresy were rampant as each individual had his own set of beliefs and his own theology. This is a position advocated by one of the movements most acerbic and vocal proponents, Beresford Job. Job asserts that the lone individual is the sole judge of truth irrespective of historical Church consensus. So what you wind up with is a group composed of 10 or 15 individual churches within the house church group. 4) Related to the above, anti-intellectualism runs rampant. Anyone with formal biblical training is moved out as quickly as possible. Logic and reason are not at home in many house churches. There is an emphasis upon an emotional "experience" that seems to drive many. But this drive is in a vacuum, unaccompanied by sound biblical principles. Often strange spiritual manifestations that may or may not be from the Lord are accepted in toto without consideration or thought.
With all of the etiology present in the movement, I would be remiss if I did not recount that there are indeed balanced, elder-driven house churches with sound doctrine and a concrete authority structure that do not impinge upon the free-sharing and interaction of individuals that makes the house church movement so attractive. The key is finding one or putting one together with balance, sound doctrine and then exporting that via the creation of others. Not an easy task, but it can successfully be done. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea of a fluid Church. But without a sound doctrine, without an adequate authority structure, and with an emphasis upon experience devoid of critical thought, there is a great possibility that we will not be spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but a gospel of man with the word "Jesus" thrown in every so often to give the thing a sense of legitimacy. The bottom line is that caution must be exercised before going forward with any House Church endeavor. I do believe in the House Church movement. I believe will be imperative that we develop sound House Churches as Christian persecution begins to accelerate around the world and in the United States as well.

Strider said...

I got a hold of this concept a couple of years ago when I was doing my annual report. I realized I could not really count 'how many' groups. There were multiple meetings, with strong discipleship relationships- even a great leader who is a fine pastor- without that title. But with multiple leaders and meeting places how many groups are there? I don't really know and more importantly the government doesn't know. Some of our remote village churches are more stable- reflecting their communities- but many are meeting for a while then reforming in a different home for many different reasons. I was concerned about the 'health' of this situation but I have since decided that the measure that matters is 'are there people drawing nearer to Jesus and loving each other better?' The answer has so far been yes.

J. Guy Muse said...

Dave,

Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I too have seen the excesses and abuses in house churches that you point out. These same things can be said of just about any kind of church model just about anywhere in the world.

The point I am trying to get across in this particular blog post is more along the lines of what Strider comments above about the difficulty he has in counting house churches due to the problem that they are constantly shifting, reformating, moving on, etc.

I think things begin to bog down and decelerate when we are the ones trying to do Christ's job for him! Rather than equipping/sending believers; we have organized, programmed, and structured our churches to the point that permanency is what is seen as what is normal and even desirable. When in reality, from the viewpoint of Acts, such structuring is quite abnormal.

As I share in the post, part of the problem is that we have it in our heads that church--wherever we might choose to gather--needs to be 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 about establishing local ekklesias. The church in Acts indicates 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.

Again, thanks for your insights.

J. Guy Muse said...

Strider,

I can truly identify with what you write above. So much of what we too have lived parallels your experience.

I agree with you that the true health is not in being able to count places where people congregate, but rather the measure 'are there people drawing nearer to Jesus and loving each other better?' Jesus instructions are to make disciples and teach them to obey His commands. That is what we should be attempting to measure.

Darrell said...

My experience has been a little different in how the kingdom grows. I have called a house church home for about 13 years now. My family and I have started many churches over that time. Over the years God has connected us with a few others who are passionate about the multiplication of God's kingdom. We have tapped out all of our friends and family with the Gospel. So all of our new disciples and churches come from us GOING. Because of that we really don't want to bring people into our church. If anyone has tried this they will know that it is very difficult. Instead we want to keep new people connected to their people in hopes that they will find others who want to follow Jesus. As a result those in our church are the ones who go to the new believer and help them start a new church, but they continue to meet with our church. I personally have experienced how important it is to continue to meet with others that are your fellow co-labours. A couple of times when I found a person of peace I left our church and "joined" the new church with the new believers. In the end I felt very alone because I was constantly interacting with spiritual babies. I felt like my wife does when she has spent all day with little children and needs to talk with adults. It was also very painful because there was no one to share my many struggles and hurts with. Today I would never stop meeting with my God Family (church). Instead I would meet with both, involve others in my God Family with the new church and as much as possible do this work as a family.

As a result now every person in our God Family is involved in GOING, discipling and helping new churches start. We have grown STRONGER and have become better equipped because we continue to work together insteads of breaking off.

I'm not disagreeing with what you wrote Guy and I have seen the problems with house churches that become ingrown. When the church no longer is GOING it stops obeying Jesus and as a result it is not connected to the Head. That is not healthy!

J. Guy Muse said...

Darrell,

Thanks for the timely comment. If I am understanding correctly what you write you are only strengthening what it is I am trying to say in that churches probably should be less permanent and more fluid.

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.

What you guys are doing there in AZ sounds spot-on! You've understood better than most the whole GOING part!

Anonymous said...

I understand the problem, but question the solution which would create temporary house churches that are "fluid" enough to start new ones. I don't see this at all being the New Testament model. The churches started by the Apostles didn't come and go, but they were busy expanding and reaching new families. In a spiritually hostile world, there is a need for a secure spiritual base for most Christians. Such a base also gives greater doctrinal security, that Dave Kreitzer mentioned. If a more "fluid" church is the better route, we need to see this working well somewhere before we advocate it as the solution, I believe. tedlindwall@yahoo.es I also believe that any New Testament church is free to decide to remain in a house, in many houses, seek a public building or any combination of the above. The church, if it is alive, must not be controlled by its human founders.

J. Guy Muse said...

Ted,

Thanks for stopping by and for sharing some good observations. You write, In a spiritually hostile world, there is a need for a secure spiritual base for most Christians. I agree, but when that "base" ceases to be obedient in following the example of the early church, then it ceases to be the church that impacts a lost and dying world. In no way do I believe we must cease from gathering, but that gathering can be amongst many different believers serving in various locations, and not necessarily in one place year in and year out. Again, thanks for joining in on the dialogue as we all seek to better understand and learn from one another.

J. Guy Muse said...

Ted,

P.S. Guess where I am responding to you from? Antigua, Guatemala! We're here at a meeting this week. Just thought you of all people might be interested in that little tidbit!