How I Became A House Church Guy
….so this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down….
Ok…so, no, I didn’t become the Fresh Prince. But I did go from being a very traditional charismatic evangelical to meeting in homes with other believers, forsaking many of the things people think are “normal,” and generally causing a ruckus among unbelievers and believers alike.
It started when I moved to Kansas City. I had always felt called to plant churches and that pursuit took me to a small bible college in Kansas City known as the Forerunner School of Ministry*. However, the bible college, at the time, was not connected with a local church. Because of that, they encouraged us all to seek out a local church to become a part of.
My roommate, my girlfriend (now wife), and I took that challenge seriously together (we had one car…it was college!). Because of my love for church planting and the things of the Spirit, we settled on this crazy little church plant in downtown Kansas City. They met in the basement of this old church building that also hosted indie concerts several nights of the week.
One of the leaders told us that they wanted everyone in their church to be a part of a “house church.” When we asked what that meant, it mostly sounded like a small group. So we joined. And that first house church was mostly like a small group. The members interacted once a week outside of the Sunday service. But we got closer to the church through the process.
The real changes came in the following waves:
Wave #1: I heard the senior leader of the church tell someone else that if they wanted to understand where the church was headed, they should read a book called “Houses That Change the World” by Wolfgang Simson. I picked up the book very shortly after hearing that conversation.
I didn’t immediately fall in the love with the book, but over time it became the book I recommend to anyone who is interested in the subject of house church. One other thing to note: This is a house church book not written by an American and I value it for that reason. It doesn’t carry the same stain of the emerging church angst that color many of the other books written during that season. Houses That Change the World opened my eyes to what the Bible says about being the Church.
Wave #2: As we began to grow closer and commit to this church for a longer period of time, my roommate, my girlfriend, and I felt like it was time to strike out and start a house church in our part of town**. Mind you we weren’t ardent house church people at the time. Quickly we gathered believers from around the area we lived in and a house church was born.
All I can tell you was that quickly we became family. The presence of the Holy Spirit would meet us powerfully, multiple people began to function in their giftings, and we saw each other almost daily. Shortly after starting this house church, the leader of our church called to tell me they felt the Lord calling us to discontinue the Sunday service and begin to meet strictly as house churches. Do I need to remind you we weren’t ardent house church people again? This wasn’t a change I wanted. But we were in love with these people, so we said “yes” and went along for the ride. And I’m glad we did.
There was a specific moment when this all clicked for me. One of the women that met with us was a divorced mother of four girls. Our network was hosting a retreat an hour away from Kansas City and our whole house church came. It was a great time. But at the end of the retreat the leader asked us to share about what the Lord had been doing in our lives. The mom stood up and said it was her second oldest daughter’s birthday this weekend and over the course of the weekend she had asked her daughter if she was sad she couldn’t be with her dad. Prior to that year, they had always been together on birthdays. The mom recounted her daughter’s story: “At first I was sad mom that Dad wasn’t here, but then I realized that….” and she began to name the names of the men in our house church… “John***, Steve, and Travis were here, and they’re like dads to me.” There was pretty much no dry eye left in the place by the time she was done. Everyone was in awe of how God was healing and restoring a sense of oneness and family through a simple thing like a spiritual family.
That one event, more than anything else has solidified my view of house churches as a vehicle for spiritual family brought to its rightful place in the body of Christ. There should be moms and dads raising up spiritual sons and daughters. Daily contact and exchange of the life of Christ should be the norm, not the exception. Being part of a house church helped me see the beauty of a simple, organic expression of church in real life.
Wave #3: After a year and a half with the church that we had fallen in love with, we felt inexplicably called back to Iowa. We had a few dreams that had lined up with our previous plans and so my girlfriend (and now soon-to-be wife) packed our apartments and headed back to Iowa. We left the house churches we started (ours had multiplied) in the capable hands of my roommate and another trusted friend.
We rejoined the church we were part of before we left. We got engaged. We got married. I took a year off from anything ministry related in order to pursue Jesus more intently. And during that time, I noticed something. I was back in my home church, which I loved, but I felt like a fish out of water. And it was this fish out of water stage that was truly convicting. In Kansas City, I was just going along for the ride with someone else’s ministry. But now, it was clear, this spiritual family thing, this every member ministering thing, this simple, reproducible gathering thing was in me.
I began to talk with my pastors at the church. I also recruited a few trusted friends that began to share my vision for how church could be different. All of this required me to be an advocate for this vision I had in my heart.The pastors of the church, in incredible humility, gave me the green light to start something very different than the church we were all part of. We’re good friends with a number of the brothers that are still there to this day.
Obviously, after that I was a house church guy. But it was the process of understanding that house church wasn’t just a strategy, but a life to live that was the final straw. I was jealous to live that kind of focused, Acts 2 life with other believers again. So much so that I was willing to advocate for it. It took being out of that environment for me to realize it had become who I was.
And so, now, I’m a house church guy. We have a small network of house churches that we love. We’re still working out the kinks on various parts of the process. We’re not good at certain aspects of what we’re called to (yet!). But it’s been worth the journey.
How about you? If your a house church guy (or gal) I’d love to hear your story as well.
*The Forerunner School of Ministry is now known as IHOP-University or IHOPU, a division of the International House of Prayer. I walked away from my time with IHOP with a respect for many of the people and having learned a great deal, but in the end I did not start a prayer center nor did I stay there. If you have issues with me respecting people who pray a lot but not starting a similar ministry, then you have permission to ask questions or give commentary.
**At this stage of my life, I do not endorse many of the ways I’ve started house churches in the past. Early on for me it just meant gathering seasoned believers and hoping unbelievers would show up, but I’d steer you away from that strategy now.
***Some names were changed, to protect the innocent. 😉