Over the last few weeks I’ve been in conversations with others about house churches. There are a lot of people who love the idea of spiritual families pursuing Jesus and living life together and will tell me so, but almost unconsciously they begin to rattle off why they aren’t part of a house church themselves. Frequently the answers center around two realities: worship and childcare.
I don’t want to spend any time belittling these reasons, but I do want to point out that these are desires, not needs. If a concert-like atmosphere where you can immerse yourself in song or freedom from your children were a necessary mark of the church, then we would have to write off most of the gatherings throughout the world as “not church.” In fact, that part of the church we would write off would most likely be that part of the global church that is most viral and reproducing.
Things can get sticky when we get beyond the basics of what we need. In real life, the man or woman who starts making considerably more than what they need to survive often suffers from a certain kind of “lifestyle creep.” Things that were once dreamed of as “the good life” can become identified as “needs.” For example, not having a cell phone, once thought of as a luxury item 20 years ago has now become a necessity in much of the Western world. #Firstworldpromblems.
This reminds me of a quote by Augustine of Hippo. In detailing his struggle against the lusts of the flesh, Augustine makes a profound statement about humanity: “By servitude to passion, habit is formed, and habit to which there is no resistance becomes necessity. By these links, as it were, connected one to another…, a harsh bondage held me under restraint,” (Augustine, Confessions 8.5.10).
Augustine was struggling with lust, but his insight into humanity in general is profound. Whatever we do repeatedly because of our passion becomes a habit. Habits not resisted become necessities and necessities are a form of bondage which are hard to escape. This is true in all areas of life, for good and for evil.
Now let’s bring the conversation back to how we started: Complex worship meetings and the freedom to worship without distraction from our kids come from a certain kind of passion. They are built on the idea of a pursuit of God that is individualistic. It really shouldn’t surprise us that these forms of Christianity have grown up in the West where individualism is prized.
But are they needs? I don’t believe so. I believe they are more likely passions that have been habitually satisfied and ritualized in a culture that prizes individuality. We’ve fed the desire to have a time of individualized singing to God that is unencumbered by those we are constantly giving care to. It’s not necessarily evil, but it’s definitely not a need. Again, the most fruitful churches in the Earth are the parts that lack these elements and we would do well to learn from them.
So what do we do? The best place to start is repentance. Repentance in its truest form is merely a changing of your mind. It means to think differently.
We start by thinking differently about gathering with a church and what its purpose is. Your time in the prayer closet is your time to meet with God individually. Your time gathered with your church is actually designed to build up the others around you. This certainly means that you will have to interact with those around you, possibly even stopping singing to actually talk, pray for, and serve the other believers right next to you.
It also means that gathering with your church is about your children learning and growing in Jesus, not just from the nursery workers, but from you. They get to see mom and dad worship. They get to see mom and dad serve others. They get to see mom and dad pray for others. Most importantly, they get to see mom and dad not make church about meeting their passions or “needs,” but about building up the body around them. This will build up your kids in their faith more than anything a nursery worker teaches them.
Friends, let’s bring church back to what Jesus wanted to make it–A body of believers of all ages that are learning to follow Christ and serve one another. Let’s free ourselves from the tyranny of desires that present themselves as needs. Let’s get back to a leaner, more cooperative form of Christianity that teaches dying to self and the needs of the self for the good of Christ and those around us.
It may even make us viral again.