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House Churches and Organic Churches (Part One)

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If you’ve hung around with people who have been part of the house churches for long, you start to hear various terms for the same thing being thrown out: “House Church,” “Simple Church,” and “Organic Church” are the most common. These are often used inter-changeably as if they mean the same thing.

The problem is that when you really listen to what people in these conversations are saying, they don’t mean them as the same thing. Many who use the phrase “organic church” say that a church can be organic at any size. Obviously most people using the phrase house church are talking about a church of a certain size. So what do we mean by these terms and how do we reconcile the two?

Organic church is a phrase that means a church built around the life of Jesus Christ manifesting in a gathering of believers. Many people also read into the phrase organic the idea that it’s church unaltered by man-made forces, much like you would expect when you go out and purchase organic fruit. The debate about what is “man-made” depends on who you consult with, but the list can include the following: religious tradition, hierarchy, discipleship models, evangelism tactics and more.  Simply put, true organic church is based on around the life of Christ emerging within a church the way God designed it.

House church is a phrase that usually brings with it the connotation of size. These are small churches that generally, but not exclusively, meet in homes. Believers who are part of house churches don’t argue that the life of Christ needs to be central to what they do. But these churches tend to have reasons for meeting in smaller groups: The early church met this way, it helps them practice the “one anothers” of Scripture, the stewardship of finances, etc.

So, are these two the same thing? I think the answer is they can and should be. But how does that work? What does that mean for the churches who aren’t? These are the questions we’re going to look at in the coming days.

Jesus Frees Us to be Artists

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Yesterday, I wrote about my journey of writing (almost) daily for the last 100 days or so. Today I want to take a minute and address how Jesus frees us to be truly creative.

Before I get too deep into the subject, though, let me be clear. I’m not what you typically think of when you think of an artist. I write. And for a long time because there were no “beautiful works of art” out there that I had produced, I could never relate to a conversation about being an artist.

But you may not even write. You may be a business owner or a construction worker or a house church planter or a housewife. And in each of those fields where God has called you, you produce art, you just don’t see it that way. Your art is the effect that you leave on those who view your work. And so whatever field you are in, no matter how artistic it feels, you are an artist.  The key is accepting that fact.

For me, it was Seth Godin, a practicing Buddhist, who pushed me into the work of art*. His book, The Icarus Deception, pushed me to a place where I realized that I had been created to write. Art, according to Seth, is what happens when we get beyond our fears. My biggest problem was getting over the fear–not necessarily the fear of being rejected, that was there–but also the fear of having nothing to say. Maybe the biggest fear of all was that I would show up and pour out my heart and it would be met with a resounding yawn. Those of you who would be traditionally known as artists know what I mean.

This is where Jesus frees us to be an artist. Jesus comes to us in our lives and His goal is pour out the love of God in our hearts to such a degree that we are free from fear (1 John 4:18). Can you imagine what you would create if you were free from fear? Not just from the fear of rejection but also the fear of the yawn? The fear of no one caring? Jesus can even free us from the fear of not making an impact. In Jesus, none of these fears can keep us from creating, because our goal is not to please a man or a crowd–our goal is to love Jesus and obey Him. This is more rewarding than click counts and awards.

I’m still learning in this process. I still get that feeling in my gut–you know the one–this might not work…this will probably start a fight on the internet…my audience might hate this and this will be the one post that gets no traffic ever**…but I’m learning that as much as that feeling is designed to stop me from creating, it’s also an indicator. It’s an indicator that I may be onto something that no one else has been able to write because of fear. And so lately, as I’ve been feeling that fear, I’ve been taking it to the Lord. And He frees me from the need to be relevant and popular, from the need to make an impact, and from the need to be right. He loves me and that is enough.

So I want to invite you–whether you call yourself an artist or not–to join me on this journey. You don’t have to be a writer. You don’t have to write everyday if you are. You don’t even have to follow my path. But Jesus can free you–yes you–from the fear of what will happen once you hit “publish” in whatever world you are in. And that freedom releases you to be the creative agent you were designed to be.

*The irony of a Buddhist marketer inspiring me to create for the Glory of Jesus is not lost on me. Christians through the last few centuries have had a name for this phenomenon–Common Grace.

**Ironically, that last feeling is how I feel about this very post.

Reason #2 We Started a House Church

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Editors Note: This is my second post in my ongoing series describing why we started meeting as organic house churches. You can find the first post in the series here.

Yesterday started off like any other Sunday. A buddy of mine and I usually begin the day doing some one on one discipleship at a local McDonald’s.  Before we had even begun to pray, we were talking with the store manager about her boys, some of the struggles she has with them, and how the gospel fits into that equation.

But one thing became quite clear during our conversation: Our neighborhood lacks men to help raise the boys in this neighborhood. After the manager went on to her normal duties, the idea lingered with us. We talked about how much more need there is than what we ourselves can handle. We prayed that God would raise up more guys to invest in the kids in our neighborhood.  Then, we moved on to our normal discipleship topics.

The next step in our Sunday routine was to join our families as we met as a church.  One of the newest families that has started to come is a single mom from our neighborhood and her three boys. Out of the ordinary for yesterday, though, was the addition of two boys from another family in our house church network. They were friends of my oldest son who were wanting to spend some time with us for the day. Our plan for the day after we met as a church was to take my kids and the two boys two a local play area (think Chuck E. Cheese, but on steroids).

But my buddy and I, after talking throughout our meeting, decided the single mom that had joined us could use a break. So, he loaded her three boys in his car, I loaded my four kids and their two friends into my van, and we hit the trail to the play place.  It was a fun day. The kids broke up into different groups. I intermittently got to talk to my friend in between chasing after one kid or another or waiting in line for face painting. Everyone had fun. Most importantly, it was our chance to practice what he and I were talking about earlier that morning.

Which brings me to the reason we do house church: Spiritual family. Our afternoon yesterday was full of activity, but it wasn’t just “ministry.” It was pouring into different kids and families that fills holes that the world has left in their lives. These holes can’t be plugged by another program. They are only plugged by flesh and blood humans who have been touched by the Spirit of God.

We’re able to do this not just because we don’t have programs. We’re able to be spiritual family to others who need it because spiritual family is the “program.” We’ve decided to make relationships around Jesus–even ones that don’t always focus on “spiritual” activity–the point of what we do. And this practice of family is exactly what the world, in all of its brokenness, needs.

God places the lonely in families…” is a truth we’ve come to live by. And it’s one of the reasons we’ve continued to start and meet as house churches.

Photo Credit: Cracked Ball by Earls37a

Doorways

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I sat with some new (and in someways old) friends last night talking about how the Lord had led us to start house churches in our city in Iowa. One of the ideas that came up at least a few times throughout the night was this: The doorway into any situation defines very much defines what normal looks like to us.

For me personally, it was when I began to share about my mom being healed of cancer at a church that many of us in the room had used to attend.  We all remembered those days and were encouraged by my mom being healed, but for me as someone who wasn’t yet a believer, that healing defined what living for Jesus would look like. Living for Jesus meant seeing the power of God heal people. I don’t always see healings when I pray for people, but my paradigm of the Kingdom will always include God’s power to heal.

We talked as well about how we’ve seen people come to know Jesus in the midst of our house churches, and for those who have, following Jesus has always been about relationships and community.  They don’t carry the same kind of preoccupation that some of our other Christian friends have with worship or preaching or leadership. They are part of a family and this is what Christianity looks like for them.

I had a mentor in my life who would regularly preach that those early days, maybe up to the first one to two years of being a new believer were a season where your life was like wet cement. Whatever was impressed into a believer’s life during those early days would harden and set the course for the rest of their life. If there was a mistake, it could be corrrected, but it required a lot more work than writing the right thing in the cement in the first place.

I write all of this to say this: Remember that whenever you have the opportunity to bring a new believer to Jesus, you are bringing them into the Kingdom by a certain doorway. Make sure it’s a good one. Bring them through the door built with the costly stuff: Gold, silver, and precious jewels, something that will stand the test of time and give them a vision for truly being surrendered to Christ and His Kingdom.

You won’t regret that decision.

I Want You…To Plant A House Church

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Maybe I haven’t said it before. Forgive me for not being more up front.

A major reason that I write is I believe God is calling many, many more people to the front lines of the harvest. It starts by leading unbelievers to Jesus, discipling them, training them to reach others, and in the process organic churches are formed.

Think of all the people that don’t know Christ. I know in the West we think everyone is a believer, but they’re not. Not even close. And the more relationships you build outside of the church, the more you realize there are more broken people far from God than you could count. But many of these people want Christ, they just have a misunderstanding of who He is.  The harvest is gigantic.

The church as it exists cannot handle the harvest that could come in if the lost truly did come to Christ. Imagine a church of two hundred that meets in your city or town. Now imagine that church growing by another two hundred new converts. It would be chaos! The nets that we currently have aren’t strong enough to hold the catch.

But imagine a church of ten or fifteen disciples who have their hearts fixed on Christ and are growing as disciples. That church can add ten or fifteen new converts and become two or three house churches quickly without much difficulty. And as those new converts grow, they have the ability to start a house church just like the one they are part of now.

But the workers are few. I’ll tell you even though the harvest is great, the number of people actually following Jesus into the harvest, working among the lost, and discipling new converts is small.  And if the harvest is truly great, we don’t have enough laborers.

So, don’t be surprised, if every once and awhile I look around at my followers on the blog and say, “Why haven’t you started a house church yet?”

There might be some good answers. But there might be some good excuses, too.

Photo Credit: Uncle Sam I Want You – Poster Illustration by DonkeyHotey

Ministry Lessons from A Wash Basin

7303867_10a63f4470_oYesterday I had a brother write in with questions about offices, ordination, and titles because of my article about how we embraced shepherds as a house church network. And it deserves a better response than I can give today.

The problem when we start talking about any kind of ministry is our heads have been clouded with hundreds of years of historical context that tell us a ministry is a position of privilege. Ministers are the known, the great, the ones with clout in our eyes.

But Jesus has a much different definition of ministry than we do. In fact, in the Greek that the New Testament was written in, a ministry was a position of service.  Some uses of the word minister refer to someone who serves at a cost to themselves.

Nowhere is this more evident for me than in Jesus’ lesson to the disciples in the upper room in John 13. Jesus gives the disciples and us an example to follow by getting down on the floor and washing the filthy feet of those in the room. This was a job reserved for a lowly servant.  And then he says this:

After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am.  And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet.  I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.  I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.

-John 13:12-16

Have you ever washed someones feet? It’s not a glorious process, even today, where at least in the West our streets are much cleaner. It’s humbling, both to wash feet and to have your feet washed.  And if Jesus calls us to any kind of ministry (re: service) it’s this. To humble ourselves and get lower than others and do what no one else would be willing to do.

Hundreds of years of church history has taught us that ministry is being the smartest man in the room, having the most honor, or being paid to be spiritual. But at it’s core, ministry is service, humbling service, in the same style that our Master modeled for us. Until we get that idea right in our heads, our hearts, and our spirits, all ministry will be wrong, whether it is titled or not.

Photo Credit: psk-footwash-small by peterskim

 

2016 in the Rear View Mirror

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I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions. They seem more like something to talk about than things people actually intend to do. Frankly, by the time I manage to complete Christmas celebrations, I barely have enough time to think about what I want to accomplish in the next year.

So a couple of years ago, I started something different. I started making resolutions in February.  By February, most people have already broken their New Year’s resolutions. There’s no more pressure to have them and no one’s asking you for them. It actually allows me time to give serious thought to anything that needs to get done. I also get time to pray so I don’t just do what I want, but can actually submit to the Lord’s leading.

What that means for me now, though, is I’m looking over what 2016 was. Most people are constantly looking forward. I’m not against that, but the seeds of the future are found in the past.  I want to learn from 2016, both the successes and the failures, and chart a course with the Lord’s help that is wise and ambitious.

So, with no further ado, I present the significant events of 2016:

My Prayer Retreat With Christy

This may have been my favorite thing of my entire year. Christy and I had desperately been trying to go on a much needed trip for just the two of us (i.e., no kids). And while the desire was there, the budget and the time weren’t always.  But by the end of the summer, burnout from work and ministry and parenting was getting really high.  So we picked a weekend, arranged for some time with the grandparents for the kids, and took a prayer retreat at a cabin in a state park.

And we prayed. We asked the Lord about what we were committed to. We asked Him for direction. We talked to each other about what we were hearing. We sang songs to Jesus around a campfire and didn’t worry about whether it would wake up the kids (or the other campers). We came out of that time more focused and more together. This wasn’t just my favorite thing that happened this year, it was also the most strategic. We hope to make this a yearly tradition.

(Side note: If you haven’t gone away with your spouse to pray and seek the Lord, you should give it a try some time.)

My Commitment to Read More Books

The last few years before this one, my reading had tanked. I kept being given books I asked for and they sat on the shelf. Late in 2015 I decided to give Audible a try. I had time in the car and while I shaved and other random, on-the-go moments. The number of books I read this year jumped from 3 the previous year to 16 this year.  Not every book was great, but there were 5 that were significantly meaningful.  You can check out my thoughts on last year’s reading here.

My Work As a Missionary

This last year, we opened our home to a lot of kids from the neighborhood and the results were really surprising. I’ve written a bit about this in a blog post from last year about hospitality and the spread of the Gospel.  Needless to say, we are still feeling the affects of this change to our lives. Just yesterday a gaggle of kids showed up in our house and tomorrow I’m talking to one of them about starting a discipleship group.  I believe God has a church for our neighborhood made up people more ethnically and economically similar to our neighborhood. This was a first step in that direction.

On a side note, I also believe there is a greater emphasis on this coming in 2017, not just as a missionary to my neighborhood, but to others in my city as well. As I write about my intentions for 2017 and the reality that plays out, I hope you all will see that.

Our Decision to Raise Up Shepherds

Some day I’ll explain more about my hesitation with the word pastor for those of you who aren’t from the house church perspective.  For now, let’s just say this: we haven’t had pastors in our house churches and were fairly adverse to the title.

In 2015, those of us who were opening our homes for churches to meet in began to realize our church network was struggling. A number of us were trying to reach out and evangelize more, but the churches still needed people to care and help those who were struggling.

Enter the shepherds.  These are people with a heart and gifting to care for the body without title, privilege, or hierarchy. We finally initiated this idea towards the end of 2016 but it’s already paid tremendous dividends.

My Commitment to Blog Daily

Part of my commitment to read more books landed me in the book “The Icarus Deception.” Now Seth Godin is not a Christian by any stretch of the imagination, but I could sense the Lord challenging me when I read the phrase “There’s no such thing as talker’s block.” And thus, (mostly) daily blogging was born. Can I just say I appreciate the support each of you has shown along the way? I know a lot of you have subscribed since that point or gave comments of encouragement along the way. It’s meant a lot.

My Daughter Graduating High School

For those of you who don’t know, in 2014, I became a dad to wonderful 17 year old.  Andrienne had met us through our outreach to the neighborhood several years prior, confessed Christ, and become part of our church. When things at home needed to change, she moved into our attic and became part of the family.

2016 was a big transition for her because she graduated high school! This is and was a huge deal. We had worked for hours and hours to make sure we hit this goal.  I’m so proud of her for this accomplishment and there are plenty more ahead.

My Progress on My Book

Ahhh…the book.

So, I had hoped to finish the book by the end of this year. That didn’t happen. But I did make progress. I went from one chapter to three and a half.  I also took a big step and committed to it openly and publicly, so I need to get it done.  If only to stop this guy:

My Over Commitment

Okay,  now we’re to some of the not so good parts of 2016. I was seriously over committed in 2016. I was doing so much, that eventually the shepherd that is part of my house church looked at me and told me I was doing too much. And we felt this in 2016. I have a huge list of “to do’s” from 2016 that are on my white board in my office. Many of them are still left unfinished. So the need ahead is to find ways to get those finished without taking on extra. Also, I need to make sure I spend more time nurturing my family, as sometimes they miss out due my over commitment.

Changes at Work

This wasn’t a bad thing, but it was tough on me. I was a commercial loan officer, but in October I got tapped to be part of a project management team at the Credit Union I work at. This took me from a challenging, rewarding, and fun job that I was finally starting to excel at and threw me into a new position that I had never done before. Project management is different than lending, let’s just say that! This next year and a half (the duration of this job) is going to be a big change for me.  Keep me in your prayers as I figure out how to manage projects.

Conclusion

That was 2016! Thanks for listening. This was helpful for me as I processed out the changes that took place this year and what they mean for next year.

How about you? What’s one thing that changed in 2016 that has implications for next year for you? I’d love to hear.