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.
Happy New Year to you all!
Long time followers know that for the last several years I’ve been trying to read more books. I love reading and in the thick of raising a family and starting churches I largely gave up my reading habits for a season. The last few years I’ve been trying to correct that problem. This year I was able to successfully complete 20 books, which is a recent record!
Now, while I’ll never be this guy who read 308 books this year, I thought it might be helpful to some of you to give a quick run down of the top ten books I’ve read this year in the hopes that you might find something worth while to feed your spirit, soul, and mind. Don’t just read the list: find one or two that might challenge you in the new year and dive in! Or, instead, suggest a book I need to read in 2019 that you found helpful. We all grow as a result.
That said, in order of impact, my top 10 books I read last year are:
This book was by far the most motivating and challenging book that I read this year. It’s written by well known speaker Francis Chan who famously left his mega-church to start a house church in San Francisco. The book is not a treatise of why you should be a part of a house church. Instead, it’s a look at everything that is troublesome about the modern American church and how we can become the church God wants. Chan masterly identifies problems with the American church, problems he himself helped create in his own church that are both found in each human heart and among the people of God corporately. Both the house church movement and the traditional church will find much to repent of in these pages. Throughout the whole book, however, those of us who have been part of house churches will see the answers to the questions Chan raises in the model we’ve been pioneering. Chan spends the last chapter offering the answers they’ve discovered as their network has asked these questions, but the answers will not surprise those of us who have been part of a house church. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It will challenge you, cause you to look at your heart, and possibly even push you to rethink how you relate to the church in the future.
I will write a more thorough review of the book in the near future.
If Letters to the Church hadn’t appeared on the shelves this year, “The Vanishing American Adult” would have easily been my top book this year. Written by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, this book is a look at the increasing stalled maturity that seems to be plaguing American youth. Sasse could use the problem to rant against generational stereotypes or lay the blame on his opposing political party. Instead he traces trends in our society that have lead to us allowing teenagers to remain immature into their 30’s and beyond. Part of the beauty of this book is the author could have used the problem he profiles in depth to suggest a political solution. That’s what politicians do. Instead, Sasse details out five ways that parents can work against the tide of society to raise real adults in the face of increasing cultural imaturity: Expose kids to other generations, expose kids to hard work, teach them be frugal, expose them to rigorous travel, and expose them to great books. As a parent whose children are quickly approaching the teen years, I devoured this book. Sasse isn’t writing as a distant theorist. He writes as a parent who is trying raise responsible, tough adults and who knows the peril that will come if we don’t do it right. My one criticism, if I had one, is that at times it swerves a bit much into concern for our nation. This doesn’t drown out the true message of the book, but it does at times remind you that Sasse is both writing as a Christian and a leader in our nation for the benefit of both.
I will write about this book in the future as well. However, one of the things this book did was convince me that I need to read more deeply and more thoughtfully. Sasse’s chapter “Build a Bookshelf” is worth the cost of the book alone and it lead to the formation of a “Man Book Club,” where me and other guys can gather and grow as deeper readers. If you see better books on my list in the future, this book is why.
As I started to read more books this year, this book became one I increasingly wanted to spend time in. I’ve known for years that it is a Christian classic that details the life of a disciple. What I hadn’t known is that it is regarded as the first English novel. Written by John Bunyon while in prison for his faith, the book details the journey of a man named Christian and then his wife as they set out from their home to find the Heavenly Country they hear about in the Gospel that is preached to them. It’s an allegorical story that teaches believers about the path of true discipleship. One of the things that reading old books does for us is liberate us from tyranny of our age that comes through in our social media and modern writing. As I read The Pilgrim’s Progress, I realized just how much of my approach to following Jesus is birthed out of my generation’s approach to Scripture and not Scripture itself. I read this as an audiobook, but a more modern rendering of this book would be a great discipleship manual to hand to a new believer. If you’re wearied by books that are full of three steps to a better life and authors that aren’t awed by the majesty of God, this book will be a refreshing change of pace for you.
This was the first book our “Man Book Club” tackled and it’s hard to under-estimate it’s impact. It’s an autobiographical look at slavery that will challenge your understanding of what slavery was truly like. I knew slavery was horrible, I didn’t understand the different dimensions of slavery and how terrible they were. I’ve never had a desire to read this book until Ben Sasse mentioned it as a book to read as part of his cannon of books he’s hoping to pass onto his children. This book made the list as a book to help Americans from every stripe understand the plight of Americans who were denied rights under a constitution that promises rights to all. As a believer in Jesus, this book also helped me understand the kind of bad religion that empowers oppression instead of liberating those subjected to it. I also gained a greater appreciation for the situation of African Americans in this country in a way I wouldn’t have without this book. Regardless of your race, class, or political persuasion, you should read this book.
This was another of those books that I loved because it was born out of another age. Written by Augustine of Hippo in the later part of his life, this book details life from being a seeker of truth but in many ways an atheist to his conversion and discipleship. I expected this book to have many deep theological truths about God but instead this book spoke to me about the power of desire in the human heart. In many ways, Augustine’s confession highlights the wickedness and pride of the human heart and the mercy of God that causes Him to meet with us in spite of them. These were truths that were good for my heart to hear because there are very few writers who speak of the dangers of wickedness and pride. This isn’t an easy read, but it’s worth it for those who persevere through it.
I first heard about this book ten years ago. It was written by twin brothers Alex and Brett Harris who founded a website called The Rebelution. The Rebelution is devoted to asking teens to rebel against low expecations that society puts on teenagers. The website was founded in 2006 and quickly became an internet phenomenon where teens banded together to encourage each other to follow Christ and push the envelope for what could be expected by teens. The book is part biography, part manifesto, and part how-to. It’s written by teens and for teens, but I read it in hopes of giving it to my daughter who is quickly approaching her teen years. In many ways, this book mirrors The Vanishing American Adult, but in a way that speaks to teens. I’d recommend it for the teens reading this blog.
I almost didn’t recommend this book. Several days ago, Michael Frost asked his followers what book stuck with you this year. This is that book for me. It’s written by Shusaku Endo and was originally published in Japanese. Endo is a Japanese Catholic who has written several books on Christianity and I found his approach fascinating. This fiction work follows the story of two Catholic missionaries who travel to 17th century Japan to find a former hero of their missionary order who is said to have left the faith. Along the way they share the Gospel, meet other believers in Japan, are captured, and are forced to watch as both they and the believers they came to serve are tortured. The whole novel ponders the idea of apostacy and the grace of God. This book was interesting for me on two levels. On one level it forced me to examine again my willingness to suffer for Christ and what level of suffering I would embrace for Him. On a completely different level, I’m left with a weird taste in my mouth, not sure I agree with the author’s message that is quickly and succinctly delivered at the end of the book. Whether the message is true or not, the ideas have turned over and over in my head and because of that it’s earned it’s place here.
This book was not on my radar at all, but when Greg Laurie released this book in October I couldn’t pass up a chance to collect another set of stories from the Jesus People movement. For those not in the know, the Jesus People movement was a genuine, grass-roots revival that spread among America’s youth during the hippie movement of the late ’60’s and early ’70’s. Laurie writes this book to both look at the origins of the movement and it’s continuing impact on Southern California and the world. Laurie brings first hand experience to the story: He was a flower child of that era and came to Christ through the evangelistic work of notable Jesus People leader Lonnie Frisbee. Through Frisbee, Laurie joined the Calvary Chapel started by Chuck Smith that would go on to launch numerous ministries in the midst of the Jesus People movement. Through Laurie’s involvement with both Frisbee and Smith, he would go on to become an evangelist, pastor, and mega-church leader in his own right. I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of my love for the Jesus People movement but I also profited from some of Laurie’s brief thoughts on the nature of the church’s need for continual revolution on the inside to power the expanding nature of the church. There are broader, better treatments of the Jesus People movement but Laurie’s is authentic and his lessons are worth considering.
I try to read at least one book every year related to my full-time work. This book had been recommended by Russell Moore at the end of last year and it seemed like a worth-while read. Cal Newport makes a strong case that focus is the asset of the future and after building the argument goes on to detail how the reader can build a lifestyle of focus, regardless of their career. The advice ranges from broad to very specific, but in general will be helpful to the vast majority of people. Much more needs to be written about this subject, but this book is a great start. It will definitely benefit you in your work life, in your personal life, and even in your spiritual growth.
I picked up this book at the suggestion of Jeff Vanderstelt, who recommended the book as a paradigm for the changes the church is going through in this generation. The book is written by Tod Bolsinger, a former pastor of a growing and thriving church that recognized his church was on the verge of plateauing. He caught a vision for a more missional church and now brings that vision to bear not just in the local church but as the leader of a seminary. Bolsinger uses the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition of the Lousisana purchase as a sort of parable for the place the church finds itself in this hour. While it may seem odd for this organic house church guy to recommend a book by a seminary president, there were a few gems here that were universally applicable…specifically Tod’s commitment to mission as the organizing reality of church and the truth that in times of being stuck, humans tend to double down on the thing they are best at, hoping that fixes the problem. Both of these ideas have not only been helpful to me this year…they’ve actually spoken into circumstances that I or others have been in over this past year. I’m grateful when I can learn from my traditional church brothers to strengthen the church, wherever I find it.
Other Books I Read
These were the top 10 books I read this year. I hope to read more next year. In case anyone is still reading, here’s the other ten books I read this year, in no particular order:
The Reason for God by Tim Keller
There’s a Sheep In My Bathtub by Brian Hogan
Increase Your Faith by Steve Bremner
Revolution by George Barna
On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson
Signs and Wonders of the New Churches by Wolfgang Simson
42 Seconds by Carl Mederis
Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft
So Long and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
Julius Ceaser by William Shakespeare
So, did you see anything on the list that you’re going to add? And what did you read this last year that might benefit the rest of us? Let us know in the comments.