Recently I wrote about the need to stop fishing for new converts among people who are already followers of Jesus. This is especially true among house churches who are often more at ease converting people from traditional churches than they are talking to the lost about Christ. But not everyone is comfortable sharing their faith and very few people really know how to share their faith without inviting them to a building.
There are lots of reasons why sharing our faith is difficult. Fear, insecurity, lack of training, “not having lost friends,” and complacency are all culprits that keep us from sharing our faith. But these can be overcome, if we are willing. Many of these issues made it easy to invite people to a church building to hear a message preached from the front. At that point our job was done and it was the pastor’s job to take over.
The times have changed, though. Our society is less and less willing to darken the doors of an existing church building. As I shared yesterday, existing churches continue to compete for roughly 35% of the population while the remaining 65% goes unreached. All of this means as believers, whether we’re part of house churches or not, will need to become missional in order to reach the lost.
We’ve talked about the definition of missional before. Essentially it means that you leave your world (where many people know Christ) and enter into a world where few, if any, know Christ in order to declare who He is and what He’s done. This going to others with the gospel will be strategic in the days ahead simply because fewer and fewer are coming to us. For those of us who were used to inviting others to hear and are newer to going to those who haven’t heard, I thought I would include a few things to consider:
- Don’t go alone. Jesus said not to, which is a great reason right off the bat. Part of this was for accountability. Going alone could put you in dangerous and morally compromising situations. Having someone with you helps. But having someone who is part of the work also helps you overcome fear. It encourages you when your heart is weary with the work.
- Eat with people. Do it all the time. This is part of the reason Jesus was considered a glutton. He was constantly eating with sinners and those the world wouldn’t accept. There is nothing like food to break down barriers between people. When Jesus sent out missionaries, He told them to “eat whatever is set before you,” (Luke 10:8). Who we eat with still says a lot about who we love, so take time to eat with people who the world thinks you shouldn’t be eating with. It will break down doors and start conversations.
- Tell stories. Jesus was always telling stories about what the Kingdom of Heaven was like. These stories often had twists, turning what everyone thought God or Heaven were like on their heads (See The Story of the Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, or The Pharisee and the Tax Collector). But they also pointed people to the goodness of God and the truth of following Him. I always thought I had to come up with my own clever stories that would win peoples’ hearts. But here’s the good news: You can use the ones Jesus tells! They will win peoples’ hearts all on their own.
- Bring God into the process. One of the things I think we forget when we attempt to share the good news is that God is more concerned for the lost and broken than we are! He delights to draw people who don’t know Him to Himself. So we should invite Him into this process. Pray with the sick who you meet with faith that God will heal them. Ask God to give you words of knowledge that reveal God as real to your friends (1 Corinthians 14:24). God will demonstrate that He is real to those who don’t believe, yet.
- Share the Good News of the Kingdom. Talk often about the fact that the death of Jesus has opened the door of God’s Kingdom to people who could never deserve it. I find that often we believe the Gospel has to be hidden until we really get into people’s hearts. Not so! Tell people the Gospel early and often. If you need help, check out this reproducible way of sharing the Gospel. No one get saved if no one speaks the Gospel, so get good at telling the news. Telling it literally unleashes God’s power to save someone.
There’s always more that could be said about this topic, but this is a good start. If this is new to you, start by doing some of these things. Bringing the Gospel to others can be slow and hard at first, but as you do it more, you will both see people respond and get better at following the Holy Spirit. Remember, He is the one who changes hearts, not you.
It’s through this process of partnering with the Holy Spirit to change hearts that lost people come to Christ. As lost people come to Christ and become disciples, churches are started. All of this is part of the mustard seed process that God is doing all over the earth.
God is big. Really big. But often God shows up in small, seemingly insignificant ways that we can miss if we’re not looking. His Kingdom is like a mustard seed.
If God brings His Kingdom in small ways, like planting a mustard seed and waiting for it grow into one of the largest plants in the garden, then God’s church must be willing to partner with Him in His process. We can’t try to mass produce and outproduce God. If he’s decided to work through small things that eventually have great impact, He needs a people who will join Him in that process.
He needs a fellowship of the mustard seed.
What is a fellowship of the mustard seed? It’s a people who are content to partner with God in small, seemingly insignificant ways, believing that if they do, it will lead to something greater, either in this age or in the age to come. The fellowship of the mustard seed is those who have abandoned the big show in favor of great faithfulness and love, whether the task is big or small.
This won’t be easy. Our world teaches us to want more, bigger, better all the time. In fact, we spend much of our time trying to amass more- more people to our cause, more money in our accounts, bigger more explosive events that attract the attention of more people.
The point of God’s Kingdom coming like a mustard seed is it weeds out those who are looking for anything besides Jesus. If you wanted to be the center of attention or be known for doing great things, mustard seed starts don’t give it to you. For those of us who are trying to be faithful to the Kingdom, being part of mustard seed beginnings is enough. We don’t gain our significance from our ministry, we gain it from the love of God. And that is enough.
The truth is the way to the big impact is through faithfulness in small things. Jesus tells us how that happens:
If you are faithful in the little things, you will be faithful in large ones.
You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things…
Think about Billy Graham, Bill Johnson, John Piper, or whatever other large scale Christian leader that you think has impacted this generation. Many people want to be like these men, doing great things and being recognized for leading people to Christ and teaching the masses. But hardly anyone knows the names of the men who faithfully discipled these men. They were just faithful men, planting mustard seed-sized truths of the Kingdom of God into soil and hoping that they would grow. These will be true heroes in the age to come.
Think about Johnny Appleseed, a bit of a myth at this point, but he was a real man who walked across the United States sowing apple seeds into the ground. He may have never seen the fully grown apple orchards from the seeds he planted. He definitely didn’t see the other apple trees that grew from the trees he planted. But he believed in the power of the seed to affect human kind, and he’s become famous for that belief.
We have a seed more powerful than an apple seed, but we must believe in it’s power to transform mankind. It might not happen overnight, but if believe in its power and sow seeds wherever we go, our seeds will take root in the hearts of men and will change the course of generations of humanity.
We just need to become the kind of people who trust the power of God’s seed.
In case you missed it, I’ve been attempting to put reproducible patterns on the back of a napkin. This is what I would give to someone who was asking for details about planting a house church.
The Back of a Napkin Series:
Yesterday I saw a new book by an author I follow hit the internet. Just seeing the book stirred my heart a bit, because though I know the author to be a church planter who talks extensively about starting churches the book is entirely about sharing the good news of Jesus with those who don’t know Him.
The reason this book stirred my heart was so often we can get caught up in planting churches that we forget why we do it. Church planting in the west has become about leadership, ecclesiology, and even sometimes doctrine, but Jesus meant it to be about something more.
In fact, Jesus doesn’t send us to start churches, He sends us to be His witnesses and make disciples of all nations. Church, real church, starts here. Churches are started when a group of people over time come to Christ and commit to Him and to each other as disciples of Him. This has to be our primary focus. If it’s not, all the new churches that we plant are really just shuffling around existing believers from one church to another, with no benefit to the Kingdom.
This will require of us to spend less time thinking through church structure and leadership styles and more time thinking about how to love the lost. It will require us to leave the comfort of our living rooms or sanctuaries or wherever our churches meet and bring Jesus to the places where people are. For true movements of the Gospel to happen we have to be where the people are.
If (and it’s a big if) we can get good at that, we will start to see churches planted where they’ve never been planted before: Under bridges with homeless folks and among gang members and in the board rooms of America. These things can happen. They already are in some places in this country. We just have to start seeing the role of church planter as evangelist + disciplemaker instead of church founder and CEO.
Remember, church starts in the harvest, not in the barn.
Now, if your friend can take your notes on the back of that napkin and with the help of the Holy Spirit, do what you do, congratulations! You have a simple enough ministry to reproduce.
If you can’t write out everything your friend will need on that napkin, go back and simplify things. You might be making followers of Jesus, but they may not be able to pass on the complicated strategy that you have. This is why you don’t see seminaries popping up all over the place or Christian Television Stations multiplying. They’re too complicated.
Simple is reproducible. Reproducible spreads. If you want to see the Gospel spread, make sure you can explain how on the back of a napkin.
[Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about learning from the global church. Other posts in this series can be found at the bottom of the page.]
The church around the Earth, living under persecution and depending on God’s power instead of their wealth and influence, has much to teach every believer in the West. But the house church movement, specifically, has much to learn from their global counterparts.
Our house churches have had the unique opportunity to meet some brothers in the house church movement from around the globe, to be a part of some of their meetings, and to learn from those who have planted house churches globally. These experiences have helped us to see God’s Kingdom from different perspectives and avoid the traps that sometimes consume the house church conversation in the West.
So, what has the house church movement around the globe taught us?
- The Gospel is Essential to the Church– Sit down and talk to any house church participant from Africa or Asia and it isn’t long before you hear of their heart to reach the lost with the gospel. I’ve sat with servants from other nations whose hearts burn to see the Gospel of God’s Kingdom transform their nations. For me, in particular, every time I meet with one of these figures, it reminds me that while community and spiritual family are important, they are the result of the Gospel. And this has helped us not be consumed with convincing every existing church to become a house church (and judging those that don’t) but sharing Jesus with those that don’t know Him and teaching them to follow Him in the context of organic spiritual family.
- Discipleship Must Be Universally Reproducible- One of the significant ways we’ve learned from the church around the world is through brothers and sisters who have served the church in Africa and Asia bringing back principles they witnessed at work in the church there. These generally have stressed not just the preaching of the Gospel, but the structuring of the church so that each true follower of Christ learns how to obey Jesus like the New Testament teaches. Many streams such as NoPlaceLeft and Church Multiplication Associates teach discipleship principles first learned in massive movements of the Gospel in other countries and then brought and implemented here. These principles are simple and can be passed on to other believes so they can participate in the work of evangelism and discipleship.
- The Purity of the Church is Important- In our house church network, we have a brother who has spent time with the underground house church movement in China as a member of the body. One of the realities he has stressed over and over again is that the church there frequently will observe the lifestyle of an unknown brother or sister for a season before they let a brother participate fully in the life of the church. This sounds harsh in our Western context, but in the context of the church of China, where a new person could be a government spy, this is a matter of survival. In our context, this example has helped us learn how to handle false workers that the New Testament has promised would try and come into our midst (and have). It’s also helped us have hard conversations with those who aren’t born again, but come with a belief in God.
- The Kingdom of God is 24/7– Our brother who has spent time in the church in China is constantly reminding us that the church meetings there often last all day, with kids! Training sessions last through the night and into the next day. The point is, there are no nice, anticipated end times. There is no time when the meeting is projected to end. Our friends in Africa have an entire village that wakes up at four AM to energetically pray for their village, their church, and their nation. I have one friend in Africa who wakes up and prays between midnight and 5:00 AM for his nation because he’s been doing it since he was a young man. In each of these scenarios, the church has submitted their use of their time to God. It’s no longer theirs, but His.
- The Church Needs to Embrace Multiple Giftings- We’ve believed in the diversity of gifting that Christ gives his body for some time. However, when we heard a friend of mine from a closed nation begin to describe how they are beginning to value not just apostles, prophets, and evangelists, but shepherds and teachers as well, it was transforming for us. Since that time we’ve been able to embrace the shepherding gift in a way that has significantly helped us care for the body and continue to grow the church.
These are some of the significant ways that the church from around the globe has significantly informed how we live out life in house churches. I encourage everyone from the West to find ways to connect with what God is doing in other parts of the Earth in order to better see His Kingdom.
If you’re interested in learning about the house church movement around the globe, check out The Five Best Books on House Churches. Most of the books are a great starting point for seeing house churches planted in a different soil than the cultural West. It may just help you to see the church and God’s Kingdom like never before.
Learning From the Global Church Series:
In case you missed it, today is my annual trek to the McDonald’s in my neighborhood to drink a Shamrock shake and read the Confession of St. Patrick. I do this regularly because of the impact Patrick’s life has had on me. Reading his story stirs my heart to live the kind of life he lived and be part of a movement that leads many people to Christ.
First, a brief summary of Patrick’s life: He lived in Britain and he was the son of a deacon of the church of Rome. At 16, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland where he worked as a slave herding pigs. Prior to this he didn’t know or acknowledge God, but during this time he began to pray a hundred prayers during the day and a hundred prayers at night. The love of God began to capture his soul and he began to seek God early in the morning in the snow because “the Spirit was burning in [him].”
It was after this relationship with God took root that the audible voice of the Lord told him to run away from his master. He escaped and joined a group of barbarians. He was later recaptured and the Lord told him he would be captive another 60 days. At the end of 60 days he escpaed and came back to Britain. After some time there, he had a vision of a man named Victoricus (an angel? the Lord?) bringing him a letter from the people of Ireland begging him to come back and bring the Gospel to them.
He said yes and became a missionary to the unbelievers of Ireland. This is the Patrick we celebrate. It was during this time that he baptized thousands of new believers. Patrick himself speaks of ordaining many who would go and preach to a hungry people. Many of the chiefs’ daughters became celibate to follow Jesus and churches and monasteries sprung up every where. Patrick became the catalyst for an Irish church planting movement.
Any wonder why he’s my hero? 🙂
So, here are today’s takeaways:
- Probably the thing that struck me this time that I had never seen before in this letter is the fact that Patrick was insistent that everything that happened to him was a divine gift. He took no credit it for it at all. He didn’t point to the ten steps that made him “St. Patrick.” Over and over again he points at how the Lord helped him when he was unable to help himself. The movement that started was God’s, not his, and Patrick was just thankful to be a part of it. In fact his words say this: I entreat those who believe in…God…that nobody shall ascribe to my ignorance any trivial thing I achieved…but accept and truly believe that it would have been a gift of God.” I think many of us who hope to be part of a movement can learn from this. We need to learn to depend on God for the things we want to see happen like they are a gift from Him, and we need to not grow proud if those things actually happen. All of this is a gift from Him.
- I love, and I hope I never stop loving, how Patrick became a believer. He prayed a hundred prayers a day and a hundred at night. This was the season in which he said “more and more did the love of God, and my fear of Him and faith increase.” This is so crucial because we always believe that apostolic mission starts with strategy and outreach. But it ALWAYS starts with prayer and a heart burning for the Lord. We cannot write this into our strategies. It doesn’t happen just because we know it’s the gateway to a movement. But we can start by praying and asking God to make “the Spirit burn within” us. Whether we start movements or not, the Spirit burning within us is crucial.
- I’m again reminded how supernatural all of this was. All of the crucial moments in Patrick’s life were accompanied by a vision, an audible voice from the Lord, or a prophetic word. Most movement strategies have very little room for this in their methodology. Obviously we can’t control it. But more and more I’m convinced that these are necessary to see the Gospel penetrate a hard and rebellious people. We can’t control it, but beloved, we can pray and we can ask the Lord for the gift of the Holy Spirit to be active in our lives. As we do and begin to share the Gospel with those who don’t know Him, the power of Jesus will be displayed for all of us.
These are some things I learned today. How about you? Oh, and by the way, the Shamrock shake, while not the healthiest thing, was delicious. 🙂