“House churches should stop arguing with the institutional church and start planting Kingdom gardens.”
I wrote this over a week ago in my journal about ideas for this space. It’s been the running theme of everything I’ve been writing from “The God of the Mustard Seed” to “The End of the Argument” to “How to Share the Gospel Without Inviting Them to a Building.” The point is this: Instead of crusades against the past and other believers, let’s focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, making disciples and reproducing house churches.
How do we plant Kingdom gardens? We sow the Gospel message among our friends and neighbors, always combining Good News with good deeds. We invite those that respond (because there will be those who don’t) to become disciples of Jesus. As these new believers respond to the invitation of discipleship we continue to encourage them to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit, love others the way that they have been loved, and share the Gospel with others they know who don’t know Christ.
There is so much here to talk about. Very little of the house church movement focuses on growing up in Christ and what that looks like, but most of the New Testament focuses on this reality. That topic is too large for one post, but the effect of growing up in Christ and growing out through outreach and discipleship is a Kingdom garden. What started as tiny, laughable seeds has blossomed in the right soil and taken over some desolate patch of earth in order to beautify it.
These Kingdom gardens are the proof God is working in our midst. They speak more than our arguments. They speak more than our judgments on the rest of the church that doesn’t do things the way we do. The fruit and the beauty of what God is doing speaks for itself.
My prayer is that we, as house churches, can plant Kingdom gardens and leave the old arguments behind.
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.
I know most days this space is filled with some truth I want to communicate and I feel is helpful for people. But today, instead of doing that, I want to tell you three reasons why my heart is full today.
I have a new friend Frank* who dedicated his life to Christ recently. Frank came into the orbit of our church, started meeting with my buddy Aaron, and as of last night was baptized and joined our churches. Every time this happens, it’s tempting to feel like you’ve seen it before, but tonight it was like having a new member of your family being born. I literally feel like I have a new brother and I’m rejoicing in the idea of that.
Now let me tell you about my buddy Aaron. Aaron went down with some friends a few months ago to a church planting seminar called #NoPlaceLeft and came back excited about the Gospel. When Frank came into the orbit of our churches, Aaron jumped at the chance to talk through the Gospel and what it means to follow Jesus. Aaron has been faithful to walk with Frank up to this point, so it was only natural for Aaron to baptize Frank. So Aaron baptized him perfectly all while being himself, which is tough to do. My heart is almost as happy that Aaron has been stepping out on this journey as it is that Frank decided to follow Jesus in baptism.
A few weeks ago one of my best friends in the world called me and asked if I could help move his mom out of her house as she transitions to a new job out of state. That friend is Sean, and while helping people move doesn’t always float my boat, the ability to help my buddy Sean was something I couldn’t pass on. We’ve been like brothers for more than 10 years now, and just getting a chance to help him when he needed it brought joy to my heart. I got to serve another brother and sister in a real need that they had, an in doing so I got fulfill the law of Christ.
Things That Make the Heart Happy…
I think one of the reasons my heart is so full is that these three things are things that are so pleasing to the Lord! A new friend finding his way to God, another friend being faithful on the path of discipleship, and getting to help an old friend in a way feels right, like how family should help each other–all of these are things I believe that please the Lord.
The gospel going forth, disciples being made, and spiritual family happening regardless of distance are some of the things I signed up for so many years ago. Just getting to experience all of them together in one night has been an incredible joy. We aren’t seeing movements of people coming to Christ yet, but there’s reality in what’s going on. This is what we’re called to, saints. The lost coming to Christ, disciples being made, and spiritual family being birthed in human hearts.
It’s the stuff movements are made of.
*Frank’s name is not really Frank.
In case you missed it, I’ve been attempting to put reproducible patterns on the back of a napkin.
The following posts describe the different parts of DNA in greater depth:
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.
Most of us want to learn from perfect people.
Now, I don’t mean technically perfect people. Outside of Christ there is no one who is truly perfect. What I mean is many of us want to learn from those who have their lives together in a greater degree than we do: a pastor, an evangelist, a great teacher. Someone higher than us.
I understand where this attitude comes from. It’s a growth mentality that continually wants to improve and push the boundaries of development. The problem is I don’t know that this is the attitude Jesus wants us to have.
When Jesus comes into the life of a person, we assume that person starts at ground zero. They know nothing about Christ and they have nothing to contribute. The truth is they have no facts, but they have the fullness of God dwelling in them by the Holy Spirit. This is a significant reality that most of us minimize. The Holy Spirit living in us is real, not just a nice thing we say about people. What this means is we have to be willing to learn from those who don’t have their lives completely together, because Jesus still might be speaking to us through them.
Jesus was like this, too, right? He didn’t learn from others, He was the Teacher, but he often pointed to people outside of religious circles to teach others about following God. He used a Roman Centurion as an example of faith in Matthew 8:5-13. Surely the Jews of Christ’s day would have been horribly offended by this. But Jesus didn’t mind that the Centurion in many other ways wasn’t perfect. He zeroed in on his act of faith and put it on display for the whole world to see.
My point is, in your world there are people who, to your critical mind, are imperfect examples of following Jesus. It’s tempting to write those people off and never learn from them. But I have a secret for you: There are no perfect examples of following Jesus. In fact, if you waiting for a perfect example to come into your life to learn from, you’ll be waiting for a long time. Instead, don’t think of yourself more highly than you are. Associate with the lowly. Don’t be to proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people.
Imperfect examples have much to teach us. I’ve learned much about what not to do from listening to imperfect people reflect on where they’ve made mistakes. I’ve seen real life apostles sit in humility as the Holy Spirit moved on the most common people within a church speaking life-changing truth. I’ve sat in Bible studies with new and not-yet believers and been struck with truth about Jesus as we’ve looked at the Bible through their eyes.
All it takes is enough humility to learn from someone you might think doesn’t have it all together. Imperfect people are all around you. You have plenty of opportunities to learn if you want. You just need to be open to it.
Discipleship (as it was designed by Jesus) was meant to be passed on. Each of us, regardless of our spiritual status were designed to grow into spiritual fathers and mothers who encourage and raise other spiritual sons and daughters. But often we don’t because we think discipleship is more complicated than it needs to be.
In order for the Gospel to move from generation to generation, from house to house, or from person to person, it needs to be a simple message and an encounter with a person: Jesus Christ. Think of the church in China, or the church in India, or the church in the Middle East. Without seminaries, Sunday schools, buildings, and in some cases without even Bibles the Gospel has spread to more people than our Western minds can get our heads around.
Our complaint about growth like this is that these people can’t truly be real disciples. In order for this kind of gospel explosion to take place, surely the people can’t have deep walks with Jesus!
I would challenge that assumption. These people preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, taught to them by others. In these places, the act of being baptized can be a death sentence, not to mention sharing the Gospel and teaching others to obey Jesus. Many of them consider their time in prison to be a seminary of sorts, where they learn lessons from Jesus. These same people are constantly spreading the Gospel and raising up new disciples. Many have seen miraculous healing and heard God’s voice clearly. This certainly sounds deep to me.
Often what we mean by deep is a type of discipleship that is focused on our minds. We feel like if we are educated, we will disciple people better. We’ve even created programs that saddle our fieriest believers with large amounts of debt in order to learn how to be good leaders. For those who don’t go to seminary, we often provide long hours of training before we release them into “ministry.” This approach often slows the spread of the Gospel.
Friends, this is different than the model Jesus gave us. Jesus didn’t say go into all the world and teach people Greek and Hebrew. He didn’t sit down and have a systematic theology class with His disciples before He sent them out. He was looking for men whose hearts had been wrecked by the goodness of the Father and the Kingdom of God. When He had enough of them, He taught them simple stories that illustrated truth and asked them to pass that Gospel on. He wasn’t afraid to give these men the clear truth and let them run with it.
The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.
– Charles Spurgeon
Our discipleship has to be able to work with only a Bible and a willing heart. We should be able to teach others how to follow Christ by our example and by teaching them how to read and apply God’s word. This not only spreads rapidly but if done well will create the kind of believers that make disciples who make disciples.
Often, our responsibility is to not let things get too complicated. If we can do that, the Gospel will spread further than we can possibly imagine.
For more on discipleship, check out these posts: