On Sunday, we gathered as a church. We normally gather at nine and end sometime between noon and one, depending on when we get done eating together. Our most recent gathering, though, was from nine to five.
What happened? Well, a couple of things. First, a number of us had wanted to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play against the Tennessee Titans. That game started at 2:00. When we gathered on Sunday morning, we realized that there were some needs in the body that needed to be met that day and a brother and I decided to help between noon and 2:00. The rest stayed back and readied our house for the game. So our official “meeting” went until 12:30, but most of our church was together until about 5:00.
What was so awesome was that this felt like family. We encouraged each other in the morning: we sang, we read the Scriptures, we ate, we prayed, we even watched the kids put on a performance they created themselves. During that time we also talked, joked around, and shared hearts. When we were serving one of our brothers, we had some chances to interact with the community and do some outreach. Even while we were watching the football game, we discussed spiritual matters in between the action.
We don’t do this regularly, but we do this when it happens naturally. There’s no glory in just sitting in a room together for long hours to show how spiritual we are. However, when we can be family to each other, enjoy each other’s company, and help each other and other’s get closer to Jesus, there doesn’t have to be a clean start or stop time. We’re just together.
It was how church was designed to be.
Yesterday was our “All House Church Meeting.”
It normally is the one time a month where our house churches gather together for a more concrete time preaching, worship, and vision casting.
I had a message to share that fit within those lines. It didn’t get shared yesterday.
Instead, when we gathered, everyone was catching up. The holidays were long and relationships needed some time to reconnect. Then, the news of a brother who was part of on of our house churches passing away had to be talked through. Next, an extended time of worship came and it was more participatory than normal. This is a good thing.
When worship was over, we talked over our network’s support of a house church network in Uganda and how we will handle finances with that. Then we talked over an upcoming time of fasting and prayer we hope to have. Then we prayed for those affected by the passing of our friend and those who needed healing. Then the pizza arrived and the kids could not be held back any longer.
So, no, we never got to the message.
We did sing the word back and forth to each other. We did live out the word in our care for one another. We did call each other to biblical financial principals and plan a way to increase our faithfulness. And we did pray for those who are sick and in need, like the Bible commands us to.
It’s rare for us not open the Bible when we gather, but if you had your eyes open, you might have watched a sermon in progress.
I’m not the guy who gives words for the New Year. I usually think that things like this are things men dream up rather than actually hear from Jesus.
So when my 11 year old son gave a short prayer before our New Year’s Eve gathering, I was a little taken aback. Normally those kind of prayers are short and help move us along to dinner. We have a rule in our house churches: “No warring over the nations before dinner.”
So when Joel prayed, “Lord, make this a faithful and fruitful new year…” in the midst of blessing the food, I was taken aback. He doesn’t normally pray like that.
Especially before meals.
So, may I commend to you this prayer (and prophetic word) for 2020. May it be a faithful and fruitful year. May you stay the course on the things the Lord has called you to. May God reward you with seeing the fruit of that faithfulness.
Missional community is a buzz word right now.
The phrase was meant to describe a Christian group who were not just committed to each other, but to Jesus and the lost. The goal was to live on mission as a people in a way that drew others to Jesus. Like most buzzwords, though, it has begun to be applied to lots of different things to the point where it can mean just about anything. I find in these circumstances, examples are far better at giving meaning than definitions.
Case in point: Our house churches this Wednesday did a fantastic job on living on mission together.
My awareness of this began on Wednesday over my lunch hour. My friend Josh and I had needed a chance to catch up. We were able to catch up for lunch, tell each other about what the Lord has been doing in each other’s lives, and encourage one another. Make no mistake, true missional community means continuing to encourage each other because the mission can be hard sometimes.
Fast Forward to after work. A couple of the families from two of the house churches had decided to get together that night, but due to circumstances it was going to be me, the children, and the wives of all the families, but none of the men. So, I asked my wife if after we had dinner I could go and take care of some yard work a neighbor had flagged me down and asked for. So after eating together (missional communities eat together a lot!) the ladies allowed me to take off and go help the neighbor with the hopes of preaching the Gospel to them. Here is another facet of missional community: serving the lost out of the love of Christ in ways (we hope) give us opportunities to share the good news.
One of the reasons I happened to be the only guy at our dinner on Wednesday night was that Josh, who I had mentioned before, had to meet with a guy he has begun a discipling relationship with. I wasn’t there and can’t speak to what happened there, but the important thing to note is that missional community is about more than just serving. It’s about sharing the Gospel AND discipling those who come to Christ. The mission isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples.
I was forced to return earlier than I planned from helping neighbors. The neighbors I had gone to help weren’t home and shortly after that a big storm rolled in. I ended up on my front porch with my kids and several of the kids from the other families, while the ladies got a chance to encourage and fellowship with each other. For me, this is part of missional community as well–serving the body so each part is strengthened to share the Gospel.
The storm passed. One of the families left. Josh arrived from his meeting to pick up his family. After spending some time together enjoying our kids and talking, Josh and his family left to put their kids to bed. We thought our day was pretty much done. We put our kids to bed and began the process of winding down for the night.
At about 9:00 PM, my wife realized that she had a missed text on her phone. A neighbor and someone that’s been part of our church had been trying to get a hold of us. Her neighbor and friend had a window broken out of her front door by a disgruntled “guest.” Our friend and her neighbor were looking for some help fixing the situation. I sent my wife over to help (long story, but she was better in this particular situation) expecting her to help fix the door and have her back by 9:30.
Instead she returned around 10:30. She told me the story. When she arrived, it became clear that the situation was much larger than she thought. My wife realized that we might need to bring in a professional, but didn’t know who to call at that hour. We had a friend who repaired auto glass professionally that was part of yet another house church we hadn’t seen that day. She called him to get a recommendation about who to call. Instead, he came over, assessed the situation, and miraculously had the right tools to make the door secure that night. Tim, our friend, was the perfect blend of consistent and flexible that night. With the door secure, our neighbor and her children could rest easier knowing she was safe. This was yet one more example of serving the community with the hope of getting to share the Gospel.
I laid down in bed that night thinking of everything that had happened. Encouragement between the body. Discipleship. Attempts to serve the lost. Prayer. After going through the list, I was thankful that the Lord had allowed our body to pursue mission the way we have.
I don’t write this to boast in our house churches. Rather, I write this so that you can have a window into what missional community might look like on a given day. How do you get here? Find a group of people who love Jesus and want to walk out mission. Give yourself to encouraging the body and attempting to serve the lost around you. Always have the name of Jesus and the Gospel on your lips.
Often we think the workers are many and the harvest is small, but when we venture outside of our fellowships, we find that the harvest is great and the workers are few. If your community is truly committed to being a missional community you will find needs and as you try and meet those needs you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel. I guarantee it.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
A Christian who is part of a house church starts a conversation with a believer who goes to a traditional/institutional/legacy church. Soon the conversation turns to what the Bible says about church. The house church believer begins to lead the conversation, hoping to sway the traditional church member to become part of a house church in some capacity. The story ends a hundred different ways: sometimes the traditional church member is offended, sometimes they are convicted, sometimes nothing happens at all.
None of this is especially evil. Christians have had these types of conversations for hundreds of years: Catholic vs. Protestant, Charismatic vs. Cessationist, Evangelical vs. Mainline, etc. My point is that sometimes, especially within the house church movement, we are way more evangelistic with people who claim Jesus but not our “way” than we are with people who don’t claim the name of Jesus at all .
But friends, there is a mission field, full of lost souls that have never seen Jesus lived out and proclaimed in front of their eyes. Some of them (even in America!) have never even heard the Gospel. There are people in your neighborhood who will treat you the same way: Some will be offended, some will be convicted, and some will do nothing if you share Jesus with them. But they haven’t heard and you can share the Gospel with them one more time.
When we started out our first house church, we spent almost no time talking about what a house church was or inviting existing believers to our house church. We did what house churches do and we shared the gospel with people who didn’t believe. Did we acquire some Christians along the way? Yes. Did we inspire others Christians to start house churches? Yes. But we did this by almost completely trying to share the Gospel with other believers and ignoring the potential of growing by adding other Christians to our house church.
Alan Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways talks about how most churches in the United States are competing with each other for the 35% of the population that is attracted to a traditional, evangelical church. But there is a staggering 65% of the population in the United States that is not drawn to a traditional, evangelical church and is part of a multicultural, diverse people that are far from God. If America has 325,146,000 people, we are leaving 211,344,900 people who are lost to try and attract 113,801,100 who are easier to talk to about Jesus but are already saved.
Very little of this reminds me of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find the one that was lost (Luke 15:3-7).
Friends, my heart for those of us who claim to be a part of the house church movement is that we start house churches that touch those who are far from God. That there would be a movement of house churches planting house churches among the broken and those who formerly had no interest in God. Who better to reach those burnt out on bad religion and those who would never darken the door of a church than those who have forsaken both? If we love Jesus, we should speak about Him with those who don’t know Him, not just those who do.
We can be a missionary force, if we stop evangelizing each other and start sharing the Gospel.
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.
The church in the West has a secret that is often exposed but no one talks about. The secret is this: We have a lot of people who are part of churches that are terribly wounded and broken, but act like they have it all together and are experts in Christianity.
To be fair, preachers, leaders, and bumper stickers tell us this all the time. They say things like Christianity isn’t for the perfect, it’s for the broken or the church is not for perfect people. But life in our churches gets lived out in such a way that at least some look like they have every aspect of their life together: marriage, kids, ministry, etc.
This became abundantly clear to me the further I moved away from Christianity as an event (Sunday morning service, prayer meeting, revival meetings) to Christianity as a lifestyle. The less we gave ourselves to meetings and the more we met in each others’ homes, dealt with each others’ children, and became transparent with each other, the more we began to see issues. It wasn’t that we were bad people, where we had come from we were thought of as the cream of the crop. In reality, it was that we had lived at such a distance from each other that our issues could hide beneath the surface and not have to get dealt with.
Why does this happen? I believe it’s a subtle mix of good intentions and fear. Many fear being outed for the things in their past and the things in their present. The fear of what others would think of us if they truly knew how bad things are keeps us from being honest about our situation. Others, I think, truly believe in some spiritual form of “fake it till you make it” and put up a clean front so they aren’t a bad testimony. They try and clean up the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. This is a deception, but I know well meaning people who have attempted to do it.
If I don’t mention it, someone will write in and remind me about pride and hypocrisy. These are real, too, though I don’t think we start there. I think we start in some mix of fear or good intentions and then over years of acting, we develop pride and hypocrisy around the image we present to others. This last version of us is actually worse than the broken version of ourselves that we are so unwilling to show others, but we feel protected. As Jesus says, the last state of this person is worse than the first.
I say all of this as a Christian who has had dirty little secrets of my own. My intent is not to cast stones, but to say this: We are way more broken than we let on and it’s killing us. The unconfessed sin and double sided lives that we lead are letting issues fester within us in the dark, but they affect how we live life in the world and short circuit the life God desires us to have. Even if no one in our church knows, it’s still affecting the church.
The good news is there is an answer for this trap. It’s called living in the light. It’s a hard, sometimes painful process where we begin to live close enough to other believers that they can truly know us and we can truly know them. When we see issues in each others’ lives, we talk through them. We pray for each other. When we see issues in our own lives, we confess them to those believers living closely with us. This is the process Jesus gives us to be transformed:
But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
This, friends, is the open secret…something so good and not hidden at all, yet few people know and practice: God wants us to come into the light with the real issues of our lives. When we bring our true selves into God’s light with other brothers and sisters, that’s where healing can occur. We can’t force others to go there, we can only go there ourselves and hope others come with us. As others see us learning to truly love and be honest about our own junk, they begin to believe it’s possible for themselves.
My hope is you are beginning to believe it is possible for you. Christianity needs it.