Jesus asked us to go and make disciples of all the nations. For this to truly happen like it was intended, we need a simple and reproducible model of discipleship that empowers every believer to make disciples. We struggled for awhile in how to do this before we adopted a model of meeting in groups of two and three people. These groups read lots of Scripture and build relationships around accountability and confession, but they also spend time developing and strengthening apostolic mission in each other.
What is apostolic mission? Apostolic refers to someone who is sent as a representative of another. Jesus sends us to share His love with the same power and authority that He gave the apostles and that He Himself walked in. The mission refers to the unfinished task of sharing Christ’s love with those who don’t know Him. Part of us learning to follow Christ is learning to follow Him on the mission He embarked on of preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Why is this so essential? A mature disciple shouldn’t be able to just know all the details but reproduce him or herself. Just like in nature, a mature fruit or flower or human or animal has the biological capability of reproduction, so it is with disciples. Disciples reproduce disciples. As Alan Hirsch and others have said, we don’t have an evangelism problem in the West, we have a discipleship problem that comes to light in our inability to evangelize and disciple others.
When we gather in groups of two or three people, it could be tempting for it to become a bible study or an accountability group. Focusing on apostolic mission keeps our eyes turned to those who have still not encountered the Lord and off of ourselves. To do this, every time we get together, we bring a list of two or three people we have been praying for individually throughout the week and we pray for them as a group. This can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 20, but it’s important.
It’s so important, in fact, that I recommend making this the first thing you do when you gather. This keeps our purpose–reaching the lost–in front of us. Everything we do within these groups of 2&3 is not just for ourselves, but is for these others who we are praying for to be a part of once they turn their hearts to Jesus. Praying for these folks early in the meeting also keeps it from being the last thing on the list that there is no time for.
As with all the other disciplines, apostolic mission will need to be walked out in greater detail in the life of the church and the life of the individual. This is just the expression of it within our 2&3 meeting. Again, make this real. Pray real prayers that move God’s heart. It’s important.
When you add all these disciplines together, it looks like the following:
And when we get the DNA right, we are on the cusp of multiplying cells of an organic organism called the church. We can achieve the multiplication of disciples, leaders, churches, and movements that we’ve all seeking.
My hope, whether you follow the format or not, is that you find what it takes to multiply.
Jesus’ last command to His followers was to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything He had commanded them. Much of the church in the West is largely unaware of how to take a new follower of Jesus and teach them how to follow Him. We need to recover simple, transferable ways to disciple others. Yesterday we looked at how we’ve developed a rhythm of exposing ourselves to divine truth. But discipleship is much more than just exposing ourselves to God’s truth, it’s also building nurturing relationships.
First, let’s state the obvious. God’s desire for His church (literally His “called out ones”) is that they not be single, isolated believers. There are certain situations where Christians are alone because of circumstances beyond their control, but even in the case of missions, Jesus sends people out in groups of two. From the earliest days of humanity God said that “It is not good for the man to be alone,” (Genesis 2:18). God’s design for humanity is that they function within a community of people who love Christ and each other. This is why all over the New Testament there are “one another” commands that encourage us interact and support one another.
We practice these frequently within our house churches, but our 2&3’s have become a deeper expression of that community. As I’ve said, we meet in groups of two and three people of the same gender and practice accountability and confession with each other. To do this, we utilize a set of questions from Neil Cole’s book “Ordinary Hero.” You can see the list below:
Notice a couple of things with this list:
1) These are pretty in your face questions about what you’ve been doing. Most people cringe at the thought of talking about #2. Others think they have no need of talking about #’s 3 and 8. But we ask each other these questions to achieve a kind of intimacy that’s often not achieved without talking about these kind of issues.
2) Number 9 is intentionally left blank. It’s important to leave this list somewhat customizeable, because while it’s important to hit some universal questions, it’s important to be specific. My number 9 question for many many years has been “Have you been faithful to Jesus and the calling on your life this week?” But I’ve known many guys who change their number 9 every couple of months, depending on what the Lord is leading them into at that time. You can find a more thorough list of questions you can use in number 9 that friend of mine developed here.
3) Number 10 on the list is the time we take to discuss the what we’ve read in the word. Notice that it’s in the context of relationship and obedience, not in just a study that never amounts to any action.
4) Lastly, this could be interpreted as a list to be critical of ourselves or others. Instead, this list is a discussion starter. It’s purpose is to get us talking about the areas in our lives described here. If sin is discovered, we pray for one another. A couple of years ago I started to identify an addiction to soda when my friends asked me about #6. Through prayer, counsel, and encouragement, I was able to kick the addiction. But it was only as I talked through the question (that previously I thought did not apply to me) and became honest about my addiction with my friends that transformation happened.
Admittedly this is a process, which can feel mechanical if we let it. But it relies on the fact the truths that we are supposed to “encourage each other,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), confess our sins to each other and pray for each other (James 5:16), and “motivate one another to good works,” (Hebrews 10:24).
What we’ve found as we’ve put this into practice is that these questions (when answered honestly) produce transparency. This transparency births intimacy. When I can be a source of grace and prayer to my brother who is struggling, we grow closer. Much of what we need to achieve transformation in our lives is transparency with another flesh and blood human and prayer that God promises will be effective. And the friendships that are formed from meeting this way last because they are built around Christ and continuing to walk with Him, not around things that fade.
This is simple rhythm has allowed us to develop nurturing relationships that build up the body and bring forth the character of Jesus. Whether you follow this pattern or not, I would encourage you to find the spirit of what’s described here and walk it out with other believers. It’s a gigantic part of discipleship that cannot be ignored.
I’m a little late to the party, but in the middle of January we turned the page on ten years since we started meeting as a house church.
The first time we gathered, there were four couples, each with one child a piece. The kids slept the entire time. I told everyone that was in that first meeting that if we could just handle being dissatisfied and look to Jesus and not give up on each other, that we would be a success.
Ten years later those families each have four or more kids and are scattered across three (or four, or five) house churches in our city. We’ve learned a lot, made some mistakes along the way, and grown as we’ve pressed towards the disciple-making movement we believe Jesus is calling us to be.
There’s two errors you can make with an anniversary like this: To feel like you’re an expert and to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. But the truth is somewhere in the middle: We’ve learned some things but we still are learning, growing, and changing. At this point I feel like we are just getting to the place where we can ask better questions…pursue Jesus more…and really become a source of personal and societal transformation.
There are depths of God and many more labors in the harvest ahead. We just need to remember to ask more questions.
In tandem with our ten year anniversary (but not planned in anyway at all) Dan Mayhew of Summit Fellowships in Portland, Orgeon asked me to join him on his podcast Church of the Heart to talk about how the Lord has led us to this point. You can hear about our story by clicking here.
Recently I wrote about how we meet with existing believers when they express interest in joining our house church. Today I want to talk about one other conversation that we have in that process. We also ask existing believers to count the cost of joining a house church.
The immediate question is why would we do that?
Well, the best answer is always because Jesus asked us to count the cost of following Him, especially in regards to the cost of following Him on His mission (see Luke 14:28-30). This isn’t only a requirement for joining a house church, or our house churches, this is something Jesus asks all of us to do.
However, I’ve found it wise to invite believers to consider the cost of joining our house churches. Part of the reason is the cost of living on mission in our house churches can be higher than you would expect in a traditional church. I tell them stories about the lost people who have damaged things in our homes. I talk to them about the different times we’ve served friends in high crime areas where the potential to be harmed is real. I talk to them about the scary moments when fights have almost broke out at some of our gatherings. Certainly we try to be wise with what we do, but there’s a measure of mission that can never be controlled. So we ask folks to count the cost.
But there is another type cost that I invite existing believers to consider. It’s the cost of laying down a controlled church environment. I try to let them know that being part of an organic church means that everyone is responsible to bring what the Lord has given them, but sometimes that doesn’t work out and a meeting is bad. I share about the fact that we allow the kids to participate in a meeting with us and that means a lot more interrupted everything. I share about how community won’t just happen in a meeting, but will require us to rearrange our schedule to make time for the kind of relationships house churches have the potential to provide. Everyone says they want real community, but some like the rich young ruler have found the cost too high and walked away.
Is all of this worth it? Of course! Jesus is amazing and just knowing Him is worth all of the cost described above and more. Add on top of that the ability to get to be part of His body and stand side by side with brothers and sisters who love you and are committed to you? That’s easily worth any price we have to pay. But Jesus still asks us to consider it.
And so when we meet with believers who are interested, I invite them to think about the cost. Not because they’ve never considered the cost of following Jesus before, but because I want them to consider the cost of doing it a different way than they may have done before. All of this is done out of a heart to help, mind you. I don’t want to scare anyone away or needlessly critique someone. Over the years, this just seems to be the best way to help outsiders into the life we’ve found. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worked for us.
So, I’ll leave you with this. Regardless of where you are or what type of church you are part of, there is a cost to following Christ. Are you counting it? And are you helping others to join Jesus on His mission regardless of the cost they may have to pay? It’s worth considering.
A few years into our journey as a house church, I started to notice that the idea of house churches was intriguing to other believers that were part of a traditional congregation. We’d have existing believers join our house church for a short season, only to disappear without explanation. And because of our presence on Facebook or a mutual relationship in our city, from time to time we’d have people we’d never met wanting to join our church.
So after this happened a few times, we began to re-evaluate how we invited already existing believers into our context. Prior to this point, whoever wanted to come just came. But it became fairly obvious that just letting whoever wanted to show up come was unhelpful to both our existing house church and to the people wanting to come.
Why? It boiled down to relationship. In contrast to a traditional, larger congregation our house church was being built on relationship. It was increasingly odd the deeper those connections became to have someone most or all of us had never met plop down in the middle of our house church and expect them to connect immediately the way everyone else did.
Also, many of our friends from traditional churches were coming from a church that was built around meetings, not relationships. Because of this, they would come for the meeting and leave as soon as the meeting was over. Often we wouldn’t see them until the next gathering of the church. And after awhile, it became clear that we weren’t helping those joining us, either.
So, the next time that someone asked to join our house church, instead of giving them our address and next meeting time, we began to invite them over (or out) for lunch or coffee. We’d hear their story. We’d share ours. Sometimes these meetings became a time to share the gospel with people, like the time a Muslim woman began asking to join us. Other times, these meetings became a chance to encourage existing believers to start house churches of their own. And what we began to realize is that relationship wasn’t just what our churches were built on, they actually needed to become the doorway into our churches as well.
Making this change helped everyone. Those who chose to join us after meeting with someone from our house church inevitably understood a bit better why we were meeting as a house church and they joined having already built the beginning of a relationship with others in our midst. It was a win for everyone.
There were also some other benefits to this, which I’ll explain a bit more on tomorrow…
For those of you who are new readers, I talk once and awhile about my adventures at McDonald’s and how we are now part of the show. A week ago, my buddy and I were sitting there doing our thing when the manager sat down and started talking with us.
After a minute she began discussing with us the struggles she’s having with her teenage son. As a single mom who is working two jobs to raise two teen boys with no dad involved, there were plenty of things she struggled with. But the conversation took an unexpected turn when she started talking about how she had tried to send them to church to change some of their behavior. She expressed frustration at the church that she was sending them to and talked about sending them to a different church.
And this was where I had to interrupt because I’ve seen this happen so many times before. So many well-meaning parents, struggling with the action of their kids try to get their kids to a youth group…a church service…to hang around with other fiery young adults…youth retreats…even Bible colleges in the hopes of the program or the person changing their kid.
So I stopped my manager friend and explained to her the difference between going to a church meeting and following Jesus. I made sure to emphasize that Jesus is the power that God gives us to live good lives and that until her son had Jesus inside of him, changing him from the inside, no program would help him.
I bring this story up not because it’s unique. I bring this story up because as Christians we often subtly convince ourselves and the lost that the power of transformation is somehow found in our programs. It starts as small as trying to get people to our programs so they can meet Jesus. But why not just share Jesus from the get-go? Why bring them somewhere to meet Jesus? And then from there, we often send them to a program to get discipled, instead of teaching them how to follow Christ apart from the program. And soon all our “disciples” know is programs.
Now we like programs because they are easy to create. They make us feel effective. We can do more of them and get different results. It’s easy to get people to a certain place for a promised activity. And no one likes surprises, so a program that goes smoothly makes everyone feel comfortable.
But it’s not our programs that save or change people; It’s Jesus. To the degree that those programs have been effective, it’s because somewhere, somehow in the midst of our programs Jesus has shown up and encountered a human heart. This is a miracle and we should always treat it as such.
What being part of an organic church has helped me see over the years is how deeply we rely on programs to change people. As a house church, we don’t have any programs. And the dangerous gamble when we started was will people still be changed if all we have is Jesus and a group of people who love each other? Jesus has showed up despite our lack of programs and has continued to meet people, change them, and grow them up into mature believers, so I know it can be done.
Now, while admittedly I’d love it if you started a house church, I know some of you aren’t there yet. But, can we at least lay down our dependency on what we can program and control and get back to the simplicity of Jesus changing people from the inside out? Can we stop burning ourselves out doing things that don’t generate much change? Can we get back to waiting on the Lord and doing what He says?
Much of it comes down to what we actually believe is the agent of change in our lives: Jesus or our programs?
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.