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.
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.