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.
We were sitting around in our house church meeting listening to my friend describe his new attempt to start a house church. Our spiritual family had questions, which is natural, and as they asked him questions, he didn’t have all the answers. Not having all the answers can make some people nervous.
And as I sat there, I was reminded of another friend of mine who would never consider himself a church planter but he finds himself working with two guys who have shown interest in starting a church. And every time I sit down and talk with this friend he’s got one word to describe what’s happening: fragile.
What does he mean by fragile? He means it could all fall apart. His two guys are either very early in their faith or they’re not even believers yet. The possibility that absolutely nothing could come of it is high.
So I pipe up in the house church meeting and say “Guys, this thing is fragile.” And I go on to explain what is going on with my friend who has coined the term. And I tell our house church how we’ve tried to start several other house churches with people we believed were people of peace over the last few years. None of those have panned out. But I explain it this way: “We don’t ever want to get out of the place where our church isn’t fragile. It means we aren’t living on the edge of trusting God.”
The problem is most church planting in the West is built on transfer growth. We take established Christians from one church building and go and meet in another. We hope that lost people come but many times other established Christians are the ones who join us. There’s some risk that the church might fail, but for the most part those establish Christians will join another church down the street. That’s not fragile.
The fragile part comes when you preach the gospel to unbelievers. Church only happens when people repent, so we always hope that church lasts. But experience tells us that some people will respond to the Gospel quickly but have no root. They will get mocked or persecuted for following Jesus and they’ll stop. Experience tells us that some others will start strong in following Jesus but have life choked out by enjoying the world too much or pursuing things that make them happy. Only a percentage actually go on to follow Jesus long term and show fruit in their own lives.
So any time we attempt to start a house church with people who are showing interest in Jesus, there’s one word to describe it: fragile. We never know if the people who seem excited one day will stick it out. But the alternative is to never plant churches among the lost. And I’m not willing to settle for that. I hope you’re not either. The harvest is so large that we need everyone we can get.
I’m writing this morning about a couple of different scenarios that are going on in our midst. But I’m writing these stories to encourage you about the context you are in. It’s okay if things are fragile. Get really good at following Jesus into fragile situations and trust Him that as the one who builds His church, He will get it right. Institutions are stable. Graveyards are stable. But you’re not trying to become one of those. If you’re planting a church (and I hope you are) you are planting a living thing. There will always be a chance it could die. But trust Jesus that He knows how to turn tiny seedlings into oaks of righteousness. Some of the seeds you plant will multiply 30, 60, or even 100 times. The payoff is worth it.
Yesterday I wrote about the reasons we didn’t (and still don’t) have a titled pastor in our house church network. But our attitude toward the pastoral ministry was also hurting our ability to help people who needed pastoral care. So what did we do?
We Appreciated Our Differences
Several years into our time as a house church network, we began to understand that God had made us different to help us, not to frustrate us. We had been reading different parts of Scripture, including Ephesians 4 and it became increasingly clear that while one or two of the gifts listed there were our personal favorites, we needed all of them to produce the kind of mature church Paul describes there. This meant we’d need to embrace pastoral giftings in order to get there.
We Became More Serious About Church Multiplication
This may sound a little counter-intuitive here, but stick with me. We had hit a point as a church where a number of us who had been part of what we were doing from the beginning were wanting to focus more on evangelism and finding “houses of peace.*” The only problem? We were spending most of our time taking care of the needs within our own fellowships. The needs were real. But many of us more gifted towards church planting and evangelism were spending disproportionate amounts of time caring for these needs. Something needed to change.
So We Identified People With Pastoral Giftings…
As we began to look around our network, we noticed there were already people who cared for others and were trying to be examples to the rest of our network. Some of them had skills in inner healing and deliverance. They also happened to be the sort of people who rushed with compassion towards needs like the ones that were popping up. God had given us people who were gifted in the areas where we had need.
…and We Gathered Them…
Once we knew who these folks were, it was time to get them together. I think a lot of them were unsure of themselves. They had an idea of what a pastor was from some previous experiences, so it was a little bit intimidating to be asked to shepherd people. But one thing that helped was to bring them together from our different churches into one room. Because of our previous attitude toward the word “pastor” we didn’t have a ton of these type of people in our midst. So to hear others sharing about a similar gifting was incredibly helpful.
Instead of presuming to know what we needed and how they could meet it, we asked them: Where does our network needing pastoral care? And how can you guys help us with those needs that you see? Pretty quickly these guys were meeting together on their own, talking about how they could encourage each other in their calling and meet needs where they saw them. Two things were important in this: We trusted Christ in them and we didn’t try to impress an agenda.
…and We Asked Them to Count the Cost…
So this is my thing. I ask people to count the cost a lot. But serving the body can be a costly thing. For us it means being a volunteer and working a job in addition to your role in caring for the flock. It means being part of a discipleship group and pouring your life into others. And it means sometimes there’s not a lot to do, but you have to keep your schedule open. Because stuff comes up. Like the inner city mother who suddenly needs new beds for her and her kids or the marriage issue that needs counseling or the demon that needs to be cast out. No one can time these things. Each of shepherds had to ask, in their own way, was the cost worth it?
…and We Changed The Narrative.
As I said earlier, everyone had an idea in their head of what a pastor was: The Authority Figure. A Position. Theological Training. The Guy Who Knows What to Do. The Paid Guy. The Preacher. All of these things freaked people out. We had guys with legitimate shepherding gifts but were afraid to use them because the bar had been set really high by our culture.
So, we changed the name. We call them shepherds. We told them not to walk around calling themselves a pastor so-and-so**. Just love people like the Lord has gifted you to do. Don’t try and dominate a house church meeting that you’re in. Participate. Show the body what it looks like to participate. But don’t become the center of the ministry. Oh, and nobody’s getting paid. So there’s that.
Now, for some of you reading this, you may be wondering why the heck someone would sign up for a position with high responsibility and little physical reward like this. Peter gives us the answer:
Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
1 Peter 5:2-5
We encouraged our unpaid, non-titled, non-hierarchal shepherds to use their gifting to build up the body because Jesus will reward them for doing so when He returns. And this has helped us to still be a body, still have multiple, equally valuable gifts functioning and yet benefit from the shepherding gift working in our midst.
That’s our story so far. I’m excited for where the Lord is leading us. I think in the end we’ll see a church that is focused on Christ’s mission and growing the disciples that result from that mission. And through all of it, we will grow up into the image of Christ. Jesus promises it’s what will happen when embrace all of the gifts.
**Just like we discourage people from walking around calling themselves “Apostle so-and-so” or “Prophet so-and-so.”
Today I met with a cross section of men from our house church network to talk about and work through issues that are affecting our churches. The discussion was great and one of the things that I loved about it was the mutuality. Quickly it became clear that there was no guru in the group and that everyone could learn from each other. And it was this back and forth, giving and receiving that allowed for hearts to open up, ministry to happen, and for us to be able to rely on each other a little bit more.
I’m continually amazed how much humility and not lifting yourself up above another allows for more ministry to happen, not less. So often the church thinks it needs to be the other way around. Most of the time we are caught up trying to prove we are at least as spiritual, if not more so, than the person next to us. When I try and prove how much better I am than others, not much ministry happens. And yet, when I humble myself and live from the place of being as weak or weaker than everyone else in the room, that’s when people become vulnerable and real service to each other happens.
During my day, I had the opportunity to share with a brother about some limits he was artificially putting on himself. And because we were listening to each other, I was able to hear his heart and he was able to receive when I gently pushed on him to reconsider some of the limits he was placing on himself.
Friends, we desperately need brothers and sisters like this in the body of Christ. We need people who know us, can see us better than we see ourselves, and can help us get out of the ruts that we sometimes find ourselves in. The body grows itself by learning how to speak the truth to each other in love. This is so hard to do but its one of the main ways the Bible describes us growing into the image of Christ.
Beloved, find friends who will tell you the truth in love. Find brothers and sisters in Christ who will call you forward into who God has called you to be. It’s a way forward in an age that wants to deceive us and isolate us. Don’t give in to the shallow relationships that are only about competition and vanity. Don’t settle for relationships with brothers and sisters in Christ that are only an inch deep. There’s transforming relationships out there that are rooted and Christ and they are worth pursuing.
It’s worth it. I don’t promise it, but Jesus does.