Tag Archive | House Church Movement

Coming in October:

Okay….okay…I get it. It’s not as catchy nor anywhere near as intense as Shark Week. I mean, who in their right mind would try and top Shark Week? I did want to announce, though, that in October (one month from today) we will begin Starfish Month here at Pursuing Glory.

What’s Starfish Month, you ask?

Well, nearly nine years ago this October, I was part of a conference that was hosted by some dear friends in Kansas City. These friends had invited a long-time inspiration of mine, Wolfgang Simson, to come and share about what he felt the Lord was doing in the Earth. Wolf, as some of you know, wrote Houses That Change the World and at that time was putting the finishing touches on a new book that he eventually published himself called the Starfish Manifesto.

Houses That Change the World helped birth the idea of house churches in the hearts and minds of many early adopters within the house church movement. The Starfish Manifesto was kind of a next step. Where Houses was a micro level view of how churches should function, the Starfish Manifesto was the macro view of how a movement of house churches could reach the world for Jesus. It was next level thinking beyond anything I had come across at that point.

indexAlso during this conference, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes here and there chatting with Wolfgang. I remember him saying very firmly at one point that if we wanted to understand the true nature of what the Lord was doing in the church in that hour, we had to go and read a secular book called “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. When the conference was finished I hurriedly ran to my nearest bookstore and picked up a copy with a gift card I received. The book, which was all about the power of leaderless organizations, blew my mind and changed the way I’ve thought about the church ever since. Don’t let the fact that this is a secular book throw you. There is so much here gleaned from history and nature that you will quickly see the Lord’s inspiration in this book, whether the author’s meant it that way or not.

Needless to say, that month of October all the way back in 2008 was a formative year. Much of what came from that time formed the basis for what was to come as we worked to plant and raise up house churches here in Iowa.  Every October, as the weather gets colder here, I look back sentimentally on that season and wish I could share it with you all. So, this October, I plan to do just that.

Starting Monday, October 2nd, I’m going to host a sort of book club here on the blog. Mondays and Thursdays in October I’ll share a brief synopsis of a chapter here on the blog with my thoughts on the content. Tuesdays and Fridays during October, I’ll take some of the thoughts and apply them to how they relate to the church.  Throughout the week in October, I’ll also be sharing short excerpts from the condensed version of Wolfgang’s Starfish Manifesto, the Starfish Vision, on my Twitter feed.  All of this adds up to us talking about how Jesus designed his church to function like a starfish.

Why am I telling you all now? To get you prepared, of course. First, I would love it if one or two of you joined me in re-reading “The Starfish and the Spider.” If that sounds interesting to you, now is the time to pick yourself up a copy of the book.  You may also want to jump straight to Wolf’s Starfish Vision booklet and dive into what you find there.  Regardless, I hope you join me in Reformation month reading and thinking about how there is still more reformation left ahead for the church and strategizing about how we can be part of it.

It’s not Shark Week…but it might just cause you to change the world.

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New Testament Church Planting

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The conversation happens so often you can almost predict how it’s going to go. Someone who the Lord has just started speaking to about organic church or house churches logs onto a house church discussion group and they ask this question: “What’s the best book out there on organic church?” People will begin to suggest the staples: Books by Neil Cole, Frank Viola, Jon Zens, etc. I’ll throw my two cents in and suggest my top five books on house churches. But inevitably someone will suggest the book of Acts.

Now, I’m never sure if someone is serious when they suggest the book of Acts or whether they are being a bit tongue in cheek to highlight peoples’ tendencies to rely on current authors over God’s word. Sometimes I think they’re doing both. Inevitably, though, someone will recommend the book of Acts as the book to read if you’re wanting to plant house churches.

This conversation happened again today on Facebook and it got me thinking about how we treat the New Testament in regards to church planting. Obviously we have a lot to learn from the book of Acts, but I found myself a little sad today because no one recommended the books of First and Second Timothy or Titus or the Gospels or the Minor Epistles. There is so much to learn from the New Testament that aids us in our pursuit of the church God wants, that to only learn from the book of Acts would be a travesty.

How do the books of the New Testament apply to house church planting? In so many ways. Here are a few:

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

It should go without saying, but the Gospels are critical to the success of any house church. Without the story of Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, powerful resurrection and ascension into Heaven, none of what we do as house churches makes any sense. Not only are we redeemed by the good news we find in the Gospels but we are matured by the good news we find there. We are designed to grow up into the image of Christ (Ephesians 4:15), so we must constantly hold in front of us the image of Christ, not the New Testament church, so we can grow up into His likeness.

Acts

So based on my previous statements this should be a no-brainer. The book of Acts shows us how the small, struggling group Jesus left behind became a nearly unstoppable missionary force. We’d do well to learn from the apostles and others we see in the book of Acts and adopt many of their principles. If anyone tells you the book of Acts is descriptive but not something we should base our churches or strategy on, remind them that all Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), including the book of Acts.

Paul’s Epistles

Paul wrote the books of Romans through the book of Philemon. There is so much good in all of these books that I could go on for a long time, but I’ll focus on two aspects.

Some of Paul’s books feature rich and deep theology. Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians fit into that category. While each of these books have some stunning pictures of body life, they come after an unveiling of who Christ is in His resurrected glory. Understanding Jesus as the exalted Son of God is critical to house churches functioning as Kingdom outposts.

The other books Paul wrote–1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon are much more practical books. If the earlier books paint you a picture of the resurrected Jesus, these books paint a picture of what the practical early church movement looked like. Many of these books are Paul trouble-shooting church problems that crept in in his absence because of the highly mobile ministry we see him operating in in the book of Acts.

One final note on Paul’s contributions. Everyone who believes that Acts is a blueprint for what the Lord wants to do through house churches needs to spend serious time in 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. These books describe Paul trying to finish what he started in his missionary journeys but didn’t have time to fully complete. I know many people who pit Acts style church planting vs. “Pastoral Epistle” style churches. In reality, Paul planted churches like he did in Acts and served them from a distance by writing books like 1 Timothy and Titus. The churches planted in Acts wouldn’t have survived without the wisdom we find in those books.

General Epistles

These books were written by other early church leaders besides Paul. They include the books of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. I love these books and think they are incredibly relevant to house churches and here’s why: Most of these books were letters written to house churches struggling with false teachers who have entered into their midst. You may have not struggled with false teachers, false prophets, or false apostles having come to your house church yet, but if you meet organically for any length of time you will. Often our response to false teachers is to elevate good teachers, but the apostles wrote these letters to encourage the church to contend with false teachers without becoming institutional. This is such a critical reality that we all need to learn from on our journey to becoming the church God wants.

Revelation

Finally, we come to the book of Revelation. Many of you will disagree with me and that’s okay, but I’m still firmly of the opinion that the book of Revelation should be read literally. I still believe that the second coming of Jesus is our hope in this age and the events described within the book are to prepare us for the hour before the Lord’s return. This movement of finding God’s heart for His church, for reaching lost people and discipling them, and for multiplying disciples and churches is going somewhere and I believe that somewhere is the literal return of Jesus to reclaim the Earth. This book serves us by teaching us not to give our hearts to world and its systems and that message will be more and more critical as the day draws nearer.

Conclusion

Imagine a church that is rooted in the Gospel, planted and established like the churches in the book of Acts, guided by Paul’s fascination with the risen Christ and the wisdom he had acquired through planting tens of churches. Picture this same church knowing how to deal with false teachers that show up in their midst and who are prepared, not just for the end times, but for the Kingdom Jesus is bringing on the other side of those end times.

This is the church Jesus is building. It will take the whole counsel of Scripture in order to produce it. It will require us to ask Jesus to give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. But if we read our Bibles with our hearts open before the word, we will be stronger house churches for it.

So what’s my favorite book on organic house churches?

Let’s start with the New Testament.

Photo by Jonathan Simcoe on Unsplash

The Thing About Being a Part of the Underground Is…

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…you can’t always see what is happening beneath the surface.

The call for many of us who are planting and participating in house churches is a call to the underground. In China, this is by necessity. They have to hide their fellowships, their worship, and to some degree their walk with Christ in order to survive. Here in the West, we participate in the underground by choice. House churches are one way we participate, foregoing some of the flash to focus on the essentials which happen under the surface.  Regardless of whether it is by choice or by necessity, we are part of an underground movement.

The price you pay to go underground is to be misunderstood. It can seem like you’re not growing. It seems many times like things are at a stand-still. Often it seems like you are being lazy and not producing very much. In reality, deep below the surface of the Earth, where no one is watching and no one sees, there is a life being formed that will sustain and produce fruit.

It’s just that no one sees it. No one notices. Sometimes you aren’t even aware of the deep work that is going on inside of you.  You just know you aren’t seeing the results you thought you would see. Jesus compared this process to death: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the Earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” (John 12:24).  Every individual must go through this process, but each house church must go through this process as well.

It’s in this season that the foundation for life and fruitfulness is being laid.  Everything depends on this season happening the way God designed it. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t see fruit as fast as you’d like. Don’t think that God isn’t working just because you don’t see results as quickly as others. If God has called you to His underground, He’s called you to grow deep so you can be fruitful in season and out of season.

I started to write this out yesterday and in the midst of writing it, a dear friend sent me a prophetic note that he had sent me about a year ago.  In it, he describes the Lord showing him how apostolic works need to have shoots and roots. In the vision, the shoots could only go as far as the roots. The level of fruitfulness was determined by our level of rootedness.

Friends, don’t be discouraged by a rooting season. Give yourself to it. Grow your roots as deep as you can. God has a fruitful season for you, but your ability to sustain it will be determined by the depth of your roots.

Prayer Request:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,

Lumbard-Ric-16Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state.  He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.

Sincerely,
Travis

 

How To Start A Church That Is Easily Planted

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The other day I shared an older post on Facebook about how house churches can be planted in a few days time. One of my friends and a regular encourager here at the blog wrote in and asked how someone can be trained in such a short time to start a house church. I think this is a fantastic question simply because it forces us to be clear on what makes a church a church.

In the book of Acts we see churches planted by simply by preaching the Gospel and lost people coming to Christ. Because there were many places where no one knew Christ, the preaching of the Gospel and the repentance of sinners was the only criteria for starting a church. There are a number of situations where Paul and his team would preach the Gospel, remain only a couple of weeks, and have to leave shortly thereafter because of persecution (see the examples of Antioch of Pisida in Acts 13:13-52 and Thessalonica in Acts 17:1-10). While this wasn’t ideal, there was something real enough that Paul deposited in those churches that it would sustain them in Paul’s absence.

That something is the Gospel.

If you think about it, Paul really only had enough time to teach them that. These were new converts, unschooled in the ways of Christ, that would have to hold up under persecution themselves when Paul got to leave.  He probably also gave them some basic instructions in how to grow in Christ and how to meet together. But much of it was done through modeling and teaching the basic tenets of the Christian faith. As long as they gathered together and gave themselves to telling the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the church would exist and thrive.

Fast forward several hundred years to now. We live in very complicated society that is seemingly filled with churches on every corner and an accessibility to the Gospel that is nothing shy of miraculous.  But the ability to plant a church with little but the preaching of the Gospel is unchanged. Where lost people come to Christ, we do our best to teach them basic discipleship strategies that we can copy down on the back of a napkin.  This keeps them growing in Christ and taking on the basic life of discipleship. Then we give them things to do when they and their newly found brothers and sisters meet as a church.

The point here is that the Gospel creates the church, especially in situations where there was no existing church before.  The Gospel doesn’t just save individuals, it drafts the people who say yes to it into a new family, known as the church.  This new spiritual family will most likely meet regularly (I suggest they do), but it’s their shared identity around the Gospel of Jesus that makes them the church. The life of the church plant is found in the seed of the Gospel. If the seed is real, a church will sprout.

Lastly, I’d say this: Paul didn’t abandon the churches he planted. So while a church can easily be planted in a manner of days or weeks, the task of supporting, resourcing, and parenting a church can go much longer than that. Though he couldn’t return to Thessalonica, he wrote several letters to them to correct problems in what they believed. Other times Paul would make return visits, appoint elders, or send other workers to do what he could not.  This kind of apostolic fathering is essential to the life of churches that are birthed in a quick amount of time.

A church can be planted quickly if it has the seed of the Gospel and some good soil for it to fall into. The power and identity of a church is found in the Gospel it was given.  Letters, leaders, and visits will supplement the Gospel, but can never replace it.  When a people believe in Jesus together and regularly gather to encourage one another in Him, a church is born. We help it mature by sharing our walks and lessons we’ve learned, but the Gospel itself is what makes churches.

May we never become so advanced that we forget that.

Photo Credit: Dawid Zawiła

Prayer Request:

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,

Lumbard-Ric-16Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state.  He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.

Sincerely,
Travis

Planting a House Church on the Back of a Napkin

In case you missed it, I’ve been attempting to put reproducible patterns on the back of a napkin. This is what I would give to someone who was asking for details about planting a house church.

The Back of a Napkin Series:

The Napkin Test

Evangelism on the Back of a Napkin

Discipleship on the Back of a Napkin

How the Church Around the Earth has Informed Our House Church Practice

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[Editor’s Note: This post is part of an ongoing series about learning from the global church. Other posts in this series can be found at the bottom of the page.]

The church around the Earth, living under persecution and depending on God’s power instead of their wealth and influence, has much to teach every believer in the West. But the house church movement, specifically, has much to learn from their global counterparts.

Our house churches have had the unique opportunity to meet some brothers in the house church movement from around the globe, to be a part of some of their meetings, and to learn from those who have planted house churches globally.  These experiences have helped us to see God’s Kingdom from different perspectives and avoid the traps that sometimes consume the house church conversation in the West.

So, what has the house church movement around the globe taught us?

  1. The Gospel is Essential to the Church– Sit down and talk to any house church participant from Africa or Asia and it isn’t long before you hear of their heart to reach the lost with the gospel.  I’ve sat with servants from other nations whose hearts burn to see the Gospel of God’s Kingdom transform their nations. For me, in particular, every time I meet with one of these figures, it reminds me that while community and spiritual family are important, they are the result of the Gospel.  And this has helped us not be consumed with convincing every existing church to become a house church (and judging those that don’t) but sharing Jesus with those that don’t know Him and teaching them to follow Him in the context of organic spiritual family.
  2. Discipleship Must Be Universally Reproducible- One of the significant ways we’ve learned from the church around the world is through brothers and sisters who have served the church in Africa and Asia bringing back principles they witnessed at work in the church there. These generally have stressed not just the preaching of the Gospel, but the structuring of the church so that each true follower of Christ learns how to obey Jesus like the New Testament teaches.  Many streams such as NoPlaceLeft and Church Multiplication Associates teach discipleship principles first learned in massive movements of the Gospel in other countries and then brought and implemented here.  These principles are simple and can be passed on to other believes so they can participate in the work of evangelism and discipleship.
  3. The Purity of the Church is Important- In our house church network, we have a brother who has spent time with the underground house church movement in China as a member of the body. One of the realities he has stressed over and over again is that the church there frequently will observe the lifestyle of an unknown brother or sister for a season before they let a brother participate fully in the life of the church. This sounds harsh in our Western context, but in the context of the church of China, where a new person could be a government spy, this is a matter of survival. In our context, this example has helped us learn how to handle false workers that the New Testament has promised would try and come into our midst (and have).  It’s also helped us have hard conversations with those who aren’t born again, but come with a belief in God.
  4. The Kingdom of God is 24/7 Our brother who has spent time in the church in China is constantly reminding us that the church meetings there often last all day, with kids! Training sessions last through the night and into the next day. The point is, there are no nice, anticipated end times. There is no time when the meeting is projected to end. Our friends in Africa have an entire village that wakes up at four AM to energetically pray for their village, their church, and their nation. I have one friend in Africa who wakes up and prays between midnight and 5:00 AM for his nation because he’s been doing it since he was a young man.  In each of these scenarios, the church has submitted their use of their time to God. It’s no longer theirs, but His.
  5. The Church Needs to Embrace Multiple Giftings- We’ve believed in the diversity of gifting that Christ gives his body for some time. However, when we heard a friend of mine from a closed nation begin to describe how they are beginning to value not just apostles, prophets, and evangelists, but shepherds and teachers as well, it was transforming for us.  Since that time we’ve been able to embrace the shepherding gift in a way that has significantly helped us care for the body and continue to grow the church.

These are some of the significant ways that the church from around the globe has significantly informed how we live out life in house churches. I encourage everyone from the West to find ways to connect with what God is doing in other parts of the Earth in order to better see His Kingdom.

If you’re interested in learning about the house church movement around the globe, check out The Five Best Books on House Churches. Most of the books are a great starting point for seeing house churches planted in a different soil than the cultural West. It may just help you to see the church and God’s Kingdom like never before.

Photo Credit: Underground Church – Hainan by Surfing the Nations

Learning From the Global Church Series:

Learning from the Church Around the World

What I’ve Learned from the Church Around the Globe

When You Can’t Afford to Travel but Want to Learn from the Church

House Churches, Coffee Beans, and Learning from the Global Church

 

House Churches, Coffee Beans, and Learning From The Global Church

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Often I have conversations with brothers and sisters in the West about house churches. After enough conversations about house churches with people, you start to recognize the books people have read already by the way they talk. And I inevitably have the same advice for people: Learn from the church around the globe.

Why do I tell this to those interested in house church? I find that in the United States, the house church movement1 is a movement of choice. We don’t have to be a part of a house church in order to survive as believers. It’s voluntary. There are very few economic realities that force meeting in homes. And I think because of this, those who chose to be part of a house church come in for a few different reasons: pain or purpose.

Pain is a regular reason people I know choose house churches. They express it different ways. Sometimes they express it through tears with stories of how more traditional churches have hurt them2. Others express it through stories of burnout that begin in a traditional church and end with them swearing never to do what caused them to burn out again. Often those I talk to have a sense of being cheated when they find out church can exist without the traditional trappings. Sometimes, not always but sometimes, I’m concerned about the level of bitterness in these discussions.

Purpose is the other reason people find their way into house churches in the US. This is usually expressed in the fact that people began studying the nature of the church and realized that many of the churches they see don’t match what the Bible describes as church. These purists attempt to build a church that is faithful to what they see in the New Testament, with differening results.

Regardless of which of these two doors3 people choose, the result is often pride. Whether that pride is expressed in “I’m not going to be the same kind of church that hurt me” or “I’m more biblical than the church I used to be a part of” or “We have the true angle on what church is,” the result is an attitude that Jesus says leaves us unjustified before God.

Which is why it’s so important for the house church movement in America to learn from the church around the world. There are precious, precious saints in China, Iran, India, Africa, and South America that have practiced church that meets in homes because they love Jesus and this is the only type of church they have known.  They are stunned by the love of God that they have found. They know what it means to live in true community. They aren’t ashamed of the Gospel and are willing to give their lives for their fellow brothers and sisters to hear it. Being part of a house church and coming to Christ are the same experience, without any pride.

I remember being in a coffee shop with an Ethiopian before I ever traveled to Ethiopia. He told me of the glories of Ethiopian coffee, explaining how the use of coffee beans to make coffee started in Ethiopia and then was exported around the world. In each place around the world, the beans began to take on the flavor of the particular new soil in which it was planted. For example, one of the places it went was to an Indonesian island called Java and since that time the island has faded into obscurity, but it’s impact on coffee continues.  Today you can buy Brazilian Coffee, Kenyan Coffee, Columbian Coffee, etc., each tasting a bit like the soil it came from. But the truest coffee, my friend argued, –coffee the way God intended it–was grown and prepared in Ethiopia.

This is a fun story. Whenever I think about it, I’m reminded that churches, like coffee beans, take on the flavor of the culture around them.  Often, we’re not aware of it because we’ve only “tasted” our flavor of church. Now, we don’t have a church we can go back to in order to see the original, unlike my Ethiopian friends and their coffee. But if we were wise to learn from our friends in the underground house churches around the world, I think we would perhaps get a little bit closer to the church that God designed, untainted by our American experience.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a little about how the church around the Earth has informed what we do. For now, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you’ve been part of a house church (or even a traditional church) how has your experience been informed by the soil of American culture?

Photo Credit: Underground Church by Surfing the Nations

1 I’m going to speak in broad generalities here. Please understand there is no way I could ever speak about all house churches as a single, similar unit. That would be like saying all of my kids are the same.

2 Note, by saying this, I’m not saying every traditional church hurts people. Though, I’m sure if we’re humble enough to admit it, every church hurts people, whether it’s their intent or not.

3Again, I’m speaking in generalities. Not everyone comes in through these two doors.