I’ve sat across the table and listened to the stories of discouraged pastors describe in great detail where the ministry took a wrong turn. Often it wasn’t from an evil decision or a judgment from God. People stopped coming. The recession happened and people stopped giving. The church plant didn’t work out like they thought. In all of these cases, the result was the same: We’re shutting the church down.
My heart breaks every time this happens. Sometimes there are good, godly men and women doing their best in whatever capacity the Lord has called them to serve the church and circumstances cause there not to be enough money. Sometimes other resources are the issue, like a lack of volunteers. Regardless, the point is that churches with true believers and well meaning hearts close down all the time. Current statistics estimate roughly 3,700 churches close their doors every year.
But there is good news! First, because of the Gospel of Jesus, no matter what capacity you served your church in the past, you are not a failure. God loved you regardless of the outcome of your work for Him. His death and resurrection means that the work that you carried on for Him was not in vain. Paul, after spending an entire chapter in 1 Corinthians on the subject of the resurrection says this: “So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless,” (1 Corinthians 15:58).
But there’s even more good news: Just because the money and the volunteers and the resources dried up, doesn’t mean your church needs to close. It might mean the church needs to change. The fact of the matter is the Kingdom of God doesn’t run on money, so even though resources are tight, the ministry can continue. Just because the resources have disappeared doesn’t mean the relationships and family of an existing church need to end.
How does this happen? For a church that wants to continue on but doesn’t have enough money to pay for a building or staff or the have the resources to support such things, house churches are a viable option. The existing church would transition to a church or a network of related churches that meet in the homes of its members and continue the work of sharing the gospel, building up the church, and making disciples.
This would mean a lot of changes for a church that was used to meeting as a traditional church on Sunday morning. It will most likely mean the pastor would forsake a salary (if he or she hadn’t already), it will mean that the format of the meetings you’ve become accustomed will change, and the ministry of the church will have be taken up by whatever members of the church remain, not just the pastor. Also, not everyone will want to make this jump, so be prepared for some who would be okay in any other traditional context to not make this jump with you. For those who feel God isn’t done with the church yet, but don’t see a way forward, it’s a viable alternative.
If you’re facing this moment in the life of your church, feel free to contact me at PursuingGlory at gmail dot com or check out my resource page featuring the best books on house churches.
More than that, don’t give up hope in God, the gospel, or the family of God. God loves you. You and your church haven’t failed. He has a plan that continues regardless of the cash flow. God, who raises the dead, can take what seems like has died and transform it into something new.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?… Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
This may come as a shock, given what you’ve seen and what you heard from Christian ministries in the past, but the Kingdom of God is not dependent on dollar bills in order to keep expanding. Let me explain.
When you came to Christ, regardless of the context you heard the Gospel in, the critical element was the exchange of the message of Jesus from one human being to another. Now, there were probably multiple things involved in that moment that were paid for: a Bible, possibly a building, maybe a paid speaker or pastor, but at a basic level the Gospel was freely given to you.
In China and in many other countries around the world, the Gospel spreads not because the people are able to give exorbitant amounts of money–they can’t. The Gospel spreads there because people received the true Gospel and they are willing to give up every part of their life so that others can hear the same transforming Gospel. So without buildings, paid pastors, and often without Bibles, the true message of Jesus continues to spread.
But in the West, we’ve become so consumed with money and the place it plays in our lives, that to suggest that the Gospel could spread without it is met with charges of heresy. Who will shepherd us? Who will teach us? Who will share the Gospel with others if we don’t pay someone to do it? And what about the building? How does that work?
The reality is these things can and do work without money. House churches, for example, work regularly without paid staff, dedicated buildings, or a ministry budget. Small groups of believers meet in each others’ homes, teaching each other, caring for one another, and sharing the Gospel all without any cost. Missions? That can still happen, depending on how you define it. Locally is easy, non-locally is tougher but can be achieved through relationships, hospitality, and tent-making.
My point isn’t to glorify house churches in writing this, but to open our eyes that ministry can happen with little to no budget. If you are a traditional church with a building and staff, that’s not an evil thing. It’s just that often I’ve seen ministry stop when the money stops flowing, but it doesn’t need to be like this. We need to lower the power of the dollar in the minds of the church and lift up the ability of Jesus to not only to sustain the church, but extend the Kingdom, with or without money.
The same Jesus that told us to look to the birds and the flowers for our personal natural provision is the same Jesus that can bring ministry forth with very little (and even no) money. May God help us see that there’s no amount of money that can achieve God’s purposes, only hearts fully surrendered to Him.
Whenever I have a conversation about joining or starting a house church with someone who has never been part of one before, there are a number of things I tell them. But I always mention one thing every single time: Be prepared for things to take longer.
Why? Because relationships aren’t efficient. And for those of us who are part of the business world, or part of a highly structured church, or even just those among us with Type A personalities, this can be more than a little frustrating.
But relationships are built on things like trust, respect, and love. All of these elements require time: time to be shown, time to be earned, and time to develop. None of these happen quickly.
Think about your best friend. You’ve probably gotten things done together. But the times you remember best…the times that make that relationship more worthwhile than others…are the times you spent together doing things that didn’t accomplish much outwardly. Whatever those times were they communicated more than just a task. The times you look back on are the ones that say to you “You are important to me.”
A few years ago I had a disagreement with a brother who was part of our house church network about how we were going to make disciples. We went around and around talking about methods, but when we got to the heart of the matter, his real concern was that I was more concerned about our “church” succeeding and not about him. It was a real learning moment for me. I had put our mission above our relationship and I was wrong.
I wish I could say I never made that mistake again. I can say I’ve made it less and I work to deny that part of me that just wants results. But it’s meant letting projects and work take a back seat whenever a serious need comes up. It’s meant stopping a conversation when it becomes obvious we aren’t arguing about strategy, we’re missing each others’ heart. It’s meant meetings that should take an hour or two sometimes take three or four. But it’s been worth it.
I’m not saying things shouldn’t get done. Quite the contrary, we have a mission friends, and that mission is very important. But how we do the mission is just as important. If we devalue people as we pursue it, we invalidate the very mission we set out to accomplish. If we use people to accomplish our mission, we may accomplish a mission we set out to do, but we’ll leave a trail of broken people in our wake.
My goal in saying this is not to persuade you that relationships are bad or that they hurt mission. They just come with a cost that you need to recognize up front. They are time consuming and don’t always move in straight lines. But over the long haul, if you stick with them, they pay off both now and in eternity.
Just don’t expect them to be efficient.
Yesterday I told the world I was going to write a book.
Today I’m hoping to give a little perspective.
Six months to a year ago I had a friend call. My friend is prophetic, which means that he hears from the Lord very accurately and will often be used by God to communicate messages to the body of Christ. He was calling with something the Lord had spoken to him about the book I was writing.
He started to talk to me about Mephibosheth from 2 Samuel 9 and how David made a place for the son of Jonathan to be taken care of all of his life. This story is remarkable because David showed kindness to a potential political enemy out of his loyalty to his fallen friend. But it’s even more remarkable because David welcomed Mephibosheth to his table even though as a cripple, he was basically unclean (see Leviticus 21:16-23). David made a place at his table for an outcast.
“God is calling you,” my friend said, “to start a book club for the club-footed ones. He’s calling you to make places at the table for those who sit on the outside and feel like outcasts. It will be a book to empower those who live at the margins and those from the inner city. They need a seat at the table of the church.”
And so here I am, still writing.
But make sure you don’t miss the message. There’s a message for me in what was said, but there’s also a message for you. Maybe you don’t feel like the person who should be leading people to Jesus or starting churches. But God is raising up unlikely people from the margins of society to take the Gospel where it hasn’t gone.
You may feel like a cripple. You may feel like an outcast. You might not come from right education or even the right side of the tracks. But Jesus has mercy on you and invites you to eat at His table. You are invited to the book club for the club-footed ones. You can be used by God in this hour.
Don’t miss the invitation.
I’m not sure there’s a much easier way to say it.
This is something I’ve felt strongly about since at least 2011, but I’ve never had the time or fortitude to start working on until last year. I’m writing about it today because if I don’t I may not finish. I would appreciate you, my dear readers, to ask me about it from time to time.
What’s It About?
Oh you know, the normal stuff I write about: Jesus, the reformation of the church, the Gospel going out to the ends of the Earth. Just little stuff. 🙂
Actually, I’m writing a short (50 pages?) e-book/booklet meant to provoke people into planting house churches.The working title is “Stick Out Your Neck: A Modern-Day Appeal to Dangerous Church Planting.” It’s a manifesto of sorts, detailing why Christians should leave their comfort zones for the messy, dangerous life of planting churches.
Obviously, the plan will be to call Christians to plant house churches in whatever context they find themselves. Most books like this are filled with how-to’s and the experience of the planter. This book will be purely focused on telling people why they should do it. It’s birthed out of a lot of conversations with ordinary believers who don’t think they can do it. I’m hoping to convince them they can.
Why an E-book/booklet?
Back in the day, Christians would write tiny pamphlets that were like tracts and they would hand them out on the streets. They would cover everything from abolishing slavery to giving women the right to vote to why Christians should pursue sanctification. These would be handed out on the streets, not to promote an author or gain a platform, but to promote an idea worth spreading.
Friends, in the past I’ve been tempted by the Christian celebrity circuit. But I’m not interested in gaining a platform or a being a paid speaker. My goal is to spread the idea that the harvest is great but it will mean many, many more laborers entering the harvest. I hope to write just enough about the topic to spread the idea that simple, reproducible churches are within the reach of ordinary believers.
So, I’m writing an E-Book/booklet. My hope is to make the E-book permanently free and produce a few hundred or thousand physical copies cheaply enough to give away. I hope that we can give it away to believers we meet who would never buy a book about house churches. I want to be able to take copies with me to Africa and hand them to the African believers that would never think of doing something like start a church. And I hope that others find it on Amazon/iTunes and that it can be helpful there as well.
Why tell us?
Frankly, it’s because I need to commit to finishing. Ever since I wrote the first chapter, I’ve secretly told myself that I would probably write the manuscript and never publish it. It’s the resistance telling me that what I’m writing will never be noticed. That thought alone will literally sabotage the book. But, since I committed to write publicly every day, I have. There’s something about committing to something in this space that helps me follow through. I’m hoping that this post keeps me accountable to actually following through.
Secondly, if you’re a believer, I could use your prayers. Pray that I have courage to write what I need to write. Pray that I write words that light fires in the heart rather than just inform the mind. Pray that this project remains an act of service and not something that glorifies me in any way. Pray that the book actually gets finished.
Lastly, I hope that some of you, who have come to this site over the years and have found my content helpful, will have some interest in this book when it’s finished. I also hope that when it comes out, not only will you be interested, but you’ll have others you know who need to be challenged in this way. My hope is this book becomes a part of a larger conversation about starting churches among the lost. Maybe you can help.
So…I’m writing a book. There, I said it. Look for more details in 2017.
In my head, whenever I have a lot of reasons for something or facts that I apply to a subject, I start numbering them. But I don’t number them really well. Whenever I use one, I assign a totally random and arbitrary number to emphasize the fact that I have a bunch of reasons or facts and this is just one of many. One example is my “Rules of Parenting.” I can’t tell you how many I actually have, but the next time I bring one up, you can be sure it will be “Travis’ Rules of Parenting #867.”
Yesterday I found another group of reasons that I could number in a similar fashion: the reasons my friends and I meet as house churches instead of as a traditional congregation. And while I could probably continue to make up non-sensical numbers, I thought it might be helpful for me to truly number the reasons we do house churches in order to see how many there actually are. My hope is after a year or so of writing to have 20 or more of these that I can point people to when they begin asking me questions about house churches.
So, with no further ado, Reason #1
I was sitting at McDonald’s with the guys in my 2&3. We had basically just finished up and were about to leave when our new friend Ahmed* came up and started talking to us. We met Ahmed last week and he told us his story of his life and his journey to Christ. Ahmed also told us he was homeless. We had asked Ahmed if we could help in any way and he told us he had it taken care of.
This week, however, things had changed for Ahmed. Without going into a ton of details, he had a misunderstanding that led to falling out with his homeless shelter. I had learned previously that Ahmed was part of a church, so I asked him if his church had helped him. He gave me a legitimate reason that they had in the past but weren’t now. But the next thing he said was difficult. “I understand why they can’t always help me out. They have expenses that they need to take care of.”
My friend and I looked at each other and smiled. It was the knowing smile of two people who knew that buildings and salaries weren’t more important than the homeless follower of Jesus trying to put his life back together. Ahmed caught our quick interchange and we explained to him that we might have thought differently about his situation than he did.
And so my friends, Reason #1 why we meet as house churches is we don’t want to put buildings and salaries ahead of the legitimate needs of others, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need. Foregoing the building and the salary has helped us to never really need to be concerned about “the bottom line” of our churches when we step out to help others. Many might say they are able to do this as well with a building or salary that they need to pay. I rejoice in this fact! But I also know of many places who have had to make these hard choices and I’m not envious of that position at all.
Reason #1 has a name. Ahmed and the 10 or 15 others like him that we’ve been able to help is why we meet as house churches.
Side note: Please pray for my friend Ahmed. I believe him to be a sincere man trying to put his life back together but is in a tough spot. And pray for him to become a faithful witness of Christ in places many of us cannot reach.
*It may go without saying, but Ahmed’s name has been changed to protect his privacy.
There is a way to guard yourself and your church from heresy. It’s called relationships.
Yesterday I shared the journey of how I came to understand that relationships centered around God’s word keep us from heresy. But different people need to respond differently to this idea. If you read yesterdays post, can I encourage you to do one of three things?
Some of those reading this post have no committed relationships with other believers. As my two year old daughter would say, “This is a problem.” You may be smart or well educated in the historical beliefs of the church, but I guarantee that if you aren’t in relationship with believers, you are opening yourself up to error, the least of which is pride.
It’s become quite popular lately to say that you can be a Christian and not go to a particular church, be a Christian and attend church on-line, or be a Christian and attend no church at all. But none of these will save your life from falling into error. Frankly, for relationships to preserve you and your church from error, you and those you care for must meet with other believers in groups small enough for others in the group to know you. And I mean *really* know you.
So, if you want to build in a firewall of relationships that protect you from heresy, begin to meet and build relationships with a small group of believers submitted to Jesus and His word. Let them know you. Get to know them. This is step #1.
After building relationships, it’s important to purge hierarchy from them. This may sound even stranger than “relationships protect you from error.” The truth is one major source of deception in the body of Christ is our constant appeal to something else other than God’s word. When a believer who is considered a leader believes a lie or practices sin, that believer, left unchallenged becomes a source for others to appeal to. He or she goes from a person caught in error to a source to be appealed to. “I can do it because Pastor X says it’s okay,” is the lie we tell ourselves.
Instead, regularly gather under the leadership of Jesus and in submission to Him and His word. Don’t appeal to another’s authority. Appeal to the authority of Jesus and the Bible. All of the areas essential to life and godliness are covered in the Bible, leaving little need to appeal to another believer. Your testimony and opinion are great, but they’ll never rival the message of God, which is living, active, and able to separate between soul and spirit. I have fundamental concerns about any believer who is swayed by someone’s authority but not by the clear teachings of the Bible. If someone isn’t willing to listen to God’s revealed word, your persuasion or “rank” in the body won’t move them.
Learn to Encourage/Challenge/Rebuke
Finally, it’s important for believers to learn to lovingly encourage, challenge, and rebuke each other. This is difficult, particularly if you come from an environment where an authority was the final word on every subject. But the grand vision of the church in Scripture is one where believers “speak the truth in love” to one another (Ephesians 4:15).
This is the most difficult step. You, while equal in your standing before God, with humility, begin to encourage them to obey God’s word or bring to their attention where they aren’t. This will also require humility on their part as well. But it’s in this way that we achieve the mutual submission that Paul spoke of in Ephesians 5:21.
This will require of you that you learn to be patient, loving, and forgiving. Others will get it wrong. You will get it wrong. But the benefit here is well tested thoughts about God and Scripture, along with well tested lifestyles that stand strong in the face of persecution from the world. Your life isn’t perfect in your eyes but flawed in everyone else’s. You know what you believe because it was formed in the crucible of committed relationships.
None of these steps are easy. They all take time and intentionality. But if you build these three realities into your life and the life of the churches you are part of, the result will be a stronger lives in the Kingdom of God.