On Sunday, we gathered as a church. We normally gather at nine and end sometime between noon and one, depending on when we get done eating together. Our most recent gathering, though, was from nine to five.
What happened? Well, a couple of things. First, a number of us had wanted to watch the Kansas City Chiefs play against the Tennessee Titans. That game started at 2:00. When we gathered on Sunday morning, we realized that there were some needs in the body that needed to be met that day and a brother and I decided to help between noon and 2:00. The rest stayed back and readied our house for the game. So our official “meeting” went until 12:30, but most of our church was together until about 5:00.
What was so awesome was that this felt like family. We encouraged each other in the morning: we sang, we read the Scriptures, we ate, we prayed, we even watched the kids put on a performance they created themselves. During that time we also talked, joked around, and shared hearts. When we were serving one of our brothers, we had some chances to interact with the community and do some outreach. Even while we were watching the football game, we discussed spiritual matters in between the action.
We don’t do this regularly, but we do this when it happens naturally. There’s no glory in just sitting in a room together for long hours to show how spiritual we are. However, when we can be family to each other, enjoy each other’s company, and help each other and other’s get closer to Jesus, there doesn’t have to be a clean start or stop time. We’re just together.
It was how church was designed to be.
What It’s About: A.J. Dejonge tells the autobiographical story of their time as Campus Crusade for Christ (CCC) University missionaries when he and his team made a transition from a staff-led campus ministry to a student-led campus ministry. This allowed CCC staff to start and oversee multiple campus ministries at different colleges. Based on this experience, he argues that student-led (or lay-led) ministries can reach more people than any revival through the means of disciple multiplication. Dejonge contends that only catalytic ministry styles will allow CCC, other college ministries, and even the church itself achieve the multiplication disciples it is called to.
What I Liked: There was so much to like here!
First, Dejonge is clearly interested in starting movements where people need to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something people who have fallen in love with Jesus should be pursuing and his passion to reach the lost is contagious. Everything that is found within the pages of this book is focused on getting more people involved in reaching those who haven’t come to love Jesus.
While the book tells the story of their campus ministry expansion, it’s organized around different proverbs that their ministry has discovered. These proverbs help tease out the wisdom of their approach of putting every day students in charge of the ministry of reaching the campus. A few of the proverbs include: “Lead only to train,” “Value transferability over personal genius,” and “The empowered masses will always outperform the professionalism of a few.” Many of these proverbs are designed to help navigate the tricky balance between being a too-heavily centralized ministry or a healthy decentralized movement.
I love how the principles found in this book don’t just apply to CCC. While everything he learned during his time is taught through the lens of a college ministry, many of the concepts of multiplication have been borrowed from experienced church multiplication experts and can be easily implemented in multiplying ministry in the church. Dejonge essentially said part of this process was designed to help his college students start churches if they graduate and move to towns where no churches exist. At the very end of the book he acknowledges he is now in the process of planting a church outside of CCC using the very principles he is writing about.
What I Didn’t Like: There’s really only one chapter of the book I didn’t like. Chapter 10 is called “Ownership and Control” and Dejonge wrestles with the question of who really owns the ministry in this chapter. By the end of the chapter, it’s clear that while Dejonge is clearly in favor of giving much of the ministry happening on each campus to the college students on each campus, at the end of the day it’s still the staff who are ultimately in charge. This seemed odd from a book called “Giving Up Control.” He talks about a nearby college ministry that wanted support, but ultimately did not want to become a CCC affiliate and then goes on to speak about the wisdom of franchises. I think here, he misses the point of humility, being teachable, and healthy response to mentors in favor a business model that is man-centered. He makes some understandable points about why CCC staff is still ultimately in control of each ministry and yet there is a sense in reading this chapter that the name and brand of the ministry may still occupy a little too high of place in the author’s mind.
Should You Get It: Probably! If you’ve never been in ministry or never thought about multiplying disciples and churches, I would likely point you to an easier entry point like “The Master Plan of Evangelism” by Robert Coleman, because it’s more accessible for every Christian. However, if you are in any kind of leadership capacity, if you have a heart for making disciples that make disciples, if you have apostolic leanings, or you’re part of a house church or church plant, I would seriously encourage you to pick up a copy of this book. It has a lot of practical wisdom about instilling skills and competencies in people so that you can entrust the work of the Gospel to them with minimal oversight and this is critical to raising up movements of the Gospel.
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.
Also 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.
It’s a story that I hear over and over again.
Go down the street to a church that has had a measure of success and grown fairly large and talk to the people who have been there since the beginning. Those people will tell you about the days when the church was small. In the days when the church was just planted, everyone knew everyone else. It was like a small group. They knew each other like family. “Man, I miss those days,” is how I hear people sum up those beginning days.
What changed? Well, the church was able to attract people. More people kept coming. They had to get a building. Then they had to get a bigger building. The number of people caused the feeling of family to disappear. There were small groups, sure, but they didn’t feel the same. There was more business that needed to be attended to. The pastor was busier. Those who were around at the beginning had responsibilities to help the new people who were coming.
They grew out of that season.
There is a way to grow without losing that close-knit family. You can make more disciples without giving yourself to keeping the doors open and the lights on. It starts with a commitment to meet as a house church, to birth more house churches instead of growing large, and to make disciples who make other disciples instead of growing a crowd. Not all church plants have to lose the spirit of family and discipleship.
It’s a path we chose.
“House churches should stop arguing with the institutional church and start planting Kingdom gardens.”
I wrote this over a week ago in my journal about ideas for this space. It’s been the running theme of everything I’ve been writing from “The God of the Mustard Seed” to “The End of the Argument” to “How to Share the Gospel Without Inviting Them to a Building.” The point is this: Instead of crusades against the past and other believers, let’s focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, making disciples and reproducing house churches.
How do we plant Kingdom gardens? We sow the Gospel message among our friends and neighbors, always combining Good News with good deeds. We invite those that respond (because there will be those who don’t) to become disciples of Jesus. As these new believers respond to the invitation of discipleship we continue to encourage them to grow by the power of the Holy Spirit, love others the way that they have been loved, and share the Gospel with others they know who don’t know Christ.
There is so much here to talk about. Very little of the house church movement focuses on growing up in Christ and what that looks like, but most of the New Testament focuses on this reality. That topic is too large for one post, but the effect of growing up in Christ and growing out through outreach and discipleship is a Kingdom garden. What started as tiny, laughable seeds has blossomed in the right soil and taken over some desolate patch of earth in order to beautify it.
These Kingdom gardens are the proof God is working in our midst. They speak more than our arguments. They speak more than our judgments on the rest of the church that doesn’t do things the way we do. The fruit and the beauty of what God is doing speaks for itself.
My prayer is that we, as house churches, can plant Kingdom gardens and leave the old arguments behind.
If you, like me have participated in house church discussions for any length of time, either online or in person, you’ve experienced it. One minute everyone is talking about Jesus and encouraging each other to follow Jesus and the next minute the conversation turns to the evils of the institutional church. Like an atheist bitter at a god he claims not to believe in, the house church folks begin to argue with people who aren’t even there.
There are a million topics that can turn the topic this direction:
Authority in the church
…the list goes on and on. But for whatever reason, these are the most popular, uniting, fervent conversations within the movement. It’s almost as if the unifying element in these groups is not Jesus, but our opposition to some form of traditional Christianity.
Let that sink in for a moment.
This type of attitude can become a problem. Left unchecked, we become evangelists for organic/simple/house churches among traditional church members instead of fishers of men among those who have no hope in Jesus.
Now, I’m an advocate for house churches. I write articles frequently where I talk about the advantages of house churches and why they make sense in light of Scripture and history. Hopefully you’d identify me as a friend of the house church movement. But as a friend of the movement, let me say that we need to leave behind our arguments with the traditional church. We need to stop arguing with those who are no longer part of our lives and let Jesus cleanse us of the bitterness of the past.
Most importantly, we need to start having conversations that encourage and strengthen the type of church that Jesus is building. We need to start becoming evangelists for Christ who both saved us and led us into this organic way of living out Christianity. We can let new followers of Jesus and new, healthy churches be the evidence of what Jesus is doing in our midst instead of our arguments.
So can bury the arguments with the past and move forward building the church called us to? I think we’ll be better for it.
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.