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.
It’s the great fear of churches of all sizes and stripes. It’s particularly feared whenever you talk much about releasing the church to be the church in small, relationally focused groups (house churches).
Who will protect the people from heresy? What if someone believes something that isn’t in the Bible and starts teaching it to others? To those who have grown up under a strong biblical teacher or someone who has watched someone go into error, this is enough to scare people away.
Our house church network has had to deal with this issue over and over again. Small groups of Christians meeting together where anyone can share are prime places for people with weird views to show up. Heretics, both of the doctrinal and lifestyle varieties1 have tried to insert themselves into what we’re doing. But in the nine years that we’ve been doing this one thing has consistently guarded us against heresy: relationships.
That may sound weird if you’ve never been part of a relationship-centric church. But over and over again I’ve watched as deep, abiding relationships around the word of God have rescued others from biblical error. Whenever a heresy has sprung up, it was dealt with not through authority and bible-beating, but friendships where one person has lovingly challenged another about a particular belief not being in the word of God.
We’ve also noticed that the number one indicator of someone who comes into our fellowship having the potential to be a problem has been whether or not they are in relationship with others. Those who come as believers in Jesus but have terrible relationships with other parts of the body of Christ (by their own admission) have over time shown that they are after their own interests, not Christ’s. Again it comes back to relationship. Having a healthy relationship with Christ necessitates having a healthy relationship to his body.
The crazy thing is Jesus and the apostles believed in this relational element to the truth. Jesus says, “Anyone who receives you receives me…” (Matthew 10:40). John, the Apostle, says, “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us,” (1 John 2:18-19). I could go on.
The point is real, biblical truth is designed to flourish in community, not in isolation. And more importantly, real, biblical community is designed to protect the truth of Christ in the hearts and lives of His followers. Do you want to protect yourself or your church from heresy? Enter in to true relationships around God’s word.
1 I’m indebted to Neil Cole for pointing out that there are two types of heresy which the New Testament speaks of. When we speak of heresy, we usually refer to heresy of doctrine, which is obviously important to avoid. But the New Testament speaks equally about heresy of the life, where we live a life of error that doesn’t point to Jesus. While both doctrinal and lifestyle heresy are common, our discussion of heresy tends to focus on doctrinal heresy (i.e. believing Jesus is the Son of God, understanding how a man can be saved, what is the role of the Holy Spirit) while ignoring lifestyle heresy’s such as greed, legalism, or adultery. I believe Jesus is concerned with both doctrine and practice and to a certain extent, our practice is our doctrine (see Titus 2:1-13).
It’s a conversation that happens in house church circles and between those with some experience with house churches and the house church-curious. “What books on house churches would you reccommend?” The conversation then turns to what people have read and what people haven’t, the strengths of one approach over another, etc.
I originally started this post just as a resource to give people a jump start on their understanding of house churches. But as I began writing about the books that have been meaningful to me, I found that the books I was recommending were different than where most people start the conversation. You’ll notice that this is a global list, three of the five authors aren’t Americans and two of the five don’t speak English as their primary language. What I love about that, is while these books are applicable to our context, they allow us to sit at the feet of others who aren’t trapped by our particular world-view. They allow us to look at church and Scripture through a different lens than we do here in America. And I think that that is helpful.
So, submitted for your approval and in no particular order, the five best books on house churches are:
This was the original house church book for me. A leader I respected in the church we were part of said “If you want to understand what God is doing in our midst, you have to read ‘Houses that Change the World.'” I picked it up. I didn’t like it. I wrestled with every idea in the book. Eventually it pinned me. It begins with Wolfgang’s 15 Theses (worth the price of the book, btw) that challenge the state of the current church and then moves to a sweeping vision of why and how we do church in homes. What I love about Houses is that it’s written by a German who saw God raise up a multiplying network of house churches in India. It’s truly a global, apostolic book that challenges “Church As We Know It.” If you check out one book on this list, this is the one I recommend.
Neil Cole, founder of CMA Resources and Awakening Chapel, has written a book about organic churches that is extremely helpful. He tells the stories of his early days starting Awakening Chapel and the journey the Lord has taken him on multiplying disciples and churches throughout the world. Organic Church is extremely helpful because it places a heavy emphasis on the power of Jesus in the life of believers as the driving force in organic house churches. Many of the principles are based on church multiplication principles that originated in other countries like India and China, but are fleshed out in an American context. If you want to know what the multiplication of churches looks like in America, this is a great place to start. (Also, not exactly about house churches, but a great help in understanding context is Ordinary Hero and Church 3.0., also by Neil Cole.)
Viral Jesus by Ross Rodhe
Long-time readers of the blog may recognize Viral Jesus because I reviewed this book several years ago and gave a copy of the book away. This book is an absolutely fantastic invitation into a lifestyle centered around the mission of Jesus, especially how he describes it in Luke 10. Ross shares multiple stories about planting house churches in a Western context. All of these stories have Ross or one of his friends following Luke 10 and sharing the Gospel with men and women of peace. Miracles happen, people come to Jesus, and new organic house churches are started as a result. I highly recommend this book because of its strong emphasis on the church growing through apostolic mission.
The Global House Church Movement by Rad Zdero
This may be the book most unfamiliar to my readers, but it is a gem. Zdero crammed a ton of good theology and practice into a short space, which makes for page after page of profound insights. This book was foundational to me at a time when I was beginning to think about planting my first house church and answers questions with wisdom I haven’t seen anywhere else. The real asset of this book is its global perspective. It’s not limited by our normal western grievances with “Church As We Know It,” but really pulls the reader into an understanding of what God has done and is doing around the world. If you’re looking to plant a Kingdom house church and not just an Americanized-version of house church, this is a great book to pick up.
The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway
Okay, so this one is not technically a house church book, but I included it because it captures the heart of what I believe the house church movement could and should become. It’s the story of Brother Yun, a Chinese leader in the underground house church movement. It’s basically his testimony of following Jesus, preaching the Gospel, starting churches, and enduring persecution. All of this happens in the context of churches that meet in homes and send out others to do the same. The book is simultaneously filled with miracles and heartbreak. You will be inspired by the stories of believers who have sacrificed much to follow Jesus and challenged to see your church embrace many of the realities described here. While this book was the Christian Book of the Year in 2003, many people read it as an inspiring story and not as a life to imitate. Don’t make the same mistake!
You’ll probably realize that I left some notable titles off. Pagan Christianity, Reimagining Church, and The Rabbit and the Elephant are just a few. Some of these I haven’t read and others are good books, but much of their content will be found in these books as well. No matter what our jumping on point is, moving towards a more organic, missional, apostolic form of church that results in Christ-formed followers is the goal.
Now, what about you? Which books have been helpful in your journey towards an organic, missional, apostolic church?
Note: The links to these books are part of my Amazon Store. While my opinions are mine and offered freely, I do stand to benefit from the purchase of these books through these links.