When I was in Bible College, I had one of the best roommates I could have asked for. We had both come to the school to learn more about the power of the Holy Spirit. My friend was an evangelist, but our school focused almost exclusively on prayer and the power of Holy Spirit. So late in our first year at the school, he got permission from the head of the school to do some intensive research about how those three topics intersect.
My friend completed his paper, but I always remember the conclusion he came to in the paper was simultaneously simple and profound: The New Testament church’s experience was one of rhythms. Instead of focusing on one aspect or the other (something the church is exceptionally good at), the church of Acts would continually move through rhythms: The community would gather and pray, the Holy Spirit would respond, and the result would be a missionary thrust that lead many people to the Lord.
You see this in Acts 1-3. Jesus ascends into Heaven but tells the disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out on the believers and a great harvest is gathered in from Peter’s message. The Harvest continues in Acts 3 with the healing of the lame man and many people coming to Christ.
The rhythm begins again in Acts 4-6. The apostles are brought before the high council and warned not to speak of Christ. When they are released they gather together and pray. This time the building they are praying in is shaken by the Holy Spirit and those gathered were filled with great boldness. Miracles begin to happen, a great number of people came to the Lord, other leaders were raised up, and the mission continues to go forth.
One more example is Acts 13-19. Acts 13 opens with believers in the diverse church of Antioch ministering to the Lord and fasting. It was during this time of prayer and fasting that God by the Holy Spirit spoke to the church to send Paul and Barnabas on their first apostolic mission. This apostolic mission was marked by signs and wonders and culminated in a number of new churches in Galatia and Asia Minor.
This is important for a simple reason: There is a great divide in the church. Often people who devote themselves to prayer are separated from those who give themselves to evangelism. Oddly enough, people who experience the Holy Spirit in profound ways are often separate from the people who pray and the people who evangelize. This isn’t the way God designed the church to function. We weren’t designed to live in continual prayer meetings that never see the Holy Spirit spill out to the streets and touch the lost. Nor were we designed to be constantly evangelizing without the power of the Holy Spirit that comes when we gather together and pray.
Instead, the church often will find itself somewhere in this cycle, praying, going in the power of the Holy Spirit, and then proclaiming the Gospel to lost people. In fact, this is the testimony of many of the great moves of the Spirit throughout history, starting with the book of Acts right up through the church planting movements that are happening across the globe right now.
Are you in a season where evangelism and mission is low? Maybe it’s time to return to the place of prayer and ask God to pour out His Spirit. Are you continuing in the place of prayer, but not much else? It may be time to lift your eyes to where the Holy Spirit might moving. Are you experiencing the Holy Spirit in profound ways but not seeing much harvest? It’s possible that the Holy Spirit is sending you to people outside of your church community to share the Gospel with power. The key is knowing what season you’re in. We get stagnant (even disobedient) when we choose one activity over what the Holy Spirit has us in.
So, what season does the Holy Spirit have you and your church in right now?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Our house church network is in a season where we need to hear from the Lord about a number of things. There is no external threats, per se, but a number of us our sensing its time to gather together and seek the Lord in prayer in the way I described above. We are gathering tomorrow night for an extended time of prayer and listening to Jesus. Will you pray for us, that God would speak and help us forward in the next season of our lives together?
I would greatly appreciate it.
There are churches all over the Earth looking for a way to build community. It seems everywhere I go, people want to be a part of a community, build community, or stay in community, but how to do it escapes us. A big part of the reason for that is we seek community for our own sake, and not the sake of others. This taints the community building process.
In reality, one of the most important but often neglected secrets to building community is to find it in pursuit of God’s mission. Jesus said, “I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution,” (Mark 10:29-30). When we leave what is valuable to us for the sake of Jesus and the Good News, he gives us in return many spiritual brothers, sisters, mothers, and children. Community is the result of mission.
If you’ve ever gone on a short or long term mission trip, you’ll understand this. There is something about leaving everything you have, laying down your regular life, and pursuing something of the Lord together with a group of people that forms community like nothing else. Often those who do will come back longing for the same type of fellowship they had among that group of people, only to be frustrated in not being able to find it.
The secret lies not in going overseas, but finding a group of people who will lay down their lives both for Christ and His mission. I’ve watched house churches engage in mission together here in the United States in specific neighborhoods or people groups, and the same phenomenon happens. What Jesus does when we lay down our earthly lives is He begins to form family among those who have pursued it together.
So you don’t have to leave the country to find community. You find spiritual family as you lay down your life for Christ and the Gospel. As you follow Jesus in the mission He has for you, He will bring alongside you others who are pursuing Him and His mission in a similar way. And in this place, God will confront weaknesses in your life and the lives of others He will reveal places of sin or unbelief. The people with you on mission will help you bring those areas back to God for healing. You will get to do the same with them. This is where spiritual family is built–in the spiritual press of mission.
This is why I always tell prospective church planters that the order is Jesus, Mission, Church. Jesus must become the center of our lives, our source, and our leader. His leadership will eventually spill over into mission with Him and others. This mission creates a church, both in those that pursue it and ultimately as the result of sharing the Gospel. If we keep those priorities in the proper order, we will experience spiritual family.
Do you long for community? Submit yourself to Christ. Find the mission He has for you. As you do, you will find the community you’ve been looking for.
Missional community is a buzz word right now.
The phrase was meant to describe a Christian group who were not just committed to each other, but to Jesus and the lost. The goal was to live on mission as a people in a way that drew others to Jesus. Like most buzzwords, though, it has begun to be applied to lots of different things to the point where it can mean just about anything. I find in these circumstances, examples are far better at giving meaning than definitions.
Case in point: Our house churches this Wednesday did a fantastic job on living on mission together.
My awareness of this began on Wednesday over my lunch hour. My friend Josh and I had needed a chance to catch up. We were able to catch up for lunch, tell each other about what the Lord has been doing in each other’s lives, and encourage one another. Make no mistake, true missional community means continuing to encourage each other because the mission can be hard sometimes.
Fast Forward to after work. A couple of the families from two of the house churches had decided to get together that night, but due to circumstances it was going to be me, the children, and the wives of all the families, but none of the men. So, I asked my wife if after we had dinner I could go and take care of some yard work a neighbor had flagged me down and asked for. So after eating together (missional communities eat together a lot!) the ladies allowed me to take off and go help the neighbor with the hopes of preaching the Gospel to them. Here is another facet of missional community: serving the lost out of the love of Christ in ways (we hope) give us opportunities to share the good news.
One of the reasons I happened to be the only guy at our dinner on Wednesday night was that Josh, who I had mentioned before, had to meet with a guy he has begun a discipling relationship with. I wasn’t there and can’t speak to what happened there, but the important thing to note is that missional community is about more than just serving. It’s about sharing the Gospel AND discipling those who come to Christ. The mission isn’t complete until we’ve made disciples.
I was forced to return earlier than I planned from helping neighbors. The neighbors I had gone to help weren’t home and shortly after that a big storm rolled in. I ended up on my front porch with my kids and several of the kids from the other families, while the ladies got a chance to encourage and fellowship with each other. For me, this is part of missional community as well–serving the body so each part is strengthened to share the Gospel.
The storm passed. One of the families left. Josh arrived from his meeting to pick up his family. After spending some time together enjoying our kids and talking, Josh and his family left to put their kids to bed. We thought our day was pretty much done. We put our kids to bed and began the process of winding down for the night.
At about 9:00 PM, my wife realized that she had a missed text on her phone. A neighbor and someone that’s been part of our church had been trying to get a hold of us. Her neighbor and friend had a window broken out of her front door by a disgruntled “guest.” Our friend and her neighbor were looking for some help fixing the situation. I sent my wife over to help (long story, but she was better in this particular situation) expecting her to help fix the door and have her back by 9:30.
Instead she returned around 10:30. She told me the story. When she arrived, it became clear that the situation was much larger than she thought. My wife realized that we might need to bring in a professional, but didn’t know who to call at that hour. We had a friend who repaired auto glass professionally that was part of yet another house church we hadn’t seen that day. She called him to get a recommendation about who to call. Instead, he came over, assessed the situation, and miraculously had the right tools to make the door secure that night. Tim, our friend, was the perfect blend of consistent and flexible that night. With the door secure, our neighbor and her children could rest easier knowing she was safe. This was yet one more example of serving the community with the hope of getting to share the Gospel.
I laid down in bed that night thinking of everything that had happened. Encouragement between the body. Discipleship. Attempts to serve the lost. Prayer. After going through the list, I was thankful that the Lord had allowed our body to pursue mission the way we have.
I don’t write this to boast in our house churches. Rather, I write this so that you can have a window into what missional community might look like on a given day. How do you get here? Find a group of people who love Jesus and want to walk out mission. Give yourself to encouraging the body and attempting to serve the lost around you. Always have the name of Jesus and the Gospel on your lips.
Often we think the workers are many and the harvest is small, but when we venture outside of our fellowships, we find that the harvest is great and the workers are few. If your community is truly committed to being a missional community you will find needs and as you try and meet those needs you will have the opportunity to share the Gospel. I guarantee it.
Over the years, our house churches have sought to live out the mission of Jesus. Living out this mission has not always been easy. One of the realities that we’ve learned over the years is that there are two important qualities in someone wanting to truly live out mission: They need to be simultaneously consistent and flexible.
Consistent, because many of the people that are far away from God aren’t. Their lives can be erratic, often driven by the need or desire of the moment. But if you become the person that shows up at the same place, at the same time, and consistently represents Jesus, being a vessel of mercy and a safe place in the hectic world they live in, you stand out and can be found. They know where to find you if they need you and can count on you to help in a world that seems like is always chaotic.
And flexible for the same reason. The life of someone who doesn’t know Christ can be chaotic, but even if it’s not, emergencies happen. Being open and available to serve at the right moment requires a certain amount of flexibility in schedule and priorities. Showing up to help move, babysit, or just talk when things get bad are all significant in-roads we’ve had into the lives of people who don’t know Jesus. Leonard Ravenhill used to say, “The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity.” Nowhere is that as true as in missional living. This has required us to hold lightly to plans and schedules, so we can be available on short notice.
A consistent person will be someone who can be counted on by those whose lives aren’t consistent. A flexible person can respond to a crisis when it comes. But a consistent and yet flexible person is able to meet lost people in both situations and allows us to quickly become helpful to those who don’t know Jesus. This requires us to die to ourselves and live for Christ and His mission in a different way that non-missional living won’t.
Years ago we started serving our community at a local park. We brought food, we played with the kids that were there, and generally loved our neighborhood. The neighborhood began to count on us being at that same place every week. But emergencies and life situations started happening that couldn’t be dealt with on Sundays, so the rest of our lives had to be flexible enough to deal with situations as they came up. It was a busy season for us, but it taught us a great deal about serving people who don’t know Christ.
If you’re struggling with missional living, it may be time to look in the mirror. Are you consistent? Are you flexible? You might be one or the other. Can you be both?
This will be hard to describe. Hang in there with me.
Often we think reaching people with the Gospel means that we are busy. We teach Bible studies. We serve the poor. We coordinate volunteers to go out and share the Gospel. The list can go on.
But the more I try and share the love of Jesus with people in my neighborhood, the more I find myself doing less on purpose. Why?
Lately, maybe over the last year or a little more, I found myself having more opportunities to share the Gospel with people as I was sitting around my house. Every time I was going off to “do something missional” I found myself having to turn away kids that were hanging out in our home. It became increasingly difficult to turn away the mission field that was showing up at my house to go find some kind of hypothetical mission field somewhere else. So I’ve had to reconcile within myself that being a normal guy hanging, trimming the yard, playing basketball with the neighborhood kids, and sharing the Gospel in everyday situations is one of the most fruitful things I can do. But often it means I have to keep my schedule light in order to make room for these opportunities.
One of the events that taught us this in a real way a few years ago was an outreach to our local park. We went on a walk one morning to explore where God might have our church inhabit a place for the Gospel. We took our kids with us and found a park in the middle of our neighborhood. Every Sunday that summer we’d show up at the park, play soccer or football, push our kids on the swings, and have lunch. Quickly other adults started showing up to play games. Many people returned week after week as we started sharing our food with them. (Missional Pro Tip: People flock to food.)
Because we live in an economically depressed neighborhood we would see other churches and ministries do outreaches in the park and in the neighborhood. The people who we knew from the park would tell us how much they loved us, because unlike the outreaches would come in once a summer, hand out food or supplies, and then disappear, we never left. They weren’t projects to us. They were friends. We shared the Gospel too, but it was in the midst of everyday interactions we had as we played with our kids.
This isn’t to say we don’t do anything. We actually share the Gospel and meet as a church and serve people when the need arises. We do all those things as a response to needs that we have the time to encounter because our lives aren’t busy with Christian programs and outreaches. Sometimes, it means confronting the itch to be needed and prove “we are really doing something.” Often it means saying “No” to over-packing our schedules. Sometimes it looks boring. But many times it frees us to be able to share the Gospel with someone we would have never had the time to encounter before.
It’s the missional power of doing nothing.
Here’s a quick test to know if your expression of church is too complicated to multiply disciples. It’s called the “Bible on a Deserted Island Test.”
Imagine you crash on a deserted island and all you have is the clothes on your back and a Bible. You are stranded on the island and separated from civilized society. But the island is large enough to support several indigenous tribes of people. You are over time adopted by one of the local tribes and learn their language. Because they’ve adopted you, you now care about these people and want to share the Gospel with them.
Now, the million dollar question: Can you plant a church like you’re currently part of among them? Follow up question: Will they read the Bible and see the church you start in the pages of the Bible you have? Or do they have to have explanation of church history or your denomination?
If the answer to both of these questions is yes, congratulations! You have a simple, reproducible church. If the answer to either of these questions are no, I would invite you to consider what part of your church model might be baggage that slows the spread of the Gospel.
If your goal is to disciple the nations, your model of church should work anywhere.
Discipleship (as it was designed by Jesus) was meant to be passed on. Each of us, regardless of our spiritual status were designed to grow into spiritual fathers and mothers who encourage and raise other spiritual sons and daughters. But often we don’t because we think discipleship is more complicated than it needs to be.
In order for the Gospel to move from generation to generation, from house to house, or from person to person, it needs to be a simple message and an encounter with a person: Jesus Christ. Think of the church in China, or the church in India, or the church in the Middle East. Without seminaries, Sunday schools, buildings, and in some cases without even Bibles the Gospel has spread to more people than our Western minds can get our heads around.
Our complaint about growth like this is that these people can’t truly be real disciples. In order for this kind of gospel explosion to take place, surely the people can’t have deep walks with Jesus!
I would challenge that assumption. These people preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, taught to them by others. In these places, the act of being baptized can be a death sentence, not to mention sharing the Gospel and teaching others to obey Jesus. Many of them consider their time in prison to be a seminary of sorts, where they learn lessons from Jesus. These same people are constantly spreading the Gospel and raising up new disciples. Many have seen miraculous healing and heard God’s voice clearly. This certainly sounds deep to me.
Often what we mean by deep is a type of discipleship that is focused on our minds. We feel like if we are educated, we will disciple people better. We’ve even created programs that saddle our fieriest believers with large amounts of debt in order to learn how to be good leaders. For those who don’t go to seminary, we often provide long hours of training before we release them into “ministry.” This approach often slows the spread of the Gospel.
Friends, this is different than the model Jesus gave us. Jesus didn’t say go into all the world and teach people Greek and Hebrew. He didn’t sit down and have a systematic theology class with His disciples before He sent them out. He was looking for men whose hearts had been wrecked by the goodness of the Father and the Kingdom of God. When He had enough of them, He taught them simple stories that illustrated truth and asked them to pass that Gospel on. He wasn’t afraid to give these men the clear truth and let them run with it.
The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.
– Charles Spurgeon
Our discipleship has to be able to work with only a Bible and a willing heart. We should be able to teach others how to follow Christ by our example and by teaching them how to read and apply God’s word. This not only spreads rapidly but if done well will create the kind of believers that make disciples who make disciples.
Often, our responsibility is to not let things get too complicated. If we can do that, the Gospel will spread further than we can possibly imagine.
For more on discipleship, check out these posts: