Tag Archive | Simple Church

The Democratization of the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit

As I wrote yesterday, I have a pretty long history in the charismatic expression of Christianity. I truly treasure my past because I wouldn’t have come to Christ apart from seeing and experiencing the power of God in the present. I truly believe that the power of the Holy Spirit is critical to seeing apostolic Christianity restored to the Earth.

So it was curious for me several years ago when I was reading Alan Hirsch’s book “The Forgotten Ways” that he mentioned a missing ingredient of the missional church was the Pentecostal experience:

What is still largely missing from this emergent phenomenon is any sustained and explicit Pentecostal presence, with all its passion and fire. While it’s true that Pentecostalism taught us the true value of apostolic ministry, the Pentecostals have not been a noteworthy expression of [emergent missional church], as far as I am aware. This is probably because Pentecostalism is still basking in the relative success that church growth praxis brought them.

Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways (Page 270)

I would say that Hirsch’s experience of a lack of Pentecostals or charismatic experience in the emergent missional church mirrors my experience with house churches largely outside of our network.  And while I may be off on this, my perception is that very few house churches are started with those from charismatic backgrounds.

This is sad to me because charismatics should feel the most at home in house churches.  House churches exist to allow every member of the body of Christ to participate in the gathering. The meetings are small to intentionally facilitate interaction, especially the sharing of gifts.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:26When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.” The kind of organic church Paul describes here allows for the power of the Holy Spirit to move among different members of the body.

Pentecostals and Charismatics should believe in the democratization of the Holy Spirit. That’s a big five dollar word that describes that idea that the Holy Spirit gives Himself to each and every believer. Because every believer gets a measure of Christ’s gifting through the power of the Spirit, every believer should be participating in a meeting of believers with the Holy Spirit leading like the director of an orchestra.  The democratization of the Holy Spirit means every believer can participate in the work of God.

Peter best articulates this for us in his famous message to the Jews in Jerusalem after Pentecost:

No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says,
    ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy.
    Your young men will see visions,
    and your old men will dream dreams.
 In those days I will pour out my Spirit
    even on my servants—men and women alike—
    and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:16-18

What Peter is saying in this message is that a day that the prophet Joel had predicted has come to pass: God is pouring out His Spirit on everyone. Prior to this, God had poured out His Spirit on special anointed individuals, mainly kings and prophets. The Holy Spirit’s activity was unique and happened only among select people. But now, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, everyone could have access to this elusive Holy Spirit. Men and women, young and old, even the servants–all would be able to move in the gifting of God.

These are the verses that launched the Pentecostal movement in the early 20th century. A desire to be filled with the Spirit and experience God personally marked places like the Azusa Street revival.  But over the last 100 years, the movement has grown increasingly comfortable with letting ‘anointed’ men and women do the hard work. It’s not uncommon for attenders in charismatic congregations to have never experienced the Holy Spirit in any way outside of the pastor or preacher’s ministry.

All of this, then, is a giant appeal from me to those who believe in the gifts of the Spirit to put into practice the democracy of the Spirit. Do you believe God gives gifts to His church? Good! Then gather believers together in their homes and have meetings like they were described in 1 Corinthians 14. Let members of the church practice sharing their gifts from the Holy Spirit with each other. Don’t be content with someone else exercising their one gift for the entire body. Keep pressing into the Spirit until every member of the body of Christ is participating in a meeting of believers with the gifts God has given them.

The result will be the strengthening of the church.

Photo Credit: Descent of the Holy Spirit by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

I Still Believe in the the Movement of the Spirit

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I came to Christ in the midst of a spiritual revival that was sweeping through sections of the church in the mid-90’s.  I watched my mom get miraculously healed of cancer in front of my eyes and it was shortly after that I gave my life to Christ.  It was during this time that Brownsville, Toronto, and other places were experiencing moves of the Holy Spirit. We treasured that season because we were watching things that happened in the Bible regularly occur before our eyes. For us, this was what Christianity was supposed to be about.

Somewhere around the year 2000 many of those movements faded a bit and it was during this time I started feeling called to church planting.  After college I moved to Kansas City to learn church planting and how to follow the Holy Spirit like I had seen others do.  I got a bit more than I bargained for, though. Not only did I learn church planting and following the Holy Spirit, but I got introduced to the concept of house churches and my thinking about the body of Christ was turned upside down.  Shortly after this I moved back to Iowa.

Since that time, I’ve mostly given myself to starting house churches in our region and raising up disciples that will make disciples.  And even if you’ve read my blog, it’s largely focused on the idea that the church is a people who meet simply and make disciples.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about revival, the movement of the Spirit, and how that all functions in the context of movements and making disciples.  You could think from posts I’ve written like Awakening, Harvest, and Broken Nets Part I, II, and III that I don’t believe in revival anymore. But that’s not the case. I believe (and am asking) for a movement of the Holy Spirit in our country, I just think it looks different than what most people are expecting.

What I mean is this: revival and awakening have typically happened in the context of existing structures of church. Because of this, these movements of the Spirit seem to draw people to a location, a church building, one or more dynamic leaders, etc. Men and women are born again, miracles happen, existing believers are convicted of sin, and renewal comes to the church. But the outpouring of the Spirit is based around a place, a few places, or a few dynamic individuals. The everyday person doesn’t expect to participate, other than to help or receive from those who are leading the meetings. And when trouble or turmoil comes to the places where the Spirit is moving, the revival or awakening inevitably ends.

But even yesterday as I was reading St. Patrick’s Confession I was reminded that movements of the Spirit happen in the context of disciple making movements that change whole nations. These empower every believer, not just the anointed few, to take the gospel to every sphere of life.  This type of awakening can be passed to others with a simple version of church that allows the Gospel to spread like a virus among the lost. Instead of a few places experiencing awakening, it can move from person to person and have a much greater impact.

The Holy Spirit isn’t confined to our church meetings. He’s not just interested in elevating the spiritual intensity of the existing church for four or five years every decade. He is interested in the Gospel touching the hearts of lost men and women who don’t even know how lost they are. Imagine a movement of the Spirit that is able to invade a gang-ridden inner city that would never darken the door of your local Assembly of God or Vineyard church. He WANTS to release his power for miracles AND godliness among them as well. Holy Spirit even wants to spawn church planting movements that are filled with dreams and visions and signs and wonders and people coming to Jesus in every context!

How do I know this? Because it’s the testimony of church history. It happened with the first century church: THERE WAS BARELY A CHURCH TO REVIVE! All there was were lost people who needed this kind of movement of the Spirit. It happened again with guys like Patrick, It happened in this country with a couple of guys named Wesley. It’s been happening in China since the 1950’s. It happened in this country as recently as the late 60’s and early 70’s. We call it the Jesus People movement. And all over the world it’s currently happening in countries where you can be killed for following Christ. These are normal movements of the Spirit!

Friends, I believe God still wants to send the Holy Spirit in unprecedented ways*. But the way that that we package the outpouring will affect how far it will go and how deeply it will impact us. So let’s keep asking and keep believing for a movement of the Spirit, but let’s contend for it knowing it will not be something that shouldn’t look like a more zealous church service. It looks like a grass-roots movement of people coming to Christ, churches being formed, and missionaries being sent out.

*For example, I believe Joel 2 was fulfilled partially in Acts 2, but I don’t we’ve seen the ultimate fulfillment of “I will pour out my Spirit on all people,” yet (see Acts 2:17-21).

Church Planting, Redefined

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One of the things that we’ve learned over the past ten years has been that if you set out to plant a church, you may attract a lot of people, Christians may flock to what you’re doing, but you won’t necessarily make disciples.

On the flip side, if you set out to make disciples of Jesus, you will inevitably wind up with a church. I like to say it like this: Church planting is best understood as a discipleship process that leaves a church in its wake.

This is a shift from what is commonly done. Most church plants start with a core team that is selected from an existing church. The core team leaves the existing church, begins meeting in another location, and hope that unbelievers show up at the new location. This is usually accompanied by some amount of outreach to get new people to join the church.

In this model, significant amounts of time and energy are focused on creating a meeting that attracts people. And while this is usually not the intent, the kind of people that this new church attracts are often very similar to the people who start the church: Middle class, somewhat moral people. And many times this ends up being people who are dissatisfied with a previous church and are already believers.  Church planting was supposed to be “the best methodology of evangelism under the sun,” but when we primarily engage already saved believers with our methods, we give away our opportunity to be effective in reaching people for Jesus.

But church planting can be something different.

It can look more like baptizing new believers than preparing sermons.

It can be more like loving on the broken than setting up tables.

It can be meeting with newly baptized believers and teaching them the Bible than writing a doctrinal statement.

It can be teaching other believers how to share the Gospel and endure hardship instead of working on your church’s website.

It’s effective because it’s not building the church programs and expecting disciples to get made, but building disciples and expecting the church to be born.

So instead of starting a meeting with existing believers, gather two or three existing believers who are hungry to reach the lost with the love of Jesus.  Spend time with these believers talking to lost people and engaging them with the gospel. As they come to Christ, teach them to follow Jesus and obey His commands. Baptize them. Help them get into the word. Teach them to share the love of Jesus.

Eventually you will come to the command to gather with other believers and encourage each other. But prior to that, you and your small group will have practiced this several times over in trying to be obedient to the other commands.

And as two or three people come to Jesus from the lost and begin to become disciples, you will begin to see a functioning church emerge that isn’t built on meetings but is built on following Jesus and interconnected relationships.  The reward is not only a church, but a church made up entirely of people who never knew Jesus prior to their involvement.

So make disciples and churches will emerge.  As churches emerge men and women will be sent out to preach the Gospel and make more disciples. The point is that discipleship continues to go out from where you are and touches people who have not yet given their lives to Christ.  It’s a “go-ing gospel” that touches people outside the boundaries of the church.

Most importantly, when we teach people to obey Christ, it’s the seedbed for a movement that can spread far beyond you and I and touch the ends of the earth.

And that my friends, is what we really wanted from church planting, anyways, right?

Photo Credit: IMG_0507_HDR by Mars Hill Church Seattle

Ten Years

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I’m a little late to the party, but in the middle of January we turned the page on ten years since we started meeting as a house church.

The first time we gathered, there were four couples, each with one child a piece. The kids slept the entire time. I told everyone that was in that first meeting that if we could just handle being dissatisfied and look to Jesus and not give up on each other, that we would be a success.

Ten years later those families each have four or more kids and are scattered across three (or four, or five) house churches in our city. We’ve learned a lot, made some mistakes along the way, and grown as we’ve pressed towards the disciple-making movement we believe Jesus is calling us to be.

There’s two errors you can make with an anniversary like this: To feel like you’re an expert and to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. But the truth is somewhere in the middle: We’ve learned some things but we still are learning, growing, and changing. At this point I feel like we are just getting to the place where we can ask better questions…pursue Jesus more…and really become a source of personal and societal transformation.

There are depths of God and many more labors in the harvest ahead. We just need to remember to ask more questions.

In tandem with our ten year anniversary (but not planned in anyway at all) Dan Mayhew of Summit Fellowships in Portland, Orgeon asked me to join him on his podcast Church of the Heart to talk about how the Lord has led us to this point. You can hear about our story by clicking here.

…We Invite Existing Christians Into Mutual Discipleship…

ben-white-194220A few years ago we started inviting existing believers to meet with us and develop relationship before we just thrust them into a meeting and along the way we started to invite them to consider the cost of meeting as an organic house church. But there is another facet of our lifestyle that we also invite them into intentionally and that is the process of mutual discipleship.

Most of you are probably familiar with the idea of discipleship. It’s the process of becoming more like Jesus through regular interaction and encouragement of other believers. While it’s possible for a person to become a disciple of Jesus from a direct relationship with Christ, God’s design is that we learn from the strengths and weaknesses of each other and help each other see beyond our blind spots.

Mutual discipleship is where people gather together to learn to follow Jesus together without having a top-down structure. For many of my friends in the evangelical church, top-down discipleship is the only form of discipleship that is ever known. Paul actually asked believers to follow him as he followed Christ, so I do believe that there is a place to learn from people further down the path of following Jesus than you. Mutual discipleship is important, though, because without it, we will never multiply at the speed needed to sustain the harvest.* The only way to have everyone being discipled and discipling at the same time is mutual discipleship.

This process of everyone becoming a disciple and making disciples of others is crucial towards Jesus’ goal of discipling the nations.  But I find in many of the places existing believers come from, Christianity with discipleship is for the committed…not the ground floor of believing in Christ. So we encourage (but do not require) people who are joining our house churches to consider joining two or three other believers in our midst for reading the Bible, accountability, and prayer for the lost.*

While this is may seem artificial, I think it’s helped us set the tone for the kind of people we want to be. Not everyone has joined one of these groups and some who have joined have continued to remain a part of our fellowships but not a part of our groups of 2&3. But everyone knows they are welcome and the groups are important. Everyone gets the opportunity to be a disciple and a disciple-maker.  These groups have built relationships and helped us learn how to love and serve each other without control.

Believers, living together, digging into the Bible together, confessing sins to each other, and praying for the lost together is such a beautiful reality. I don’t want believers to miss out on the opportunity to be a part of that process.  So when we meet with existing believers and discuss joining our house churches, we share the beauty of discipleship and ask if they are interested in participating.

And I believe we are better for it.

Are you inviting people who are new to your church into a lifestyle of discipleship?

How do you help believers understand discipleship as the lifestyle of every believer and not just the committed few?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*I will write more about this process of mutual discipleship more in an upcoming series. See? I told you the footnotes are often a springboard for more blogs in the future.

 

…We Invite Existing Believers to Lay Down Their Lives…

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Recently I wrote about how we meet with existing believers when they express interest in joining our house church. Today I want to talk about one other conversation that we have in that process. We also ask existing believers to count the cost of joining a house church.

The immediate question is why would we do that?

Well, the best answer is always because Jesus asked us to count the cost of following Him, especially in regards to the cost of following Him on His mission (see Luke 14:28-30). This isn’t only a requirement for joining a house church, or our house churches, this is something Jesus asks all of us to do.

However, I’ve found it wise to invite believers to consider the cost of joining our house churches. Part of the reason is the cost of living on mission in our house churches can be higher than you would expect in a traditional church. I tell them stories about the lost people who have damaged things in our homes. I talk to them about the different times we’ve served friends in high crime areas where the potential to be harmed is real. I talk to them about the scary moments when fights have almost broke out at some of our gatherings.  Certainly we try to be wise with what we do, but there’s a measure of mission that can never be controlled. So we ask folks to count the cost.

But there is another type cost that I invite existing believers to consider. It’s the cost of laying down a controlled church environment. I try to let them know that being part of an organic church means that everyone is responsible to bring what the Lord has given them, but sometimes that doesn’t work out and a meeting is bad. I share about the fact that we allow the kids to participate in a meeting with us and that means a lot more interrupted everything. I share about how community won’t just happen in a meeting, but will require us to rearrange our schedule to make time for the kind of relationships house churches have the potential to provide. Everyone says they want real community, but some like the rich young ruler have found the cost too high and walked away.

Is all of this worth it? Of course! Jesus is amazing and just knowing Him is worth all of the cost described above and more. Add on top of that the ability to get to be part of His body and stand side by side with brothers and sisters who love you and are committed to you? That’s easily worth any price we have to pay. But Jesus still asks us to consider it.

And so when we meet with believers who are interested, I invite them to think about the cost. Not because they’ve never considered the cost of following Jesus before, but because I want them to consider the cost of doing it a different way than they may have done before. All of this is done out of a heart to help, mind you. I don’t want to scare anyone away or needlessly critique someone. Over the years, this just seems to be the best way to help outsiders into the life we’ve found. It’s not for everyone, but it’s worked for us.

So, I’ll leave you with this. Regardless of where you are or what type of church you are part of, there is a cost to following Christ. Are you counting it? And are you helping others to join Jesus on His mission regardless of the cost they may have to pay? It’s worth considering.

 

Why We Decided To Meet With Believers Before They Joined Our House Church

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A few years into our journey as a house church, I started to notice that the idea of house churches was intriguing to other believers that were part of a traditional congregation. We’d have existing believers join our house church for a short season, only to disappear without explanation. And because of our presence on Facebook or a mutual relationship in our city, from time to time we’d have people we’d never met wanting to join our church.

So after this happened a few times, we began to re-evaluate how we invited already existing believers into our context. Prior to this point, whoever wanted to come just came. But it became fairly obvious that just letting whoever wanted to show up come was unhelpful to both our existing house church and to the people wanting to come.

Why? It boiled down to relationship. In contrast to a traditional, larger congregation our house church was being built on relationship.  It was increasingly odd the deeper those connections became to have someone most or all of us had never met plop down in the middle of our house church and expect them to connect immediately the way everyone else did.

Also, many of our friends from traditional churches were coming from a church that was built around meetings, not relationships. Because of this, they would come for the meeting and leave as soon as the meeting was over. Often we wouldn’t see them until the next gathering of the church.  And after awhile, it became clear that we weren’t helping those joining us, either.

So, the next time that someone asked to join our house church, instead of giving them our address and next meeting time, we began to invite them over (or out) for lunch or coffee. We’d hear their story. We’d share ours. Sometimes these meetings became a time to share the gospel with people, like the time a Muslim woman began asking to join us. Other times, these meetings became a chance to encourage existing believers to start house churches of their own.  And what we began to realize is that relationship wasn’t just what our churches were built on, they actually needed to become the doorway into our churches as well.

Making this change helped everyone. Those who chose to join us after meeting with someone from our house church inevitably understood a bit better why we were meeting as a house church and they joined having already built the beginning of a relationship with others in our midst. It was a win for everyone.

There were also some other benefits to this, which I’ll explain a bit more on tomorrow…