Society tells us that “regular church attendance” is every other week.
We say that being part of a church means meeting daily from house to house.
Society tells us worship is the 30 to 60 minutes we step inside a building every week.
We say worship is a life of presenting our bodies 24/7 to God as a living sacrifice.
Society tells us children are a distraction and shouldn’t be a part of the main event.
We say the children should get a chance to participate in the Kingdom just like adults.
Society tells us that the bigger the church, the better the experience.
We say Jesus shows up regardless of how many others do, even for two or three.
Society tells us that we need to become more inclusive and relax our standards so more people will come.
We say the way is narrow and few find it.
Society tells us going to church makes us a better person.
We say following Jesus will cost us our lives.
What would cause us to live like this? To give our lives to meeting with other believers, living as a permanent sacrifice every day, all day? What would cause us to have meetings interrupted by children and sometimes barely having anyone around? What would cause us to choose an old path that few seem to like? What would cause us give up our lives instead of improve them?
The answers may differ for others, but for us, the answer is we’ve met Jesus. That encounter with Him has been so profound that we trust Him as our leader, not just someday, but now. So we trust what He says, even about the ways we should gather and live our lives.
He is worth it.
Welcome to Inspiration Avenue!
My conviction is that our generation is over-taught and under-inspired, so every week I cultivate some of the most inspiring content I can find on the internet and bring it to you. I hope you are inspired to live fully submitted to Christ and pursuing everything He purchased for you on the Cross.
Maybe this goes without saying, but I don’t expect you to agree with me about everything I post here. In fact, I expect some of the things I post will rattle your theological cages. My suggestion? Be inspired by people who aren’t perfect. Realize you won’t agree with everything I share here. Eat the chicken, spit out the bones.
So, without further ado, here are three sources of inspiration for the week:
Methods and Tools vs. Prayer and Obedience: Roger Thorman writes about his journey into simple, organic house churches on his blog, SimpleChurchJournal. This post hammers at the thought that all of our disciple making methods and strategies are useless outside of a close walk with the Lord. This is so crucial, because often we get so caught up in the methods that a relationship with Christ can get left behind.
The Phenomenonal Growth of the Salvation Army: Lex Loizides is a church historian of the revivalist variety. He spends his time at his blog Church History Review telling the stories of revivals of the past. Currently Lex is telling the story of the Salvation Army. While the whole story is powerful, I was particularly touched by the picture here of William Booth as an old man, completely eclipsed by the men and women he had raised up into ministry from the ranks of the poor and disenfranchised. May God help us all to raise up disciples that touch the nations of the Earth like He did with William and Catherine Booth.
David Ravenhill: David Ravenhill is the son of famed preacher and revivalist Leonard Ravenhill. Leonard Ravenhill was known throughout the 70’s and 80’s for calling the church away from being like the world. I recently came across a quote of David, echoing his father in many ways: “this tidal wave of deception [. . .] seeks to make self the ultimate object of our worship while reducing God to being our ultimate personal trainer. In recent years, the words “your destiny” have been preached, prophesied, and promoted throughout the Body of Christ, to the point where self has become the center and focal point of life rather than Christ and His Kingdom.” Let’s all purpose to serve Jesus and not continue to ask Jesus to serve us.
Ten years ago, my family and I, along with several other families, launched out in an adventure to start a house church. Ten years later, we have four house churches spread across our city and I write quite a bit about the phenomenon, actively encouraging other Christians to start house churches. You’d be forgiven if you called me an advocate.
In all of my talking about house churches, there is usually this unspoken elephant in the room when I reference the traditional, legacy church. When I use those phrases, I’m referencing everything from your traditional Lutheran church that meets in a cathedral to your rock out charismatic church that meets in a warehouse and everything in-between. How do I feel about those churches? What kind of relationship can someone who believes the things that I do have with people “haven’t left the building?”
I think it’s important to start here: The universal Church is made up of people who have repented of their sins and decided to follow Christ. Church is the name of a person, not a building or a meeting. Church is the name Jesus gives to His bride. And because of this, wherever believing people gather, the church is there in some form.
This is important, because we tend to forget that what makes us church isn’t our doctrine or how meet or our practices. What makes us church is the fact that we have a relationship with Christ. This Jesus-centered approach will keep us from all sorts of pride and hypocrisy.
Because I believe that Jesus inside of people is what makes us church, I actually have relationships with believers that meet as traditional churches. I pray with them. I stand with them in times of trouble. I counsel them. I challenge my pastor friends not to let their ministry be about a paycheck or a building. They challenge me to be a better father, employee, and spokesman for the Gospel. There is a healthy give-and-take without me having to compromise who I am and this healthy give-and-take is shaping all of us into something better. We all tell the story of a God who loved us enough to become human and take nails for our sins and sometimes we tell it together.
I can do all of this without compromising who I am and what the Lord has shown me through this journey into organic church. Frankly, the more I believe in radically pursuing Jesus as a spiritual family, participatory meetings, servanthood over hierarchy, simplicity of meeting together, relational discipleship, and incarnational ministry, the better I am for our house churches AND the more useful I become in encouraging my friends in the traditional church.
All of this is to say you can be a part of an organic house church and not have to hate the traditional church that you came from. Continue making disciples. The Lord will build His church. Stop having the argument. Plant Kingdom gardens and let the fruit speak for itself.
I’m always trying to get people to start house churches. It’s kind of a little crusade of mine. So people are always a little surprised when I caution some folks not to start a house church.
So while I have a huge list of reasons why people should start house churches, I have a small list of reasons they shouldn’t. One of the main reasons I caution people to not start a house church is because they are angry with another believer or group of believers.
It’s a common scenario: Something a pastor or leader or just someone else in your house church did makes you angry. Out of anger, the impulse to start a house church arises. Sometimes it’s out of a desire to prove the offending person wrong. Sometimes we just want to get away from the person in our current church. Sometimes its because we want a church of our own to lead. Regardless, the temptation is there–Starting a house church is easy, I’ll just do that.
Starting a house church is easy. That’s one reason we love them. But when we start house churches out of anger and division, we set ourselves up for disaster down the road. What many don’t realize when they start a house church is that often those who lay the vision for a house church sow the seeds of the future of that house church. Those with prophetic gifting will often find themselves planting prophetic house churches. House churches started by people with mercy gifts will often multiply disciples with mercy gifts. But those who start house churches out of anger will often end up with an angry house church.
This shouldn’t surprise us. James tells us:
This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
See the problem? Anger fills us with a kind of hubris that causes us to take matters in our own hands to show other people. We will prove ourselves. But this is so outside of how God births his Kingdom. Jesus invites us to serve others, to turn the other cheek when wronged, and to lay aside all forms of anger because it’s truly the seeds of murder in our heart (See Matthew 5:21-24). Anger with a brother actually represents a break in your relationship with God that needs to be dealt with immediately.
This is why I recommend, before someone with anger in their heart plants a house church, that they go and try to be reconciled with their brother or sister. Obviously this is not always possible. Not every conflict can be reconciled, but Paul tells us that as much as it is up to us to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18). That will mean forgiving the brother or sister we believe wronged us. It will mean trying to rebuild he relationship, to whatever degree possible. Sometimes it may even mean bearing with others’ weaknesses, because not everyone will be perfect, or even our definition of perfect.
History is littered with angry people who started house churches only to be rejected by those who were part of this new house church. The rejection often comes from anger and bitterness, because the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness in one person will defile many. So before you pull the trigger and plant that house church, please, for the sake of the Kingdom, reconcile yourself to whoever you might be running from.
“…the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
“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.
Recently I wrote about the need to stop fishing for new converts among people who are already followers of Jesus. This is especially true among house churches who are often more at ease converting people from traditional churches than they are talking to the lost about Christ. But not everyone is comfortable sharing their faith and very few people really know how to share their faith without inviting them to a building.
There are lots of reasons why sharing our faith is difficult. Fear, insecurity, lack of training, “not having lost friends,” and complacency are all culprits that keep us from sharing our faith. But these can be overcome, if we are willing. Many of these issues made it easy to invite people to a church building to hear a message preached from the front. At that point our job was done and it was the pastor’s job to take over.
The times have changed, though. Our society is less and less willing to darken the doors of an existing church building. As I shared yesterday, existing churches continue to compete for roughly 35% of the population while the remaining 65% goes unreached. All of this means as believers, whether we’re part of house churches or not, will need to become missional in order to reach the lost.
We’ve talked about the definition of missional before. Essentially it means that you leave your world (where many people know Christ) and enter into a world where few, if any, know Christ in order to declare who He is and what He’s done. This going to others with the gospel will be strategic in the days ahead simply because fewer and fewer are coming to us. For those of us who were used to inviting others to hear and are newer to going to those who haven’t heard, I thought I would include a few things to consider:
- Don’t go alone. Jesus said not to, which is a great reason right off the bat. Part of this was for accountability. Going alone could put you in dangerous and morally compromising situations. Having someone with you helps. But having someone who is part of the work also helps you overcome fear. It encourages you when your heart is weary with the work.
- Eat with people. Do it all the time. This is part of the reason Jesus was considered a glutton. He was constantly eating with sinners and those the world wouldn’t accept. There is nothing like food to break down barriers between people. When Jesus sent out missionaries, He told them to “eat whatever is set before you,” (Luke 10:8). Who we eat with still says a lot about who we love, so take time to eat with people who the world thinks you shouldn’t be eating with. It will break down doors and start conversations.
- Tell stories. Jesus was always telling stories about what the Kingdom of Heaven was like. These stories often had twists, turning what everyone thought God or Heaven were like on their heads (See The Story of the Prodigal Son, The Good Samaritan, or The Pharisee and the Tax Collector). But they also pointed people to the goodness of God and the truth of following Him. I always thought I had to come up with my own clever stories that would win peoples’ hearts. But here’s the good news: You can use the ones Jesus tells! They will win peoples’ hearts all on their own.
- Bring God into the process. One of the things I think we forget when we attempt to share the good news is that God is more concerned for the lost and broken than we are! He delights to draw people who don’t know Him to Himself. So we should invite Him into this process. Pray with the sick who you meet with faith that God will heal them. Ask God to give you words of knowledge that reveal God as real to your friends (1 Corinthians 14:24). God will demonstrate that He is real to those who don’t believe, yet.
- Share the Good News of the Kingdom. Talk often about the fact that the death of Jesus has opened the door of God’s Kingdom to people who could never deserve it. I find that often we believe the Gospel has to be hidden until we really get into people’s hearts. Not so! Tell people the Gospel early and often. If you need help, check out this reproducible way of sharing the Gospel. No one get saved if no one speaks the Gospel, so get good at telling the news. Telling it literally unleashes God’s power to save someone.
There’s always more that could be said about this topic, but this is a good start. If this is new to you, start by doing some of these things. Bringing the Gospel to others can be slow and hard at first, but as you do it more, you will both see people respond and get better at following the Holy Spirit. Remember, He is the one who changes hearts, not you.
It’s through this process of partnering with the Holy Spirit to change hearts that lost people come to Christ. As lost people come to Christ and become disciples, churches are started. All of this is part of the mustard seed process that God is doing all over the earth.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
A Christian who is part of a house church starts a conversation with a believer who goes to a traditional/institutional/legacy church. Soon the conversation turns to what the Bible says about church. The house church believer begins to lead the conversation, hoping to sway the traditional church member to become part of a house church in some capacity. The story ends a hundred different ways: sometimes the traditional church member is offended, sometimes they are convicted, sometimes nothing happens at all.
None of this is especially evil. Christians have had these types of conversations for hundreds of years: Catholic vs. Protestant, Charismatic vs. Cessationist, Evangelical vs. Mainline, etc. My point is that sometimes, especially within the house church movement, we are way more evangelistic with people who claim Jesus but not our “way” than we are with people who don’t claim the name of Jesus at all .
But friends, there is a mission field, full of lost souls that have never seen Jesus lived out and proclaimed in front of their eyes. Some of them (even in America!) have never even heard the Gospel. There are people in your neighborhood who will treat you the same way: Some will be offended, some will be convicted, and some will do nothing if you share Jesus with them. But they haven’t heard and you can share the Gospel with them one more time.
When we started out our first house church, we spent almost no time talking about what a house church was or inviting existing believers to our house church. We did what house churches do and we shared the gospel with people who didn’t believe. Did we acquire some Christians along the way? Yes. Did we inspire others Christians to start house churches? Yes. But we did this by almost completely trying to share the Gospel with other believers and ignoring the potential of growing by adding other Christians to our house church.
Alan Hirsch in his book The Forgotten Ways talks about how most churches in the United States are competing with each other for the 35% of the population that is attracted to a traditional, evangelical church. But there is a staggering 65% of the population in the United States that is not drawn to a traditional, evangelical church and is part of a multicultural, diverse people that are far from God. If America has 325,146,000 people, we are leaving 211,344,900 people who are lost to try and attract 113,801,100 who are easier to talk to about Jesus but are already saved.
Very little of this reminds me of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find the one that was lost (Luke 15:3-7).
Friends, my heart for those of us who claim to be a part of the house church movement is that we start house churches that touch those who are far from God. That there would be a movement of house churches planting house churches among the broken and those who formerly had no interest in God. Who better to reach those burnt out on bad religion and those who would never darken the door of a church than those who have forsaken both? If we love Jesus, we should speak about Him with those who don’t know Him, not just those who do.
We can be a missionary force, if we stop evangelizing each other and start sharing the Gospel.