[This is part of an ongoing, irregularly published series on the reasons we started a house church. Reasons #1-3 will be listed at the bottom of the post.]
Christianity has a dirty little secret: The people within the church often live with significant parts of their life hidden and unchanged.
Much of this is due to people within the church only knowing each other as participants in events. Our modern church experience, for the most part is busy, full of events to be a part of and then left. There is very little lingering afterwards to build relationships where we know each other and are able to help each other with our weaknesses.
Which is exactly part of the reason we started a house church. The Christianity described in the New Testament is a relationship with Christ and a relationship with the people who follow Him, not an event people came to. This is why most of the New Testament descriptions of the church are about how Christians should relate to one another, not how a meeting should work. I’m not against meeting together but the emphasis is not on the meeting.
In fact, when we started our first house church, we decided that we would have meetings, but they would support relationships. We would focus on Jesus and the people who were meeting together, not just singing the right amount of songs or having a certain type of teaching happen. This frees up time both inside and outside the meeting to love one another well, to hear the stories that inform so much of each others’ lives, and to be with one another in everyday situations where we can truly see how each other live.
Here’s a brief, made up example: We allow our children to participate in our house churches. This presents a tremendous challenge as a house church if kids are too loud or distracting in the meeting. But suppose a parent disciplined their child too harshly during a meeting or didn’t correct a child who was being too unruly. This would rarely be addressed, let alone seen, in a large event but would be open for everyone to see within a house church. If a brother or sister takes up the issue with the parent in question, other issues might come up, including how the Gospel applies to parenting, the parent’s past issues with their own parent’s discipline, or even issues in the parents’ marriage.
House churches have the time and space to love one another and walk through these issues together. They don’t have a specific agenda which needs to be followed. They exist for moments like these, where the issues of the life come to the surface. Will the issue be resolved within one meeting? No. But it will come to light there. It may get some resolution there. It will be walked out with the believers who are there over the days and weeks to come.
Relationships are some of the keys to both recognizing issues in peoples’ lives and helping them resolve those issues. House churches can’t stop people from hiding their lives, but they do allow us to live close enough to each other to recognize where Jesus is touching issues and to be part of the process of bring healing to them.
Which is why we started a house church….
The church in the West has a secret that is often exposed but no one talks about. The secret is this: We have a lot of people who are part of churches that are terribly wounded and broken, but act like they have it all together and are experts in Christianity.
To be fair, preachers, leaders, and bumper stickers tell us this all the time. They say things like Christianity isn’t for the perfect, it’s for the broken or the church is not for perfect people. But life in our churches gets lived out in such a way that at least some look like they have every aspect of their life together: marriage, kids, ministry, etc.
This became abundantly clear to me the further I moved away from Christianity as an event (Sunday morning service, prayer meeting, revival meetings) to Christianity as a lifestyle. The less we gave ourselves to meetings and the more we met in each others’ homes, dealt with each others’ children, and became transparent with each other, the more we began to see issues. It wasn’t that we were bad people, where we had come from we were thought of as the cream of the crop. In reality, it was that we had lived at such a distance from each other that our issues could hide beneath the surface and not have to get dealt with.
Why does this happen? I believe it’s a subtle mix of good intentions and fear. Many fear being outed for the things in their past and the things in their present. The fear of what others would think of us if they truly knew how bad things are keeps us from being honest about our situation. Others, I think, truly believe in some spiritual form of “fake it till you make it” and put up a clean front so they aren’t a bad testimony. They try and clean up the outside of the cup without cleaning the inside. This is a deception, but I know well meaning people who have attempted to do it.
If I don’t mention it, someone will write in and remind me about pride and hypocrisy. These are real, too, though I don’t think we start there. I think we start in some mix of fear or good intentions and then over years of acting, we develop pride and hypocrisy around the image we present to others. This last version of us is actually worse than the broken version of ourselves that we are so unwilling to show others, but we feel protected. As Jesus says, the last state of this person is worse than the first.
I say all of this as a Christian who has had dirty little secrets of my own. My intent is not to cast stones, but to say this: We are way more broken than we let on and it’s killing us. The unconfessed sin and double sided lives that we lead are letting issues fester within us in the dark, but they affect how we live life in the world and short circuit the life God desires us to have. Even if no one in our church knows, it’s still affecting the church.
The good news is there is an answer for this trap. It’s called living in the light. It’s a hard, sometimes painful process where we begin to live close enough to other believers that they can truly know us and we can truly know them. When we see issues in each others’ lives, we talk through them. We pray for each other. When we see issues in our own lives, we confess them to those believers living closely with us. This is the process Jesus gives us to be transformed:
But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
This, friends, is the open secret…something so good and not hidden at all, yet few people know and practice: God wants us to come into the light with the real issues of our lives. When we bring our true selves into God’s light with other brothers and sisters, that’s where healing can occur. We can’t force others to go there, we can only go there ourselves and hope others come with us. As others see us learning to truly love and be honest about our own junk, they begin to believe it’s possible for themselves.
My hope is you are beginning to believe it is possible for you. Christianity needs it.
Yesterday I spent some time talking about the issues of pride within house churches. In that post I suggested that receiving the love of God and letting that free you from comparison drives out pride. Today I’d like to focus on a practical method of dealing with pride: confession.
If, when I talk about confession, you start to see pictures of confessional booths and men with collars, you’re probably thinking of the wrong thing. When the Protestant Reformation happened, Luther and his allies announced that all believers were priests and therefore you didn’t have to to a priest to get forgiveness of your sins. But the unfortunate side effect of the Reformation is the practice of confession was all but lost to Bible-believing church.
The apostle James, who as the brother of Jesus obviously believed in direct access to God and the priesthood of all believers, encourages believers to confess their sins to one another because it results in both spiritual and physical healing (James 5:16). At least one aspect of spiritual healing that confession offers is the ability to be healed of our pride. If we are honest with ourselves about our sin, it’s hard to be judgmental towards others.When we expose the darkness in our own hearts to another human being, it becomes much harder to create masks of greatness that feed our pride. If we do, we have brothers or sisters that aren’t deceived by the masks we wear.
Now this is a bit of a chicken and egg sort of problem: Does confession create humility or does humility cause someone to confess their sins to another person? I would tell you the answer is “Yes!” Obviously humble people confess their sins to others, but there are times when confession becomes an act of the will and true humility is birthed in the heart of a believer afterwards. It’s both/and. I can tell you, though, that those who are transparent and honest about the weakness are generally some of the more humble people that I know.
I’ve talked about confession at length here on the blog, both about how confession creates brotherhood and how true transparency births transformation. There are tons of benefits in addition to keeping us humble. The first step is to find someone: another man if you’re a man, another woman if you’re a woman, and begin a regular practice of confession with him or her. If you need a model for this, you can use one we’ve found helpful here.
The point isn’t that you do it perfectly, it’s more important that you start. You may notice a difference immediately, but if you don’t you’ll definitely notice a difference in a year or two. It’s a long game to protect your soul and keep you safe from pride that so easily corrupts spiritual things.
It’s also the place where transformation happens.