Okay….okay…I get it. It’s not as catchy nor anywhere near as intense as Shark Week. I mean, who in their right mind would try and top Shark Week? I did want to announce, though, that in October (one month from today) we will begin Starfish Month here at Pursuing Glory.
What’s Starfish Month, you ask?
Well, nearly nine years ago this October, I was part of a conference that was hosted by some dear friends in Kansas City. These friends had invited a long-time inspiration of mine, Wolfgang Simson, to come and share about what he felt the Lord was doing in the Earth. Wolf, as some of you know, wrote Houses That Change the World and at that time was putting the finishing touches on a new book that he eventually published himself called the Starfish Manifesto.
Houses That Change the World helped birth the idea of house churches in the hearts and minds of many early adopters within the house church movement. The Starfish Manifesto was kind of a next step. Where Houses was a micro level view of how churches should function, the Starfish Manifesto was the macro view of how a movement of house churches could reach the world for Jesus. It was next level thinking beyond anything I had come across at that point.
Also during this conference, I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes here and there chatting with Wolfgang. I remember him saying very firmly at one point that if we wanted to understand the true nature of what the Lord was doing in the church in that hour, we had to go and read a secular book called “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. When the conference was finished I hurriedly ran to my nearest bookstore and picked up a copy with a gift card I received. The book, which was all about the power of leaderless organizations, blew my mind and changed the way I’ve thought about the church ever since. Don’t let the fact that this is a secular book throw you. There is so much here gleaned from history and nature that you will quickly see the Lord’s inspiration in this book, whether the author’s meant it that way or not.
Needless to say, that month of October all the way back in 2008 was a formative year. Much of what came from that time formed the basis for what was to come as we worked to plant and raise up house churches here in Iowa. Every October, as the weather gets colder here, I look back sentimentally on that season and wish I could share it with you all. So, this October, I plan to do just that.
Starting Monday, October 2nd, I’m going to host a sort of book club here on the blog. Mondays and Thursdays in October I’ll share a brief synopsis of a chapter here on the blog with my thoughts on the content. Tuesdays and Fridays during October, I’ll take some of the thoughts and apply them to how they relate to the church. Throughout the week in October, I’ll also be sharing short excerpts from the condensed version of Wolfgang’s Starfish Manifesto, the Starfish Vision, on my Twitter feed. All of this adds up to us talking about how Jesus designed his church to function like a starfish.
Why am I telling you all now? To get you prepared, of course. First, I would love it if one or two of you joined me in re-reading “The Starfish and the Spider.” If that sounds interesting to you, now is the time to pick yourself up a copy of the book. You may also want to jump straight to Wolf’s Starfish Vision booklet and dive into what you find there. Regardless, I hope you join me in Reformation month reading and thinking about how there is still more reformation left ahead for the church and strategizing about how we can be part of it.
It’s not Shark Week…but it might just cause you to change the world.
Over the last ten years, God has had me on a journey learning from the Church in the global South and East. Many of these lessons I’ve been able to learn directly from those from other parts of the world. But while I have had the privilege of spending time in other countries with believers I would never meet here, not everyone will have that opportunity. Thankfully, in order to learn from the church in other parts of the world, you don’t need ot be able to afford a plane ticket, you just need to be able to read.
Even earlier than my trips overseas, God was beginning to teach me about His Kingdom through books that were written by saints from other nations. For those of you who haven’t experienced or read much beyond your own borders, the following books can be helpful:
For those of you who remember that my story started in the midst of revival, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that the topic of revival was near and dear to my heart. Early on I started reading books on revivals in the West, but I quickly discovered there were books that talked about revivals going on in other nations of the Earth. This book documents the story of the revival that took place in Argentina over the 80’s and the early 90’s. This revival had ties to what was currently happening in the United States in the mid-90’s and talks about how Argentina was affected by this move of the Spirit. C Peter Wagner’s book not only talked about revival, but it sowed a vision for apostolic church planting in the midst of a move of the Spirit that I had never conisdered before.
I picked up this copy shortly after I read “The Rising Revival.” Carlos Annacondia was featured in that book in a short way. This book is his story of becoming the Pentecostal Billy Graham of Argentina. I think the draw of this book is Annacondia’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to direct him and draw in a harvest, not just hold revival meetings. His meetings were marked by demons being cast out, the sick being healed, and the Holy Spirit filling new converts. I loved seeing how the movement of the Spirit was playing out in a fairly modern nation like Argentina. I should note, while many of the things mentioned in “The Rising Revival” and “Listen to Me, Satan” were pivotal to my spiritual growth, I probably no longer hold to some of their views on how the church is structured like I did back then.
Technically this breaks with my theme of learning from the church of the global South and East, since this book was written by a German. However, much of the insight that Wolfgang shares comes from studying house church planting movements all over the Earth. Most notably, Wolf spent a number of years in India trying to understand what the Lord was doing through the house church movement there with a goal of applying the lessons learned to the church in the West. This book changed my understanding of the nature of the church and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a good book on house churches.
I read this book a year after I read “Houses That Change the World” and these two books helped change the direction of my life. While Houses was more of a “how to” manual for meeting as a church like in the New Testament, the Heavenly Man read like the book of Acts. This book tells the story of one of the leaders of the underground house church movement in China. Through persecution, Brother Yun spreads the gospel, raises up leaders, and mobilizes the Chinese church to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, the very place that it came from. You will not walk away from this book without being personally inspired and challenged. And, as a bonus, for the first time in reading, I saw a house church movement and the power of the Holy Spirit tied together in a way I hadn’t read about outside of Acts. In many ways it’s why I’m still able to contend for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a church planting movement. Many of us hear about how God is moving powerfully in the Chinese Church. This book give you a front row seat.
This may be cheating to have two books by the same author. This follow up is not really a sequel, as much as it is Brother Yun’s attempt to teach after having told his story. If you finished reading “The Heavenly Man” and were left wondering “How, then, should we live?” Living Water is the answer. It’s full of solid teaching on the Kingdom of God in the life of a Christian, from a Chinese perspective. Reading this book is like asking Brother Yun to disciple you a little bit each day for a month. It’s well worth your time.
It’s hard to put into words how refreshing this book was. I picked this up last year at the recommendation of some friends. It follows missionary Nik Ripken as he tries to grapple with horrible darkness and incredible fruitlessness that he encounters in Somalia. When he leaves the mission field for a season, he and his wife use the time to meet and research how the church survives and thrives under persecution. The stories he encounters and the people that he writes about are some of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard recently. They pages are also filled with a challenge to endure for Jesus under long-term sustained pressure. This is truly a global book, starting in Africa, moving to Russia, China, and the Middle East. Reading this book will convince you that God can work on your behalf anywhere you go. Because of all of this, this book was my number one book recommendation for last year.
This one deserves a mention though its a book I’m currently working through right now. The book is written by a church historian and a missionary to Thailand. Both of them use their background and education to reveal how we in the West read the Bible through lenses that the original audiences of the Bible never wore. When we do this, according to the authors, we come up with a different message than the one the Bible was intending us to hear. This book has been a fascinating look at concepts like honor/shame and individual/corporate interpretations that I think most Western believers never get exposed to. There is a lot of eye-opening thoughts here. Reading it with an open mind will change (for the good) how you interpret Scripture.
Well, that’s enough for today. I could go on. But my point in listing these books was that you see you can learn from the church around the world without buying a plane ticket.
Many of you have already written me some of the books you’ve read about similar things. If you’ve read a book from an author from a dramatically different part of the world that has strengthened your walk with Christ, leave a comment for us and tell us the name of the book and how it impacted you.
….so this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down….
Ok…so, no, I didn’t become the Fresh Prince. But I did go from being a very traditional charismatic evangelical to meeting in homes with other believers, forsaking many of the things people think are “normal,” and generally causing a ruckus among unbelievers and believers alike.
It started when I moved to Kansas City. I had always felt called to plant churches and that pursuit took me to a small bible college in Kansas City known as the Forerunner School of Ministry*. However, the bible college, at the time, was not connected with a local church. Because of that, they encouraged us all to seek out a local church to become a part of.
My roommate, my girlfriend (now wife), and I took that challenge seriously together (we had one car…it was college!). Because of my love for church planting and the things of the Spirit, we settled on this crazy little church plant in downtown Kansas City. They met in the basement of this old church building that also hosted indie concerts several nights of the week.
One of the leaders told us that they wanted everyone in their church to be a part of a “house church.” When we asked what that meant, it mostly sounded like a small group. So we joined. And that first house church was mostly like a small group. The members interacted once a week outside of the Sunday service. But we got closer to the church through the process.
The real changes came in the following waves:
Wave #1: I heard the senior leader of the church tell someone else that if they wanted to understand where the church was headed, they should read a book called “Houses That Change the World” by Wolfgang Simson. I picked up the book very shortly after hearing that conversation.
I didn’t immediately fall in the love with the book, but over time it became the book I recommend to anyone who is interested in the subject of house church. One other thing to note: This is a house church book not written by an American and I value it for that reason. It doesn’t carry the same stain of the emerging church angst that color many of the other books written during that season. Houses That Change the World opened my eyes to what the Bible says about being the Church.
Wave #2: As we began to grow closer and commit to this church for a longer period of time, my roommate, my girlfriend, and I felt like it was time to strike out and start a house church in our part of town**. Mind you we weren’t ardent house church people at the time. Quickly we gathered believers from around the area we lived in and a house church was born.
All I can tell you was that quickly we became family. The presence of the Holy Spirit would meet us powerfully, multiple people began to function in their giftings, and we saw each other almost daily. Shortly after starting this house church, the leader of our church called to tell me they felt the Lord calling us to discontinue the Sunday service and begin to meet strictly as house churches. Do I need to remind you we weren’t ardent house church people again? This wasn’t a change I wanted. But we were in love with these people, so we said “yes” and went along for the ride. And I’m glad we did.
There was a specific moment when this all clicked for me. One of the women that met with us was a divorced mother of four girls. Our network was hosting a retreat an hour away from Kansas City and our whole house church came. It was a great time. But at the end of the retreat the leader asked us to share about what the Lord had been doing in our lives. The mom stood up and said it was her second oldest daughter’s birthday this weekend and over the course of the weekend she had asked her daughter if she was sad she couldn’t be with her dad. Prior to that year, they had always been together on birthdays. The mom recounted her daughter’s story: “At first I was sad mom that Dad wasn’t here, but then I realized that….” and she began to name the names of the men in our house church… “John***, Steve, and Travis were here, and they’re like dads to me.” There was pretty much no dry eye left in the place by the time she was done. Everyone was in awe of how God was healing and restoring a sense of oneness and family through a simple thing like a spiritual family.
That one event, more than anything else has solidified my view of house churches as a vehicle for spiritual family brought to its rightful place in the body of Christ. There should be moms and dads raising up spiritual sons and daughters. Daily contact and exchange of the life of Christ should be the norm, not the exception. Being part of a house church helped me see the beauty of a simple, organic expression of church in real life.
Wave #3: After a year and a half with the church that we had fallen in love with, we felt inexplicably called back to Iowa. We had a few dreams that had lined up with our previous plans and so my girlfriend (and now soon-to-be wife) packed our apartments and headed back to Iowa. We left the house churches we started (ours had multiplied) in the capable hands of my roommate and another trusted friend.
We rejoined the church we were part of before we left. We got engaged. We got married. I took a year off from anything ministry related in order to pursue Jesus more intently. And during that time, I noticed something. I was back in my home church, which I loved, but I felt like a fish out of water. And it was this fish out of water stage that was truly convicting. In Kansas City, I was just going along for the ride with someone else’s ministry. But now, it was clear, this spiritual family thing, this every member ministering thing, this simple, reproducible gathering thing was in me.
I began to talk with my pastors at the church. I also recruited a few trusted friends that began to share my vision for how church could be different. All of this required me to be an advocate for this vision I had in my heart.The pastors of the church, in incredible humility, gave me the green light to start something very different than the church we were all part of. We’re good friends with a number of the brothers that are still there to this day.
Obviously, after that I was a house church guy. But it was the process of understanding that house church wasn’t just a strategy, but a life to live that was the final straw. I was jealous to live that kind of focused, Acts 2 life with other believers again. So much so that I was willing to advocate for it. It took being out of that environment for me to realize it had become who I was.
And so, now, I’m a house church guy. We have a small network of house churches that we love. We’re still working out the kinks on various parts of the process. We’re not good at certain aspects of what we’re called to (yet!). But it’s been worth the journey.
How about you? If your a house church guy (or gal) I’d love to hear your story as well.
*The Forerunner School of Ministry is now known as IHOP-University or IHOPU, a division of the International House of Prayer. I walked away from my time with IHOP with a respect for many of the people and having learned a great deal, but in the end I did not start a prayer center nor did I stay there. If you have issues with me respecting people who pray a lot but not starting a similar ministry, then you have permission to ask questions or give commentary.
**At this stage of my life, I do not endorse many of the ways I’ve started house churches in the past. Early on for me it just meant gathering seasoned believers and hoping unbelievers would show up, but I’d steer you away from that strategy now.
***Some names were changed, to protect the innocent. 😉