Starting a simple church can be simple

We may have just helped to start another church.

Sometimes starting a simple church can be just that–simple. We’ve had a wonderful couple from a Hindu background who have part of the church in our home for a while. We’ve prayed with them, baptized them, rejoiced with them at the miracles they’ve seen. When they had a baby, fairly recently, with their jobs and all their other commitments, plus the baby’s sleep schedule, getting to our home on a Friday evening became nearly impossible for them. Tony and I had breakfast and fellowship with them on occasion but they were missing the regular gathering.

A few weeks ago. I was contacted by a young couple who lives near us, asking if I knew of a simple church near them. I invited them to come visit the church that meets in our home. When their baby’s schedule made that impossible, I had a sudden revelation (duh!)

Let’s get these two couples together and see what happens. Both couples were excited at the idea.

So we did just that, 10 days ago, and the six of us had a great time of fellowship–learning about each other’s lives over brunch in one of their homes.

They were all part of a pool party we had on July 4th at our home. (Because July 4th was a Friday, we had a party instead of our normal church. It was BYOB–bring your own BBQ– and everyone was encouraged to bring others. About a third of those who came were friends and family of those in the church).

It’s too early to be sure yet, but I think we may have just laid the foundation of another simple church. Some of you may be thinking, “Just bringing two Christian couples together is starting a church?” Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It’s the presence of Jesus that makes it “church,” not the size. Now obviously more needs to happen. As they both reach out into their circles of influence, more people will get involved. But is it the basic building block of church? Yes!

July 4th sparklers

 

Sometimes I’m excited when people leave our church…

Sometimes I get really excited when people leave the church that meets in our home.

Here’s an email I received this week.

I just wanted to let y’all know that we have really enjoyed getting to know y’all and your church. It’s been a real joy and I’m sure we’ll still be stopping by from time to time, so keep us on your email list please. 
 
However, we just started a new church with some of our neighbors who don’t yet know Jesus. We are meeting with them on Friday nights, so we’ll be unable to join y’all most Fridays. 
 
We met with them last Friday. We checked-in with them and listened to The Lord together. This was a powerful time with lots of hard things shared and many tears. After that we did a discover bible study with them in John 1. Again this was very powerful, even though it was the first time they had read the passage. Neither of them could even locate the book of John before hand, but their insights were amazing. 
 
Thank you again for sharing yourselves and your community with us, and please keep us in your prayers as we press on to join y’all in trying to see a vibrant family of Jesus within close reach of everyone in Austin. 
Isn’t that awesome?
 

On CPMs and DMMs

It seems that the terminology is changing. People now are referring to Disciple Making Movements (DMMs) rather than Church Planting Movements (CPMs).

After my last post on this subject, one where I am just beginning to explore the differences, a few people, who have far more experience (at least of DMMs) than I do, commented. Their comments were so insightful, I decided to post them where more people are likely to read them.

John King: 

Multiple factors have produced this change in terminology. Some suggested it because Jesus directed “make disciples,” while he is the one who builds his church. Churches (communities of faith practicing the “one another” passages) will result when people are discipled to Jesus. Secondarily, the shift happened because CPM terminology was being hijacked by folks who are not seeing rapid, multiplicative and indigenous growth. When terms are used to mean whatever you want them to, they really mean nothing (sort of like the guy shooting the side of his barn and then painting a bull’s eye around where the shot landed).

Intentionally discipling disciple makers forces you to:

  • Use only resources, tactics and strategies that the indigenous people group can readily replicate.
  • Strip away all the catalyst’s cultural “over-hang” and trust the Holy Spirit to guide family/friendship groups to contextualize the gospel as they learn and obey it (since different cultures already have strong, deep views of the context in which spiritual activities transpire and how they are conducted, that will impact the kinds of gatherings they develop and eventually call “church”).
  • Model and train discovery of who God is and how he wants us to live at every level of growth and maturity. Jesus’ discipling of the 12, 72 and 500 was as much through the flow of life as it was what he said. (Here we assume giving people new information will result in transformation. It won’t. On-the-job training, just in the nick of time additional training is critical to DMM).

Larry:

That is a great observation Felicity. Having been involved in a CPM in India I would say from my observation that to a certain extent a CPM is a disciple making movement. You can’t have a CPM without leaders developing leaders several levels deep. The exponential growth is a result of leaders being developed and trained to reproduce. To me that is a level of discipleship. You can’t make disciples without being first a disciple. However, I think the real question is depth of discipleship. You know the old saying, “A mile wide and an inch deep”. So on one hand a CPM is in itself a DMM to a certain level. But on the other hand, there is a need for the next level of a DMM to help sustain and grow the maturity level of each church.

Jay Pratt:

My study of CPM’s & DDM’s is that they are driven by what I call Ordinary Christians. They are non-professional, with no special theological training, who are average people but love to spend lots of time with Jesus. Many of these ordinary christians are just months or even weeks old. Another form these kinds of movement that has started in the US is the T4T Training with Jeff Sundell in North Carolina. He’s a former IMB Missionary who ignited a movement in Nepal but now is igniting one in N. America.

Anyone else with experience of DMMs like to comment?

The Rabbit and the Elephant from simplechurch.com on Vimeo.

 

 

What is a church planting movement

One of the areas I’m exploring at the moment is the difference (if there is one) between a church planting movement (CPM)  and a disciple making movement (DMM). My impression is that they both result in multiplying churches, but there are subtle differences in how they come about. Many of those involved in CPMs now seem to be emphasizing DMMs.

The CPMs I’m most familiar with are in India. They use Luke 10 principles to find a person of peace and start a church in their home. For example, a few years ago, I met with two middle-aged housewives, one of whom was responsible at that point for having started 2000 churches and the other 6000 churches. The movement they are part of has seen 750,000 baptisms each year for the past several years.

In David Garrison’s book, Church Planting Movements, How God Is Redeeming a Lost World,  he defines a CPM:

A CPM is a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.

Three key points to note:

  1. It’s rapid–things happen quickly and appear out of control.
  2. It’s multiplicative–not growth by addition.
  3. It’s indigenous–the church planting doesn’t occur because outsiders come in (although they may be catalytic in the early stages) but because local, indigenous people are starting churches.
It’s further defined by David Watson as having at least 100 churches, three generations deep that have occurred within 2 years.

There are CPMs all around the world, but none that have been labeled as such here in the States. Church Multiplication Associates led by Neil Cole is probably the closest in this country. CMA has trained more than 45,000 people around the world since its inception.

Church Planting Movements are also characterized by things such as intense prayer and abundant evangelism, small groups usually meeting in homes, Bible study and discipleship. The churches themselves plant other churches.

Have any of you studied these areas? What have you found?

 

3 predictions for 2014

For most of us, the New Year is marked by a sense of anticipation. The old year is done with; what will 2014 hold? Here are three of my ideas for what 2014 might bring for those of us in the simple/organic/house church movement (or those with an interest in the role of women in ministry).

  1. There will continue to be an increasing emphasis on disciple-making movements. Profoundly effective disciple-making movements are beginning to emerge in this country, with, at this stage, hundreds of new believers stretching several generations. This is an exciting development, and one that I believe will continue to gain momentum. More to come on this in future posts.
  2. The simple/organic/house church movement will maybe lose some people as those who joined it to be fashionable drop out. However, it will become a foundational platform for other things God is doing–for example, discipleship in the marketplace, Kingdom finances etc.
  3. The conversation about women in the Kingdom will increase in intensity and become a (probably controversial) focal point.

Am I right? Only time will tell. What do you think will happen in 2014?

What will 2014 hold

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When you come together–the Holy Spirit leads

On Friday evening, when the church that meets in our home met together, it was quieter than usual. We were a smaller group (the weather was terrible) but, as usual, the Holy Spirit showed up. Much of our time was spent around the Word, and what we learned together was truly relevant to the things going on in people’s lives. I was blessed as God spoke to me about reclaiming a habit I’d lost over the years–that of meditating on his Word as I fall asleep.

If we do in our homes what we’ve traditionally done in the four walls of our church buildings, (what our friend John White calls, “Honey, I shrunk the church,”) we miss out on one of the greatest blessings of simple/organic church–the Holy Spirit being in control. He’s like the conductor of an orchestra, and as each one of us plays our individual melody at his prompting, a symphony emerges.

I  first learned this back in the early days of the British House Church Movement.

I remember those times very well.  The power and presence of the Lord was almost tangible.  I remember running to get to the meeting because I couldn’t wait to get into the Lord’s presence with the rest of the body of Christ.  No one dared go in with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to address it publicly.  I remember times when everyone was on their faces on the floor, lost in God’s presence.

It was in that kind of context that we learned to follow the Holy Spirit in a gathering.  Week after week we would watch the Holy Spirit lead and guide in his own unmistakable fashion, drawing out whatever theme he had for us.  Sometimes we would be mostly in worship, other times in prayer. I can still remember some of the lessons we learned in times around the Word. It was always fresh, never dull.

But it was a learning experience. As we tried to follow the Lord, sometimes our times were so bad, we would all decide to just go home. But as we learned to press in, over the months, it came to the place where nearly every week the presence of Jesus was there.

Things may not be as dramatic in this current move of what God is doing (the house church movement in the UK was very tied in to the charismatic movement).  But the Holy Spirit still leads clearly, and I’m spoiled for anything else!

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Could this really be church?

For some time, Tony and I were involved in a church plant in the low-income housing projects in our city.  Each time we got together, we started with a meal; at times, it resembled a stampede to the table. On one particular occasion, we had barely finished the meal when a fight broke out between two of the kids. James, the son of Rosa, our person of peace, took the troublemaker upstairs; he wanted the instigator to know how that kind of behavior in the projects around the wrong person could possibly get him shot. Then Rosa got involved, telling James that he was handling the situation all wrong. (This is supposed to be church!)

When things had settled down and the kids were outside playing again, James posed a question to the rest of us. “How do you handle it when you hate someone?” Was this the Holy Spirit leading us to discuss this question?  We thought so.  For forty minutes, we discussed how a Christian should handle hatred, how to discipline kids, and what to do when Christians disagree. Everyone read Bible passages and shared personal experiences.  Then someone else suggested that we pray about the situation.  Again, this seemed to be the leading of the Lord, and so we prayed for each other.  There were tears and laughter.   Then the kids joined us for a time of praise. At one point I looked up, and two kids about nine and eleven years old were singing their hearts out with their faces raised, eyes closed. It may not have been the most in-tune worship, and it was certainly loud. But I thought to myself, Jesus, You’re here, and You love this!

Black girl praying

Simple missions

This past weekend I met with a group of people to discuss missions.

Traditional church is complex and complicated. Think of what goes into a typical Sunday morning service, let alone the upkeep of a building, handling the finances, keeping the programs running. Ordinary people, who have no training in ecclesiology and who have jobs and families, would find it very difficult to start and/or run a traditional church.

Simple/organic church, on the other hand, is so simple, almost anyone can start one.

Traditional missions is complex too. They require mission agencies and mission boards to keep them running. Raising support is tough. It’s hard to adapt to a different culture.

A question I’ve been asking myself for some time is this. What would simple missions look like? Just as simple/organic church has a very different feel and DNA to the traditional, what would be the differences between simple and traditional missions?

What ideas do you have?

 
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Do simple/organic churches need a “covering”?

Here’s the idea: everyone needs covering–a kind of spiritual protection against the storms of life. If someone moves out from under covering, (as in leaving a particular church, or more specifically a particular leader), they somehow become vulnerable to demonic attack and are likely to end up with all kinds of problems. House churches are especially vulnerable because they don’t have any kind of covering–no one who has spiritual authority over them. Their people don’t answer to anyone.

Covering

I’ve come across a number of people who have been told this by their pastor or spiritual leader when they have brought up the idea of leaving a particular church. When they’ve taken the plunge and moved away from that church, others, who used to be their friends, have even been forbidden to have contact with them in case they are “contaminated.”

I believe this is spiritual abuse.

The idea of covering is totally non-Scriptural! The only reference to covering in this way in the Bible is the story of Ruth and Boaz where Ruth asks Boaz to extend the borders of his garment over her. It’s very far-fetched to apply this to church leadership.

As Frank Viola says, I think in Reimagining Church, it is extraordinary that when Paul writes to the people in Corinth addressing a serious moral problem in the church, he does not ask the leadership of the church to deal with it. One would have expected him to ask the elders to handle the situation. Instead, he addresses the whole body and anticipates they will deal with the problem.

We quite often get asked, “Who is your spiritual covering?” Our response: “Jesus is the authority to whom the church answers! We can all hear him and respond to his call on our lives.” If the Lord calls others to leave us, we give them our blessing and send them on their way. We’ve found that you cannot outgive God.

What do you think

Guest post by Sean Steckbeck: The New Testament church?

Here is another guest post by Sean Steckbeck. Sean lives in Israel and he brings a unique perspective.

Preparations had been made all day, and an intensive time of cleaning the house. The family is expecting the guests to arrive at any moment and the table is set. Finally, a knock on the door welcomes a house filled with guests, mostly family and close friends. The dinner is prepared and is neatly set on the table and at its center piece, the bread and the wine.  The head of the household begins to tell a story from the Bible, uses sensory symbolism, and asks inductive questions especially to the kids sitting at the table. The interaction is electrifying and even sometimes erupts into heated debate.  The bread and wine are taken, and then an enjoyable meal starts as everyone ponders on the story that was told at the table, the questions which were asked, and the discussions that proceeded.

What do you think this event was? Was it a house church in Asia or America? Was it a typical house church meeting? No, this took place in an Orthodox Jewish home in Jerusalem, as well as nearly all the Jewish homes around the world in an event called Passover. Although it has all the elements of a typical house church around the world – eating together, story-telling, inductive learning and discussion, community — taking place in the home.

Oftentimes, when we talk about restoring the New Testament church, we are forgetting that many of the elements we want to see restored are actually concepts from the Old Testament.  We speak of the “temple mentality”, but don’t realize that temple worship for the everyday person in Israel was only three times a year (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles). Most historians and archeologists even agree that during the 2nd temple period the synagogue was a multi-purpose community center rather than a religious building. The synagogue becoming the center of weekly religious Jewish life happened around the same time that church buildings became the center of the Christian church’s life.

The central theme to the Jewish people is the Shema, which is mentioned in Deuteronomy  6:4-9:

 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”

Impressing the commandments to our children.

Talking about them when sitting at home.

Talking about them when walking along the road.

Does this sound like organic church and simple church?

Are we restoring the New Testament Church, or something God had planned from the beginning?

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