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A fashionable fad

Several years ago, in our book The Rabbit and the Elephant: Why Small Is the New Big for Today’s Church, I wrote a chapter on some of the potential pitfalls the house church movement might face as it became “fashionable.” Here’s what I said:

Another hazard is that of becoming fashionable, the latest phenomenon in church statistics, the trendy alternative to traditional church. There will always be people who hop onto the bandwagon because they want to be part of the latest thing, not because the Holy Spirit is leading them. But those who join the simple church movement without truly understanding and living out its DNA will soon find that what they have is only a pale substitute for the real thing.

Photo Credit: MSVG via Compfight cc

I believe we have seen this come to pass over the past few years. Many people started groups outside the four walls of the sacred building in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, often working with those who didn’t know the Lord. But as “house church” became a buzz word, others became involved because they wanted to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing. Churches changed their home groups to house churches without changing anything more than the name. For some it seemed a good idea and a way to escape the tedium of the status quo. So they did what they’ve always known in terms of meetings, but exchanged the pew for a sofa.

Some of the incredible growth we have seen (The Pew Forum reckons that 9% of Protestants “attend religious services” in homes) is due to this phenomenon. That phase is coming to an end. Those groups that only changed their name will either die,  join the next fad, or, hopefully, seek the Lord to change them. House/simple/organic church is now mainstream and I don’t think that will change, but what emerges over the next few years may be a truer reflection of what God is doing through this movement.

Just my two cents worth as I look back on the incredible things God has done. What do you think?

How to find a simple/organic/house church in your area

One of the most common communications I get is this: “I live in ——. Do you know of a house church in my area?”

It can be difficult to find a simple/organic church. We don’t put a sign outside our house saying “Church Meets Here.”  We’re not listed in the Yellow Pages under “Churches.” Contact usually happens by word of mouth.

The best way I know to find a simple/organic church in your area is via House2House. It has a “find a church” map where if you type in your zip code it will list the simple/organic churches near you. If you already have a church, why not submit your church’s information?  You’ll find people contacting you who are looking for fellowship.

But I think there’s a better way.

Most of the people who contact me with that request have been Christians for years. They don’t need to find a simple/organic church where their needs will be met and where they will be well taught. They are mature believers. They have much to give. Why don’t they pray about starting a church themselves?

Don’t know how to start a church? Go to one of CMA’s Greenhouse conferences. Or go through this online 6 week church planting course. The House2House site is full of useful resources and are always ready to help anyone who contacts them.

Anyone interested?

 Photo Credit: Arty Smokes (deaf mute) (Creative Commons)

You want to see someone become a Jesus follower? Try spiritual warfare

For the past two months Tony and I have been engaged in some of the most intense spiritual warfare of our lives.

We were in Taiwan when we received a phone call detailing a situation very close to the heart of our family.  God challenged us to be willing to pray and intercede over it, and especially that one of the people concerned would surrender their life to the Lord–something we had been praying about for years. We knew from previous experience what this could mean–every spare minute engaged in intercession and warfare. It would mean that some nights we would be up half the night in prayer–not because we had chosen to but because the Lord would wake us. No more lazy evenings watching TV. Up early in the mornings so we could fit in extra prayer time.

The verses that we sensed we were to pray over particularly come in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.

A book by Paul Billheimer, which I highly recommend, called Destined for the Throne: How Spiritual Warfare Prepares the Bride of Christ for Her Eternal Destiny first alerted me many years ago to the fact that these verses apply primarily to non-believers. We are to destroy every proud obstacle that keeps them from knowing God. And the way we do this isn’t through human logic or argument and discussion, but through the spiritual tools Jesus has given us–praise  and thanksgiving (Psalm 149:6-9), the Word (Ephesians 6:17), claiming his promises (Romans 3:4; 2 Corinthians 1:20), binding and loosing (Matthew 16:18-19; 18:18), the blood of Jesus and the word of our testimony and the fact that are willing to lay down our lives (Revelation 12:11).

Within two days, we saw our first, very small breakthrough.

Shortly after this at one of our home church gatherings, everyone broke into small groups to pray about the “impossible situations” they were facing in their lives–for example, two families wanted to pray for people with serious drug and alcohol problems. Maybe 5 or 6 people were prayed for.

Within a month, the person Tony and I were praying for had found the Lord due to a remarkable series of circumstances–thank you Jesus, we are so very grateful–and had led someone else to Christ.  Another one of the other “impossible situations” had become a Christian too  And it is very clear that God is working in two more.

Yes, the timing was right in our particular battle, but spiritual warfare will result in people finding Christ.

The end of this story has not been written yet–it is still an ongoing journey. We have won the first battle and that gives us confidence that we can press through to see the war won. We know that Jesus has won the  overall victory.

If anyone would like a list of the verses we use in spiritual warfare, let me know.

I’d love to hear any stories where you have seen something similar.

 

 

Photo Credit: One lucky guy (Creative Commons)

 

 

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church

I’ve been studying the different characters that appear in the Book of Acts recently, starting with Paul. I’ve often puzzled over apparently contradictory passages from Acts and Galatians that talk about what Paul did immediately after his conversion–whether or not he visited the apostles in Jerusalem. As I revisited this question, I remembered a book written by Frank Viola called  The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament. I’d skimmed the book before, but never taken the time to study it.

Frank is a good friend of ours. He and his wife have enjoyed several evenings with us in our hot tub, putting the world to rights. (It’s where we came up with the idea for the hilarious spoof video for his book, Pagan Christianity?, that our son, Tim produced.)

I’ve been reading The Untold Story for a week or so now, following the extensive endnotes, and greatly enjoying the insight and research Frank has produced. The books promo claims “you will understand the New Testament like never before.” As I have read the epistles within their historical context in the New Testament narrative, I would definitely say the book lives up to its claims. Anyone who desires a greater understanding of the history of the early church would profit from reading it.

 

What’s in a name? Missional Community

The word, “missional” has become something of a buzz-word over recent years. Several friends such as Linda Bergquist and Alan Hirsch were involved in writing a Missional Manifesto which was published last year to help describe the term. Here’s the first sentence from the manifesto:

God is a sending God, a missionary God, who has called His people, the church, to be missionary agents of His love and glory.

Several of the mega-churches in our city have come to terms with the fact that , even if they multiplied themselves many times over, they wouldn’t be able to reach the city in the way they long to, and they are adopting simple/organic principles as a deliberate strategy. This isn’t just happening here in Austin, but all over the country.

I’ve led workshops at three of their conferences (like Verge and Exponential), and the main speakers at the conferences have included people like Neil Cole, David Watson, George Patterson, David Garrison–all of whom teach on simple/organic principles and church planting or disciple-making movements.

What these churches have come to recognize through the teachings of people like Alan Hirsch, is that an attractional model of church (“Come to our church service, come and hear our special speaker) isn’t nearly as effective as sending the members of their church into their communities and sub-cultures to reach out with the good news of Jesus. And although their church members might continue to come to the main church, the new “missional communities” formed in the harvest from the disciples that come to the Lord through their witness, are not expected to feed into the main church. These missional communities are autonomous, able to baptize and give communion, free to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead when they meet.

To all intents and purposes, they are simple/organic churches. “A rose by any other name is still a rose.”

I, personally, am very excited by this development. Mega-churches have huge resources of personnel. Imagine what could happen if these churches sent out their young people by their hundreds to form missional communities across the city.

Alongside this,  a slightly different model is also called a missional community. These “missional communities” originated in the UK. Mike Breen is the name most commonly associated with them. This model is larger–a small congregation with 25-50 people attending. They are not just a smaller version of Sunday morning, but have an upward focus (towards God) and inward focus towards their missional community and an outward focus into mission. They have spread into Europe and are now becoming better known here in the States.

What might happen in our cities if nobody minds who gets the credit?

What’s in a name? Different uses of the term, “organic”

The term, organic, means natural, nonchemical, living, and alive. When applied to church, it refers to something that grows naturally.

Photo credit: thebittenword (Creative Commons)

Two people have popularized the name, organic church within the simple/organic/house church world.

Neil Cole was the first one to do so with his superb book, Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, which God has used to teach the principles of multiplication and harvest all over the world. He uses the term to refer to planting the seed of the Kingdom out in our communities where people need the Lord. Here’s a quote from the introduction:

What would it be like if churches emerged organically, like small spiritual families born out of the soil of lostness, because the seed of God’s Kingdom was planted there? These churches could reproduce, just like all living things do.

We have seen churches meeting in restaurants, offices, homes, university campuses, high school facilities and beaches. We’ve had churches meeting in bars, parks, coffeehouses and locker rooms…

Let the church be alive, organic, in the flesh. Let it be birthed in the places it is most needed. Let the church be fruitful and multiply…

In other words, Neil uses the term “organic” to refer to bearing fruit in the harvest. Everything “alive” that God created multiplies, and church should be the same way.

Another person who uses the term, “organic church” is Frank Viola. Frank has a passion for the Bride of Christ. He uses the term to refer to a church that has life within itself–the life of Jesus. Here’s a quote from the introduction of his book, Finding Organic Church:

By organic church, I mean a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pew services), non-hierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering.

So Frank uses the term to apply to a community of believers whose life is centered around the living Christ.

It’s a question of emphasis. I’ve been in enough groups waiting on God with Neil to know that he believes in Jesus being the center and leader of the gatherings. And Frank has a desire to see the Gospel spread. They just use the term “organic” in different ways.

We need both emphases. We need organic church.

 

What is church?

The New Testament uses a number of different pictures of church: church is Christ’s body (Rom 12:5); it is a temple built with living stones (I Pet 2:5), it is a family (Eph 2:19).

Photo credit: Cia de Foto (Creative Commons)

The metaphor of family is very helpful.

Family is neither a building nor an event. Healthy families will get together often, but it’s not the get-togethers that make them family. It’s the relationships. We are family, we don’t do family. Families share life together. Their interaction isn’t limited to Sunday lunch. They love each other, live life together, share one another’s burdens, care for one another, at times they will reprove one another and teach one another.

Sounds like the “one anothers” of the New Testament.

Similarly, church is relationships, but the difference between church and any other set of relationships is the presence of Jesus. As Robert Fitts says in Saturation Church Planting:

When two or three true, born-again believers come together in His name, Jesus is in the midst. Jesus in the midst is church! It is a different experience than Jesus within. We cannot experience Jesus in the midst when we are alone. We can only experience Jesus in the midst when we are in company with others–at least one or two others.

But is it church in the fullest sense of the word? Yes, it is a church in the fullest sense of the word. It is the basic church. You can have more than two or three and it is still a church, but it does not become “more church” because there are more than two or three. It only becomes bigger church.

To transition or not to transition: that is the question

As the simple/organic movement becomes more mainstream, and the financial trends force more and more traditional churches to cut back economically, then many churches are asking the question: should we transition our legacy church into a network of simple/organic churches?

Church2
Photo credit: Dan4th (Creative Commons)

Every church needs to hear from the Lord about their specific situation, but the next few posts will look at some of the pros and cons of this step and some other potential alternatives.

Jesus described some principles that speak into this situation when he gave the parable about putting new wine into old wineskins.

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the new wine would burst the wineskins, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine must be stored in new wineskins. But no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say. (Luke 5:36-39)

Jesus cared about the wine, and therefore he had concern for the wineskins. Similarly he cares about the people in our churches, and therefore he cares about our structures. Jesus said that if people have tasted the old wine, they won’t want the new, and this is true when it comes to transitioning churches too. Many people are comfortable with the old and familiar ways of doing things, and asking them to change is going to rock their world so much they may leave. They didn’t sign up for simple/organic church and they aren’t going to change their minds quickly.

There are now many examples of churches that have successfully transitioned. We’ll examine the following topics over the next few posts.

  • Why might a church consider transitioning? Pros and cons
  • What lessons can we learn from those who have transitioned successfully?
  • Are there alternatives to transitioning that still accomplish the same goals?

I’d love to hear some of your examples.

 

 

 

Do you need some help on the simple/organic journey?

Every year, the Board of House2House (a ministry providing resources for simple/organic/house churches that Tony and I helped to found in 2000) spends a few days together seeking the Lord.  We want to know his emphasis for us over the coming year. Because we have a philosophy that we would rather stop something than continue without the presence of the Holy Spirit, we ask the same question:

"Lord, do you want us to continue, or is our work done? Is there someone doing it better? Should we stop the ministry?"

This January, the question seemed more pressing than usual because simple/organic church has become mainstream here in this country and there are many great resources available. 

What we sensed the Lord say to us is this: there is a continuum of churches across the nation, from more traditional at one end to simple/organic at the other. The Lord is shifting many churches (both house and traditional), denominations and missions towards the more organic end of the spectrum.

House2House is to help in this shift.

Katies-bio
In order to accomplish this, we have decided to make coaching available for people who would like help and encouragement along the journey. The Board has initially asked Katie Driver, an experienced coach who has done much to encourage the simple/organic movement in her region, if she would be willing to take on that responsibility. Katie has over 27 years of missional experience, training and igniting people in their unique design and calling. She has started many diverse, simple, organic and missional fellowships over the last 15 years and has also worked extensively through legacy churches to encourage simple, organic and missional expressions of church life. She is a trainer and coach for CMAresources’ Greenhouse, and is on the board for House2House.  

Obviously, coaching could address a number of different situations, but within the House2House context we anticipate the following people/groups may benefit:

 

  • You feel alone in your simple, organic church journey and would like some encouragement.
  • You're  in a legacy church that desires to become more organic and missional.
  • Your simple church has lost its energy and sense of purpose. You've reached a barrier and don’t know how to push through.
  • You'd like to start a simple, organic church but don’t know where to begin.
  • You long to be missional but struggle in reaching the people around you with the good news of Jesus Christ but lack the skills.

 If you are interested, check out the coaching section of the House2House website

 

 

How our standard poodle was witness to my failure

Winston H. Churchill is the full name of our standard poodle. (Winston Churchill obviously stems from our British heritage. The middle initial, "H," stands for Houdini which we added after he twice escaped from a wire kennel, leaving the door bolted behind him. No, don't ask!)

Winston before
Winston: before grooming

One of the advantages of a standard poodle is that they do not shed. The disadvantage is that they need grooming. Let me explain what Winston and his dreadlocks have to do with God's Kingdom and church planting.

Six months ago I would have struggled to find the books of Haggai and Zechariah; now my Bible falls open to those pages. God has been speaking clearly and specifically to Tony and me from these books about many of the things we are involved in: our personal lives, the direction our business should take, what is going on with the simple/organic/house church movement. 

To understand these books, it helps to know a little of the history. The first waves of the Children of Israel have returned from 70 years of captivity in Babylon. Led by Zerubbabel the Governor, and Jeshua the High Priest, they lay the foundations of the Temple in an attempt to rebuild Solomon's Temple, destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar invaded. But the local people (not Israelites, but others who have been relocated to their land) conspire to stop the work. For almost 20 years, the rebuilding of the Temple is abandoned. In the meantime, the Israelites settle back into their various towns and villages to rebuild their own houses.

Enter the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. They prophecy to the leaders and to the people telling them that many of the challenges they face, from financial difficulties to crop failures to drought, stem from the fact that they have neglected to rebuild God's temple. When Haggai and Zechariah prophecy the promise of God's presence and blessing  (I am with you, says the Lord (Haggai 1:13)), it is enough to galvanize Zerubbabel and Jeshua and the Israelites back into action. Within four short years the Temple is completed.

The church in our nation  is in rapid, overall decline.  Christianity is fast becoming outdated and outmoded. It's time for us to rebuild the Temple. I'm not referring to physical bricks and mortar here, but to the Kingdom, God's spiritual temple built with spiritual stones. These spiritual stones are people, followers of Jesus (1Peter 2:5).

The Lord has been convicting me over recent days through the book of Haggai and through T4T teaching that I need to be more vocal about my faith. How will we ever see a move of God here if no seed of the Kingdom is sown? If I preach the importance of speaking about our faith, then I must live it too.

As I looked at my day early yesterday morning, the one occasion I was likely to get to chat with a non-believer was when I took Winston for his end-of-winter hair cut. I determined I was going to find an opportunity to share my spiritual story with the lady who grooms him.

I failed. Completely. Someone else was in the store and I chickened out!  (Yes, I know. It's all about listening to the Lord and speaking to those he tells us to talk to.) 

God help me!

Winston after
Winston: after grooming

 

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