How to start a simple/organic/house church

We have had the privilege of spending time with the leaders of several church planting movements over the years.  (A church planting movement occurs when there is rapid and spontaneous multiplication of churches, comprised mainly of new believers). We always ask them what principles are behind the growth that they see.  They usually point to Luke 10 (or Matthew 10).  So the next few posts will look at this passage in greater detail. 

Luke 10 is the passage where Jesus sends out the 70 (or 72,depending on your version of the Bible) disciples.  The passage follows Jesus' teaching on the cost of discipleship.

Verse 1: The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit.

A few points on verse 1:

  • These are "other" disciples–presumably other to the 12.  This means he sent at least 82 disciples (41 pairs) out.
  • He sent them in pairs–not in teams and not individually.  It's interesting to note that when the disciples are listed, in at least one location they are listed in pairs (Luke 6:13-16)
  • Jesus sent them ahead of him to all the places he planned to visit.  If Jesus sends you somewhere, it's because He plans to go there too.  Your job changes, then Jesus plans to meet the new people you work with.  You move house, Jesus plans to touch your neighborhood through you.
  • Jesus not only planned to visit towns, he planned to visit places too.  Maybe Jesus said to them, "You two are to visit such and such a town, and you two go the tavern on the road to Capernaum."

Jesus had a strategy for the area.  He has a strategy for your area too.  The disciples job was to listen to him and to obey when he told them where to go.  We have the same responsibility–to listen to Jesus and do what he tells us.  That is why knowing how to recognize his voice is so important.

Passing it on

Ducks in a row

When you talk to people who are seeing a church planting movement, they all talk about the importance of people passing on what they are learning.  

Neil Cole says in a recent blog post at http://bit.ly/asqEgw that every church he has started has begun because people become Christians going through the 7 signs of John.  One of the questions that is asked in this evangelistic Bible study is "Who do you know who needs to hear this?"

David Watson has seen tens of thousands of churches start in many different countries of the world. In this country, he uses Bible study as the way to start them, and again one of the questions asked is "Who do you know who needs to hear what you have just learned?"

Curtis Sergeant who saw a church planting movement in China talks about the importance of discipleship chains–whenever someone learns something, they are responsible to pass it on to at least two other people, who in turn pass it on to two more.

The next time they get together, there is accountability.  "Did you pass on what you learned to the people you mentioned who need to hear this?"

If new believers (or even unbelievers) are encouraged to pass on what they are learning to others who don't yet know the Lord, the Kingdom will spread quickly.

 

What is sequentialism and why does it prevent multiplication?

David Garrison, in his book "Church Planting Movements" (which I thoroughly recommend) talks about the deadly sins of church planting.  One of these is sequentialism.  So what is this, and why is it so "deadly"?

Sequentialism is the idea that things have to be done in order.  First we do this, then we do that.  One of the common mistakes that existing Christians make when starting an organic/house church is this.  They decide that the first thing they are going to do is develop community.  When they have done that, they will think about reaching out to the world around them.

The result of this kind of thinking?

  • Once some community has formed, they start to run into problems, so they don't feel they can add other people.  
  • The fellowship becomes so deep and meaningful that they really don't want to interrupt it by adding others.  
  • Even if they start adding others with the intention of splitting into two when they get too large, (probably the slowest way to multiply), often it has taken a gifted leader to get them to that size and no one feels qualified to do something similar.

No, if you want to see multiplication, do things simultaneously.  Just as soldiers in battle develop a camaraderie that nothing else is likely to equal, when Christians join together in a task, their fellowship deepens.  If we want to see our communities reached for Christ, let's deliberately reach out right from the start.

7 benefits of citizenship in the Kingdom

In the last post I looked at what it means for us to be citizens of a kingdom.  We are there to serve the King and do his bidding.  But we serve a loving and merciful King!  Recently I did an extensive study through the NT to see what the good news of the Kingdom is.  Here's a brief summary of the benefits we have by being in the Kingdom:

1.  Our sins are forgiven:

 If we
believe, turn (repent) from our sins and are baptized, we will be forgiven.

 This brings us peace with God. 

2. We've become a new creation

 His laws are now written on our hearts so we don't live by a rule book but by his divine nature inside us.

3.  Healing and
deliverance:

Jesus announced the good news of the
Kingdom to the poor and demonstrated it by healing every
kind of sickness and illness.  He had authority over every demon. We have authority
over all the power of the enemy when we use the name of Jesus. We can see the captives set free.  
The Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by
God's power!

4.  We have eternal life:

Jesus died on the cross, so that everyone
who believes in him will have eternal life—in fact, has already passed from death to life.  One day we will have resurrected, spiritual bodies, full of power. 

5.  The Holy
Spirit fills and empowers us:

The Holy
Spirit will never leave us but lives within us.  He  teaches us and leads us into all truth and testifies of Jesus.  He will convict the world.  He brings glory to Jesus

6.  We have a relationship
with God:

God is our Father and we are his sons and
daughters.  We are adopted into His
family.  Eternal life
is knowing God and Jesus. We are now friends of Jesus rather than
servants.

7. Relationship with others:

As his body, we are family together

Now all of that is Good News!!

A democratic Kingdom? Not!

Continuing thoughts on the Gospel of the Kingdom:

American flag

  

We are blessed to live in a democracy — or to be more specific, here in the States, a constitutional republic. It is "government of the people by the people and for the people" (Abraham Lincoln). The people have the power. As society changes, so do its laws, because there are no absolutes.

The United Kingdom, where I am from, is a constitutional monarchy. The government is a democracy and the Queen is its figurehead

Because we live in a democracy, when the Bible talks about the Kingdom, we have no real frame of reference to understand it.

A kingdom is ruled by a king. In an absolute monarchy, the king has undivided rule and complete sovereignty–supreme authority over his people.  He decrees how the people live, is responsible for the governing laws.  He is not subject to the will of the people; their responsibility is to serve him. 

The good news of the kingdom is that we have a king who has made a way for us to enter his kingdom. But is being ruled by a king good news? It all depends on the character of the King!

In the next post, we will look at what our king has chosen to do for us.

The Santa Claus Gospel

This is a continuation of the series, "Ways to see more harvest."

Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom.  What do we preach? Santa Claus 

I often think that we preach a Santa Claus gospel. We portray God to those who don't yet know him as some kind of divine genie who is there to give us an easy life.  "Invite Jesus into your life and he will give you peace and joy."   "You can know your sins are forgiven and you will go to heaven." "Raise your hand and Jesus will come into your life." We give the impression that God will answer all our prayers in just the way we want, that health and wealth and happiness will follow a decision to commit to him.

There is a grain of truth to much of this, but it is far from being the whole story.  So what is the Gospel of the Kingdom? The blessings are even more than portrayed above, but there is another side to it too.  Our side.  Our responsibilities as members and ambassadors for the Kingdom.

What do you think is the Gospel of the Kingdom?

A wonderful example of the power of listening to someone’s story

A couple of posts ago, I talked about the power of story telling and of listening to others' stories. Dan Hubbell emailed me with this wonderful example from one of his trips.  Enjoy it!  But also learn from it.

When we were in China on one of our early missions about seven years ago, we were equipping and training Chinese leaders.  We had committed ourselves for three years to minister as servants to these precious saints.  Knowing that we would be with them for this long period of time, I was praying about how best to personally know each of the forty-nine students who made up the training class.  The Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, "Let them tell you their story".  So, I asked the principal of the training school if that would be possible.  He very reluctantly agreed, commenting that in the Chinese culture they did not emphasize the individual but rather the class as a group in their approach to training. 

My interpreter and I met with the first student in our living quarters on the compound (which was a deserted factory where these students were "hiding out") to be trained as evangelists throughout the Mainland.  My Chinese interpreter reminded me not to be surprised or disappointed if the students did not respond to my request for them to "tell me their story".  

The first student to come in was a precious little sister.  After I explained to her that I wanted her to tell me her story, I waited in silence for a few moments.  Then she began to pour her heart out to me and shared interrupted for over an hour.  As she told her story, tears streamed down her cheeks.  I felt so humbled and blessed just to be there to hear her as she opened her heart to me.  

As she began to complete her story, I was praying for the Holy Spirit to help me know how to conclude our time together.  I couldn't see just having prayer with her and asking her to tell the next student to come in.  And the Lord spoke plainly to me, "Let me do it".  I wasn't sure just what that meant but I told her that Jesus wanted to minister to her.  I really didn't know what Jesus was going to do, so we both just waited in silence until I heard in my spirit the Lord saying "I have come to heal your brokenness, bind up your bruises and set you free from everything that holds you captive."  

I simply laid my hands upon her, spoke these words the Lord gave me, and waited upon Jesus to minister to her.  She began weeping, sobbing and heaving.  It was such a sacred moment that I didn't feel worthy to even be present.  After a while, she got up from her chair and came over to me and embraced me with a vice-like hug that nearly took my breath away.  She again began to weep only this time it was with gratitude and thankfulness. 

As it turned out, not only did all the trainees come to tell their stories, but so did the principal and his wife, his mother, elders of the church, grounds keeper and cooks!  And all we did was to ask these precious saints to simply "tell their story"!

Core competencies: Recognizing a ripe harvest field

Ripe harvest field

What makes a ripe harvest field? Many of us are living in comfortable suburban homes, and we assume that our neighborhoods will make a great harvest field. But we may be trying to reap a harvest in the wrong places.  Jesus gave some indication of what makes a ripe harvest. For example, he said:

"The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…" (Luke 4:18)

Where will we find these people? They are much more likely to be found in the low-income housing projects than amongst the wealthy. They are more likely to be found in AA groups than in success seminars. In our neighborhoods, where is the couple going through a divorce? How about the family going through bankruptcy? Do you know people who are hurting?

Others who are often open to the message of the Kingdom include New Agers, young people, those living on the streets, or in half-way houses, refugees etc.

Jesus also said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance."

Where will we find people who know they are "sinners"?

Obviously we need to be open to wherever the Holy Spirit is leading us, but as a general rule, we are more likely to find hungry people in places where we are not necessarily comfortable.  As Neil Cole says, we need to learn to sit in the smoking section."

Another thought: No farmer would consider trying to harvest a field where no seed had been sown. What does it look like to sow seed? Hint. The seed of the kingdom is the word of God (Luke 8:11).




 

Core competencies: Story telling

A couple of the core competencies that I mentioned in the last post have provoked some comment. So this post will look at the first of these: telling stories.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Austrian philosopher Ivan Illich. When asked whether he would change society by revolution or reformation, he answered, "Neither of these. The best way to change society is to tell an alternative story." People love to listen to stories, and they will listen to our stories when they will not listen to us preaching. They also like to tell us their stories, and it is important that we develop good listening skills.

One of our favorite ways to start with a group of not-yet-believers is to ask them to tell us the story of where they are on their spiritual journey. It's a great open-ended question, and they will tell us a lot of things that we would like to know — do they have any kind of church background? Are they into some other religion?

I remember when we did this with a group of young people aged 17 to 25. The first girl to share her story told of a divorced background and how she had to leave her mother in California following an argument and come to live with her father here in Texas. It was in the middle of the school year, and some of her credits didn't transfer and she went from being the head cheerleader to a school where she knew nobody. She became more and more depressed, and eventually one evening found herself in the bathroom with all the medicines from the cabinet lined up in front of her. But before she attempted suicide she cried out to God, "God if there is a God, will you help me?" And God met her. A couple of days later she met on daughter, and now here she was in our living room telling us her story. The interesting thing was that there was not a dry eye in the room. All of us were profoundly moved by his story, and it provided a natural entree into talking about Jesus.

This is a concept known as prevenience:  God is at work in our lives before we surrender to him, and when people tell their stories, we can see God at work even when they don't yet know him.

But now we need to learn to tell our story without it sounding like a sermon, or a "holier than thou" diatribe. Unbelievers are turned off by our use of Christian language and probably don't understand it. We need to learn to tell our story without using any Christian jargon such as sin, salvation, redemption etc. This is a skill that can be practiced. If you  look at the times that Paul tells his story in the book of Acts, he describes his life prior to knowing Jesus, then his encounter on the Damascus road, and finally what God has him doing now.

You can develop stories for different situations too.  Someone has financial problems; was there a time in your life when God came through for you financially?  Someone has health problems; you have a story of when God healed you or dealt with the fears you had about your condition.

Suggested activity:  Spend some time working on your story, getting it to where you can tell it in 2-3 minutes.  Then find a friend who will listen to you tell it, stopping you whenever you use a word that is "religious."

[Note: There is an activity called Bible storying which is primarily used in oral cultures where Bible stories are told in chronological order.  I believe this will become a skill used more and more in a Western context too, where people are increasingly becoming a-literate--they can read but choose not to.  It is very effective.  I remember demonstrating it once, and a couple of weeks later, found the story I told blogged about by someone two steps removed from the person I had told the story to.]

Ways to see more harvest: 6 core skills

Laughing fish I am no fisherman (in the natural, that is)! On the few occasions when I have tried fishing, I have never caught anything. In fact, I vividly remember one occasion when Tony and I were taken fishing by some friends on a shrimping boat in Canada. It was a spectacular setting, mountains in the background, and a beautiful sunset, and the fish were biting. Our companions on the boat were reeling in the fish one after another, but neither Tony nor I caught a single one! I think the fish were laughing at us!

The problem? I lack the core skills. I have never been taught how to fish.

One of the problems that many people face when leaving the "legacy" church and involving in simple/organic church is that they have not been trained in some of the core skills needed when reaching out to others. In the past these things have often been left to the "professional." So what are some of these core skills?

  1. The ability to tell a variety of stories appropriate to any situation without using "Christianese."
  2. The recognition of a person of peace.
  3. Being able to naturally introduce spiritual topics into a conversation.
  4. Having the confidence/faith to pray for somebody and if God doesn't show up, we look stupid!
  5. Knowing how to pray for healing, inner healing, deliverance etc.
  6.  Recognizing a "ripe" harvest field.

Any other ideas? Are there any of these you would like us to discuss further?