"Since the time of Socrates it has been an accepted part of Western
wisdom that, in matters of social organization, it is necessary to know
what is right before we can know what is wrong. Insofar as man is reasonable, the intelligent way to begin is to consider first the end. The only reason why a physician can diagnose the nature of an illness is that he already has a vision of what a really well body is." (Elton Trueblood, 1953)
In this e-epistle I would like to list five signs that point us to a vision of what the New Testament church looked like 2000 years ago. I believe that we can measure for ourselves – for better or for worse – against these signs. We can, and should, look for these NT principles and practices of apostolic churches in our modern times to gauge if we meet their standards.
The apostle Paul wrote to two churches he had "birthed" that they should:
"Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith." (2 Co 13:5).
"Test everything; hold fast what is good." (1Th 5:21).
We also need to examine our lifestyles and practices and see how they compare with the NT example. The bible was not just written for our personal instruction but for our corporate instruction as well. When Jesus said to His disciples "You are the light of the World" He spoke to them as a unit, as The 12, not just as individuals! Unfortunately this is often missed in our English language because of our "you – singular" vs. "you-plural" dilemma. Our rugged individualistic society doesn’t help here much either…
Fortunately there is a standard, a guide, a road map for our corporate life as Christians. It is found in the pages of our Bible. It is there that we find what is right so we can correct the things that are wrong in our personal and corporate lives.
"We must actually find the cure before we find the disease." G.K. Chesterton
I once heard Loren Cunningham say that "if something is alive it is also growing". The early churches must have been dynamically alive because they were "added to daily" and "multiplying greatly" throughout the NT.
Ac 2:47 And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Ac 5:14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women
Ac 6:7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith.
Ac 9:31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit it was multiplied.
Ac 16:5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Just as in the plant and animal kingdom, if something is alive – breathing and eating – he or she will also be growing and multiplying! A sure sign of a healthy church is that it is growing with new blood, new converts and not just bloating on the dreaded “transfer growth” syndrome.
Non-involvement leads to feeling non-important. An involved church where every member ministers, everyone participates, in an ongoing and daily way, is a dynamic church.
Did not God already circumvent this major problem of non-involvement by telling us that "When we come together, each one…" (1 Cor 14:26) is to contribute with a teaching, lead out in a song, a tongue with an interpretation, a prophecy?
- Was not the whole church to weigh the prophecies given and not just the leaders? (1 Cor 14)
- Was not the whole gathered church in Acts 6 to “choose from among you seven men” who would be added to the apostolic team?
Show me a church that believes in, and practices, “every member a minister”, where every member -young and old, male and female – is involved and I will show you a healthy church.
3. Ownership precedes Stewardship.
We often hear preaching about giving to the local church (i.e. practicing good stewardship), but the people often have no sense of ownership of the church. If we are honest, we have to admit that in most churches, the church runs fine whether we are there or not! After all, the pastor and staff are paid to keep it running and we are just the spectators, watching an all-too familiar show week in and week out!
It could just be the #1 reason why the 1st century church gave of themselves so greatly, is that they considered themselves such a vital and integral part of its life! Without them the church would DIE! People don’t sell their homes or give away their property just so the church can build a bigger, more comfortable building for them to sit in or buy the latest and greatest state-of-the-art sound system!
The First Century believers gave up everything they had to the church because they were the owners of the church.
Acts 2: 44-45 And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.
4. An Eldership team.
If we closely look at the New Testament practice of church leadership, we will see that elders led, or “were shepherds of” the early church and not the (lone) pastor. This is more than just semantics.
Firstly, we see that elders were selected from "among the flock", and not brought in from the outside (ie. surrounding cities or nations). NT elders were foremost homegrown leaders, good fathers and husbands, who had "proven" themselves in the battle field of their own homes and in the marketplace.
Secondly, we see that elders were either working full-time in their normal jobs (i.e. being a elder was not their "money-making job") or they did receive money as needed from the flock. Certainly the idea of a salaried pastor and staff is difficult to find in the pages of the NT.
A healthy NT church had finances going outward to meeting people’s daily needs (see Acts 6:1) and supporting apostolic teams, not going inward to meet building costs and salaries!
5. Mutual Edification using (supernatural) spiritual gifts.
1Co 14:26 What then, brethren? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
When we come together as a body of believers – a living, functioning Bride of Christ – our main focus is to make sure that everything we do, the "all things" of 1 Cor 14, is done for the edification, encouragement and up building of “one another”. The context here is talking about using supernatural gifts (healing, tongues, discernment, prophecy) for the strengthening of the gathered church. There is no pre-ordained order of service in a healthy church because the Holy Spirit is free to "just show up" and minister blessing and freedom to those in need, to those hurting or to those rejoicing!
Spiritual gifts are key to a healthy church and I don’t mean only the gifts of helps and administration! Church, we need to rediscover the power gifts in our gatherings so we can biblically edify one another and strengthen the church!
In closing, feast your hearts on these fine words from author and missionary pioneer Floyd McClung:
"It is not a model of church that excites me, but what the Spirit of God does in people’s lives when they discover the New Testament principles of doing church in small communities. It is those principles that are the engine that powers the house church model, not the model itself. These principles are not complicated, and they don’t require a theological education to figure them out. They are woven all through the story of the church in the book of Acts. And they permeate the house church movement world-side." (Floyd McClung, used with permission)
Yours for the least in the kingdom,
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7 replies on “5 Signs of a Healthy Church”
I do not believe that teams of Elders are necesarily any healthier than a solo pastor. When vertical structures of any kind creep into the church, the health of the church comes to depend on the health of the people at the top of the pyramid, whether it be a solo pastor or a group.
It is my opinion that we are not bound to reproduce the structure of the Church of the New Testament. Just because the early church had elders is not reason enough for us to have them. No specific structure is mandated by the New Testament. We are called to reclaim the values of the early church, but not its culture-specific structures.
Jesus told us to “call no man father” or “Rabbi” because we are all brothers. Any vertical structure in the church creates a 1st and second class, and is essentially divisive. Yet we cling to the idea that we have to have “leadership.” Why can’t everyone in a house church share in leadership equally?
Christ is our elder, our shepherd, our overseer. We need no other.
One of the urgent issues in the growing (dare I say fledging )house church movement in the USA is the subject of leadership. It seems we are at odds with the institutional/program-based church so much we have swallowed the idea that “What was bad for them is bad for us.”
In longing to move away from top-down, pyramidal leadership and decision making and the potential dangers of hoarding power by a few, we seem to have moved away from a very biblical position as well: God calls men by the Holy Spirit to be leaders in the church!
Consider just a few, well-known verses:
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. I Thess 5. 12-13 (A.D. 50)
Clearly there were leaders in this freshly planted church of 6 months in Thessalonica. Paul implores the flock to appreciate and esteem their hard-working leaders, all baby Christians at that!
Be on guard for yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20. 28 (A.D. 56)
Paul urges the elders of the house churches in Ephesus to “be on guard” for themselves and their flocks and to “care for the church” which the Holy Spirit made them overseers or leaders.
This is a true saying, If a man desires to oversee, he desires a good work. 1 Tim.3:1 (A.D. 61)
Here Paul gives “carte blanch” support to the idea that to be an overseer in Jesus’ church was a noble goal, for any man!
I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder… shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. I Peter 5: 1-3 (AD. 63)
Peter, an apostle and an elder, writing to the disciples scattered throughout Asia, further describes the place – and the pitfalls – of leadership in the church.
“Call No Man Your Teacher…”
Countless times over the past five years we were given the verse from Mt. 23 “Call no man teacher, for you are all brothers…” as THE proof text for having little or no human-headship in the house church. Somehow this sounds attractive, I do agree, but it just isn’t biblical.
Let’s read the context! Mt. 23: 8-12.
“But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do no be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”
First of all, the context of Mt. 23 is the great discourse and exposure of the scribes and the Pharisees – which we should notice takes place just three days before Jesus’ crucifixion. I can not imagine that Jesus is giving a “power verse” for the modern house church movement under these conditions!
Secondly, what does it mean to not call anyone your father? Does that mean my own natural father? Or someone else? How do we get at the true meaning of Jesus’ words?
Good exegesis warns us: “It can’t mean now what it didn’t mean then!” Let me ask you this straightforward question: What did that crowd (and His disciples) hear Jesus say when they heard Him on the steps of the Temple?
“Oh, I see, later when we gather together in our homes, we need to be careful to not exalt men and just simply come together as brothers and sisters, equals under Christ. Jesus is alone is our Teacher and Leader…”
To call no man teacher or father was in the context of Jesus strongly denouncing the scribes and Pharisees who made religion a matter of “externals” and self-promotion! In the following verses (Mtt. 23:13-33) Jesus follows up this rebuke with even harsher words in the “The Seven Woes” and calls them indiscriminately: “Hypocrites, Blind Guides, Fools and a Brood of Vipers”!
The scribes and Pharisees are under attack, not leadership in the church! Jesus will build (and has always built) His church on the foundation of humble, servant leaders – but leaders nonetheless!! Whenever we get too cute or unique with our interpretation of Scriptures, I think that ought to raise “red flags” in the back of our minds.
“Interpretation that aims at, or thrives on uniqueness can usually be attributed to pride (an attempt to ‘out clever’ the rest of the world), a false understanding of spirituality (wherein the Bible is full of deep truths waiting to be mined by the spiritually sensitive person with special insight), or vested interests (the need to support a theological bias, especially in dealing with texts that seem to go against that bias). Unique interpretations are usually wrong.” (Gordon Fee, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth)
May this response stir us all on to diligence and to be workman who “rightly divide the word of truth”.
Thanks for reading. I hope this is helpful.
Yours for the Least in the Kingdom,
I got an e-letter from house2house (Tony Dale) saying that the vast majority of growth is from people changing churches. Maurice Smith says, If we as a house church movement do not become outreach oriented we will die. Simple as that.” That reaching out is unlikely to happen because as of now the emphasis is strictly on in house affairs. Like what do we do when we meet. If we are going to multiply then the leadership must begin, and it must begin now, to shape within this movement a prophetic imagination. It must provide us with stories of people who are in fact reaching out. It must employ fictitious stories of courage and purpose. (who can forget in the Return of the King, King Aragorn bowing down to the 4 hobbits… the least shall be first) It must really offer an alternative to the prevailing structure. If they do not do that then the next four years will revolve around the meeting and what we do there. Jesus and advancing the kingdom must be our passion. If we are going to have conferences let the next one be about advancing the kingdom, reaching out, and serving beyond our own house churches…… sorry for the rant but it is getting tiring discussing what do we do with the kids.
The entire purpose of the local assembly is for your edification, according to Paul. That doesn’t require it to grow (that’s a recent concept; Western mentality — notice in your Srcitpures that it was the Lord doing it; not man). This just puts more undue pressure on a local assembly, just like the institutional church. What about those who meet in a rural setting, or where there are not other like believers? These kind of statements will put them in bondage just like the institutional, from where they came..
Nor does it require a “Eldership team”. Many of the local assemblies mentioned in the writings of Paul, John, Mark, and others did not have elders; others didn’t have them for many years. Yeshua is the leader and authority. Placing men in charge just goes back to the apostate church format.
Let’s get on with the work of the Lord and stop worrying about how we look and telling others what we should do. Let each local assembly seek the Lord for what they shall do and be done with it!
After attending the Labor Day House2House conference in Denver…after meeting James Rutz at the conference and reading his book Megashift…after listening to Barna’s Revolution CD’s at least 30 times (NOT kidding)….after an email dialogue with Frank Viola…after mentioning to everyone I meet that I’m involved in House Church, the doors are opening continually for me to come in and teach on the concept.
A group of about 20 in Lingleville, Texas needed encouragement that it was OK to be meeting this way. I’ve been there three times, last Sunday ministering on the need for forgiveness (they came about as a result of a Church split).
A woman from Carrollton, TX who receives my online email broadcasts invited me to speak at her house church. Not only was it a Thanksgving feast (not even Thanksgiving), but there were nearly 30 people present and we received the germ of an idea to hold a conference where we could address some of the typical House Church needs en masse.
Just a few days ago, I spoke to another group in Fort Worth – all who attend church in Flower Mound and it was glorious! One attendee was from Lavergne, Tennessee. Coincidentally, yesterday, a lady wrote me, sent me money (her last three tithes, she said), and wants to start a House Church, too. She, too, lives in Lavergne, Tennessee! A GOD THING? Uh…YEAHHH!
Another couple in Baird,TX another in Whitney, TX and a woman in Hico, TX have also expressed interest in starting a home group. Saturday, a Catholic woman in Abilene asked if we were starting a Church there.
In explaining the concept, it is IMPERATIVE that we begin the germination process properly, instilling in them the need to plant churches, not merely inviting people over. I have shown each group the short “interview” portion of the video we saw at the conference and collected eMail addresses for continued follow-up as well. I also made it VERY clear that I AM AVIALABLE to assist again.
The North Texas House Church Conference is under way for Jan 27th, 2007 in Dallas and, after week #1 of strictly email promotions, already 40 have registered. We have a keynote speaker associated with Dawn ministries, child care workers, musicians, and funds that have been donated to cover various expenses.
Do I know what I’m doing? No, but God does. All we must be is OBEDIENT and AVAILABLE.
If I can, you can, dear reader!
A servant of God
UPDATE: North Central Texas House Church Conference, Jan 27th, Dallas
Let’s see…last time I wrote, we had 40 registered attendees. With 10 days left for registering, we’re now up to 80 for a room that holds 150. Another house church just gave us $500 for the cause, God bless ’em and the hotel manager is providing FREE tea, coffee and pastries that morning. Is God confirming for us that this is something He wanted us to do? Absolutely! We should not ask that God bless what we are doing but, rather, Do what He is blessing. So, who else wants to DO this conference with us? Drop me a line as we’ are running out of room! firstname.lastname@example.org. DEADLINE for regsitration is Jan 20th, 5PM. Thanks!
Are you growing weary of hearing people voice their concerns regarding the same four aspects of House Church: Church Government, Women, Tithing and Kids? Yawn! It seems to me that anyone being led by the Holy Spirit will hear from Him and will then know what to do in any or all of these areas. Problem is, it seems so few Christians really know God. Many don’t spend time in prayer and most rarely read any of those Bibles we own (More than half of those who attend a Christian church (54%) say that they are absolutely committed to the Christian faith, and another 37% say that they are moderately committed (Barna Research, 2006).
Our gross affluence has spoiled us rotten.
The question we Imperialistic Americans must ask ourselves is this: “Will it play in Peoria?” In other words, will the things we believe in the good ol’ USA carry any water in Sudan or Vietnam?
When a 17-year old Chinese girl is considered the “pastor” of 20,000 Chinese Christians, Americans cry “Foul!”
When an East Indian woman starts 50 churches all by herself, American Christian minds go “TILT!”
Years ago, when I read about people behind the Iron Curtain practicing “self baptism” so as not to endanger the lives of their beloved ministers, Americans wanted to see Biblical examples.
“Man looks at the outside; God looks at the heart,” (1 Sam 16:7)
It seems to me – a man of average intellect – that if an individual started a House Church in “The Boonies, USA” with no pastor, prophets or apostles in sight and not a single qualified “elder” among them, the church they’d start would be the church they’d be stuck with. This group would be FORCED to listen to the Holy Spirit as they prayed together and sought the Lord as to why He had them gather in the first place.
If you have a problem with this “Boonies” example, try this one…let’s say the crowd who heard the message was made up of starving people in Africa, husbandless women with dying babies, kids covered with flies. Do we teach them how to be “saved” according to one of our many manmade, denominational methods or do we give them the Good News of the Kingdom, explaining to them that there is a King, He has a Kingdom and the King wants them in that Kingdom so that He can take care of them just as Solomon cared for the subjects who served in HIS Kingdom? If you think it’s far-fetched to think that God would tend to the needs of a bunch of homeless wanderers, bear in mind that God has provided manna in the morning, water from rocks, sandals that won’t wear out and birds to eat on at least one other occasion that I can think of – a forty-year occasion at that. Besides, the alternative is to explain to them that they are sinners going to Hell unless they accept Jesus into their sickly bodies so that, while they’re starving to death over the next few days, they can at least know where they’re going while they slowly suffer an agonizing death. According to the James Rutz book, “Megashift,” the King IS doing miracles in third world and in developing countries all the time. People ARE trusting in this King named Jesus and He really IS taking care of those who submit themselves to His Kingdom. Sicknesses are being healed and dead are being raised by poor, illiterate, relatively uncivilized, uncultured, dirty, impoverished people of all ages.
Stick with me here: What if one of the starving widows embraced this Kingdom concept, was healed, experienced miracles, shared the Kingdom message and began starting House Churches in villages wherever she went? What if children heard the message and, because there is no Junior Holy Spirit, by His power, began doing miracles and starting house churches of their own? Anyone who’s read about Wesley’s Welsh revivals can see how God used the children…and not an elder or pastor in sight.
“Wait one blessed minute! Things are getting way out of hand now!”
Folks, I hear and read reports of these sorts of things happening all the time! Not in America, unfortunately. We’re too busy sorting out who gets what title, to tithe or not to tithe, what to do with the children and where to put those indefatigable women.
It’s been my experience that two or more gathered in His Name is all it takes. Yesterday, alone with Jesus and a 95-year old woman in her nursing home bedroom, we had church, as they say. It was glorious! We sang, we prayed, we got emotional, we talked about our God. We WERE The Church and we both knew it.
Author Frank Viola writes,” when Jesus Christ is not the center of a house church, the only fuel that can drive it is a fascinating issue, a charismatic personality, or a nifty doctrine. But all of these fuels yield low mileage. And when they run dry, the group collapses. A fellowship of believers can only be held together in any beneficial way when a continual encounter with the Lord Jesus becomes the dominating element. At bottom, if Christ is not the glue of a non-institutional church, its meetings will become shallow, colorless, and eventually unsustainable. The Psalmist once uttered, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalms. 11:3).”
I contend that it’s by God’s grace that anybody who feels led to do so can step out and start BEING the Church. Any time, anywhere. As disciples are made and the ranks swell, when the King sees the need for teaching and training from outside, itinerant ministers – like the apostle Paul – they’re available, too. I also contend that a minister who is the product of an institutional church is a poor candidate for House Church leadership. That’s not unlike a Russian Hockey coach trying to coach in the NHL – he
‘s good at what he does but he doesn’t speak the language. No, the best people to learn from are those who came up through the ranks and have experienced what it’s like NOT to be tainted by liturgies, doctrines, dogmas and traditions but, instead, know what a REAL House Church looks like and what such Kingdom Meetings involve. Whether it’s from a guy like me or a book or a DVD or a conference, the resources are available for anyone who seeks them out. Too often, when someone from an Institutional Church background attempts to start a House Church, they ultimately wind up with a living room mini-church and find themselves stuck in virtually the same thing they came from, only smaller.
Is it wise to aspire to attract really high numbers of House Church attendees or save up enough offering money to build a facility? I don’t think so as it smacks of what most of us just came from in the Institutional Church. Anybody who desires to TRULY follow the New Testament example will train, equip and release their people into planting MORE churches. I call it “Pre-Meditated Church Splitting.” It’s really NOT a Church “split” at all; it’s actually Church multiplication. House churches have a shelf-life of 6 months to 4 years. If you think that’s poor, show me a New Testament Church gathering that’s still meeting to this day. They don’t exist because Church multiplication was part of God’s plan from the beginning, I believe. Rather than trying to endure as long as possible, why not strategize and train the Church how to church plant, making it Standard Operational Procedure to GO and help others start churches in THEIR homes RATHER than inviting them to leave THEIR comfort zone to enter YOURS?
Isn’t that what Jesus did?
Here’s an example: Imagine a new member of your group named Al meeting a buddy named Bob who seems interested in House Church. They agree that Al will come over on Saturday at 7PM. Al orders pizza and invites two experienced House Churchers from your group, including you, to come with him. Bob has a half dozen relatives and neighbors there when you arrive. They like what they hear and – Poof! A church is started with you, Al and the other two committing to make themselves available to train, equip and release THEM.
The new group will follow your example and so on and so on, just as is happening all over the world today.
It’s really THAT simple.