House church

Why is transition so hard? Death Valley!

Why is transitioning a church so difficult? Because when existing Christians get involved in simple/organic church life they have to go through a process that our friend Wolfgang Simson calls “Death Valley.” And it’s usually a slow and painful journey. Jesus told us in the parable of the wineskins that those who have tasted the old wine will say,  “The old wine is better.” Until the Lord changes people’s DNA, they are more likely to return to what they have known.

So what is Death Valley?

It’s as though someone on the mountain top of legacy church can see the mountain top of simple/organic church in the distance, and they assume that they can go straight from one mountain top to the other. What they don’t realize is that is a valley between the two–Death Valley.

Old traditions die hard. I remember one awesome family leaving us because the mother couldn’t handle not dressing her children in their Sunday best to come to church! In order to experience the liberty that simple church represents, people who have been Christians for any length of time have to die to some of the very good things that legacy church represents.

  • Professionally led worship–in simple church you are lucky to have an out-of-tune guitar.
  • Well prepared talks–there’s no pastor who can spend hours preparing a stimulating sermon. Everyone takes part in an interactive discussion.
  • Children and teens ministry–you can’t just drop your kids off at Sunday School to have an hour free from distractions.
  • Someone else to make all the decisions–in simple/organic church, everyone is involved.
Dying to these things is not quick. It’s a process… a painful process.
Some people get part way through the process and find it too hard. They feel guilty on Sunday mornings when they don’t have to get up for church. They miss the exuberant worship and praise.
They go back to their legacy church.
But for those who press through to simple/organic, it is worth it for
  • The sense of community–people are very involved in each other’s lives
  • Everyone can participate–not just a few in  leadership.
  • The Holy Spirit is in charge of the times together (unless you are doing “Honey, I shrunk the church!”
  • Freedom from religious expectations and traditions
  • The sense of being on mission with God, reaching out to a world that doesn’t know him
  • The excitement of giving birth to daughter and granddaughter churches

6 replies on “Why is transition so hard? Death Valley!”

“lucky to have an out-of-tune guitar” — Love that! Been in those settings.

I do wonder if this form of “church” is good for all. My wife is in a motorized chair and could not attend most (dare I say all save our loft) meetings in a home.

So, for some anyways, I think that the traditional expression of church works best.

Bob, we would never encourage anyone to leave a church they are attending. It has to be the Lord who directs them, and I totally agree with you that for many existing Christians, staying within the comfort of the familiar is best. Having said that, I think all of us can learn from some of the organic principles.

My point is that home churches have limitations and are not accessible for many disabled people.  That said, I so agree with you concerning the need to rethink “church” and incorporate organic principles. We host a weekly group and find much life in that small group setting.

Sadly that may be true, although we’ve lifted wheelchairs up challenging flights of steps in the past. I assume that means there are many homes you are unable to visit too, even on a casual basis like going over for a meal.

I have followed your recent interview blogs with interest…perhaps you can explain to me how an organic church is functionally different from ‘traditional church’ when it is gathered in house groups. From a passing comment by the pastor, I gather that his small semi-traditional church included ‘life groups’ but that was not enough or not radical enough. Is the point the cutting loose from the pastor/congregation model or some new aspect to the small groups?

To put the question another way, “Could church transition to something with both forms ‘all under one roof’ (I know, a horrible analogy to use here!)?

I think the main difference lies in what you’re building, what is the end vision. Most “life groups” or house groups are there with the aim of building the parent church, especially the Sunday morning service. A network of house churches is looking to multiply out the small. Another factor is that the vision is that of the senior pastor, while within a simple church network, we are seeking to equip everyone into whatever vision the Lord has for them.

But is it possible to have both? I believe so, although not under one roof. If simple church is viewed as an outreach of the main church (local missionaries), then they can certainly flourish. A pastor can train his people to start simple/organic churches out in the harvest. But they need to be released unconditionally if they are to multiply. The new believers will probably never be part of the original church, and as things multiply out, you may lose the original people too. But you can never outgive God.

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