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.
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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?
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8 replies on “A fashionable fad”
One result of the evolutionary teachings of the Catholic Church’s Vatican Council II was that Christ was the Sacrament of God and the Church was the sacrament of Christ. A sacrament always points beyond itself to a deeper reality.
The measure of legitimacy I look for in an uniquely Christian spiritual community is whether it is equipping believers to become sacraments of Divine Love in our secular society or whether it is merely interested in building the prosperity and defending the security of its own communal experience.
Even social ministries can be narcissistic when they are a “reaching down to” rather than a “reaching out to” the less fortunate. Limited charity can often be a means to assuage the conscience for living a life of hedonistic material excess. It is not taught in many professing Christian communities that the decisions about how to spend our disposable income is as much a moral as it is a financial choice.
“The institutions of Churchianity are not Christianity. An institution is a good thing if it is second; immediately an institution recognizes itself it becomes the dominating
factor.” — Oswald Chambers
Institutions are a strange mix of the mass and the individual. They abstract. They behave according to a set of rules that substitute both for individual judgments and for the emotional responses that occur whenever individuals interact. The act of creating an institution dehumanizes it, creates an arbitrary barrier between individuals.
Yet institutions are human as well. They reflect the cumulative personalities of those within them, especially their leadership. They tend, unfortunately, to
mirror less admirable human traits, developing and protecting self-interest and
even ambition. Institutions almost never sacrifice. Since they live by rules, they lack spontaneity. They try to order chaos not in the way an artist or scientist does, through a defining vision that creates structure and discipline, but by closing off and isolating themselves from that which does not fit. They become bureaucratic.
The best institutions avoid the worst aspects of bureaucracy in two ways. Some are not really institutions at all. They are simply a loose confederation of individuals, each of whom remains largely a free agent whose achievements are independent of the institution but who also shares and benefits from association with others.
In these cases the institution simply provides an infrastructure that
supports the individual, allowing him or her to flourish so that the whole often exceeds the sum of the parts. ~John M. Barry, THE GREAT INFLUENZA:
The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, p. 299
I totally agree that “charity” should be given with a right attitude. If we give charity to people in a patronizing or superior way, we are not acting like Jesus would have done.
There is one thing I’m sure of and it’s based on experience …whatever is lived out by a Christian there firstmust be a death before there is a resurrection then there can be ascension and then The Lord Jesus will produce his fruit through us unto gods glory
“I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me…”
What a dilemma this is. It’s almost as if you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. To me, it’s not that a organized church, as some call the IC, is wrong. It’s the way it’s organized. Everything has a structure from how we get dressed in the morning to our very own personal DNA. Therefore, the solution is finding the right structure and environment that best releases the fullness of Christ in us, and reproduces that life in others.
My belief it is the way the IC tries to control people from a top down hierarchy rather than truly free and empower them from the bottom up that is the crux of the issue. It’s men trying to control other men by staying in charge and over others which stifles and oppresses growth. Titles and gaining power over others is how esteem within the IC is maintained. This leads to widespread abuse.
What I will launch could eventually “recognize itself” as Oswald Chambers says. My hope is Chambers is wrong, and that won’t become the dominating factor. Yet, I don’t know how to keep that from eventually occurring even though I have put in what I hope will safeguard it from happening.
Guess I have to move past ‘damned if I do, and damned if I don’t’, and just do it. Probably be criticized on both sides. Can’t be held in by fear of being damned, or I’ll never do anything. That would be the worst thing of all.
Pal, there’s a fascinating talk out there called “Frankenstein,” I think it was by Bob Mumford, which basically says that something that starts as a good idea gains a life of its own, and is liable to take over. I’m glad you decided to do it anyway.
Felicity, you are right on target with your comments. We have been doing Simple/House church for over 15 years and we have also found this experience to be true. I think the ability to benefit and enjoy this model is not tied to a certain level of spiritual maturity but rather, at some level, connected to a degree of brokenness and surrender. Talent and church experience doesn’t necessarily make a good candidate, but a sense of deep need to know God, a need to connect with people who you can be transparent with and a need to be loved. I guess what I am saying is needy people make good simple church people.
Larry, I agree with you. In fact the more qualified we think we are to run a church, probably the less able we are to do it “well” because it needs that level of trust and community that you describe. Because we often work with those who don’t yet know the Lord, we often find ourselves working with needy ones too and they are great candidates for multiplication because the transformation in their lives is so obvious.