Simple missions

This past weekend I met with a group of people to discuss missions.

Traditional church is complex and complicated. Think of what goes into a typical Sunday morning service, let alone the upkeep of a building, handling the finances, keeping the programs running. Ordinary people, who have no training in ecclesiology and who have jobs and families, would find it very difficult to start and/or run a traditional church.

Simple/organic church, on the other hand, is so simple, almost anyone can start one.

Traditional missions is complex too. They require mission agencies and mission boards to keep them running. Raising support is tough. It’s hard to adapt to a different culture.

A question I’ve been asking myself for some time is this. What would simple missions look like? Just as simple/organic church has a very different feel and DNA to the traditional, what would be the differences between simple and traditional missions?

What ideas do you have?

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Do simple/organic churches need a “covering”?

Here’s the idea: everyone needs covering–a kind of spiritual protection against the storms of life. If someone moves out from under covering, (as in leaving a particular church, or more specifically a particular leader), they somehow become vulnerable to demonic attack and are likely to end up with all kinds of problems. House churches are especially vulnerable because they don’t have any kind of covering–no one who has spiritual authority over them. Their people don’t answer to anyone.


I’ve come across a number of people who have been told this by their pastor or spiritual leader when they have brought up the idea of leaving a particular church. When they’ve taken the plunge and moved away from that church, others, who used to be their friends, have even been forbidden to have contact with them in case they are “contaminated.”

I believe this is spiritual abuse.

The idea of covering is totally non-Scriptural! The only reference to covering in this way in the Bible is the story of Ruth and Boaz where Ruth asks Boaz to extend the borders of his garment over her. It’s very far-fetched to apply this to church leadership.

As Frank Viola says, I think in Reimagining Church, it is extraordinary that when Paul writes to the people in Corinth addressing a serious moral problem in the church, he does not ask the leadership of the church to deal with it. One would have expected him to ask the elders to handle the situation. Instead, he addresses the whole body and anticipates they will deal with the problem.

We quite often get asked, “Who is your spiritual covering?” Our response: “Jesus is the authority to whom the church answers! We can all hear him and respond to his call on our lives.” If the Lord calls others to leave us, we give them our blessing and send them on their way. We’ve found that you cannot outgive God.

What do you think

Guest post by Sean Steckbeck: The New Testament church?

Here is another guest post by Sean Steckbeck. Sean lives in Israel and he brings a unique perspective.

Preparations had been made all day, and an intensive time of cleaning the house. The family is expecting the guests to arrive at any moment and the table is set. Finally, a knock on the door welcomes a house filled with guests, mostly family and close friends. The dinner is prepared and is neatly set on the table and at its center piece, the bread and the wine.  The head of the household begins to tell a story from the Bible, uses sensory symbolism, and asks inductive questions especially to the kids sitting at the table. The interaction is electrifying and even sometimes erupts into heated debate.  The bread and wine are taken, and then an enjoyable meal starts as everyone ponders on the story that was told at the table, the questions which were asked, and the discussions that proceeded.

What do you think this event was? Was it a house church in Asia or America? Was it a typical house church meeting? No, this took place in an Orthodox Jewish home in Jerusalem, as well as nearly all the Jewish homes around the world in an event called Passover. Although it has all the elements of a typical house church around the world – eating together, story-telling, inductive learning and discussion, community — taking place in the home.

Oftentimes, when we talk about restoring the New Testament church, we are forgetting that many of the elements we want to see restored are actually concepts from the Old Testament.  We speak of the “temple mentality”, but don’t realize that temple worship for the everyday person in Israel was only three times a year (Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles). Most historians and archeologists even agree that during the 2nd temple period the synagogue was a multi-purpose community center rather than a religious building. The synagogue becoming the center of weekly religious Jewish life happened around the same time that church buildings became the center of the Christian church’s life.

The central theme to the Jewish people is the Shema, which is mentioned in Deuteronomy  6:4-9:

 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”

Impressing the commandments to our children.

Talking about them when sitting at home.

Talking about them when walking along the road.

Does this sound like organic church and simple church?

Are we restoring the New Testament Church, or something God had planned from the beginning?

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The story behind House2House

In the fall of 2000, Tony and I were approached by Jim Mellon and David Underwood, leaders of two other house church networks here in Central Texas. We met at an IHOP in Waco.

“We’ve had this idea. God is obviously up to something. What about a magazine that would reach out to this emerging movement of house churches?” In those early days, the terms, simple church or organic church hadn’t come into use.

We thought that was a great idea. We had seen the impact of magazines in the British House Church Movement we were part of and knew that they had played an important role in other movements in history too.

And so House2House was born. It was a true periodical–it only came out when there was enough money. We decided early on that we wanted it to be a quality production, so it was full color. We printed between 25,000 and 50,000 copies per issue, and they all disappeared–fast. There were great articles. There were loads of stories about what others were doing. It went all around the world and became a shop window on what God was doing in simple/organic church.

Our own network of churches had been going away for a long weekend over Labor Day for several years. When we opened it up to others via the magazine, it grew into the national House2House conference where hundreds came to learn.

But the way people communicate their message was changing. Magazines were less and less a feature of life. And, let’s face it, it’s expensive to produce a glossy magazine. So the magazine became a website that seeks to resource the simple/organic/house church movement.

Over the years, many people have asked us, “When are you going to bring out another issue of the magazine?”

We ran a Kickstarter campaign to gauge the interest, but fell $400 short of our $14,000 goal. What was God saying to us? The result is an online magazine. Check it out here.


Embracing diversity

It is said that truth has two wings.

There is great  diversity in the simple/organic church movement–we come from every theological and ecclesiological background. As we embrace our differences, rather than being separated by them, the effect is synergistic–we become stronger.

We can win an argument at the expense of losing our friend–it’s not worth it! We can get together with people who are “just like us.” Where’s the adventure in that?

Obviously there are a few ideas, the basics of our faith, that we would take a bullet for. But other than that, let’s celebrate our differences–after all, unity was the focus of Jesus’ longest recorded prayer.

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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.

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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?

The easiest way to plant a house church

It’s probably not what you think!

Most Christians, especially those from a more traditional form of church background, assume the obvious way to start any kind of church is to invite a few Christians to their home for fellowship. As other believers join them and the group gets large enough, they will multiply out into two churches and so on.

This is not the best way for several reasons:

  1. The Christians will bring all their preconceived ideas about church with them. It will be more of a challenge to think in the fresh, out-of-the-box ways that simple/organic church requires. The temptation will be to do “Honey, I shrunk the church!”
  2. It is more difficult to be missional–existing believers tend to focus on the gathering. Many Christians don’t have non-believers within their sphere of influence.
  3. You are trying to create community where a natural one doesn’t exist. Yes, there is a “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” with all other believers, but as you add people to a group, it will take time for people to share their everyday lives together outside of meetings.
  4. Multiplication usually occurs very, very slowly.

It is far easier to make disciples of those who don’t yet know the Lord, and to work within their existing sphere of influence. As their family and friends find the Lord, multiplying churches are the natural result. The advantages:

  1. The problems and issues that come up are those of life, not theology or ecclesiology.
  2. Community already exists and their shared lives will continue outside of the meeting context.
  3. New disciples have a natural mission field all around them and evangelism follows spontaneously along relational lines.
  4. It’s easy to create a vision and expectation of multiplication.

What has been your experience?  Can you think of other reasons to primarily work with not-yet-believers?

Photo Credit: Tense (Creative Commons)