Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 3)

In our own situation, Tony had a great inroad into the community as a family physician. He would often ask his patients when they presented with a problem, “Have you thought about praying about this situation?” Their usual reply was, “Oh yes doctor, but my prayers don’t seem to be going anywhere!” Tony would often lead them to the Lord there in his office, and then refer them to a home group leader who lived near them. There was much marketplace evangelism of that type that went on.

Perhaps of as much interest is what happened as the UK movement matured. As time went on, greater and greater emphasis was put on church government. Apostles and prophets were recognized, and they competed to bring churches “under” them. Often the input of these mature leaders was valuable, but there was definitely some empire building going on. In the beginning, the main movement was unified, but fairly early on, it split, primarily over issues of law and grace, into two main streams. These streams each held their own conferences and week-long camps which attracted thousands of people to live under canvas for a week to hear well-known speakers. Whole churches would attend these gatherings. Those who emphasized “law” were very influenced by the shepherding movement from over here. The “grace” faction was much looser and less structured and probably less influenced by the shepherding movement. There were other streams as well whose historical roots were different. This division was competitive and unhelpful.

We are now 30 years down the road, and to be honest, what remains there is really just another version of what existed before, but on steroids. Most of the new churches are the British equivalent of a megachurch.

There is really only major group that is pressing forward and continuing to start churches and that is New Frontiers with Terry Virgo as the apostolic figure. (I am not as familiar with groups like “Salt and Light” with Barney Coombs so forgive me if I miss out a group that is going well.) Most of the others, especially over recent years have had some fairly major problems and have faded. If you are interested to know more of the history and personalities involved, the following websites may be of interest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charismatic_Restorationism

http://intotruth.org/res/restuk3.html

A few years ago, we spent some time with John Noble, a highly respected elder statesman of the British House Church Movement, and we asked him what went wrong. His reply to us was interesting. He said that the splits occurred because the leadership became arrogant. (The national leadership was initially known as “The London (or Magnificent) Seven” which became “The Fabulous Fourteen” before it split down the middle as described above.) His other comment was that it also “majored on minors.”

So what can we learn from the British experience. First, this is very different. We have a theology of staying small and multiplying so there is not the temptation to try to build megachurches. The leadership, rather than being young and inexperienced is older, and those who are of the younger generation and seeing extraordinary things happen (I think of groups such as Campus Renewal Ministries and Campus Church Networks) seem to have the wisdom to seek their advice. We have a theology of a servant leadership that lays down its life for those it is seeking to serve.

As I look across the nations, the potential in what is happening in this country is incredible. In nations     where church planting movements are happening, the individual believers are very missional. Right from the day of their conversion, they are taught to tell their family and friends about how they have met Jesus. They are encouraged to pray for miracles—and these are occurring. In several of these movements with which we are familiar, around 85% of new churches start around a miracle. There is extensive training for these new believers which teaches them how to start churches. (We spent Thanksgiving with a couple from India who are seeing extraordinary things happen in that nation. I interviewed them extensively, and when I have finished transcribing the interview, will post the results here.)

So can we see what is going on in this country become missional? Absolutely! We are beginning to hear increasing numbers of stories of people stepping out in faith and seeing churches start with unlikely people and in unlikely places. God could be in the process of raising up an army of ordinary people who will go out to a nation that desperately needs Him to spread the Good News. We need to spend time seeking Him that we become those who extend His Kingdom.

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 2)

Question: Tony and Felicity, what was your experience during the emergence and growth of the HC movement in the UK? I’m guessing that it started out in ways that are similar to what we’re seeing in theUS: believers migrating from legacy churches to HCs. But as it progressed, did you see a shift, or signs that evangelism per se was ramping up in the houses?”

Our own situation was fairly typical. In 1971, we were involved in the start-up of a church in our medical school and had the “distinction” of being thrown out of Intervarsity as a result. In 1977, that church sent us out into the very poor and socially deprived area of the East End of London where we started another church. That grew, probably 50% by conversion (many of Tony’s patients became Christians) until it was one of the largest churches in the area. We started in homes, moved into church basements, a factory and various other places as we grew.

These were extraordinary times. The presence of God was very strong in our midst. Sometimes we would find ourselves flat on our faces on the floor. We would never dare to go into a meeting with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to reveal it publicly. I remember literally running to the meetings because I would not wait to get into God’s presence. We saw the supernatural at work, the gifts were frequently used and many people became Christians.

However, and also fairly typically, the church then went through a split. A couple of years later it merged with another church. It is still in existence and going strong.

There were many values that we learned in that move of God that are relevant to what God is doing here today. Let me list some of them in no particular order of importance:

  • Church is built on authentic relationships
  • Non-religious Christianity—a spiritual life lived from the presence of Christ within, rather than keeping a set of religious rules.
  • Involvement in the community
  • Team leadership
  • The value of worship and praise
  • Cross-cultural

But did the church grow from new believers. I have tried to research the statistics, without being able to find anything definitive. Here is a graph from Christian Research.org.uk, the website of British pollster, Peter Brierley.

The graph shows that whereas the traditional church has declined considerably over the past 20 years, the non-institutional churches (which include the house churches) have remained relatively stable in their numbers.

The above graph shows the growth of the Free Independent Evangelical Churches, of which the house  churches would be a major component (taken from The Battle for Christianity in Great Britain by Erroll Hulse.

So we are left with our subjective impressions. Tony and I have discussed it, and have come to the  conclusion that the house church movement in the UK did become more missional. Many of those who went to house churches were actively seeking to reach out to unbelievers. However, the difference is    that it was an attractional type of growth (come hear our special speaker). Perhaps it was easier to invite someone to a meeting than to create a friendship.

Repost: The British House Church Movement (part 1)

I am currently in Taiwan speaking at a conference. This is a repost.

Tim Thompson posted the following great question that I would like to try to answer:

“I’m interested in the potential for evangelism in house/simple churches in the USA. Jeff Gilbertson has already reported that most people in US house churches were believers before they came, and I’ve often heard from H2H sources about explosive house-church based evangelism taking place in the developing world. So this has left me wondering… Tony and Felicity, what was your experience during the emergence and growth of the HC movement in the UK? I’m guessing that it started out in ways that are similar to what we’re seeing in theUS: believers migrating from legacy churches to HCs. But as it progressed, did you see a shift, or signs that evangelism per se was ramping up in the houses?”

Unitedkingdom

Let me start by giving a little history of the British HC movement. Note that this is only our viewpoint. We were involved almost from the beginning of the movement until we moved here in 1987. We were never at the national leadership level although several of the leaders of the movement were (and are) our friends.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the charismatic movement hit Britain. At that point in time, the church was in a sad state. Maybe 2% of the population was “born again,” although many more went to church, but in the area of London where we lived, maybe 0.5% went to church. Just like here in the US, all over the country, people were filled with the Holy Spirit, but whereas over here, the focus was on the gifts and power of the Holy Spirit, in the UK, it was more on the importance of the body of Christ and discipleship. Some chose to stay within the traditional denominations, but the Lord led many to leave and start churches outside the four walls.

You are right that the beginning of the movement was very similar to what we are seeing currently in the US. Spontaneously, all over the country, churches started in homes. It was a Holy Spirit thing in that again, like here, there was no one person or location around which everything revolved. Most of the leaders, although in their 20s and 30s were mature Christians, many of them from a Brethren background with a heavy emphasis on the Scriptures. The churches started primarily in homes, but without a theology of multiplying the small, they usually grew quickly to become the largest church in town. Of more recent years, they have become known as the “new churches.”

Our own situation was fairly typical. In 1971, we were involved in the start-up of a church in our medical school and had the “distinction” of being thrown out of Intervarsity as a result. In 1977, that church sent us out into the very poor and socially deprived area of the East End of London where we started another church. That grew, probably 50% by conversion (many of Tony’s patients became Christians) until it was one of the largest churches in the area. We started in homes, moved into church basements, a factory and various other places as we grew.

These were extraordinary times. The presence of God was very strong in our midst. Sometimes we would find ourselves flat on our faces on the floor. We would never dare to go into a meeting with unconfessed sin because the Holy Spirit was likely to reveal it publicly. I remember literally running to the meetings because I would not wait to get into God’s presence. We saw the supernatural at work, the gifts were frequently used and many people became Christians.

However, and also fairly typically, the church then went through a split. A couple of years later it merged with another church. It is still in existence and going strong.

There were many values that we learned in that move of God that are relevant to what God is doing here today. Let me list some of them in no particular order of importance:

  • Church is built on authentic relationships
  • Non-religious Christianity—a spiritual life lived from the presence of Christ within, rather than keeping a set of religious rules.
  • Involvement in the community
  • Team leadership
  • The value of worship and praise
  • Cross-cultural

But did the church grow from new believers. I have tried to research the statistics, without being able to find anything definitive. Here is a graph from Christian Research.org.uk, the website of British pollster, Peter Brierley.

Graph_1_4_4

The graph shows that whereas the traditional church has declined considerably over the past 20 years, the non-institutional churches (which include the house churches) have remained relatively stable in their numbers.

Graph_2_5

The above graph shows the growth of the Free Independent Evangelical Churches, of which the house  churches would be a major component (taken from The Battle for Christianity in Great Britain by Erroll Hulse.

So we are left with our subjective impressions. Tony and I have discussed it, and have come to the  conclusion that the house church movement in the UK did become more missional. Many of those who went to house churches were actively seeking to reach out to unbelievers. However, the difference is    that it was an attractional type of growth (come hear our special speaker). Perhaps it was easier to invite someone to a meeting than to create a friendship.

The Holy Spirit and DL Moody

I’ve just finished reading A Passion for Souls: The Life of D. L. Moody, an account of the life of the famous evangelist. I found myself surprisingly moved by his life.

DL Moody was born in Northfield, Massachusetts. His father died when he was only four years old and his mother was left caring for a large family, including twins that were born after her husband’s death. She had to send some of her children out to work at a very early age in order to survive. Barely literate in his early years, Dwight worked as a shoe salesman for his uncle in Chicago.

Following a conversation with his Sunday school teacher, Dwight became a Christian in 1855. He initially worked  with poor children off the streets, starting a Sunday school for them, and then began a church in Chicago which was burned down in the Great Chicago Fire. He was very involved with the YMCA.

His early years as an evangelist, both in the UK and in this country were very effective in terms of soul winning, mostly because of the huge amount of personal effort that he put in. He emphasized the “inquiry room,” where people received personal counseling in how to follow Jesus. After several years of intense striving, when he was near burnout, DL became convinced of his need of the Holy Spirit. Following an experience that he called “the baptism in the Holy Spirit” he became even more effective as an evangelist, preaching sometimes to crowds of tens of thousands, speaking with great power and authority and with increasing results in terms of people finding Christ. The striving that had marked his early days was gone as he trusted the Holy Spirit to work through him. He emphasized the Holy Spirit in all his teaching from this time on.

Here are some quotes from Moody’s book Secret power: or, The secret of success in Christian life and work:

“I think it is clearly taught in Scripture that every believer has the Holy Ghost dwelling in him. He may be quenching the Spirit of God, and he may not glorify God as he should, but if he is a believer on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost dwells in him… Though Christian men and women have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, yet He is not dwelling within them in power; in other words, God has a great many sons and daughters without power.”

“The Holy Spirit in us is one thing, and the Holy Spirit on us is another.”

“We all need it [the filling of the Holy Spirit] together, and let us not rest day nor night until we possess it; if that is the uppermost thought in our hearts, God will give it to us if we just hunger and thirst for it and say, ‘God helping me, I will not rest until endued with power from on high.'”

“The disciples of Jesus were all filled with the Spirit, and the Word was published; and when the Spirit of God comes down upon the church, and we are anointed, the Word will be published in the streets, in the lanes and in the alleys; there will not be a dark cellar nor a dark attic, nor a home where the Gospel will not be carried by some loving heart, if the Spirit comes upon God’s people in demonstration and in power.”

DL Moody’s later years were occupied in providing education, particularly for women. He founded or helped to found four schools including what is now known as the Moody Bible Institute.  He died at home in 1899.

 

 

Commercial fishing (part 2)


295520289_ab72907a23_m

As I investigated the Scriptures on the subject of commercial fishing in the Gospels, several things became apparent.  There are several passages that talk about fishing:

  • Matthew 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-19  Jesus calls the four disciples who are fishermen and tells them he will make them fishers of men.
  • Luke 5:1-11  Jesus tells the disciples who had fished all night but caught nothing to put down their nets again into the deep and they catch two boatloads of fish
  • John 21:3-11  After Jesus’ resurrection, seven of the disciples go fishing.  Again Jesus tells them where to cast their nets and they catch 153 large fish
  • Matthew 17: 24-27  Peter uses a rod and line to catch a fish that has money for the temple tax in its mouth.

There is obviously more than one way the disciples are fishing.  In the Luke example, they were in a boat and let down their nets.  In the John example, they throw out their nets.  In the Matthew and Mark examples they were fishing from the shore.  Further investigation reveals that although in English the word net is used in every example, in the Greek, different words are used signifying different types of nets.  For example, in the Matthew and Mark examples a specific purse net is described.

Commercial fisherman (which is what the disciples were) would have understood that you use different kinds of nets depending on the circumstances and the kind of fish you want to catch.

So in terms of the harvest where we are fishers of men, there may be different ways that we approach  “catching fish.”  What may work in other nations may not be best here in the West

There is one more passage.  This comes in Matthew 13 where Jesus tells a parable.  The kingdom of heaven is like a fishing net (literally a dragnet or seine which is a type of net used to catch large numbers of fish) let down into the water…

The question I am pondering these days is, “How do we ‘let the kingdom of heaven’ down into the community around us?  Especially here in the West where people are jaded and inoculated against the Gospel.  What kind of fishing net will catch a multitiude of fish?

Any ideas?

What’s in a name? Missional Community

The word, “missional” has become something of a buzz-word over recent years. Several friends such as Linda Bergquist and Alan Hirsch were involved in writing a Missional Manifesto which was published last year to help describe the term. Here’s the first sentence from the manifesto:

God is a sending God, a missionary God, who has called His people, the church, to be missionary agents of His love and glory.

Several of the mega-churches in our city have come to terms with the fact that , even if they multiplied themselves many times over, they wouldn’t be able to reach the city in the way they long to, and they are adopting simple/organic principles as a deliberate strategy. This isn’t just happening here in Austin, but all over the country.

I’ve led workshops at three of their conferences (like Verge and Exponential), and the main speakers at the conferences have included people like Neil Cole, David Watson, George Patterson, David Garrison–all of whom teach on simple/organic principles and church planting or disciple-making movements.

What these churches have come to recognize through the teachings of people like Alan Hirsch, is that an attractional model of church (“Come to our church service, come and hear our special speaker) isn’t nearly as effective as sending the members of their church into their communities and sub-cultures to reach out with the good news of Jesus. And although their church members might continue to come to the main church, the new “missional communities” formed in the harvest from the disciples that come to the Lord through their witness, are not expected to feed into the main church. These missional communities are autonomous, able to baptize and give communion, free to follow the Holy Spirit’s lead when they meet.

To all intents and purposes, they are simple/organic churches. “A rose by any other name is still a rose.”

I, personally, am very excited by this development. Mega-churches have huge resources of personnel. Imagine what could happen if these churches sent out their young people by their hundreds to form missional communities across the city.

Alongside this,  a slightly different model is also called a missional community. These “missional communities” originated in the UK. Mike Breen is the name most commonly associated with them. This model is larger–a small congregation with 25-50 people attending. They are not just a smaller version of Sunday morning, but have an upward focus (towards God) and inward focus towards their missional community and an outward focus into mission. They have spread into Europe and are now becoming better known here in the States.

What might happen in our cities if nobody minds who gets the credit?

Multiplication tools: vision

The vision the individual members have for your group will determine the actions they take and your group's ultimate destination.

Destination
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons)

Why are the people in your group meeting? 

Simple/organic church provides a more intimate community. This is great, and an important component of simple church, but if that is why people are meeting, community is what you will get.

Simple/organic church offers a more informal and relaxed atmosphere. But if that is the main reason you are meeting, it is what you will enjoy.

Simple/organic meetings are participatory, with the Holy Spirit setting the agenda. This is crucial, a vital component of what goes on, but it is in danger of stopping there unless there is a deliberate outward focus.

Unless your group has a vision for reaching out and touching the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord, you are unlikely to see the multiplication of new disciples and churches.

If you long to see the lives of those who don't yet know the Lord transformed by their coming into relationship with Jesus, then that vision needs to be set before people frequently. Everyone in your group needs to be excited by the prospect, otherwise they will resent the thought of change. As people buy into this vision, their actions and attitudes will change. It may take a little time, but it's worth putting the vision before people on a frequent and regular basis. It can be done in different ways: for example

  • An interactive Bible study on the Great Commission, or Luke 10, Matthew 10 etc.
  • Videos such as this one
  • Asking the Lord what he wants for your group

(This last one is crucial. Everyone in our simple/organic church bought into the vision of multiplication when we spent time seeking the Lord about his vision for our group and he showed more than 50% of us the same thing in different ways. You can read the story here. We frequently refer back to that vision and make sure that newcomers to the group hear about it. Whenever a potential new group starts, we remind people how this is a fulfilment of what the Lord showed us.)

Practical application: Ask everyone in your group to listen to the Lord with the question, "Jesus, what is your vision for our group?" Give everyone 20 minutes on their own to listen and then compare notes. See if a theme emerges. See if the Lord gives you a vision of an outward focus.