Wednesday, August 22, 2012

BAY AREA MOMENTUM


Bay Area Momentum 2012
Friday, October 5th and Saturday, October 6th
Pleasant Hill, CA

With Ross Rhode (Viral Jesus); Felicity Dale (The Rabbit and the Elephant); Keith Giles (This Is My Body:Ecclesia as God Intended); Ken Eastburn (House2House Ministries);
Linda Bergquist (Church Turned Inside Out); Hermie Smit (Church Planting Team Leader with City Team, San Jose); Bill Hoffman (Bay Area Organic Church Planter); Walt and Marci Pelot; (Worship Leaders).


What is Momentum?
Momentum is like no other conference you've attended before. We've uniquely designed this event to maximize input from all participants and facilitate discussion in both large and small group formats.

Our facilitators will briefly share insights on critical topics for about 30 minutes, and then participants will share their perspectives and ask questions within their small group.

Each small group will have their own organic church coach who will work with you throughout the event and will continue to be available after the conference to answer questions, provide support and help with the development and growth of your organic church.

REGISTER TODAY AND LEARN MORE HERE>

Saturday, March 31, 2012

HOW TO START A MINISTRY TO THE POOR IN YOUR COMMUNITY [SERIES]

over the last few years, my wife and I have been taking our two boys with us to serve people who are poor in our community.

The following series of articles is a sort of "brain dump" of all my mistakes and lessons learned the hard way, compiled for you in bite-size chunks.

I hope this helps guide you as you discover what it means to follow Jesus into service to others.

How To Start a Ministry to the Poor in Your Community
Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Friday, March 30, 2012

WHAT'S WRONG WITH ORGANIC CHURCH? [PART 6]

Lack of Spiritual Covering?

Early on in our house church experience a member of our Mission House Church asked about our "Spiritual Covering".

Our House Church is truly an independent endeavor. My wife and I left our previous church to start the House Church without any official "covering" from any other church or organization. I've been a licensed and ordained minister of the Gospel now for about 21 years or so, through the Southern Baptist Denomination, although I don't consider myself to be the "pastor" of our house church family.

To be honest, before this question was asked I never really felt a need to research the whole idea of spiritual covering. Why? Because God had called me to step out and launch our house church and there had been no hint that we needed to do this with the "blessing" or "covering" of any other leader or organized church. However, once my friend asked this question, I wasn't sure how to respond. I had my own, very strong opinions about the subject already in place, but I decided to at least entertain the subject and ask some of the spiritual advisors in my life what their take on the subject might be.

So, I shot off an email to people like author Dallas Willard ("The Divine Conspiracy"), Todd Hunter (former National Director of Vineyard Churches), Paul Martin (Pastor at Soul Survivor USA and St. James Anglican), David Ruis (worship leader, author, songwriter), and also a few of my own personal mentors. They are former pastors, Chaplains, Seminary Graduates, and lay leaders. I asked them each to share with me their thoughts on the subject of "Spiritual Covering".

Quite honestly, I expected a robust series of heated debates on the concept. Of that list, only two of them had any real bias in favor of house churches. All the rest were either full-time pastors of traditional churches or at least former pastors. What I heard back, unanimously I might add, truly surprised me.

They each agreed with my conviction that "Spiritual Covering" was simply not a Biblical concept as most people understand it.

(*NOTE- Not all of those polled responded. Dallas Willard was too busy to weigh in, and David Ruis was in Europe at the time.)

First let me explain the basic idea behind "Covering" here. Whenever someone, like myself for example, decides to start a church (house church or traditional), it is usually expected that the leader will submit his group to a higher organizational authority in order to protect the leader, and the new church, from doctrinal errors (heresy), and to protect against moral failures within the leadership staff.

This sounds like common sense, and I have to admit that if we were starting a traditional church, I might agree that such a system might be prudent. However, the House Church by design is already a highly accountable group of like-minded people. In the House Church model, it's hard to be anonymous for very long. There is a high level of accountability in our small group. Plus, I do not lecture as the resident Biblical expert in our house church. Everyone, even my two sons who are elementary-age, is free to share scripture and discuss the Bible at length. Because of this, it's much more difficult for heretical ideas to flourish very long. In fact, just a few weeks ago my eleven-year-old son Dylan put me in my place by reading a passage out of Exodus that completely contradicted something I was saying. The Word of God won out and I had to concede my point.

In contrast, the traditional church (especially the larger ones) make it much easier for people to remain anonymous and to wear masks that suggest "everything is alright". A recent coffee meeting with a good friend of mine, who pastors a very large denominational church locally, confirmed this idea. He admitted that he usually hears about "secret sin" in His Body when the marriage is already over, or the surprise pregnancy has already taken place, etc. In our House Church, we encounter things on the front end, not the last gasp.

Each person who responded to my question about "Spiritual Covering" agreed that there was no Biblical foundation for such a teaching, although many churches use this as a way to control their leaders and manage their "flock" by fear.

Simply put, "Any church without spiritual covering is not, because of this fact, in error. However, if any church (with or without spiritual covering), believes or teaches or allows heretical ideas or doctrines or immoral activities to flourish, THEN that church is in error."

I think one of the main things that came out of this larger discussion was the idea that "Accountability" IS Biblical, but "Covering" is artifical, fear-based, man-made, and still not effective in preventing doctrinal heresy or avoiding moral failures in the clergy.

Most of us who have been around for while in the Christian Church can testify that our best systems of accountablity do not prevent adultery, heresy, embezzlement, etc. We've probably all seen good, Godly men and women fall hard. Sometimes the ones who fall are the very last ones we would ever expect to fail in such a way. Nevertheless, they do, and often.

As a pastor, I have personally witnessed such failures over the last sixteen years first-hand and it's never a pretty sight. Why do these things happen? Is there really nothing we can do about it? (That's another article).

Basically, there is a misunderstanding of what "Spiritual Covering" is and what Biblical "Accountability" looks like. I am happy to report that our House Church has "Accountability" by the truck-load. I am accountable to every single person in our group. I am accountable to the Men of the Mission who meet for coffee every-other week, and I am accountable to a handful of other Godly Men whom I am in constant relationship and contact with every day. I am accountable to my wife and to my two sons and to my parents, and yes, even to those of you who read these articles every week. (Because if I did something stupid I would be compelled to write about it).

"Spiritual Covering" is not the same as "Accountability". Todd Hunter had a great quote that I thought really expressed how arbitrary this idea of "Covering" is. He said that if Rick Warren or Chuck Smith (or some other Christian Celebrity with a large, succesful ministry, book, radio show, etc.) were to announce today that they were leaving to start a brand-new house church, no one would dare ask them, "Who is your spiritual covering?" But if you or I (or some other "regular guy") were to hear God's call to start simple house church, then suddenly the question of "Spiritual Covering" arises. Suddenly it's just too dangerous to do this without another, higher spiritual authority looking out for things.

The truth is, when Chuck Smith left the Foursquare denomination to start Calvary Chapel, he had no spiritual covering. When John Wimber left Calvary Chapel to launch the Vineyard Movement, he also had no spiritual covering. Does this mean that, to this very day, these large, international church-planting movements are without a spiritual covering? Yes, it does. Is that a problem? Not if you attend Calvary Chapel or a Vineyard church...and not if you reject the idea of "Covering" anyway.

For that matter, when Martin Luther left the Catholic Church of his day and started a Protestant Reformation, he also had no "Spiritual Covering" either. So, I suppose there is no need to go much further than this.

For me, it boils down to whether or not your are convinced that there is such a thing as "The Priesthood of The Believer" and how you define it. Scripturally, I believe, that every follower of Jesus is qualified to use their God-given spiritual gifts without the approval of a denominational leader or an organization. Basically, there is no need for a spiritual "go-between". We might need accountability, or discipling, or encouragement, or sometimes even rebuke from one another, but it is not necessary that we have a man, or an organization, to stand between us and God.

A few years ago, some friends of mine wanted to start a Bible Study in their apartment. Because the lead pastor of the Church they were attending couldn't be there to oversee the study, they were not allowed to have their Bible Study. That is a prime example of the complete denial of the Priesthood of the Believer because "regular Christians" were not allowed to read the Bible on their own and understand it without the direct oversight of an official Church representative.

We might as well trade in our modern English Bibles for Latin ones and apologize for the Reformation if that is how we feel about things.

I realize that there are good people, sincere followers of Jesus who would disagree with me on this issue. I am not trying to argue or sling mud at anyone. However, it is my very strong opinion (and also, surprisingly, that of those distinguished gentlemen I surveyed earlier this week...smarter men than I, let's admit), that all that is needed for a Church to operate properly is to submit to one another, and to Christ, and to let the Word of God (the Bible) be your guide. The Holy Spirit promised (and I really do believe Him) to lead us into all Truth. We do not need an expert or a professional to tell us we are "safe" or "official".

We are The Body of Christ. We are The Church. The Bible is our Statement of Faith. We are accountable to one another and to The Holy Spirit of God. Jesus if our Head and He will build His Church just as He pleases (1 Cor 12).

Even so, I have seen enough pastors fall into sin and self-deception and pride to know that no one is immune from moral or doctrinal failure. Accountability is essential. We must submit ourselves to God, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ, or we will never avoid the sin which so easily entangles.
**
MOMENTUM 2012 STARTS TONIGHT AT 5PM
FIND OUT MORE AT
REGISTER TODAY>

Thursday, March 29, 2012

WHAT'S WRONG WITH ORGANIC CHURCH? [PART 5]

Lack of networking with other house churches

When I first started hosting a house church in our home, about five years ago now, I was desperate to connect with others who were doing the same thing we were. Mainly just so I wouldn’t feel all alone, and so I could learn from the mistakes of others without making them all on my own.

One of the first people I got in touch with was Ken Eastburn of The Well. We started out meeting at a local Carl’s Jr. and over time we developed a friendship that continues to this day. Ken’s story was not the same as mine. He was the pastor of a local Baptist church that transitioned into a series of house churches after selling their building. Still, Ken and I were able to encourage one another and inspire each other to continue on in our journey into New Testament church.

Out of the many ideas we bounced around together, one of them was to create a network of local house churches in the Orange County area. We both knew the value of getting connected with others who were hearing the same call on their life and sharing stories, ideas and resources with one another. From here we added other local house church leaders and advocates like Bill Faris and Michael Bischoff.

Of course, not every house church wants to connect with others in this movement. I’ve had some people over for dinner who were hosting house churches locally who had no interest in meeting others, or in connecting with other house churches. I’m not sure why this is, but I do know from experience that it’s so much better to have people you can reach out to for ideas, for encouragement, for prayer and for support as you walk down this organic church experience. Not only that, I think there’s a biblical precedence for this networking together of churches. In the New Testament there were no maverick groups. Every house gathering in a city was considered as one church family. Paul letters to the church in Corinth, the church in Galatia, the church in Ephesus, the church in Collosse. He did not write to individual groups, or to pastors. He wrote to everyone who was in that city or region as one church family. So, there’s one church in Orange County, made up of house churches, and traditional churches, of all denominations and practices. We are the church in Orange County, and the more we get to know and to love one another, and to work together to preach the gospel, to feed the poor, and to advance the Kingdom of God in Orange County, the better.

Now, with a house church the idea of finding everyone is difficult, as we’ve already discussed in this series. House Churches don’t have signs out front or ads in the paper. Some have blogs or websites, but not all of them do. Some are closed groups for example and the last thing they want is to attract newcomers. So, getting connected with other house church and simple church groups in your area can be a challenge. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

One good place to start is at www.House2House.com where they have a “find a house church near you” directory with a map. You can list your house church group and also search for the groups that are nearest to you. If you’re in the SoCal area be sure to check out the site I set up called OCHouseChurch.com.

You don’t need to agree with everything the other groups practice. Ken and I are like night and day on most things, and both of us are different from Bill Faris and Mike Bischoff, but we still meet regularly for lunch, share ideas, encourage one another and even hose monthly “OC/Organic Church Forums” where people can come to meet with others in the local organic church movement, and to discuss important topics, share ideas, etc. In fact, this blog series I’m writing came directly out of last month’s OC/OC Forum with Paul and Lori Byerly.

I’d encourage you do all you can to connect with others in your area who may be leading or participating in house church. If you’re all alone in the desert, I’d suggest connecting online. In addition to me and the others I’ve mentioned, you can also connect with the Organic Church Today online and even find house church networks on Facebook.

The organic church is especially relational, so the more we stay in relationship with others the more we can learn and the more we can work together to have an impact on our community for Christ.

-kg
**
MOMENTUM 2012 STARTS TOMORROW!
JOIN US FOR MOMENTUM 2012
Friday, March 30 & Saturday, March 31
Walnut, California
Neil Cole * Ross Rohde * Keith Giles * Scott Underwood
REGISTER TODAY>

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

WHAT'S WRONG WITH ORGANIC CHURCH? [PART 4]

Unequipped to deal with internal conflicts

In part four of our series, I wanted to talk about how Organic Churches sometimes struggle with church discipline issues, or even dealing with conflict inside the church itself.

What do you do when someone in your house church family is unrepentantly walking in sin? How do you respond? Do you just ignore it and hope it will go away? Do you talk about it behind their back with others in the group? Or, do you quietly pray for them and keep it to yourself because you feel uncomfortable with confrontation?

Frankly, most Christians tend to gossip about, ignore or avoid the sin of others in their church – house church or otherwise. Mainly because we don’t like to get into other people’s business, and because we just don’t like the idea of confronting sin in others.

Now, I know from experience that any discussion like this will inevitably lead to discussions about judging others and casting the first stone, or the plank in your own eye. I’m not talking about creating a legalistic, judgmental atmosphere in your church family. We need to have grace for one another and there is room for maturity over time on certain issues, but when someone in the church body is having sex outside of marriage, or committing adultery, or abusing drugs or alcohol, or otherwise damaging their witness and slandering the name of Christ by their actions, we do have a Biblical mandate to lovingly correct such behavior.

Both Jesus and Paul outline a clear series of steps towards reconciliation and restoration of a brother or sister trapped in sinful activity. The goal of this process is always restoration. The tone and the spirit of the process is always deep, sincere love and integrity. Church discipline, if it’s done properly, should always be entered into with tears and the aim should always be to bring the person back into full and complete fellowship with the Body of Christ.

Here’s what Jesus teaches us about how to handle conflict in the Church:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”- Matthew 18:15-20

This passage deals, specifically, with how we should handle interpersonal conflict in the Church (“If a brother sins against you”), but it’s a perfectly good process for handling the restoration of fellowship with someone in the Church family who is unrepentantly continuing in sin. Notice the first step is to go privately to the person in the hopes of restoring fellowship. If this isn’t successful we are told to take “one or two others” with us – again with the hope of restoring right fellowship between members of the Body of Christ. The goal is not to shame anyone. It’s not to point out their sinful failures. It’s simply, from the very beginning, about seeking peace between members of God’s family and bringing someone back into right relationship with Christ. The very last step is to take it to the Church body. This final step, again, is to be done with an eye towards hopeful restoration of the person’s dignity and fellowship. It should be done with tears and with a sincere desire to bring this person back into the fullness of Christ. It’s only if all of these steps fail that anyone should be removed from the community of faith.

Why should we employ this process in the church? Because we’re protecting not only this person’s spiritual health, we’re also concerned about the message they are sending to the world about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Paul is especially clear about this aspect of protecting the witness of Christ in one another when he urges the church to deal with error and sin in their midst. (see 1 Cor 5: 1-13)

Church Discipline is necessary because it’s not only important to help one another follow Christ with integrity, it’s also important that we stand up and together to more faithfully define for those outside the Body what a true follower of Jesus looks like. Someone who openly lives in disobedience to the clear example of Christ is not a true follower of Jesus, and if we will not point this out to the world, then who will?

Over the years, our house church family has only had to confront these sorts of things a few times. Only once did it come to asking someone not to return to the group, but in that case it was only until we could verify some disturbing information from another church about this person’s past history. Specifically, this person’s previous pastor provided some information that appeared to show that this person had lied to us, taken money from the church under false pretenses and was avoiding a host of addiction-related issues. I offered to meet with him privately at a time and place of his choosing until we could sort it all out. He nearly took a swing at me, but declined my offer to talk this out and never returned.

I wish I could tell you that we’ve always handled this process perfectly, but sometimes we’ve had to learn from our mistakes in this area. Thankfully, no one was damaged as a result of our foolishness and we continue to remain in good fellowship with everyone involved. (Except this person in the above example, although I did run into him about a year later and he embraced me and prayed for me and said that everything was much better now...so, I guess even this one worked out too, by the Grace of God).

So, whether you’re part of a house church, or an organic church, the need for church discipline remains, and it’s commanded by our Lord Jesus.

The major difference in the organic church is that church discipline is done by the Body, and out of relationship, not through an external or artificial hierarchy. Even Jim Belcher, local pastor and author of Deep Church, agrees that hierarchical structures aren’t necessarily capable of bringing about true repentance.

About a year ago I was interviewed by Jim Belcher for his book, and in it he references our discussion in two different chapters, touching on this very issue, saying:

“My greatest concern about house churches like Keith Giles’s is that there is no formal structure for discipline. When I asked him how he would mediate a struggle between him and another member or leader...he really did not know. He would try, he said, to convince that person based on the strength of their relationship. But I have seen firsthand that this is not always enough. Sometimes a higher court, like an elder board or a denomination is needed.”

Although Belcher sees a need for a denominational authority in these cases, he goes on to agree with my assertion that relationships are more powerful than hierarchy when it comes to addressing these concerns:

“Keith would agree that they have no hierarchy, offices and fluid structures. But he would disagree that they have no accountability. When I asked about discipline, he said it is done through the relationships that are built in the house church. He mentioned a few times that he has had to confront wrong choices people have made.

'If they are not going to listen to me, when I love them,' he said, 'why would they listen to someone above me in a hierarchy?'

I would have to agree."
(Jim says)

In the actual interview between Belcher and myself, he went on to share several very specific instances where he personally confronted people in his church who were behaving sinfully and they did not waver when he brought in the denominational authority.

Still, the issue of church discipline in an organic church can be a tricky thing. Mainly because most of us do not like conflict or confrontation, and if we’re going to respond to sin in our midst, or correct someone who is teaching something heretical, we’re going to have to do more than a little confronting.

Another friend of mine, Todd Hunter (now a Bishop in the Anglican church), once told me that the condition of the person’s heart is actually more of a determining factor in these cases than anything else, saying, “A good man will remain faithful, even with a poor structure of accountability, and a degenerate man will frustrate and resist even the most iron-clad system of accountability.”

I must agree.

So, while it may be one of the more difficult aspects of participating in an organic church, discipline within the Body is still a necessary part of growing in community with one another.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

ONLY TWO DAYS LEFT!
JOIN US FOR MOMENTUM 2012
Friday, March 30 & Saturday, March 31
Walnut, California
Neil Cole * Ross Rohde * Ken Eastburn *Bill Faris * Keith Giles * Bob Sears
Worship leaders: Scott Underwood and Jacob Wright
REGISTER TODAY>

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

WHAT'S WRONG WITH ORGANIC CHURCH? [PART 3]

Too Isolated from Traditional Churches

Continuing in our series of “What’s Wrong with Organic Church?” the next item on our list is that we’re often too isolated from traditional churches in our community.

It should be easy to understand why this problem persists. On one side you have Organic Churches made up of people who have left the traditional model, and on the other side you have traditional churches made up of people who see Organic Churches as something of a threat, or at least an insult, to what they’re doing. It’s no wonder that these two groups don’t often work together. But, I’d like to suggest that this shouldn’t remain an acceptable condition in the Body.

There is only one Body, and there is only one Church. There are not House Churches and Traditional Churches, there is just one true ekklesia and different models of how this one church gathers and operates.

If we take this concept of “One Church” seriously, we must also take Jesus and Paul seriously when they instruct us to seek reconciliation and to live peacefully with all men. It really matters to God how we treat one another in the Body. This means that we cannot continue to remain in a place of animosity towards our brothers and sisters in the traditional church, or the ones in the organic church.

God has been graceful to me in this matter. He has continually thrown me into relationship with pastors and leaders at traditional churches locally. This is not something I would have sought after on my own. And God knew this, so this is why He made sure that our little house church would end up partnering with Saddleback (a mega church) to plant an organic church at a motel in Santa Ana together. God is the one who opened a door for me to lead a men’s bible study for a traditional church group each week. He has allowed me to pray regularly with a dear friend who is a local senior pastor of a large denominational church. Why? So that I could constantly be reminded that these people are my brothers and sisters. God loves them. They love God. They are seeking to follow Jesus too. We serve the same Lord. And our differences of modality should not prevent us from serving the poor together, or studying God’s Word together, or praying for one another.

My story involves stepping away from an on-staff position at a local church that we helped to plant. It also involves leaving another church staff position where I was deeply invested emotionally. This wasn’t done without some amount of pain and hurt feelings. But thankfully, God has allowed me to reconcile with the leaders of those churches I left. We still don’t see eye-to-eye about church hierarchy or a business model of church, but we do love each other as brothers and we understand that loving one another is more important than anything else.

Just a few months ago I was asked to preach at the church I left over 5 years ago. It was a huge blessing for me to return and to share some of what the Lord has been doing in my life. I was overwhelmed with their grace to me. They prayed over me for a half hour before the service. They embraced me at the end of the service. They even paid me a honorarium! None of this was expected, and frankly it would have never been possible if their senior pastor and myself hadn’t gone out of our way to stay in touch, to reaffirm our love for one another, and to work hard at maintaining our friendship.

If you’re unsure about it, let me assure you that God cares a whole lot about how we treat one another. The Greatest Command is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The second greatest command, according to Jesus, “is like the first” and it is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Why does Jesus say the second (love your neighbor) is “like the first” (loving God)? Because they are integrated concepts. “If anyone says he loves God and yet hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).

This is why Jesus also tells us that if we are at the altar and we remember that our brother has something against us, we are better off leaving our sacrifice on the altar and running quickly to reconcile with that brother and make sure that our hearts are right before God. (Matt 5:23-34)

Remember, God looks not at the outward appearance, nor does He measure our behaviors apart from examining our deeper motivations and ultimately our heart condition. So, it matters to God how we relate to one another, and especially how we love one another in the Church. And, again, there’s only One Church. So, if you have something against a former pastor, or if you’ve shunned a brother or sister over disagreements about organic church or new testament models, (or any other reason), you really need to stop what you’re doing and seek for reconciliation and peace, “as far as it depends on you.”

If we are truly Kingdom-minded churches, then we will not ever decide to without love or fellowship or assistance from another christian because they disagree with us doctrinally or belong to another expression of church.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.

ONLY THREE DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER!
JOIN US FOR MOMENTUM 2012
Friday, March 30 & Saturday, March 31
Walnut, California
Neil Cole * Ross Rohde * Keith Giles * Scott Underwood
REGISTER TODAY>

Monday, March 26, 2012

WHAT'S WRONG WITH ORGANIC CHURCH? [PART 2]

Too Inwardly Focused?

One of the criticisms often hurled at those of us in the Organic Church is that we’re too inwardly focused, and that we can become too closed or even secretive, preventing newcomers from entering into our little clique, or sometimes even scaring them away entirely.

Our little group isn’t a closed group, and I don’t think we’re “secretive” or anything, but I have visited a few groups that were more inward-focused and there are a few things I'd like to say about this here.

First of all, it's awfully hard to resist the temptation to be inwardly focused. I mean, no one has to be trained to be more inwardly focused. But we do need to constantly work at becoming more outwardly focused. It's a constant battle that we have to fight to take our eyes of ourselves and to look up to see the fields white unto harvest.

When my family first entered the wilderness to plant our little house church, it was primarily because we felt a strong calling from the Lord to plant a church where 100% of the offering could go to help the poor in the community. Because this was our goal, and our passion was to serve those who were trapped in poverty here in Orange County, California, we started a house church in order to allow all of the offering to be spent this way. Most house churches don’t have such a story, and maybe that’s why they tend to lean more towards isolation and inward-focused church life.

Being self-absorbed is an easy thing to do, really. The house church community is made up of people who, in many ways, feel like they’re on the outside looking in when it comes to Christianity. Many of those who are attracted to house churches either have felt exploited by the traditional church, have felt a strong sense of unrest in the institutional church, or either feel called to explore a more organic form of church found in the New Testament. These factors can create a sense of being an outcast from other Christians, not to mention the world itself.

I know many, many people involved in house churches now whose stories are filled with tales of lost friendships, damaged relationships with those in their previous traditional church who called them heretics, or who shunned them in grocery stores, or what have you.

These experiences are painful, and they are real. They also tend to create an isolationist mindset, because no one wants to get hurt in the same way again. Once you’ve found a like-minded group of Christians who can share your pain and who understand your grief at the loss of relationships in the church, it’s easy to pull the shades, lock the doors and bask in the glow of those select few brothers and sisters who really “get you” and who understand where you’re coming from, and where you’re going.

I think the people who are part of our little house church family at the Mission are largely not the “hunker down” type. Some of us can indeed share stories about lost friendships, or church leaders who threatened or mocked us for pursuing the house church model. But, thankfully, we are not a group of wounded soldiers.

Most of us have been in leadership ourselves at the traditional churches we once attended. We’ve seen first-hand how broken the American version of Christianity can really be and we’ve made a conscious decision to move away from that top-down hierarchy model (of which we were once among the leaders), into a more shared version of church where members of the Body submit to one another and to Christ as our Head. At the same time, we know that it’s important for us – as the Body of Christ – to “be the Church” to our community as well as in our regular weekly gatherings.

What To Do?
For those organic churches who are too inwardly-focused, and who are interested in becoming more outwardly-focused, I’d recommend a few things:

*Partner with another house church, or traditional church, to serve actual people in your community. Your goal is not to find a charity to write a check to. That’s not going to change your inward focus into an outward focus. Look for ways to touch real human beings who need help, food, shelter, hope and the Gospel.

*Talk together about ways your group can serve the community. It doesn’t have to be huge, either. Think simple. Maybe host a pancake breakfast in the neighborhood to start with, or visit a local senior home together with your kids once a month.

*Find a local charity, non-profit, rescue mission, etc. to volunteer at as a group.

The goal of becoming more outwardly focused is not to lose your inward focus. There’s nothing wrong with having an inward focus when you’re together. That’s called “community” and it’s one of the primary strengths of the church. It’s not that inward focus is bad, it’s that not having any outward focus is tragic, and it’s an incomplete picture of who we are called to be in Christ.

Too Secretive or Closed?
I do know of a few house church groups that are closed; meaning that they do not accept any new people to visit or to join the fellowship. While our group isn’t one of these kinds of groups, I must confess that I have secretly thought about starting just such a group myself. Why? Because there have been times when my family really wasn’t getting as much out of our current house church experience as we needed to. Specifically, our two sons were not growing spiritually and my wife and I were also beginning to feel distant from the rest of the group. So, for a while we fantasized about leaving the church we started in order to gather with just one or two other families so we could really focus on going deeper with fewer people.

Eventually we changed our minds about that idea, but if we had decided to take such a step I don’t think it would’ve been such a bad thing. I think, sometimes, there is a need to create a more intimate and intense space for people to pour into one another more directly. Although I’d quickly add that I think these sorts of groups should only be entered into seasonally, and that there should be an agreed upon expiration date for when the closed nature of the group will end and others will be welcomed into the fellowship. Perhaps this is where some groups fail? They start out with an inward focus to address specific needs of those within the group and then they just can’t bring themselves to rock that boat and risk losing the good thing they’ve got going with one another. I don’t know since I’ve never been part of a closed group like that myself. But I can see where the temptation to stay closed might come from.

Embrace the Mystery
One thought I had when considering the secretive nature of the house church to those on the outside is that it might be possible to leverage this perceived secrecy in a positive way. I mean, if we're never going to advertise our house churches in the newspaper or on a billboard, or set up a big sign in our front yards, then why not go the other way? Why not play up the secretive part and use it to intrigue people into finding out more about why we meet in homes, and what we do there, and what makes it so different from everything else? People are naturally curious. What's wrong with appealing to their built-in desire to learn more? Especially if what people want to know more about is why you have to escape the man-made religious systems of the day in order to follow Jesus more and love your neighbor as yourself.

As followers of Jesus we are called to be set apart- to be different from the world around us. If being part of a house church creates an even greater opportunity for us to set ourselves apart from the world and to live different sorts of lives among others, we might as well make the best of it.

-kg
**

JOIN US FOR MOMENTUM 2012

Friday, March 30 & Saturday, March 31
Walnut, California
Neil Cole * Ross Rohde * Keith Giles * Scott Underwood
REGISTER TODAY>