What about house churches?
When my friends and family discover that I have opted out of organized religion—not yet, but in the very near future—they will probably assume that I’m embracing a house church model, a little strange to most of them, but one they might see as an acceptable alternative. However, that’s not where my convictions are leading me. I’m moving completely away from all organized religious systems, including house churches.
I have been significantly involved in the house church model over the years, including the deliberate planting of one rural house church and the transition of one brick-and-mortar congregation to weekly home-based meetings (we disposed of the building completely). There are wonderful examples of house churches around the world that are loving fellowships with open, participatory meetings that encourage every-believer ministry to flow naturally when they gather together. So I’m not going to rail against these dear brothers and sisters who believe they have rediscovered the New Testament model of church life, because many of them have recaptured missing elements of community that have long since been buried under layers of religious ritual.
The early days of house church are usually amazing for most participants: the sense of community, the intimacy of fellowship, the transparency of sharing with one another, the hunger to grow as followers of Jesus, and the fresh expression of worship. It’s the “rose-colored glasses” effect that accompanies any new venture. People are eager to sacrifice the time it takes to clean their home twice each weekend (once before the meeting and again after everyone leaves), do the practical set-up routine every Sunday (extra chairs, song books, PowerPoint or overhead, Lord’s Supper, meal preparation, and a dozen other things), and make every effort to engage with everyone who attends the meetings. Burn-out and disillusionment will inevitably set in, no matter how spiritual and committed the core group is during those early days.
There’s something within us, at least in the American culture, that wants to package every good and wholesome experience, turning it into a program or a best-selling book or the latest seminar. And that’s what ruins house church for me. As great as it can be, the frequency and the expectation of meeting every single week in someone’s living room (or any other venue) drains the spontaneity and life right out of it. So I’m not saying it’s necessarily wrong to meet with other believers in this way, but that it can quickly become just as institutional (or boring or ritualistic) as the mega-church on Prosperity Boulevard.
Those who have embraced the truth of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection by faith already are members of His body, the Church of the Living God. We don’t have to meet anywhere with the same group of people according to a strict weekly timetable in order to be the body of Christ. Should we gather together as brothers and sisters? Sure! Does it have to be weekly? No, we just need to be careful about going it alone. We need each other, but I need fellowship with others on a daily basis, something we might remember reading about in Acts 2:46. The early church got together every day in the temple courts, a large public gathering spot for Jewish people in those days, where people would socialize for hours on end. Sort of the First Century equivalent of Starbucks or a popular shopping mall or a public park.
I know there may be questions about discipleship, worship, and evangelism in such a loosely structured lifestyle, so I hope to address those issues in the near future, along with my understanding of what many people call “the fivefold ministry” (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers). One step at a time. And please understand that I’m also still going through a process of transition in my own mind about many of these things, so if you have insights that you would be willing to share with others, please feel free to leave a comment below.