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What about house churches?

March 1, 2009

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.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2009 3:34 pm

    Just saw your post on the house church “tag” on wordpress. I’ve only read a little of your blog but think we have lots in common. My wife and I (from 1999-2004) attempted to plant a cell church in our area—w/o burning any bridges with local pastors/churches either….@ this point, I would describe our fellowship as a house church/cell church going through a time of regrouping…posted something about it last year: http://is.gd/lkmX

    Appreciate your decision @ this point to remain vague in terms of who you are…would love to banter w/you more if you’re interested…DM

    • March 1, 2009 7:02 pm

      Thanks for the link to your experience in house church. We’ve been involved for the past few years with an institutional church that’s not sure if it wants to be a cell church or a more traditional structure. It seems a little schizophrenic to me and I always dread the Sunday service: one of the reasons I’m trying to extricate myself completely. To me, “cells” are like vitamin supplements: churches take them because they think “cells” might cure what ails them. For us, it’s been an admission that real community didn’t exist in our normal Sunday-based, meeting-driven organization.

  2. March 1, 2009 5:04 pm

    I’ve lead/helped lead house churches for about 5 years now and I can’t say I’ve encountered much burnout. It isn’t a lot of work and I’ve seen some pretty wonderful things happen when an entire group ministers to people in need.

    • March 1, 2009 7:08 pm

      Leighton,

      Most of the burnout, I think, occurs where the leaders try to duplicate the IC in a home setting. I attended one that actually had greeters posted at the front door, handed out bulletins with an order of service, and used a wooden pulpit with chairs arranged in rows. It was a micro version of First Baptist Church! 🙂

  3. March 1, 2009 5:59 pm

    I can really relate to your thoughts about House Church versus the natural spontaneous gathering of simply two or more believers when the Holy Spirit places or puts us together.

    Feel free to “see” how my heart resonates with yours. I wrote two blogs awhile ago on this subject:

    “The House Church Movement” 9.17.08-9.19.08
    “Sadly, The Institutional System” – 10.8.08
    “Revisiting House Churches” – 11.10.08

    I also wrote some posts on the Gifts. Feel free to comment if you’re curious as to the dates of those posts.

    Blessings,
    ~Amy 🙂

    • March 1, 2009 7:25 pm

      Hi, Amy! You’ve really written some good stuff and you’re right, we DO have a lot in common. BTW, you should see if blogspot provides a “search” widget for your blog: that would be a great help to your readers. I look forward to learning more from you.

    • Amy Arias permalink
      February 8, 2015 5:57 am

      Can I get a url to read your posts?

  4. January 17, 2011 11:50 pm

    I have been out of the system for several years now. About 6 of us meet every week. There is no agenda, and it can be raucous and hilarious. However we have been led a deep, deep, path in our seeking after the Lord. He alone is our agenda.
    To be truthful, most of our time has been made up of unlearning the claptrap of the hierarchical church. God keeps challenging us through all the gifts including dreams prophecies and visions. It seems that institutional church is firmly in his “sights”. (Not a PC comment at present!)

    Jesus said, “woe unto you scribes and pharisees, hypocrites. You shut up the kingdom of heaven to men, you neither enter in yourselves and you prevent those who are trying to enter.
    I truly believe that the hierarchical system of church we see today, has shut heaven just like Jesus said. Men place men over their heads in the false belief that it honours Christ, when it dishonours him.

  5. Yvette permalink
    May 31, 2011 8:35 pm

    We worship in spirit and in truth, there is no specific formula for this. Jesus made this clear while speaking to the Samaritan woman. As far as evangelism goes; I recall Acts recording the event when the Spirit caught away Phillip to evangelize the Eunuch. The Spirit will lead us, Evangelism is not about a group of people with an organized preplanned agenda to win other to the Lord. Discipleship is not an organized effort but a desire and willingness to cultivate a relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ on the part of the seeker, commitment to diligent study of the scriptures and other resource material and perhaps gathering with other Christians for dialogue. The Holy Spirit leads and guides into all truth,and the Father sheep knows his voice. This is how I have learned the things regarding false religious systems.

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