Re-Thinking House Church

by Roger Thurman

Here is an interesting article by Roger Thurman (http://www.simplechurchjournal.com ) on re-thinking house church. He makes some interesting comments, including –

– I have seen the benefits of moving …. to simpler church forms –
– I have also noted the many downsides of working with simple/house churches
– Despite good intentions, the consumer attitude of “what’s in it for me” can still be the prevailing attitude
– “Simple church is not about ‘doing church differently,’ rather it’s about a way of life, the Jesus way of life, and supporting that way of life through simple, organic gatherings.”
– We fall into the “downsides of working with simple/house churches” …. because we sink into the habit … of just “doing church” rather than living out the type of ministry and lifestyle that Jesus modelled.
– My intentions for living as a radical, whole-life disciple dissipate into a few weekly Christian activities. I begin just “doing church.”
– I am once again seeking to re-imagine what “church” can be. Or rather, what it means to be the church in a way that actually reflects who Jesus is

I’ve also included the comments following his blog/article. It is interesting to see people interact with what they read, and then his responses clarifying what he is saying.

Re-Thinking House Church
The process of thinking about, practicing, re-thinking, re-imagining, and re-experimenting is exactly where the church needs to be today as it struggles to shed some irrelevant outer garments and seeks to uncover the shape it is morphing into.
I have seen the benefits of moving away from more traditional structures and into church forms that are simpler:
Small, so that community and family can be experienced
Participatory, so that every person’s gift is valued and developed
Non-positional in leadership status, so that submission is mutual and leadership is situational and gift-based
Non-programmatic, so that mission, discipleship, and leadership training is relationally-oriented
Simple, so that it supports a 24/7, Jesus-following way of life
Yet, I have also noted the many downsides of working with simple/house churches:
Community/family life in small groups is challenging.
Despite good intentions, the consumer attitude of “what’s in it for me” can still be the prevailing attitude.
We can talk a lot about a 24/7, Jesus-following lifestyle, but the reality is often that the only real change is that we gather in a small, participatory gathering rather than a large, stage-oriented one.
Participatory gatherings, that seek to have the Holy Spirit lead, often fall short of such an ideal.
Simple/house churches can become a place for Christians who are done with traditional church, for whatever reason, but who are not really ready to move forward into something truly, substantively different in terms of lifestyle.
Does this mean that I am ready to abandon simple/house churches? Not at all.
But re-think? Always. I believe that God is on the move at this time like no other season I have been through in a long time, and the challenge is to keep moving with Him.
“Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.”
(Bob Dylan—whew… where did he come from?)

Keeping First Things First: How Hard It Is
I have spoken and written about the following statement over and over in many different ways:
“Simple church is not about ‘doing church differently,’ rather it’s about a way of life, the Jesus way of life, and supporting that way of life through simple, organic gatherings.”
In other words, the “way of life” really is the primary focus while the structure, format, or type of gathering is completely secondary. Our communities/gatherings must consist of people who are living or learning to live dynamic, purposeful, intimate, prophetic, missional Christian lifestyles rather than just being house-sized containers for passive Christians to gather in.
Tom Sine, in The New Conspirators, comments: “We are concerned that fewer than 10 percent of the believers we work with in North America have any time outside of home and church to work in ministry with others.”
I am concerned that meeting simply and in houses has not actually changed this. We are spending less time in church meetings and programs, but has this really translated into more ministry outside the walls? Has our way of life changed?
I am concerned that we fall into the “downsides of working with simple/house churches” (mentioned above) precisely because we sink into the habit, once again, of just “doing church” rather than living out the type of ministry and lifestyle that Jesus modelled.

My confession is that I fall into this far more often than I choose to admit. My intentions for living as a radical, whole-life disciple dissipate into a few weekly Christian activities. I begin just “doing church.” I begin to look at my Christian friends and the church communities I gather with as though they are the problem when, in fact…
I am the one who is no longer purposefully engaging with God in His intentions to bring His Kingdom to earth all around me and through me.
I am the one who is trying to replace a lifestyle of listening and following Jesus’ voice and footsteps with a pre-formatted, Christian routine and a simple/small gathering.
I am the one who is hesitant to fully explore with God what it means to lay down my life in order to allow His compassionate, missional heart to beat in me and change the way I live.
Re-Imagining Church With a Whole-Life, Missional Ethos
So, I am once again seeking to re-imagine what “church” can be. Or rather, what it means to be the church in a way that actually reflects who Jesus is. It is certainly about pursuing a constant intimacy with Jesus developed through practices, both personal and corporate, which nurture and develop that relationship with Him. It is certainly about doing life with others in community which, for me, means small, participatory, shared-life communities.
However, I also see the need for a clear missional ethos that actually challenges my comfortable, North American lifestyle and propels me more often into the world of people’s hurt, pain, need, and lost-ness that Jesus engaged daily.
The Praxis Church offers the following as a partial definition of their church family: “As a Missional Church we value the time you spend in the world and so instead of filling your life with a variety of church events we would rather send you into the culture equipped with the Gospel.”
This type of statement is a good start. However, I also sense the need to bring this type of ethos into the discipleship process so that I am being discipled into a radical, missional, Jesus-following life and discipling others in the same vein. I believe a healthy, fathering/mentoring discipleship chain is essential to Christians living full-of-life, dynamic, intentional, intimate, purposeful, kingdom lives that propel us out of our cultural sloth.

I am re-imagining simple church that places a whole-life, missional, counter-cultural, Jesus-following ethos at the very center of its gathering and intentional discipleship processes.
There is, obviously, much more to explore together so consider this an invitation to think, re-think, and re-imagine with me.
By roger thoman, March 18, 2008

Comments

You are exactly right about what is missing in some of the “missional” ideas floating around today. Engaging culture within a community is great, but if we want to be missional like Jesus, we need to not just engage culture, but engage those in culture who are hurt, alone, abused, abandoned. Thanks for the reminder.
Posted by: Jeremy Myers | March 18, 2008 at 09:58 PM

Thanks for writing this Roger.
I am glad u brought out the downpoints about doing housechurch. Having been a part of a housechurch, I can concur that was exactly what I also saw happening amongst us too.
People (myself) often like the idea of housechurch initially it seems, but unfortunately, we all still have a very strong and familiar mindset, one that is long-since programmed and brought with us all into the house church environment (what’s in it for me and what do i need to do to make this happen).
Either participation is self-centred as in trying to ‘be’ a “leader”, or ‘forceful’ in a different sense, as in trying to force an avenue to be heard through and have needs met.
Of course there are others who often would rather just sit there quietly and just let others participate. But then again, listening is so important as a way of conveying Christ’s love and compassion.And it is a very important part of knowing how to pray and help others. Listening as in trying to really get a sense of, first of all, should we respond, if that is a yes, then how do we respond ? The main purpose is to share life and to offer life to each other, how we do that and how we work that out, all I can say is that basically as we keep looking to the Father and the Son, and see the relationship that they had and that we are invited into and partake of , our hope is that we would become a better reflection of them more and more.
Posted by: Ruth Lang | March 19, 2008 at 09:50 AM

Thanks for this post. I’m interested in simple/house church. As a lifelong attendee of the “institutional” church and realizing that it doesn’t seem to be working, I’m intrigued by the movement that tries to get back to Jesus, discipleship, Acts 2, etc.
So, I’m a little discouraged hearing that this movement is not working for you. Why isn’t it working? Is it, at least, better than regular church? Will anything ever work? Is anything working anywhere?
I wish the institutional church were more open to this discussion. It seems like too many peoples’ jobs are at stake to discuss these ideas!!! What to do!?
Posted by: Jesse | March 20, 2008 at 01:39 PM

Hi Jesse…
So sorry if I came across that the house church movement is not working for me. That was not at all what I was trying to communicate. In fact, it’s working for me very, very well precisely because it is a fluid approach to church life. By that I mean that it can easily adjust, as needed, to new understandings of how God is working and leading and it can easily develop new structures that support those new directions. If I were to re-think institutional life, it would mean tearing down structures and then trying to re-build. House/simple church, on the other hand, provides a place for growing, changing, learning, failing, renewing in an environment that is easily adaptable. Thus, my excitement about simple/house church is that it provides a framework for church life that allows for the constant re-thinking and growth that makes church the kind of dynamic experience it is meant to be. It may not be for the timid of heart, but it’s the only framework that, for me, has the ability to support a dynamic, growing, Jesus-following lifestyle.
Posted by: roger | March 20, 2008 at 03:43 PM

I am very confused about the answer you gave Jesse and what you said in your post.

Roger replies –
About re imagining:
If I was to re imagine….
1- the meeting would take an immediate trip to the back of the bus. The business of making disciples around our values would be ushered to the front.
2- I would no longer talk about house church (or the meeting) but the reality of making disciples
3- Leadership would no longer cater to “meeting only” house churches
4- Conferences would revolve around equipping us to being disciples
5- I would try to find a source of real connection (besides conferences) between disciple making people.
6- I would put out an immediate call to gather disciple making people. (not in California, Texas or Florida but in central North America. In a medium sized city)
7- Then at some point we could begin meeting again.

A QUOTE
Let’s face a harsh reality. When all the latest books on house church (or simple church, or organic church, or campus church, etc.) have been read & digested, and all the latest house church conferences have been attended, at the end of it all there remains one brutal truth. If the house church movement does not become an outreach-oriented movement that actively, prayerfully and creatively seeks the transformation of neighbourhoods, then we will perish as a movement . . . and rightfully so. We cannot and will not survive as a “Honey, I shrunk the Church” movement (I stole that from John White in Denver!) that simply reproduces what we have traditionally known as “church” on a smaller scale behind the four walls of a house. There is much talk today about 24/7 houses of prayer and how they compare to the early Moravians. There is a lesson here for the house church movement. Like the early Moravians our house churches need to become centers of prayer and fasting where we spend time praying, fasting, seeking and listening to God. But the Moravians then sent out an impressive number of missionaries/evangelists, people like Peter Bohler who befriended John Wesley and became instrumental in his eventual conversion. To me this speaks of concerted prayer COMBINED with intentional outreach. If we as a house church movement do not become outreach oriented we will die. Simple as that. (Maurice Smith: A people and a river… July 5, 2006 Newsletter)