by Roger Thoman
House Church Basics — Part 1-B: What Is Church?
1. Church is a movement not an organization.
2. Expressions of church are far more diverse than we can imagine.
We have been working at eliminating preconceptions around old definitions of “church.” Our cultural idea of “what church is” can keep us from seeing what church really is!!!
We have already suggested this definition of church:
A loose-knit network of Jesus followers who gather together to encourage each other in their spiritual life and who go out, moved by the Holy Spirit, sharing and demonstrating the Gospel.
Taking this further, if we really get into a New Testament perspective, we see that the church was a “movement.” The church was not a box for this movement to fit in, nor a structure to contain it. The church, the collective group of people following the Spirit of God, was simply that group of people who were being moved by the Spirit. However and wherever the Spirit took His people, gathered His people, or sent His people, church was happening!
Church was fluid, going everywhere, gathering everywhere, ministering everywhere, being the Body of Christ everywhere. All of this was and is “church.” Once we grasp this, we can go on to the issues of: “How is church expressed? What does it look like when the church gathers?”
Robert Fitts suggests that we begin with the simplest possible expression of church: two or three gathered in Christ’s name (Matthew 18:20):
What Is A Church? If we take away all the non-essentials, we would have Jesus and at least two people who have come together in His name. Two people, who have been born again, meeting together anywhere, at anytime, with Jesus in the midst, is church at its most basic, most informal level. (The Church in the House).
This is a good starting point for looking at how church is expressed. It’s simple. It can be two or three. When a husband and wife gather at home (two or more), it is church.
Going beyond that, we find in Scripture many diverse expressions of church. When people gathered for prayer, they were the church. When Christians gathered around the supper table, it was church. When a group gathered to share songs and interact with the Word, it was church. Period. Not second rate church. Just church. The Presence-of-Jesus-in-the-midst church. Every gathering of Christians=church. Every instance of Christians “going” into the world—church.
Expressions of church, since it is the expression of people gathering and going under the movement of the Spirit, can be as varied and diverse as people themselves. Two missionaries sharing the Good News in an igloo in Greenland—church. Christian friends enjoying fellowship around a barbie—church. Real church. Full-on church. No more and no less “real church” than any organized church meeting.
Here’s what Dan at Signposts has to say about one particular “church” gathering:
Last night at Haven we had a kingdom feast… A celebration of our community and the presence of Jesus. We fired up the barbie and I cooked up a storm of meat, someone brought a salad and someone else some wine. Gee it was good. The conversation was rich – covering all sorts of issues from the redfern riots, the Iraq war and why the child was running around the table continually. Fair dinkum, this is Church! Just as singing songs and hearing a sermon can be Church this can be too. It was a joy and it was a deep meaningful experience. We must do more of them!
Does this shake up our view of church? Is this a real expression of church? Have we even begun to grasp how diverse church can really be?
Does any of this really matter?
Perhaps. Many seem to feel that the box we now call “church” isn’t working! It has robbed the Holy Spirit movement of its life and power.
Check out these statements:
Alan Creech says that we need to understand and do church differently because there is a “deep lack of real transformation going on in the Body of Christ.”
Reggie McNeal says: “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith.”
My own quote: “Today, we usually see structure define what the church is. In this context, there is no room for the full and rich diversity of the movement of the Spirit through God’s people… Could this be the reason that we are not seeing the glory of the Lord cover our neighborhoods and nations?
And: “Church-as-we-know-it has become a box to live within, not a movement to participate in.”
by roger thoman
George: to me it is not even House Church or any other type of church. it is about where do we find bodylife? where ever that place is you will find the church gathered. maybe it is time we quit trying to name and franchise forms and just be
Roger: I really, really do agree with George. But I’m asking those who see church this way (as I do) to bear with me as I try, in my own way, to build a bridge to people in our culture who have a certain understanding of church. I don’t personally like ANY term that is being used that tries to define a form of church, including “house church.” It misses the point.
But I find that people who are beginning to look “outside the box” need a place to start. I decided to stay with “house church” because it provides a reference point of something that is different, non-traditional, yet somewhat-sorta-kinda recognizable. In this way, I hope to use the term to woo people further and further outside that box.
George: Good point Roger! For me I guess it would be Simple Church
Aaron: The more I ponder the definition of Church, the more I wonder if there is a need for any formal roles in the church at all. I realize that individuals will naturally fill roles according to their gifts, but is there a need for anyone to be paid?
Shouldn’t a Church, operating according to the above definition, be able to function with out anyone “behind the scenes” organizing and holding things together? Isn’t there a danger of the body falling into old habits and following the “leader”? At what time should the ties be cut? How would such a transition take place?
Sorry for all the questions I don’t mean to attack any leaders out there, I’m just trying to envision these new definitions fully embraced. Imagining the entire body of Christ operating this way truly excites me.
I have heard people say that this “House Church” stuff will take some getting used to, but not for me, this feels right.
I have never experienced God more than I have in the past few months since I began fellowshipping in a small House Church. I realize that it has been because I have taken responsibility for my relationship with God. (Not in a bad way I realize that it is God who works and it’s not what I do) I no longer sit back and wait for the pastor to preach me a sermon or the music leader to sing me a song, or the elders to pray, or ……… I have become an active participant in a wonderful relationship with MY GOD.
Roger: The idea of paid leaders “in” the church gets very sticky since it tends to set one above another. Many simple churches are committed to not providing any support for any person’s ministry in order to maintain an equality. Ten years ago, in what is called the house church movement, this commitment to “no clergy” was an accepted part of church life. This was the way to insure that no one was set above another. In light of “what is church,” it’s important to recognize that formal roles and paid workers are not at all essential to church. In fact, I think we must go there in our understanding, first, before we begin to fit in the biblical roles of elder/shepherd and apostle, prophet, etc. These roles are not essentials; paying for any role is not necessary for the church to be church.
On the other hand, many in the house church movement felt that house churches of the last decade “threw the baby out with the bathwater” by not recognizing that paying some workers can provide valuable resources for aiding and supporting God’s work. Biblically, some elder/shepherds were paid (1 Tim. 5:17) for a supporting/serving role (completely different than our “pastor” role of today), and itinerant ministers–apostles, prophets, etc.– were also given compensation, at times, by the various churches they ministered among. Again, however, we must look carefully at what this looked like. In both cases, the support came by the decision of churches as freewill offerings… sort of like how churches support missionaries today. Those churches who wanted to would participate in giving to those workers that they chose to help out. In this way, workers who are paid become, very literally, the servants of the churches. Churches are never under any obligation to support workers and can simply choose not to at any time while still being “the church.” These paid roles were clearly “serving” roles that supported churches, discipleship, and harvest, not “clergy” roles that “led” or who were over the church. They were not seen as paid leaders “in the church,” but as supported servants who helped, sowed into, cared about, and encouraged the Holy Spirit led every-person-participates-people-movement.
In our own case, churches intentionally make the decision, every six months, as to the support and amount of support given to workers. Each church makes the decision individually! This gives these churches complete freedom to “be the church” in whatever way they choose, without any encumberances or requirement to support anyone, and this insures that any who are helped out by churches’ support remain in a servant role.
As to the roles of these workers: shepherd/elders and itinerant ministers… That will come up in later “Basics.”
George: To me it is about those who GO. The ones who stay and minister among us should have no need of support. It is the ones who we send who need the support not the ones we keep for ourselves. It seems to me The Apostle Paul did not take money from the ones he was with, but he did accept support from those he left from. In other words while he was with me I did not support him financially, but when he left me to work in other regions then I gave financially. In that way the burden is light on us all.
John: I am convinced this new movement we call House Church is a move of God, a correction, a new expression, whatever – it’s God doing something big. What is He up to? It’s not simply changing church structure, it’s changing us, our minds, our hearts, our communities. Is this revival by any other name (an old box church term)? But yet I don’t believe it is a movement that just erases all the old lines, it simply allows us to go through walls, we become permeable, adaptable, free (spiritual people in the true sense). This should not be about doing it a new or better way but simply following the Lord (and allowing all that isn’t from Him fall away). He is leading us somewhere and for very good reason. We don’t quite understand yet, but the time is coming when it will be crystal clear. And “like a staff raised in the wilderness, it will draw all men…”