Why do we emphasize house churches so much and what does that mean really? Is what we’re doing really any different from a traditional model with a small group ministry?
These questions have come up in a few settings recently and they have been rolling around in my mind constantly. I can honestly say that I have spent a tremendous amount of time praying about this, asking God, “Is what we’re attempting here worthwhile? Is it what we should spend our energy investing in? Are we cultivating something that will invite people to experience greater transformation in you?”
I’ve attempted to listen for a response to these questions - as opposed to just praying and then figuring it out myself!
The short answer I believe I’m hearing: “Yes!”
The transition to experiencing community and engaging in the mission of God instead of “going to church” is very difficult for those of us who have been inundated our whole lives with church culture...whether we were participants in that culture or not.
Not viewing “Church” as place or even a worship service on Sunday is easy to say, hard to do. When I write or say that Christ Journey is a network of house churches in the Burleson/south Fort Worth region it is like saying, “The Kingdom of God has come!”
We’re experiencing some of the already-but-not-yet life of faith. Just as the Kingdom of God has come and is also still on its way, so it is with Christ Journey. We’re striving to cultivate an environment where community is the norm, confession is commonplace, neighborhoods are re-engaged and redeemed, neighbors are known and loved.
In many ways we are experiencing precisely that...and in many ways we are anticipating this experience.
From a church planting approach the question that comes up is whether a focus on house churches is best utilized in a “simple church,” “organic,” or “cell church” model. To those who aren’t familiar, these approaches typically focus exclusively on the house church/cell church - in other words there is no larger gathering, such as what we experience together at the Party Room on Sunday.
There are benefits to this approach for sure - there is little cost involved, it is simple and very mobile. It forces people to invest in one another because the community is so small.
However, even though they a part of much larger network, they rarely see those folks and may not know who any of them are. And this I believe is a major downside. I could spend a lot of words laying out the various reasons why it is beneficial to remain connected to a larger body, including mentors and mature Christians. For space sake I’ll encourage you to join me at Denny’s sometime if you want to talk about those!
But I do want to say something about the value of gathering on Resurrection Day because this is something I am not willing to give up.
My argument is not the legalism, “we have to because the early Christians did.” The truth is that we have ample evidence of the early Christians doing plenty of things that we don’t feel compelled to do - and plenty of things the early Christians did that we should not do (things which led Paul to write letters in order to get them to stop doing!)
But especially as we take the call to engage in the mission of God more and more seriously; as we pour ourselves out for one another and for our neighborhoods; as we seek to cultivate and experience a radical community of reconciliation and hope, I believe we’ll find ourselves NEEDING the opportunity to come together and celebrate on the day that Jesus defeated darkness, death and despair! We need to rejoice together because of what we experience together. For some folks on some weeks there will be so much joy and excitement that is spilling out that we need an outlet in community to praise God in song and prayer. That doesn’t mean that we should wait for Sunday or that we can’t do this with our house church - we should do precisely that. But there is something powerful about gathering with a group to celebrate isn’t there?
Other weeks and other folks will need to come together around the table to celebrate the resurrection because the darkness has threatened to pull them under. As we engage other human beings we make ourselves vulnerable to experiencing the pain and hardship that so many deal with each day. Nothing less than God himself entering into this story and defeating death can bring hope to some situations. So we gather around the table with dozens of other folks and proclaim together - Jesus is Lord and he is risen!
I think it is okay for Sunday to receive a lot of attention and preparation, even though we repeatedly remind one another that the basic expression of Church in our community is the house church. It is the basic expression because it is the place where we come together with a small group of people whom we are able to be completely open and vulnerable around. It is where we say, “This is what it looks like to live this life together.” And then we do that with these people. We hold each other up when it is hard to live this way. We rejoice when we experience the power of God transforming our lives and those around us. We are Church for one another.
And then on Sunday we gather with other house churches and we see that we are not the only ones experiencing this life. We are reminded that the Church is larger than our small circle of influence. We remind ourselves that though we are experiencing amazing things in the Kingdom of God, there is much more to that Kingdom than we can ever see at one time. We remember that we are members of the Body we are not the whole Body...and we are not the god who gives the Body life.
So when I say that Sunday morning is not the full or even primary expression of Church that is not in anyway to diminish its significance. The transition to seeing “Church” as a life lived in the midst of community and not a service we attend is definitely difficult. And as long as we gather on Sunday in the midst of the Bible belt, people are going to struggle from time to time seeing the distinction. But, as a friend said to me today, the transition we need is not to diminish Sunday but to emphasize the importance of shared life in our house churches.
If you are a participant in the Christ Journey with us here in Burleson, I invite you to find ways to make this transition real. If you are a companion on the journey with Christ in some other place we pray that you too will see this transformation take place in your own life of faith. May the words of Psalm 84 find expression in your life:
Blessed are those whose strength is in [God],
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage