About a week ago I was at a conference here in the Twin Cities for people involved in the house church movement, put on by the folks from House2House. One of the topics that came up repeatedly was how difficult it often is for people to transition to life in the house church when they are used to being in a conventional church. Some people talked about spending years in a transition phase and the image of a desert or valley experience was often used to describe it. Some of the issues people encountered were:
Isolation - Often there was a lag time between leaving conventional church and finding a house church. You can’t just look them up in the phone book.
Guilt – Some felt guilty for not going to church even when involved in a house church. This was complicated by friends and family members who may not regard the HC as “real” church so it “doesn’t count.”
Loss – For some, there were clearly things they missed from conventional church life, such as the broader community of friends, large group worship and music, the rhythms of the church calendar and so on.
In the face of these struggles however, people were clear about the value of making the switch. There was a strong sense that what they found in their house church experience was so valuable that it was well worth the struggle to transition and change. Part of that was summed up by one leader who said that transitioning is not just about finding a different way to “do church.” It’s about moving into a different way to live.
That was a key observation. House church is not just a different way to do church; it’s a different way to live as church.
I should note too, that the transition issue is most relevant to people with a history in the church as opposed to new converts. At the conference, I was not aware of any people who had come to faith in a house church. That’s probably to be expected at this point, with the movement still relatively new in the US. Most of the people likely to come to a conference like this are probably house church leaders and have come from established churches. But this is something I want to look at intentionally as I begin to profile various actual house churches: to what extent are they seeing growth through evangelism and not just “transfer growth” from other churches.
In my own journey, which is coming up to the 10 month mark since I left my congregation, I can certainly relate to a lot of the issues around transitioning. It’s unsettling not to know how and when I will find intentional community again. Fortunately, I am blessed with friends who are companions and encouragers for me along the way, and it’s good to have an active faith life at home with my wife and kids. In fact, paying more attention to “home church” has been a real plus even at this early stage of my journey. But without the outward involvement in the work of a congregation to engage in, it does press the question of where I am at in the inward involvement of my life of faith and how that is finding outward expression.
The leaders at the conference – the ones on the “other side” of the transition – encouraged us not to look at it just as something to endure and get through. Rather, to enter into it as an opportunity for spiritual formation. I wrote in my notes:
Transition is about letting God change you. Your role is to cooperate. Let the internal work be done so that you can emerge “with the goods” ready to give what others need. It’s like Bill Easum’s advice for those who would be spiritual leaders: ‘Put on your own oxygen mask first.’
Well, there’s certainly plenty of precedent for things happening to God’s people in the desert. It will be interesting to see what happens to me.