Friday, October 19, 2007

Virtual Coffee (100 Cups #2) with AnnMarie


I ran across AnnMarie's blog and found that she was, like me, transitioning from some of the familiar ways of church life towards... something else! Both of us are interested in house churches, so I invited her to join me here for a virtual cup of coffee and a real conversation that others are welcome to join in on as well. I' delighted that she said yes, so away we go!

I started her off with these general questions: "Tell me about your journey! Where do you feel you're "from" and how did you get interested in house churches?

And here is her response:

My Journey:

Twenty-nine years of my life consisted of gathering with Christ followers in a church building on a Sunday morning. Around nineteen of those years took place in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. I had no desire to go after God during those years and I went to church out of mere duty. In my second year of college, a man that God placed in my pathway told me straight out that I was going to hell which shook me up spiritually. God used this man to introduce me to what it means to believe in God and to walk in communion with Him. That is when I decided to commit my life to Jesus Christ and walk in radical transformation. I buried my old scummy self and rose up as a new creation. I continued to go to the traditional church setting at a non-denominational church. In the meantime, I interned for a college campus ministry called His House Christian Fellowship during my senior year and took on a position with them right after graduation. I served in the role of Women’s Minister as well as an Evangelist/Outreach Minister. I was introduced to the Assemblies of God during that season in my life. In that season, God took me to a sweeter relationship with Him and hit me hard with His Spirit. I became crazy about Jesus Christ and the people here on earth. I quickly caught on to the heartbeat of what God wants to do here on earth. I wanted everyone to hear about who He is. I wanted everyone to meet up with Him. I wanted to reach out to the unchurched, the lost, and the backslidden.

I hung onto the Assemblies of God Church and I have been taking ministry classes with the Michigan District Assemblies of God. Currently, I am a credentialed minister and I am in the process of applying for my license to preach. In the midst of the past few years, I have served in many roles at the traditional church. I served as a sunday school teacher, a small group leader in the marketplace, an intercessor, an altar call worker, and a welcomer. I have also preached in the church setting and also at retreats. Around 2 years ago, I took on a staff position at a church plant as the Network Director which is a non-churchy title for an Evangelist. I networked with those in the church and those outside of the church. I led (and still do) a Bible Study with around 15 non-Christians in a coffee shop. Most of these individuals have never stepped foot in a church until that group was started. Most of them do not own a Bible. Half of the group believes Jesus is God but they are not ready to commit their lives to Him. The other half do not feel as if Jesus was God but they are looking for spiritual truth. I also served in many other areas at the church. On the weekends, I roamed the streets of the downtown area prayer walking and networking with the lost. I prayed that God would move powerfully in that land. I prayed that His Kingdom would come. I prayed that lives would be resurrected.

After twenty nine years of my life, I have decided that it is time to transition out of the traditional church for a season or maybe even for good. I am in the process of praying and asking God for specific direction in this area. There are a few reasons as to why I am taking this transition. First of all, God said, “Leave!” In a small way, I can relate with Abraham when he was told to leave his country. He was told so that he could be a blessing to others. I feel as if that is what God wants me to do. Secondly, when I first accepted the position as Network Director I felt it in my spirit that it was only for a season. Thirdly, God has instilled in me a different type of heartbeat for ministry. If I stayed in the traditional church I was in, I would remain paralyzed which would not be healthy for me. I can honestly say that I have a joyful expectancy for what God has in store. I stand before my God and I humbly commit this transition and my life to the Lord. As of right now, I am homeless when it comes to church and it is extremely out of the box for me.

I am currently in the position of wondering what church is. Over the past year, I have been asking myself several healthy questions when it comes to church.

What is church? Why do we have church? What is church suppose to look like? Are we in line with what God wants? If so, why are some churches shrinking and not growing? Why do we see so little salvations and life transformations? How are we to reach out to the unchurched, lost, and backslidden?

I do want to be part of the local body of Christ. I am just in the position of trying to figure out what is church and where do I fit. As of right now, I am in the midst of doing some research of house churches and praying about becoming part of one. House churches seem to be more and more on the rise these days. The house church looks attractive to me for many reasons. First of all, there is a great level of intimacy with those that gather and even with God. That intimacy leads to authentic and real relationships. That intimacy brings about a strong accountability and even discipleship. Secondly, house churches seem to have the freedom and a passion to be actively involved in the community without trying to get the “church name” out there. Thirdly, house churches have the freedom to be lead by the Spirit and not by mere programs. The traditional church tends to run by a minute by minute schedule which is ordered by one person. Fourthly, There seems to be a depth when it comes to the diving into the Word, prayer, worship, and even fellowship in the house church setting.

Just recently I ran across a quote that sums up how I feel right now when it comes to “church”.

“Acts 2 is a virgin church, unblemished by 2000 years of schism. It is a church at its most zealous, most spirit-filled, most connected, and most unified. If only church could be like it was during those times.” Mike Bishop

Oh, how I desire to be at that place!

11 comments:

Feral Pastor said...

Great story! Thanks for sharing it. Taking the "leap" before you can see the landing spot certainly is a common theme among the people of God. It reminds me of the great scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he steps off of the ledge onto what appears to be thin air. Have you seen that? There's also a book called The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson (of Jabez fame) that works a lot with transition themes.

I've got a couple of quick questions right off the back, just to fill in some blanks.

How long has it been since you became homeless/churchless?

Do you have any travelling companions or encouraqers who are walking alongside you as you go, even if they are still at “home” in a conventional church?

Tim

AnneMarie said...

I love that book by Bruce Wilkinson. I read it when it first came out and I tend to pick it up every once in awhile as a source of encouragement. Great book!

I have been homeless when it comes to church for about a month now. It is definetely quite different for me but I know that God is directing me in the midst of it. I have a sweet trust in Him. I know that my God has a specific purpose for this season in my life. I have made it my goal to continue to go after Him and even to a greater extent during this season. During this time, I know that I have got to be careful and guard my relationship with Jesus Christ everyday.

In answer to your question, I have a good friend that is actually somewhat on the same journey that I am on. I had no clue that this friend was asking the same questions that I was until recently. This friend and I have gathered together on a Sunday morning. We spent time in the Word together. I pray for her. I encourage her and she does the same for me.

There have been some in the traditional church that spoke words of hope and encouragement in my life in regards to this journey. I still receive phone calls and e-mails from thoes I use to attend church with. A few of them even expressed that they also have the same questions and passions. To my surprise some have been really thinking about entering in the house church movement. They are just waiting for the right timing.

I will be honest and say that I have also faced some that brought discouragement into my life in regards to this journey that I am taking. I have felt isolated, disengaged, and even abandoned at times.

Everyday I commit this journey to Jesus Christ. I ask Him to give me a greater hunger for Him. I ask Him to make me wild, crazy, and delerious for Him. I ask Him to guide me and protect me in this journey. I ask Him to make His presence evident to me.

AnneMarie

Feral Pastor said...

I'm glad to hear you have a travelling companion and some encouragers!

As you've begun exploring this way of being church, what groups and resources have you come across so far? (The four I've been in touch with - House2House, DAWN, CMA and Lutheran Renewal - are described briefly in my Selected Resources here.)

Also, I'm intrigued by your comment that part of your decision to step out this way was simply because 'God said "Leave!"' Can you say more about that? How did you experience that word of guidance and direction?

Tim

AnneMarie said...

Tim,

I haven't really been searching for resources at this time. I have looked into House2House a little bit. Other than that, I have had numerous conversations with others that are interested in the house church movement.

Over the past year, I have had several conversations with God in regards to where I was at in life and in regards to church. I asked God question after question. I came to the place where my heartbeat for ministry just was not the same as the leaders. I came to the place where I felt as if I didn't fit. Through much conversation with the pastor, it was made evident that God wanted me to leave. That was the hardest seeing that I have been praying for that area where the church was at for several years before the church was planted. I loved the terriory (and i still do) where I was serving at. BUT, God said to leave!

Feral Pastor said...

That sense of coming to "the place where I felt as if I didn't fit" resonates with me. The word I use for it is a sense of being "eccentric." In different ways, I find I feel eccentric among house churcers, emergents and my Lutheran colleagues. I hope to write more about that soon.

In your numerous conversations with people who are intersted in HC, are they predominantly people who are connected to a conventional church, or are you encountering people with no church connection who are interested?

Along the same lines, in the first post on this thread you mentioned the Bible Study you lead:

I led (and still do) a Bible Study with around 15 non-Christians in a coffee shop. Most of these individuals have never stepped foot in a church until that group was started. Most of them do not own a Bible. Half of the group believes Jesus is God but they are not ready to commit their lives to Him. The other half do not feel as if Jesus was God but they are looking for spiritual truth.

Are there people there who are drawn to the HC idea along with you? I'm very curious about that group but I'll save a few questions for the next round!

Tim

AnneMarie said...

The majority of individuals that have been talking to me about the idea of a house church are those that are currently in the traditional church. These individuals are ones that have approached me on the house church.

I somewhat consider my Monday night small group a house church but just in a different type of setting. We meet in a coffee shop. However, we have met in a home setting a few times over the past year.

I am not to sure how they would like the idea of a house church. I do feel lead to getting them connected to a local body of believers though. I just need to be very careful about the Monday night group. I have had a few churched individuals ask me about how receptive they would be to it.

Over the past few weeks, I have been praying about how to reach out to these individuals and their friends.

Feral Pastor said...

I'll be interesgted to hear how your ministry with those people continues to develop, and it does invite us back into the question of what a church is, or more property I think, what is a congregation? I'm reminded of first century synagogues, which had people associated with them who were not yet Jews, referred to as "god-fearers." Maybe a house church can be such a place of hospitality and respect that even non-Christians would feel comfortable in their company.


As you've met and talked with them, are there particular isses or questions that seem to come up alot? Do you find that the issues they struggle with are very different from what "church people" wrestle with, or is there alot of commonality?

Tim

AnneMarie said...

The group always brings up particular issues and even topics.

A few of them are on hell, angels, demons, dating, divorce and re-marriage, miracles, and much more. They always have a ton of questions. One of the guys just asked if we can study about the walls of Jericho. He said he once heard about that story but he is clueless to the details of it. So, that is what we are going to do for next week. Then, we are going to hit the book of James.

The group of non-Christians that I am working with are interested in the supernatural. They are intrigued with the miracles in the Bible. They seem to be more interested than some Christians.

Here is a question for you. How do you see the "house church" movement reaching the lost? I have been thinking about that for THE LONGEST time!

Feral Pastor said...

For outreach to the lost through a HC, three things come to mind.

Gather people around you. This is exactly what you're doing at the coffee shop. You could morph it into a HC, or probably better would be to plant a HC with some of the same people and have it run in parallel with the coffee shop group (at a different time). Then people could easily cross over from the coffee shop group to become intentional followers in the HC, since they would already know some of the people there.

Convert Cornelius. When I went to my first HC conference put on by the House2House folks, they were talking about ways a HC can get started. They told a story (possibly real life but might have been an illustration) about a Christian guy who started a new job and was immediately "befriended" by the guy who was the office extrovert. At the end of the first week, this guy invited the Christian to go out to a bar with a batch of the others which is apparently what they did most every Friday after work, and he accepted. At the bar, it was clear that the extroverted guy was well known by the rest of the people there - he was something of a social hub for this place. Now, at that point in the story, I expected them to talk about befriending the extrovert or inviting him to your house church, because if he became a follower then he could start to bring along all of his various bar buddies. What they actually talked about though, was that if he bacame a believer, then he could start his own house church with you to coach and support him! This would put his social and leadership gifts right to work, right where he was. That really impressed me. The concept is not so much bringing people to "your" church, but finding people who are gifted to lead, introducing them to Jesus, and letting them plant the church right in the midst of their own social network. (Thus the Cornelius reference.)

One handshake away. When I was a pastor at Atonement, we began to attract a number of people who were drawn to the music and informality of our contemporary service, and to the spirituality they found among us. Typically these folks had some background in the faith as kids, but they weren't really at home with "the whole church thing." My gut tells me that these are some of the people who would be really comfortable in a HC setting and could thrive spiritually there. That would be good in itself, but what really excites me is that I'm sure most of their friends were probaly not believers at all or had even less connection to the faith, yet they were only "one handshake away" from the Church, through the people I knew. Establishing a HC for the people who were only marginally connected to the church then could be a great way to build a bridge out to the people with no connection. This is the direction I'm thinking a lot these days, as a missional strategy that could be deployed from established congregations.

AnneMarie said...

I agree with you in regards to the three points you made with outreach when it comes to the house church movement.

I will admit that when I hear "house church" I always think of a small group of "believers" only. I would be interested in taking a look at a house church that takes on the heartbeat of outreach by bringing in the unchurched, lost, and even backslidden. That would be beautiful and it is the heartbeat of God!

Have you seen or heard of a house church that is effectively reaching the lost? I would love to hear about it!

Feral Pastor said...

I'm also interested in HCs that are not just a gathering of believers but also a place where people who don't know Jesus can get introduced to him. I wonder how much that changes what you do and how you do it when you meet. Maybe you set the group up so that most of the people are not believers... sort of a "seeker cell." I don't have a clue about any of that so I'm going to start a new thread on the topic and invite everyone I know who's got some experience to weigh in on what they've seen or done.

Tim