Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Transitioning: A Desert Passage

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.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Do You Have Joy?

Well, I posted a question about evaluation on an e-mail forum for missional church leaders... asking if anyone was doing evals, if so what are they like etc. and guess what - no one even responded! What's up with that?! Meanwhile they're having a conversation about how clergy can't define "success" or even ask the question. Hellooo! I tell you, it's a good thing I'm nobody of any importance or I'd really be irritated for being ignored like that. ;) Anyway, I reposted my original question so we'll see if that helps.

For now, let me see what I can do. For a framework, I'm going to use Rick Warren's Five Purposes (Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Evangelism). To be fair, I sould point out right away that Rick actually does have an evaluation tool based on the Purposes. What I'd like to develop is something a bit simpler and not linked to some of his other specialized terms. You can read my take on the Purposes presented in a Tree metaphor here.

So, if we start at the "roots" of the tree, that would be our realtionship with God, and for me, the best thing to look for there is joy. Jesus said he wanted us to have complete joy (John 15:11). So here are some questions around that.

How often are you experiencing joy in your life that comes simply from knowing and being known by the God who loves you?

How well does your joy hold up when you endure bad circumstances?

Can other people tell you have this Joy?

What is your overall sigh-to-smile ratio? (The percentage of time you spend sighing vs. smiling.)

I believe that growing in faith will result in more joy and more visible joy. I think Churches should let people know that's part of what they should expect. Churches should help people discover and experience that joy, and should evaluate for progress to be sure they are getting the job done.

And if people don't have any joy, then I don't think we should press them on anything else until we've helped them grow into that.

So - how goes it with you? Do you have joy?


Friday, May 4, 2007

Spiritual Evaluation?

Why is it that we never evaluate spiritual growth?

When something is important to us, we usually find some way to evaluate it. It's important that our kids get an education and actually learn things in school, so we give them tests and grades to see how it's going. My health is important, so my doctor routinely does various blood tests. Airplane components... infant car seats... promising pharmaceuticals... it's important that these things actually work. That's why they get tested and evaluated.

But in the Church, I can't recall ever encountering a significant attempt to find out if people actually grow in faith, actually mature.

The "annual physical" is a common idea. Where's the annual spiritual?

Eugene Peterson embellishes a bit here, but his The Message version of 1 Corinthians 13:5 really lays it out straight:

"Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it."

So tell me, if you paid a visit to The Great Physician and he sent you out for some labwork, what kind of tests do you think he'd have them run?

What's the spiritual counterpart to a cholesterol test?