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!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A Peek Inside a House Church in Omaha

In my daily browsing of blogs that mention the phrase "house church," I've just come across If I had to describe my church I would say something along the following lines. "We are a Christ-centered, biblically-informed, reflective, conversational, alternative Christian community that seeks to be Spirit-led, Spirit-transformed, and committed to life-togetherness in our day-to-day witness for Jesus." this one by Gary Nebeker who is an Associate Professor of Bible at Grace University in Omaha. The post I read (dated 10/10/2007) had a great section describing what goes on in the house church he's been involved in since 2003. Here's that section:

If you ever visit one of our gatherings, here's what you will observe. We meet for a communal meal in someone's home every Sunday evening around 5:30. We celebrate the Lord's Supper every Sunday at our communal meal. Sometimes we will sing some hymns or spiritual songs with guitar accompaniment. There are no youth specific ministries; the kids, from infants to teen-agers, are integrated into the meeting. In the first three years of our history we went through Dallas Willard's Renovation of the Heart video series, studied the DISC profile, read and discussed chapters out of Richard Lovelace's Dynamics of Spiritual Life, and studied the Book of Acts. In the past year we have examined the New Testament texts that pertain to elders and deacons. We are currently studying the virtues depicted in 2 Peter 1:5-7.

Several of the men in the group have provided leadership and some general "structure" for the others. We don't have "a pastor." There aren't any expository sermons. Usually a person prepares some thoughts based on a text of Scripture. After this person shares the group then spends some time discussing what this text is saying to us today. In addition to the time we spend together on Sunday evenings, we do a lot of "life-together" things during the week in groups of twos and threes.

He also writes this about the group of about 20 adults as well as children:
If I had to describe my church I would say something along the following lines. "We are a Christ-centered, biblically-informed, reflective, conversational, alternative Christian community that seeks to be Spirit-led, Spirit-transformed, and committed to life-togetherness in our day-to-day witness for Jesus."

I'm sure it's risky to generalize about house churches, but this does seem to be a nice vignette that has the feel of what I've been encountering among others who are following Jesus in this way.


Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Explaining "House Church" in 60 Seconds

This morning I found myself trying to explain to a stranger what house church is, in about 60 seconds.

The Backstory

I was at a doctors appointment to meet with a specialist for the first time who was going to take a look at my hand. (I have some odd stiffness in some finger joints but it doesn't look like anything to be too concerned about, thankfully.) One of the parade of people who saw me in the exam room before I actually met the doctor noticed the catering logo on my shirt and asked me if I worked for a caterer. I do, part time, and had just come from setting up a breakfast. So I told her that I was actually a pastor, on leave from call and working for a caterer while mostly being a homemaker and parent while my wife brings home the bacon and pays the bills. We chatted briefly about catering and then she was done with her tasks and left the room. Later on, after I met the doctor and she had finished discussing the concerns I had about my hand, she mentioned that the other person had told her that I was both a pastor and a caterer which was unusual. So I went ahead and talked about how I was not serving in a church but was now exploring the house church movement. To this, she replied;

Oh, that's great! - like visiting sick people in their homes?

Beat the Clock

So there it was. How do I explain house church to a doctor I just met, in the few moments for conversation available in the exam room after my appointment? In a nutshell, here is basically what I said:

In a regular church, the primary event is when you gather together a large group of people who mostly listen while one person talks, namely me - the pastor. But if your main goal is to help people grow and change, and through that to change the world, this large group/lecture mode is really not very effective. You'll really do much better with a smaller group - say 10 or 12 - who can really get to know each other and be involved in each other's lives. And that is what house churches are about.

She picked up on that right away and enthusiastically compared it to her own experience of helping to train other doctors on how to diagnose things. She said that while it's useful for her to initially just explain it to them and tell them about it, what really helps is when they then go and practice it and check back with her to see how they did: experiential learning in a small group vs. a lecture.

I then added that another reason I was interested in house churches was because of the high cost of doing regular church. To support that large group event takes a whole lot of money for the building, and the salary of a graduate level professional and so on (and pay for insurance, she chimed in, never far from the mind of a doctor these days to be sure). I said that it just takes an enormous amount of time and money to keep it going and in the end you don't get a lot out of it. She was right with me, and saw what I was getting at, saying "So the ROI (return on investment) is low. I'll be the people in charge don't like to hear that." "Well, yeah..." I replied.

Then she made one more interesting comment. She remembered that she had actually attended a house church meeting - or something much like it - perhaps 10 or 15 years ago. She recalled that it seemed very strange because it was so different from a regular church service, which she was familiar with.

That was it. Time was up. I went home and she went on to her next patient.


1. Amazing how these conversations get started! I imagine it's more likely for me to find entry into these topics because it's an easy offshoot from the basic "what do you do for a living" question.

2. I was struck by how quickly she made the comparison to her work with training doctors. But actually, the whole idea that effective teaching and training needs to be more interactive is pretty commonplace these days. What seems more striking now in retrospect is that it's taking the church so long to catch up with this. Mentoring, coaching and participative learning really ought to be the norm for our practices of faith formation.

3. Lastly, I noticed that my quick-draw explanation was largely negative and reactive. That is to say, my first move in talking about house church was to contrast it with what it isn't: conventional, Sunday-morning-oriented church life. To an extent, that's understandable. Conventional church is certainly my own most familiar reference point. And I understand that when an idea is in its early stages, it's often expressed in terms of what it is reacting against or emerging from. It can take a while to learn how to articulate what you're for but it's not so hard to describe what you're against. (Brian McLaren has pointed out how this is taking place in the emergence of Postmodernity - easier to contrast it with Modernity than to give it a positive definition of its own. The very term "post-modern" itself illustrates that point.) But it really begs the question: how would my answer be different if tried to say what house church is and what it's for rather than what it isn't?

So, let me close by giving that a try.

House church is when small groups of Christians get together regularly - typically in a home - and that gathering is their primary faith community. They may or may not also go to traditional church services, but this small group essentially is their "church," their congregation. And so these people share life together, and they help each other to grow, to be more like Jesus, and to change the world.

That leaves a lot unsaid, and "primary faith community" feels unwieldy... too much like a technical term, but it's a start.

I look forward to my next conversation and a chance to try it out.