Saturday, November 29, 2008

Viral Christianity

What would it take for the church to go viral?

That's on my mind pretty persistently these days. All the more so as I'm reading Frank Viola and networking with people pursuing "simple church" and "organic church" expressions. So I guess it's no surprise that even a political editorial can get me started down that track again. For example, here's what I read this morning in an article by Danielle Allen about Obama's use of the internet:

Over the last two years, the Obama campaign... used its website to disseminate tools for grass-roots organizing and made its campaign infrastructure infinitely expandable as groups replicated over and over, learning from and copying one another. The campaign infrastructure became, to a significant degree, self-organizing. This explains its remarkable people power.

Among the people I know in conventional church settings, self-organizing groups that learn from and copy each other as they replicate just because someone gave them the tools... well, it's pretty hard to envision. But among the simple/organic/house church people I encounter, that's not just what they envision, it's what they do.

Personally, I get an extra kick out of this because terms like "self-organizing" and "replicate" take me back to my days in grad school doing Molecular Biology research with an RNA virus. (Here's a little shout-out to all those Fan lab alumnae!) So when I muse about "viral Christianity" I don't just think about the internet and social networking. Visions of particles and genomes dance in my head as well.

So let me just try and wander my way into one point today. When you're a virus, "keep it simple" is an extremely powerful strategy. The smaller and simpler you are, the easier it is to make more of you. The smaller your genome is (the number of genes that make up your DNA or RNA), the less time and energy it takes to replicate it. The virus we worked with in my lab actually had only three genes. Three! Yet with just that it was able to infect a cell, instruct it to create a vast pool of virus components, assemble the parts and bud off mature virus particles capable of starting the next cycle.

"Viral Christianity," if it's to spread effectively will want to be as small, as simple as possible. Including blueprints for buildings, reproducing twenty-page constitutions, and requiring four years of grad school to train a leader before you can start is not simple, and simply ineffective. I am not saying those things are inherently bad. I am saying that if you require them or rely on them, you'll never go viral.

So. What is the smallest number of "genes" required for the church to be the church and to replicate, and what are those genes? That's what I think about.

I wonder if we can get it down to three?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Emerging Parents and "Church"

A fellow blogger over at Emerging Parents posted a question about how people are parenting their children in the changing church landscape:
What is your family currently doing as far as growing your children spiritually? Do you attend church, do church in a home or an alternative and how did you come to this decision?
Here's what I wrote - a little window into life in our home:

My wife and I are both pastors, currently serving as interim pastors in two different congregations, and we have two girls ages 12 and 7.

As others have said, we are trying to teach our children to be church 24/7 along with us as we try to do that ourselves! But as far as Sunday worship services are concerned we are frankly making it up week by week.

Sometimes they are with me, sometimes with mom, sometimes with extended family at a third congregation which is near our home and has their school friends attending. Other times we have a family worship time at home on Sunday.

A while back, I specifically wrestled with how I felt about the girls not having "a church home" since they were so itinerant as a result of our employment. I ended up ambivalent. I see a loss to them from not having one particular community to identify with and the consistency of relationships there. But I see a greater gain to them of having a clear sense of belonging to something much larger than a congregation.

Given the growing uncertainty I have about the future of conventional congregations, that broad experience may end up being more valuable to them that I can imagine!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Money Talk Church

I think about house churches a lot, talk about them frequently, and write about them occasionally. Yet for all of that I've never really been a part of one much less led or planted one, though I have visited a few. It's frustrating and not just a little embarrassing. And it leaves me with persistent, nagging doubts about just how realistic all this thinking is. So naturally I'm thrilled whenever I meet someone who is in a house church. That's always a great encouragement. But I read something in the paper on Monday that really convinced me that this can work. It was an article about the Smart Cookies - a group of women who banded together to help each other get out of debt. Here are some excerpts from the article:

In 2006, these five young professionals living in Vancouver, B.C., formed a "money club," a sort of financial-health support group. After two years, they reduced their collective debt from $55,000 to $10,000. All either own their own homes or are on the way there, and are regularly making deposits in IRAs and savings accounts.

They accomplished this impressive feat by setting individual spending limits at weekly meetings, then holding the overspenders accountable -- over a bottle of wine -- at the next meeting. They shared clothes, low-cost recipes, advice and encouragement. Each week, one member researched a topic to share with the group, such as how to calculate credit-card interest.

"The first meeting was really scary, laying out all our checking and Visa statements for everyone to see. A bottle of wine was definitely involved, which we recommend."

"We'd all tried on our own, read all these financial books, but it had no effect on our lifestyle. Knowing you have to share your saving and spending record for the week helps you resist temptation."

That's not a house church, but it absolutely could be.

Just look at the themes that are in play:
  • Small group
  • Frequent, regular gatherings
  • Self-organizing
  • Openness based on trust rooted in mutual acceptance
  • Real-life relevance and goal-focused
  • Accountability (sought, not imposed)
  • Joy and celebration
What really amazes me is that the very topic we struggle to get people to engage seriously in church - namely money - is the topic they are most eager to focus on!

These days when people are so anxious about money as they watch Congress try to respond to the hosing/credit/banking crisis and the market teeters it really makes you wonder... couldn't we start churches with a mission to help people put their financial houses in order like these women did?

Of course, there would be suspicion. We're talking about money of course. People would wonder if this is just a front to get them to contribute to some denomination or pay the salary of the "evangelist." They'll be watching for the catch and wanting to read the fine print.

But what if the church planter/evangelist took no salary? What if he or she had independent support from other churches that wanted to bless the new congregations, or maybe worked a regular job as well on the side... like making tents or something?

Nah. It'd never work.

Too bad though. I'd love to give it a try.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Twin Cities House Churches

For the last two years I've been looking to see how God might use me to support the house church movement. Along the way, I've encountered quite a few people here in the Twin Cities who are involved in house churches but I haven't seen much in place to help them link up or even just have conversation to share stories, learnings and encouragement.

When Jon Dale set up the Simple Church network it seemed like a good opportunity for me to create a common space within it for people in my area. So I set up a group called "Twin Cities, MN" within the SC network. I don't have a specific agenda or a vision for this online group, but I do hope it makes it easier for people to connect in person. It's great we have access to so many social networks now and it's a gift that they let us connect across the miles and the seas. But I do believe we need people locally as well that we can meet and work with in person.

If you are interested in simple/house/organic church expressions I encourage you to check out this network. It's only been up for a couple of weeks but already has over 600 members and quite a few of them are outside the US. And if you are in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul area, I'd really love to have you join the group I set up there. Maybe we can work towards having a public site for the area like the excellent one put up by Colorado House Churches.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Easum, Emergent and more conversations about Truth

There's a valuable conversation taking place just now between Bill Easum and Emergent-minded folks that I've been adding my voice to just a bit. In fact, Bill is stimulating several conversation on his blog where he's described...
"...a growing conversation is taking place that no Christian leader can afford to ignore. The players in this conversation are multiplying like rabbits. As we will see in a moment, much of the future of Western Christianity lies at the heart of this conversation. So we had better pay attention.

Here’s a list of the primary players as of now

The Emergent Folks
The Incarnational Folks
The Organic Folks
The Attractional Folks
The Reproductive Folks"

He's taking each of those players in turn to offer his insights and advance the discussion. I highly recommend it. (Bill has been a formative influence in missionalizing my faith for a decade or so.)

Part of his conversation with emergents is playing out in parallel on the Emergent Village blog, which is where I've done most of my posting. I expect this to be especially valuable because Bill and Tony Jones will be alternating posts once a week in a month long "blogologue."

My own interest really spikes when this conversation turns to discussion truth and knowing which is a giant piece of the conflict between Modern and Postmodern thinking that so often is playing out between Evangelicals and Emergents these days. I confess, I like that stuff in part becasue it's brain candy for me. But I'm also very excited becasue I see it having massive practical implications for daily Christian life and evangelical mission.

If you want to follow the discussion and see my writings so far, you can find that at the EV blog I mentioned above. But I'll also be posting a synopsis here soon as well.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

House and Mega Church in Conversation

Back in May I mentioned in a post that my friends at House2House were getting some inquiries and support from some folks among the megachurches. I asked them if there was more that they could say about that and Felicity Dale was kind enough to share the following, along with permission to post it here.

"Thank you for your comments on the blog. Yes, we are aware of the Willow Creek situation and like you, are blessed by their honesty.

We find ourselves increasingly excited about the potential of working with some of the megachurches (and the regular sized community churches for that matter too). Just in the last few weeks we have had contact with three megachurches, all of whom are interested in working with us in some way. One is asking us how they can bless the simple church movement. They did the same a couple of years ago, and made their video department available to us and produced the video component of the Getting Started course. A second here in Austin is asking us how we can help them to run true house churches as part of their outreach. And then a third leader from a megachurch asked to meet with us to find out more about what is happening within the organic church world. We had a brief time with him a week or so ago and now are in ongoing contact. We know that others are getting the same kind of opportunities too.

It is not just the megachurches, but denominations and mission groups are also showing interest. For example, just a few weeks ago we were asked to speak to the Texas rural regional co-ordinators (or some such title) of a major denomination to share what is going on.

Who knows where God is taking all of this. The potential is incredible. It is a huge privilege to be a tiny part of what is going on. Pray that we hear Him in it all and don't mess it up!"

That's certainly encouraging. If others know of partnerships between house churches and other, larger forms of church I'd love to hear about it here.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Missional SynchroBlog

Rick Meigs over at Blind Beggar recently voiced his "continuing concern that the term missional has become over used and wrongly used." So to foster some discussion about what we all mean by "missional" he put out a call for a SynchroBlog on the topic for today. I'm pleased to be one of 50 bloggers taking a crack at it, and savoring the irony of 50 bloggers writing about a term we're concerned is being over used. But that's just me. ;)

For a change of prose, I'm going to let my Inner Modern sit this one out, along with some of my better judgement perhaps, and just start out with this:

Missional is like pornography. It's hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Here's what I've been seeing lately.

I heard one person trying to explain house church to another, saying it was not just another worship option, like going from traditional to contemporary to house church worship. "It's not an alternative worship service - it's an alternative lifestyle." That's missional.

I was thinking about the Lord's Prayer. The petition "Hallowed be thy name" always feels like it's still awaiting translation into English. I think it wants to be something like "I want you to be famous everywhere!" followed by "And I want everything to be just the way you want it!" Or maybe even this: "My Father - large and in charge, oh yeah!!" Either way, it strikes me - what does a life look like when those two things are at the very top of your prayer list? Missional.

Recently I gave myself the challenge of telling the Old Testament story in three minutes or less and produced this narrated slideshow. In it, I set the stage for Abraham by saying that at first everything was good, but then something went wrong and it all came apart. Then I summarized God's response to the crisis with these words; "I am going to fix this, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much it costs me." Now that's missional!

I've been helping the congregation I serve re-think "membership" along the following lines. Church membership is not like health club membership where you pay for privileges. Rather, it's like public radio where the programming is free but people join anyway because they believe in the mission and want to help keep it free for other people too. But better still, Church membership is like yet another organization people join voluntarily because they believe in the mission: the Army. Public radio listeners are still mostly passive receivers, but in the Army you are the one who does the work. That's why they send you right off to basic training - a great model for new church members, eh? That's missional.

So... string all that together and it comes out something like this: An alternative lifestyle where your top priorities are all about signing on to God's project to repair the World because you want to do that work. That's missional.

I hope there's something helpful to you there - that always feels like my little part of the mission. And I invite you to check out what the others have to say as well. The blogroll is included below.



Missional SynchroBlog Blogger List
Alan Hirsch
Alan Knox
Andrew Jones
Barb Peters
Bill Kinnon
Brad Brisco
Brad Grinnen
Brad Sargent
Brother Maynard
Bryan Riley
Chad Brooks
Chris Wignall
Cobus Van Wyngaard
Dave DeVries
David Best
David Fitch
David Wierzbicki
Doug Jones
Duncan McFadzean
Erika Haub
Jamie Arpin-Ricci
Jeff McQuilkin
John Smulo
Jonathan Brink
JR Rozko
Kathy Escobar
Len Hjalmarson
Makeesha Fisher
Malcolm Lanham
Mark Berry
Mark Petersen
Mark Priddy
Michael Crane
Michael Stewart
Nick Loyd
Patrick Oden
Peggy Brown
Phil Wyman
Richard Pool
Rick Meigs
Rob Robinson
Ron Cole
Scott Marshall
Sonja Andrews
Stephen Shields
Steve Hayes
Tim Thompson
Thom Turner

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Three Minute Old Testament

Here's something I'd like to share. I created this short telling of the Old Testament narrative to support a sermon series we're doing at my church for he summer. It has what I think is the bare minimum of details for the story to hold together. As with any telling, it's an interpretation. I've presented the "plot" of the story as God's plan to use Israel as a showpiece and a meeting place to introduce himself to the rest of the world, with the whole people serving as a "priestly kingdom." (Exodus 19:6) I love how consistent God is in this fundamental outward focus for his chosen partner/servants. We see it applied to the Church in 1 Peter 2:9 where we we called a "royal priesthood." It beautifully invites the question: "If we are all priests, then who is the congregation?" All the rest of the world of course, the ones we are called to serve.

So - here is the video. I hope you enjoy it and find it helpful. (The resolution isn't very good so you may want to view a slightly larger version here.) I also want to say thanks to Harry Wendt of Crossways International for the use of his graphic icon for God, his prophet sketch, and general inspiration for this video. I encourage you to check out his excellent Bible-teaching materials!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Myth of the Balanced Life

Tom Bandy is a church consultant I have high regard for. Here's a sample of his thought from an excellent (and cheap!) online coaching forum he leads with Bill Easum:

"Modern church people (especially boomers) yearn for spiritual habits, but desperately fear accountability. So they have a real approach-avoidance attitude.

I think this is rooted in their desire to live a "balanced life". The myth of the "balanced life" is one of the great illusive quests. Church people often equate the "balanced life" with the "spiritual life" ... when in fact the spiritual life is a very "unbalanced life" ... unbalanced because of their thirst for God is greater than their desire for stability.

In my book Coaching Change, I offer a checklist of mentoring to help "unbalance" Christian leaders:

Crossing the Boundary to Post-Modern Faith


Systematic Theology--------------------------Pragmatic Christology
Propositional Thinking-----------------------Metaphorical Imagining
Judicious Evaluation--------------------------Experiential Witness
Denominational Heritage--------------------Congregational Identity
Standardized Liturgical Religion-----------Contextual Spiritual Expression
Professionally Interpreted Scripture-------Amateurly Interpreted Scripture
Leadership by Office and Competency-----Leadership by Credibility and Vision

Monday, June 2, 2008

Breaking a 17-Century Habit

I've been writing a little lately over at the Emerging Leaders Network, a Ning-based social network about 130 strong, populated predominantly by Lutherans interested in the Emergent conversation. One thread there led me to write the following about a shift taking place in our culture that undoes something fundamental which has been in place for 1700 years.

"One other thing I wanted to pick up on: you wrote about how "...many Gen X/Y people, especially, haven’t even had enough church contact to be alienated—the church is simply not on their radar." I think that's critically important for us to wake up to. People often talk about the importance of the change in worldview from Modern to Postmodern... shifting something fundamental that has been in place for some hundreds of years. But I believe there is - at the same time - another shift now in process that undoes an assumption that has been in place for 17 centuries: the relationship between Church and civil culture.

"Before Constantine, the Church was viewed as an enemy. Afterwards, the Church was viewed as a partner. (The Reformation - as significant as it was - did not depart from this. It simply led to multiple choices for which Church each State wanted to partner with.) But now, as your observation reveals, this way of relating for the past 17 centuries is changing. The civil culture is now looking at the Church as irrelevant.
"It's this kind of massive context-shifting that I believe really urges us to first, go back to the kernel of Christian faith, and second, experiment wildly with various ways to re-enflesh Christian life and community."

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Media Scan - Recent Articles of Note

Local/Cell-Church: The Minneapolis Star Tribune has an article on Julie Jacobs and her cell church network, Frontier Fellowship. Julie was the first person I profiled for this blog in my 100 Cups of Coffee thread. The article gives a nice introduction to her work and her cell-church approach, and it's good to see the point in print that it's not intended as a rejection of larger/conventional congregations or as a competition for members. My only quibble is where Julie says that "Home churches are trying to grow big enough that they can get a building" in contrast to cell churches that aspire to grow in order to multiply into more cells. (Frankly, I'm skeptical that Julie would make that kind of sweeping generalization.) Obviously, some HCs do aspire to get back in the building, while others intend to grow by multiplication instead. Most of the people I'm in contact with who are active or interested in house church forms are interested in growth by multiplication and are pretty passionate about steering clear of buildings.

National/House Church: My Google Alert service constantly scans the web & blogosphere for me in search of key words and phrases and sent me a surprising notice yesterday. Someone over on the Huffington Post was talking about house churches! This I had to see. Turns out it came up in the post Small Is the New Big in Progressive Politics by Rob McKay. The article is about political organizing strategy and "whether the Democratic Party is about short-term voter excitement or permanent citizen engagement." In that context, he makes these observations:

This new group of efforts focuses on local leadership, small circles, and cultural organizing. They are taking their strategies from the anti-slavery movement, groups like craigslist, and most surprisingly, a new Christian movement. "We keep saying that the evangelical churches gave Bush the White House," Erin Potts, a leader in strategic thinking for groups as diverse as foundations and big rock bands, said. "If we want to know, we have to study it and see what works. And what works, is culture and small groups. The emerging house church movement has a very dynamic and interesting strategy."

Potts and other organizers note that while overall church attendance has steadily declined since the 1990s, a new form of church has taken off--the house church. Unlike traditional churches, the house church movement doesn't meet in a specific house of worship, but instead, as the name suggests, in people's homes. While traditional churches have hierarchical leadership, the house church meets as a circle of peers, and while churches try to grow the membership of a congregation, house churches purposely splinter into smaller groups as soon as a circle gains more than a handful of members.

The success of the house church movement is staggering. Membership is well into the millions. One study suggests that 70 million Americans regularly attend or have experimented with a house church.

I think it wold be pretty ironic if political groups took more and better notice of the HC movement than Christian denominations and congregations. Ironic, but in a way not surprising. Like people in the business world, politicos are driven by a powerful zeal to get an outcome; elections won and policies enacted for one, profit and market share for the other. This drive can lead to experimentation, risk, innovation etc. and it's commonplace to see churches learning from the business world - although typically after quite a lag. But sometimes it seems that urgency, drive and passion are more prevalent in politics and business than in the Church. Profit and power more motivating than sharing the gospel? "Irony" isn't enough to cover that; it's just plain sad.

Moving right along, and to something more encouraging, here's my third newscatch.

Denominational/Emergent: My denominational magazine, The Lutheran devotes its cover article for June to Emergent/emerging ministries with profiles of three examples within the ELCA and a study guide. I haven't read it yet so I can't comment on the content But I will say that my little heart went pitter-pat when I read this among the study guide questions:

If you had a school, home or prison where people proclaimed the gospel and
celebrated the sacraments, would that be the church? Why or why not?
If you're familiar with my blog, you'll know I believe that is a question for which we have an answer - and a very, very Lutheran one at that.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Luther on House Churches

Most of the people I talk with about house churches are Lutherans. One of my favorite things to do is to find out whether they know that Luther himself proposed house churches as the natural, even preferred context for people who were serious about following Jesus. (He calls these people the ones who are "desirous of being Christians in earnest and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth.") It's great fun to see the look of surprise on their faces - especially the ones who went to seminary and, amazingly, somehow never encountered this fact!

I've got the relevant section from Luther's writings uploaded in my "document vault" but I've neglected to post it here so now's the time to fix that. Here is the key excerpt, with citations at the end. Friends, and Lutherans especially, you'll want to take note of the following:

  • Self-organized

  • Home-based

  • Lay led

  • Full sacramental life

  • Stewardship and social ministry

  • Simple catechetical instruction

  • Ideal context for loving accountability after Matthew 18

  • "Form and Order" are not imported but emerge spontaneously from community life.

I also enjoy pointing out that Luther gave two reasons for why he did not implement this: 1) he lacked the "requisite persons" (leaders, presumably), and 2) no one wanted to do it. So he decided to wait "until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together." Well, we've got lots of people capable of leading this now, and lots of people who want it, and I can tell you, there are a whole lot of people discovering each other and cleaving together.

Anyway, enough from me. Here's the Old Man himself:

But the third sort [of Divine Service], which the true type of Evangelical Order should embrace, must not be celebrated so publicly in the square amongst all and sundry. Those, however, who are desirous of being Christians in earnest, and are ready to profess the Gospel with hand and mouth, should register their names and assemble by themselves in some house to pray, to read, to baptize and to receive the sacrament and practise other Christian works. In this Order, those whose conduct was not such as befits Christians could be recognized, reproved, reformed, rejected, or excommunicated, according to the rule of Christ in Matt. xviii. Here, too, a general giving of alms could be imposed on Christians, to be willingly given and divided among the poor, after the example of St. Paul in 2 Cor. ix. Here there would not be need of much fine singing. Here we could have baptism and the sacrament in short and simple fashion: and direct everything towards the Word and prayer and love. Here we should have a good short Catechism about the Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord's Prayer. In one word, if we only had people who longed to be Christians in earnest, Form and Order would soon shape itself. But I cannot and would not order or arrange such a community or congregation at present. I have not the requisite persons for it, nor do I see many who are urgent for it. But should it come to pass that I must do it, and that such pressure is put upon me as that I find myself unable with a good conscience to leave it undone, then I will gladly do my part to secure it, and will help it on as best I can. In the meantime, I would abide by the two Orders aforesaid; and publicly among the people aid in the promotion of such Divine Service, besides preaching, as shall exercise the youth and call and incite others to faith, until those Christians who are most thoroughly in earnest shall discover each other and cleave together; to the end that there be no faction-forming, such as might ensue if I were to settle everything out of my own head.

This material can be found online at the Hanover Historical Texts Project, and in Volume 53, pp. 63-64 of Luther’s Works, American Edition.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Evangelical Venture Capital in Scotland

The Church of Scotland is investing in entrepreneurs, it seems to me.

A news brief I found reports that this Presbyterian denomination is planning to invest about $3 million in "emerging ministries" over five years. Some grants could be as large as $60,000 per year for three years.

But more than the dollars, here's what really caught my eye (emphasis added):

The Emerging Ministries Fund will be supporting projects that engage with people outside inherited formal structures and at grassroots. In many cases this may mean less of a dependence on buildings and getting people to 'come to church' and a greater emphasis on taking church to the people.

The Assembly will hear that the Emerging Ministries Fund intends to support work in three areas: the promotion of new church growth alongside or beyond the existing congregation; establishing church from the ground up and exploring what that means for the given demographic and cultural context; and experimenting with new approaches to ministry.

Can you say "House Church?" Perhaps using - oh, let's call them "Home Front Missionaries" who could plant micro-churches alongside and in companionship with existing congregations?

But enough of that... let's get back to the dollars! My own tribe is about 7 times as large as the Church of Scotland, so if we invested proportionately that would put about $20 some million dollars on the table. That's some dough. If something like that is coming down the pike I'd sure love to hear about it!

Lately the term "seedcasting" has been lingering in my thoughts. Like when the sower sows liberally, though only a few really produce, yet the harvest is still abundant. Seems like a good strategy. Seems like the Scots are gearing up to sow, God bless 'em!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mega Church, Micro Church, and ELCA Pastors in Ecclesiastical Limbo

One of the groups I've encountered that is working on House Church/Simple Church multiplication in the US is House2House. I recently noticed this comment on their blog and it caught my attention:

There have been several instances of mega-churches being in contact with the simple church movement with an amazing openness to what we are doing. One is asking how they can bless us, another how they can get involved in starting organic churches and others wanting to learn more. What would happen if the mega and micro learned to co-operate?

It made me think about Willow Creek's Reveal study and their conclusion that they need to help people become "self-feeders" because merely participating in church programs was leaving people spiritually stalled. (And this at a church with really well developed programs, I'm sure!)

It also made me think about the possibilities for experimental/missional co-operation that might emerge within my own Lutheran tribe. I'm in conversation with some folks denominationally now on that very topic so we'll see where it goes. I believe large and small expressions of the Church are meant to be partners and have unique gifts to share that come with their size. I'd like to be a part of making that happen.

So far however, what I'm seeing in my tribe is more sobering than encouraging. The other day I looked through the list of contacts I've accumulated of people in my denomination who are trying to explore the house/simple church expression as a way to grow the kingdom. Most of them are "on leave from call" which is a kind of ecclesiastical limbo for a pastor in the ELCA. (I'd be there myself if I hadn't happened upon an Interim Associate Pastor position, and I expect to be right back in "on leave" when that job wraps up.) So what I see is that there isn't a ready way for these folks to pursue this work while maintain their standing in the denomination. They end up hanging by a thread, and the clock is ticking, becasue after three years "on leave" you come off of the clergy roster.

I wonder... will my denomination will find a way to hang on to these comitted, risk-taking evangelical entrepeneurs? I sure hope so!

The clock is ticking.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Kind Words about Lutheranism

I'm for people following Jesus and I've got no problem with 31 flavors of believers in the world as long as we don't embarass Jesus by the way we treat each other out in public. That said, I recently replied to a question about what I value most in my own Lutheran theological heritage and I thought I'd also share that here. No doubt many of these things are shared by other traditions as well. (I imagine my #1 is pretty popular.)

What I most value in my Lutheran heritage these days are the things that I think are assets for effective mission to postmodern North America.

1. The centrality of grace. I can't imagine mission making any sense without that a priori.

2. Minimalism. Lutheran theology can be as ornate as anyone's, but I think that at it's heart the "Lutheran impulse" is towards minimalism. The Solas steer in that direction. The concept of adiaphora parses essentials from non-essentials, which is minimalistic. "The canon within the canon" has this feel too. What this means to me is that Lutheranism has a leanness in it's DNA, and the leaner it gets the more portable it becomes, and that is an asset for moving out far and fast in mission.

3. Mystery. Again, Lutheran theology can be extremely Modern and rationalistic, working to explain everything and tie up every loose end so that it all "make sense." But Lutheran DNA has a lot of mystery encoded in it that just doesn't get expressed as much these days. We readily talk in terms of "both/and," "already/not yet" and the simul of being both saint and sinner. You could even bring in things like Two Kingdom theology and the Law/Gospel dynamic itself. What I see in all this is an embrace of things that exceed human understanding - mystery. An that, I believe, is what makes Lutheranism a natural fit for the emerging postmodern conversation which is critical for missional effectiveness.

4. The priesthood of all believers. The amount of freedom this affords us in ordering congregational and worship life is truly exhilarating and almost totally uncapitalized on (among Lutherans). This is what has opened the door wide for me - as a Lutheran - to embrace the house church movement which has enormous potential as a missional strategy. Luther himself actually proposed HCs as the preferred mode of Christian community. You can find that on my website here. "Mutual conversation and consolation of the saints," a very close also-ran for sacramental status, so I hear, also comes in here.

5. The Bible is not the Word of God, Jesus is. That may not be the way it's usually put, but it get's the point across. Someone else already mentioned the idea of the Bible as the rough cradle in which we meet the Christ child. That way of engaging scripture is HUGE to me, and especially so, again, for mission into postmodernity.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Hunter's Three is Enough Groups: Three People, Three Activities

A little more information has just come out about the Three is Enough groups that Todd Hunter is developing and will be introducing at the Conversational Evangelism Conference in May. Here is a description just now added to that website:

"Todd is forming Three is Enough Groups as an antidote to the massive image problem currently ascribed to Christians and Christianity. This unfortunate viewpoint stymies most attempts at evangelism. TiE Groups have a double meaning: they are three friends or colleagues doing three simple and humble activities together (reading, praying and serving others). Functioning in members’ most natural places of community – the workplace, school, or at the local coffee shop. TiE Groups will go on the Journey Inward of spiritual transformation and the Journey Outward of serving others. Spiritual transformation into Christlikeness has always been the true goal of Christian faith—now it is utterly strategic. TiE rescues evangelism out of the program category and relocates it back in the natural context of spiritual formation."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Three Is Enough Groups – Spirituality For the Sake of Others

Here's an exciting piece of news I just received April 3rd.

Todd Hunter - former President of the National Association of Vineyard Churches and former CEO of Alpha USA - is launching a new ministry to focus on spiritual transformation and evangelism.

The details are still pretty sketchy at this point so It's not yet clear what his "Three Is Enough" groups will look like. It may be a reference to the idea that three people is enough for a powerful spiritual community, or that having three things to focus on in a small group is enough.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the e-mail I received announcing this. (The whole message is pasted below.)

  • Hunter has a passion for evangelism but is convinced that Christianity in America has a massive image problem that stymies most attempts at evangelism.

  • Christianity needs to be re-practiced in order to help make followers of Jesus in this generation.

  • Three Is Enough Groups..... are designed to show people how to undo un-Christian faith by showing them that heaven is not the goal of Christianity - it is simply the destination. Being the servant - otherly people of God - is the goal.

  • Hunter will encourage churches and lay leaders to begin forming Three Is Enough Groups to help individuals pray, grow and serve.

Apparently, this is going to be rolled out at the Conversational Evangelism Conference coming up May 16-17 in Lakeville, MN. I happen to be going to that so I'll be able to report back on it here.

This new endeavor is being launched through Off The Map, an excellent group led by Jim Henderson that has done some pretty innovative things around evangelism, notably the E-bay Atheist and Jim and Casper Go to Church. I've been very impressed by these folks!

You heard it first here! Stay tuned.

(Full content of original e-mail, sent from Jim Henderson at Off the Map:)

Todd Hunter Transitions

Many of you are Todd Hunter fans and have been following his progress since his leadership of The Vineyard. Todd has been actively seeking to support organizations that are missional and evangelistic. His passion is spiritual formation for everyday people. He has been a leader in rescuing evangelism out of the program category and re locating it inside spiritual formation.

Todd has recently decided to launch his own movement called Three is Enough. You will be hearing much more about this over the next couple of years. Off The Map is proud to have the opportunity to support Todd’s new vision and partner with him to communicate it through writings, media and events.

Three Is Enough Groups – Spirituality For the Sake of Others
Todd Hunter, former CEO of Alpha USA, launches new ministry to focus on spiritual transformation

Boise, ID, April 2, 2008

Effective April 1, Todd Hunter (51) transitioned from his role of National Director at Alpha USA to launch a new ministry focused on helping pastors and lay leaders reach a generation that has become disenfranchised from the church.

Under the new non-profit, Society for Kingdom Living, Hunter will develop his writing, speaking and professional activities in the areas of conversational evangelism and the 21st century church. Hunter has a passion for evangelism but is convinced that Christianity in America has a massive image problem that stymies most attempts at evangelism. With the basic premise that Christianity needs to be re-practiced in order to help make followers of Jesus in this generation, he is developing resources and events that include writing a series of three books, the first to be published by InterVarsity Press, developing conferences, and teaching at key seminaries.

His first major conference to be held in Minneapolis on May 16-17 features conversational evangelism pioneers Mark Mittleberg, Becky Pippert, Dan Kimball and Garry Poole and Rick Richardson. Hunter has asked Jim Henderson and Off The Map to produce these conferences.

Hunter will begin this ministry by teaching and consulting on Three Is Enough Groups. These groups are designed to show people how to undo un-Christian faith by showing them that heaven is not the goal of Christianity - it is simply the destination. Being the servant - otherly people of God - is the goal.

Through his writing and teaching, Hunter will encourage churches and lay leaders to begin forming Three Is Enough Groups to help individuals pray, grow and serve. Keeping the groups small and focused insures that evangelism can happen anywhere, in the midst of people’s busy lives. Meeting in their most natural places of community – the workplace, school, or at the local coffee shop - Three Is Enough Groups will go on the Journey Inward of spiritual transformation and the Journey Outward of serving others. This will be done through the power of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of others - the least, the last and the missing.

Hunter will continue to be a consultant to Alpha USA and will remain on the Board of Directors and Executive Committee. He will have an active role in promoting Alpha, teaching on Alpha’s practices, building relationships and advising the organization on strategy.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Why House Church? Community.

This is part four in a four-thread topic.

Please Note: Although I'm "defending" the idea of house churches here, I don't think it should be an either/or proposition, or that conventional congregations should be abandoned wholesale in favor of nothing but HCs. I see value in both, and I'm eager to see hybrid and partnership forms develop as well. But since HC is appearing as the "new thing", it's natural for it to need more explanation, which is what I'm trying to provide.

Community. Lastly, I also think we should explore the HC form because it provides the most natural context for the rich life of Christian community Jesus wants us to have. By “Christian community,” I’m referring to the kind of shared life we find described in the “one-anothers” of Scripture; things like love one another, care for one another, encourage, admonish, comfort, serve and so on. Most of these simply can not be done readily in a large group gathering like Sunday morning worship, if they can be done there at all. Yet a HC provides a very natural context for encouraging, comforting and such. So I think the work of the Kingdom will progress better if the primary expression of Christian community is the one in which you can readily practice these key marks of community.

The importance of community and investing in the kinds of gatherings that promote it is even apparent to those who don’t believe. You may have heard of Matt Casper, an atheist who was hired by a Christian to visit and comment on a wide variety of congregations. You can read all about his visits in the book Jim and Casper Go to Church. But here’s a quote I found on another blog in which he himself talks about community:

“The “community” at some churches seemed to disappear with the first note of the recessional, if it was ever there at all. I think “community” goes out the window when you have 2,000 (Saddleback), 7,000 (Willow Creek), or 16,000 (Lakewood) people under the same roof. What you’re seeing then is simply mass mentality, no different than a World Cup game, a rock concert, or the Nuremberg rallies. It’s when these mobs would break into smaller groups that the community focus would kick in. And the smaller the church, the larger the sense of community. I attended a house church where the sense of community was so incredible, even a non-believer could feel it. And these house church people were/are committed to working together to make the world a better place and held each other accountable.

It’s a simple fact of human nature: the more people there are, the less individual accountability there is. And the message of Jesus is ALL about individual accountability. The biggest problem facing the entire world may be people saying, “Hey, that’s not my problem.” Johne Donne put it best: ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Basically, the big churches let people feel like they were doing something to make the world a better place, when they weren’t really participating at all.”

Striking words for us to hear – especially as they come from an atheist who's been to a lot of churches.

Why House Church? Discipleship.

This is part three in a four-thread topic.

Please Note: Although I'm "defending" the idea of house churches here, I don't think it should be an either/or proposition, or that conventional congregations should be abandoned wholesale in favor of nothing but HCs. I see value in both, and I'm eager to see hybrid and partnership forms develop as well. But since HC is appearing as the "new thing", it's natural for it to need more explanation, which is what I'm trying to provide.

Discipleship. The stewardship questions from the previous post press us to look into the utility of a HC form. Once we do, I believe we find the strongest reasons yet for supporting this expression of the Church. I think we’d agree that the most important thing in making and growing disciples is the movement and power of the Spirit of God, which can happen in any size gathering. But next to that, I would say that the most important thing for discipling is conversation with believers about Jesus. In the absence of that, it’s hard to see people readily coming to faith or growing in it. But here’s the critical turn: what is the best context for conversation? Clearly, it’s small groups – even down to the level of “two or three gathered in my name.” And so, to put it simply, I think the Church should invest most of it’s time and energy in the context that is most supportive of effective discipling. The House Church form is far better structured for this than a conventional church, where most of the time and energy and resources are used in support of a large group gathering that effectively precludes conversation.

I should hasten to add that I do think there is value in large group worship! (And buildings and clergy, for that matter.) But I think the discipling goals of the Kingdom are calling us to invert our priorities: small groups and HCs first, with large group as an addition, rather than large group as the norm, with a handful also in small groups or HCs.

Why House Church? Stewardship.

This is part two in a four-thread topic.

Please Note: Although I'm "defending" the idea of house churches here, I don't think it should be an either/or proposition, or that conventional congregations should be abandoned wholesale in favor of nothing but HCs. I see value in both, and I'm eager to see hybrid and partnership forms develop as well. But since HC is appearing as the "new thing", it's natural for it to need more explanation, which is what I'm trying to provide.

Stewardship. The stewardship of time, energy and money is one of the most powerful arguments in favor of the HC form, in my opinion. Conventional congregations require lots of money to pay for buildings, salaries and programs. HCs require vastly less money. The time and energy involved in crafting and presenting a weekly conventional worship service is again, very substantial – ask any pastor or church musician! Worship in a HC; much, much less. And of course, there are meetings. From that one perspective alone, the HC model cries out for serious consideration.

That’s the “input” side of stewardship: consumption of resources. From the output side, we also need to ask about the return on all that investment. How effective are conventional congregations in the core tasks of the Kingdom: making disciples out of people who don’t know Jesus; growing mature disciples out of people who do know Him? In North America over the last 60 years at least, I believe the evidence is clear: conventional congregations have not been very effective in either. Now, I can’t really say yet how effective HCs are in North America. That jury is still out, though we could look at the evidence so far. But even so, the ineffectiveness of conventional congregations calls for us to at least investigate the HC form to see if it might serve the Kingdom better.

In addition to input & output, there’s the question of stewardship of assets. It is very common to find churches that struggle to make ends meet while maintaining a congregation that is a fraction of the size their building can serve, yet their net equity in the land alone is in the millions of dollars. That money belongs to the Lord. Is that the best use He has for it? It’s sobering to me how much that situation resembles the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) where one servant just hid the money buried in a hole in the ground rather than risk investing it.

Why House Church? Good Questions!

In another thread on my blog, some folks raised questions about the whole idea of house churches and I wanted to lift that up as a topic in it's own right. After writing some replies to their questions, it became clear that several threads would be even better! So below is an introduction.

Please note: Although I'm "defending" the idea of house churches here, I don't think it should be an either/or proposition, or that conventional congregations should be abandoned wholesale in favor of nothing but HCs. I see value in both, and I'm eager to see hybrid and partnership forms develop as well. But since HC is appearing as the "new thing", it's natural for it to need more explanation, which is what I'm trying to provide.

So then, these are the concerns I found in the posts:
  • Promotes Separatism; don’t splinter the Body
  • Plenty of Churches already
  • Stewardship: better to invest in existing churches
  • What’s the point? What purpose does the house church serve which is not being met by the church as it already exists?
  • We don’t need “missionaries” because the Church is already here

I'm going to say just a bit about separatism first, but focus on Stewardship, Discipleship and Community in the three posts that follow.

Separatism. Separation and the formation of new congregations is not unique to HCs, and can happen for good or bad reasons. Good reasons might include exceeding space limits, reaching into a new community either geographically or culturally (e.g. Paul to the Greeks, Peter to the Jews), language barriers and so on. Bad reasons abound: fights over minor points of doctrine, personality clashes and childish intolerance of others, selfish & consumeristic insistence on wanting Church to be done “your way” etc. So the creation of a new congregation should be evaluated both by motives and by fruits, to see if it is pleasing to God or not. (It should also be noted that having lots of different groups & congregations is not inherently bad. It can be part of God’s intent for the various “parts of the Body.” Being distinct doesn’t mean you’re not unified in Spirit and purpose.) Since the issues around separation apply equally to new HCs and new conventional congregations, it can’t be a critique of the HC form per se, so I won’t focus on this but we can discuss it more on this thread if people want.

Defining Terms: Conventional Congregation

I'm about to put up a slug of posts that often refer to "conventional congregations" so I thought it would be good to say what I mean by that.

I use conventional to refer to congregations that share the following four traits.

Property ownership, i.e. a sanctuary for worsip etc.

Pastors or clergy by other names, meaning people who are trained as professionals, typically with a post-graduate degree, and usually receive a significant salary as part of the congregation's budget.

Programs including Sunday School, Youth Groups, Bible studies etc. that people are encouraged to attend in addition to Sunday worship.

Presentational Worship - services where a small number of people present the service for the larger group and invite them to participate.

I find this a helpful sketch becasue it covers a wide swath of congregations from many different theological traditions and sets up helpful contrasts with what is normative in house churches, which typically differ on all four points.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Home-Front Missionaries: A Paradigm for House Church Planting through Denominational Congregations

I consider it a good thing that the Church can express itself in multiple forms: "two or three gathered together", house church, small church, megachurch, para-church, denomination and various points in between. Like parts of one Body (1 Corintians 12) each has different strengths and weaknesses. The question is, how best to work together?

I've given some thought to that. In particular: How might a denominationally-oriented conventional congregation support and nurture a house church expression?

The idea I keep coming back to is that such a congregation could support a pastor as a house church planter in the same way they have often supported missionaries sent overseas to plant churches. This could even take the form of a formal pastoral call within the practice of the denomination. The key would be to have the same kind of expectations for these "home front missionaries" as you have for the missionaries who serve overseas. And, you'd need to have the same expectation for the house churches formed as you have for the churches formed overseas. For example:

  • We don’t expect the evangelized people to join the sponsoring congregation “back home.”

  • We don’t expect the new congregations to look like us, but to reflect their own, indigenous culture.

  • We don’t expect the new congregations to suport the missionary financially - that’s our job back home. But we do look to them to develop and support their own indigenous leadership in order to carry the work forward and grow the Church among their own people.

  • We don’t expect to see the missionary show up at the home church very often, except perhaps on occasion in order to share stories about the work and renew the partnership relationship. We certainly don’t expect the missionary to care for the members of the home church!

  • We don’t expect the converts to become members of our denomination, but we hope and anticipate that they will be blessed by the theological, spiritual and cultural gifts we have as they gather themselves into their own “denomination” (or whatever larger expression fits in their context and culture.) We do hope and anticipate that they will emerge as a natural partner with us in the work of the Kingdom.

I think using the "overseas missionary" as a paradigm for "home-front house church planters" can be very helpful, as long as people can accept that it’s mission work, not just another tactic to get more people into the sponsoring church. In my own Lutheran tribe, I see no insurmountable barriers to this approach. In other denominations, it could present more or less of a challenge institutionally.

I'd like to hear comments and critiques around this idea, especially from anyone who knows of something similar to this already in use.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

The Pipe: A Visual Metaphor for Humanity, Sin, and "Atonement" (but not penal substitution).

Yeah, that title is a mouthful but it helps with the search engines.

Okay. I've had this Pipe metaphor in my bag of tricks for something like ten years now. It represents God's intention for human beings by saying we are created to be like "L-Shaped Pipes" - connected to God as the Source, receiving love, life and forgiveness from God as the "flow," and directing that flow out through us towards the world and our neighors. When the flow goes that's human fulfillment which we experience as joy.

A lot of the fun with the Pipe comes from extending the metaphor by asking what kinds of things can disrupt the flow. So you start talking about clogs, dents and leaks etc., which themselves are pretty potent metaphors for human heart conditions. I'll be writing more about that in posts to come, I promise!

But I surprised even myself when I discovered how the Pipe can be applied to illustrate how being "united with him in a death like his" (Romans 6:5) leads to new life. The trouble is, you pretty much have to see it to get it. Words and even still images are pretty ineffective in conveying the 3D mechanics of it all.

So there it sat, until Emergent Village came calling.

The folks over at EV put out a call for new Atonement metaphors, looking especially for those that aren't based in "Penal Substitution." Well, that was the bait I couldn't resist so I finally sat myself down and recorded the illustration in a two-part video which I posted on YouTube. Each segment is about 4-5 minutes. You can also view them through these links:

The Pipe: Part 1

The Pipe: Part 2

I've got a few comments and observations to add, but I think I'll let others chime in first, except for this. One of the things I like most about this metaphor is that it doesn't necessitate centering the work of Jesus on issues of guilt, punishment, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it turns our attention to "the problem of sin" as being a condition we are in and unable to get out of on our own. This metaphor shows both how death is the necessary transition from this condition, but that death only leads to life if one dies with Jesus.

So - does the video work in getting the ideas across or do I need to make some changes? Comments and critique of the metaphor are invited!


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Priesthood of All Believers

Some wonderful Lutheran maverics over at A.R.E. (A Renewal Enterprise) just put up a comment on "What’s the golden nugget in Lutheran theology that is the most underutilized?" Their answer, the Priesthood of All Believers, finally got me to say a couple of things out loud that I've been thinking silently for too long. Here's a recap of what I wrote in a comment on their blog:

Well, I agree that the P of AB is the motherlode of underused gold, but I think it’s a lot more explosive than most people think! (Sorry for mixing metaphors there.) The idea that all believers are capable and authorized for all “priestly” ministry - including sacraments - has always been in our theology but only rarely apparent in our practice. Instead, we’ve reserved vast swaths of ministry to professional clergy (like me) “for the sake of good order.” Well, I’ve finally begun to ask “How’s that working out for us?” Put another way, since we don’t seem to be doing well at all in either making disciples or growing them, then what exactly is good about our order? The fact that it's orderly?

Thinking about my answers to those questions led me finally to look at the house church movement, an expression of the Priesthood of All if ever there was one. Plenty of room for unhelpful order there, too, I’m sure! But I have a lot of hope that the results will be better. And truthfully, I think that Lutheranism at its core is built for both house church and the postmodern world. But that’s another topic. ;)

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Huckabee Bible Quiz

If you’ve been following the presidential primaries, you may have noticed that Mike Huckabee often refers to Bible stories in his speeches. What you may not know is that when he does that, most people in the U.S. have no idea what he’s talking about!

A recent story done by National Public Radio took several Biblical allusions from Huckabee speeches and went in search of people who could identify them. Most could not, which wouldn’t surprise you if you knew that 50% of Americans (and that includes Christians) can’t name any of the four Gospels, or know that Genesis is the first book of the Bible. But it should surprise you to learn that every person they asked had been raised in a Christian home and gone to Sunday School.

Want to see how you’d do on the quiz? Here are the four quotes. Do you know the Bible story each one comes from? I'll put the answers in the first comment to this post. In fact, why not add a comment yourself and let us know your score!

1. "It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people."

2. "Sometimes," the former Arkansas governor told his supporters, "one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor."

3. "We've also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world."

4. "It's almost like when the prophet was looking for a king. He came down, looked through all of Jesse's sons, went through a whole bunch of them, and said, 'Is this all you got?'"

I hope you did well.

Why does this matter? Well, consider this: Huckabee has a message he is trying to get out to people. He is using Bible stories as a way to get it across. But people will never get the message if they don’t know the stories. In the same way, God has a message that He is trying to get out to people, including you. God uses Bible stories to help get the message across. But if you don’t know the stories, do you think you’ll understand the message?

Have you read your Bible lately? I highly recommend it. After all, Someone is trying to communicate with you.

Monday, January 21, 2008

100 Cups of Coffee #3 - Paul Anderson

I first met Paul Anderson several years ago at an event for Pastors he was leading at North Heights Church, and I was impressed by his genuineness and warmth. Then earlier this year I learned that he had become involved in some kind of house church expression so I sought him out and we’ve had some wonderful conversations.

Some time in 2005, Paul had some young adult believers living in his home (in addition to his own family) as a result of his gift for hospitality. Some of these were people who had come home changed from service in Iraq, and had leadership gifts. They began to pray together and were drawn to an image of a spiritual “fire” starting in the Twin Cities, where their role was not to try and create a centralized bonfire around themselves, but rather to help start lots of fires in many locations. It was an uncomfortable image that stretched them to think about “going out,” so they began to think of their own gathering as a kind of training or Boot Camp for that work. As they talked about this with others, more people started to gather, typically young adults in their early 20s. Gatherings were monthly at first, but started becoming more frequent and over time became a weekly event. The group grew and grew and now typically has 50 to 60 people attending, packed into Paul’s home, sitting on stairs and so on.

From the outset, Paul has resisted the temptation to lead or control the group. He serves primarily as a mentor, and meets with the people who are the de facto leaders just before the whole group gathers. The group actually talked about formally identifying leaders but decided against it, so the leadership circle is a fluid, porous group. In essence it is a self-selected group of servants. This avoidance of closed structures (my term) also showed up in a discussion of whether they should establish a website for the group. There was concern that defining the group might end up confining it. Paul sees this as a part of the move towards centered set identity (in contrast to bounded set) and you can see it reflected in some of the quotes below in my “Tidbits” section. (For more on bounded vs. centered see Frost and Hirsch p. 47, or go here for some nice visuals: Paul does provide a little bit of structure, simply working to ensure that for any given gathering there is someone ready to lead the people that come. Though he is a resource to the active leaders, Paul only rarely acts as the teacher in the large group so as not to set up some kind of external (“professional”) standard that others will then think they have to live up to.

At about 6pm, Paul typically will meet with the leaders he is mentoring. During this time they may discuss broader issues related to the community, but the focus tends to be on preparing for the evening’s gathering. By 7 they turn to prayer, again, largely but not exclusively pointed towards the gathering which gets going at about 8:00. In the gathering there is usually about 30 minutes or so of worship led by 3 or 4 people who were in preparation since the 6:00 meeting. After that, someone will share “a word” with the group that can be teaching, exhortation, personal story etc. Occasionally someone from outside the group may speak here. After this, there is discussion in impromptu small groups focusing on what was just shared. At that point, people are invited either to stay in the room for open prayer or go out to the dining room for food, or move back and forth between both. People often linger for about 2 hours and sometimes return to Paul’s home in between gatherings.

Paul uses the term communitas to describe the kind of relational network he is seeing, a term that is distinct from community. This is a concept I’m still new to, but I gather that it refers to a kind of bonding through challenging experiences – a “fellowship forged by fire” – and a shared life that extends beyond the times of group gathering. Frost and Hirsch have also written about this, notably Frost in Exiles.

I’m not well-informed here, but Paul did mention that the group has been active in supporting some of its members in short-term international mission trips to Thailand and Brazil. An ongoing connection to a Thai church is emerging. Although there is a desire for the gathering to be “here for the people who are not yet here,” Paul reports that he is seeing more discipleship of current believers taking place, as opposed to new believers being birthed.

A Few Tidbits:
● Personal sharing is common in the group time. People are eager and often ask; “When can I share?”

● Some have said; “This is more like church than church!”

● Some have wondered; “Are we a church?” The sense of the group is that for those who think they are a church, they are. For those who think differently, that’s OK.

● Some have asked; “Can I make this my church? Would that count?” Paul’s sense is that the majority of people involved still have a connection to another, traditional faith community. But for most, this gathering really is their primary faith community.