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.



Anonymous said...

Great thoughts!

The church I was on staff at was a church plant from another church. The "mother church" financially supported the church plant to an extent for a little over a year. The pastor of the church plant raised support just like how a missionary would do so. The chore team that was sent to start the church plant also financially supported the church.

Anyways, the church that launched the church plant I was on staff at is called Church of the King and it is the pastor's mission to plant many more churches in the Detroit area. Check out his blog here

Or there is another large church in the Detroit area that has a congregation of around 14,000. They have planted several church plants already and sevearl campus churches. Check them out here.

Anonymous said...

At last one problem I see with the whole house church thing is that it seems to promote separatism. I'm not sure that the concept is even a real Christian notion, especially in the Twin Cities, where there is no shortage of Christian bodies already existing.

It seems to me that a better use of time and money would be in beefing up the already existing church's adherance to the real truths of scripture and tradition(instead of bowing to the ever changing market- driven "I want what feels good to me" evangelism style embraced by many local congregations).

Improve the preaching and practice of the local congregations and then encourage those who do not know God to find their fellowship and identity within the body of Christ which already exists.

The Body of Christ - the Church - was never meant broken up into splinter groups, but in it's original intent it was meant to be a unified whole.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, it seems as if you are saying church plants are church splits.

If so, they aren't. It is just sending a team from a church to plant a new church in a different territory. Just like the book of Acts. Multiplication!

Feral Pastor said...

Hi AnneMarie -

You're right to mention that churches planting churches has become a lot more common now (as opposed to new congregations planted from the denominational "home office" which I think used to be the norm, at least in my tribe.) But what I'm imagining here is a bit different in a couple of ways.

I don't expect that the house churches planted would quickly become the financial base for support of the "Home-Front Missionary" sent out by the established congregation. It's not inconceivable, just muddies the waters. I'd rather the planter serve the HC plants free of charge much as Paul did very intentionally through his tentmaker work.

Also, I'm imagining a conventional congregation supporting a planter who starts churches that are radically different from the congregation supporting him/her. For example, I know you've got a vital ministry and a "congregation" of sorts that consists of a group of people meeting with you in a coffee shop. (You wrote an exciting update here: As I recall, you're doing that work on your own - no "home church" is paying you to meet with those folks. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) But I'm dreaming of congregation that would pay you to do that, and to help those coffee-shop people to form their own congregation, without any expectation that they would join or even come to the congregation that is signing your paychecks. That's why I'm invoking the whole "overseas missionary" motif, becasue it makes it clear you're starting something new, not seeking to draw people into the existing congregation.

Feral Pastor said...

Hi Anon - thanks for your comment. You raise a couple of really good issues, especially the risk of HCs playing into the consumerist and - franky - faddist habits of our culture. We can certainly see evidence of that playing out in congregations of all sizes.

For this particular thread, I'd like to stay focused on discussing the "misionary" idea I floated rather than the pros and cons of HC per se. But I would like to pick up your topic in a new thread. If I use your post to start that in a couple of days, would you be willing to come back and be a part of the conversation?

Anonymous said...

That's fine, but the problem remains the same.

There are no shortage of Christian congregations in the Twin Cities. What exactly is the point of house churches if not to be separate from the already existing church?

Things are different here and now than they were when Acts was written. Our "territory" has no need of more churches - there are plenty right here right now already, including lots of smaller congregations which would welcome new members with open arms.

I guess my question is, what's the point??

Cha said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I agree.

One strong point about the little pipe metaphor is that the pipe has 2 ends. It's not one end which leads to many ends, but one end (God) which leads to one end (the church).

Seems that the missionary idea is truly effective only in places where the church does not exist. In areas such as ours where there are many, many churches, we have no need of missionaries because the church is already here.


What purpose does the house church serve which is not being met by the church as it already exists?

Feral Pastor said...

Okay! We've got some good questions on the table here on the whole idea of HC in general, so I'll open up a new thread on that tomorrow just to help separate topics. Also,I'm pretty sure there are two different people who have posted anonymously now - which is totally fine. I'd appreciate it if you cold just end your post with initials or a first name or something. That would really help me keep the conversation straight as I try to reply to your thoughts.



Ross Jahnke said...

Hi Tim,

I am going to try to hop in on this conversation, but unfortunatley I don't have much time to sort out my thoughts or edit my edit my words right now.

I am guessing that your missionary model is seeking to address what I see as the chief hurdle to HCs - that being their inability to finanicaly support trained and dedicated leaders. I think the missionary model might work, but I think there are a couple serious challenges.

1) Unlike a missionary planting a 'conventional' church overseas, the domestic HC missionary is establishing a church that, nearly by definition, is not designed to ever grow large enough to be finacially independant. The beauty of the house church is their small and intimate size, so if 1 HC is ever big enough to end its dependancy on the mother church it will no longer be an HC.

2) Point #2 is really just an admission of the sinfulness of people and is purely pragmatic. Essentially the supporting church is supporting a pastor to minister to individuals on a very intimate and effective level. It is a service that the members of the supporting church are in just as much need of as the individuals that will be in the HC, but they are not able to benefit from it. Now perfect love would be ok with that selfless-ness, but it is hard to sell people on perfect love. Especially a project that requires perfect love for an indefinate period since the HC will never be able to support itself.

In my estimation the best hope for HC's is to unite in self-sustaining networks. In other words you may have one trained and dedicated pastor who overseas a dozen or so house churches. This allows the economies of scale to work so that the combined resources of the HC's can support the pastor. Of course this kind of a project may need funding from a supporting church to get started, but atleast the supporting church is not ooking at an indefinate financial engagement. Once the house church network is large enough, the supporting church can end their financial support... and hopefully go on to start-up another HC network (or some other good an worthy cause).


Feral Pastor said...

Hey, Ross - great to hear from you! I'll gladly cut you some slack on huried thoughts and you can cut me some for foggy ones as I'm 12 days into a beastly cold and not done yet. Bah!

My reasons for proposing the "Missionary Model" are several - here are a couple off the top of my head:

Employment opportunity for people like me (there, I said it!) who are theologically trained, missionally-minded, but feel called to serve outside the conventiional model.

Need for some kind of missionary-type outreach to our own culture! Especially one that meets them where they are rather than insisting they come to us.

Create a relational bridge between HC and Conventional forms so that blessings can be shared and work done in partnership. A significant part of this is helping HCs have ready access to the theological depth that is embedded in the conventional congregations and their denominations.

Re. your #1 - financial independence and HC growth - I think we'd have to clarify expectations to get into that. If we expect a HC to cover the cost of a full time clergy person, then independence will probably require 10 tithing or 30 average giving households. (Ave. based on conventional church members.) As you say, that's no doubt too many people for a HC form.

But that's not my expectation for two reasons. First, I think it's common for those providing supportive leadership to HCs to have external support. Many are "tentmakers" in ministry, working regular jobs to support themselves. So the cost would be less or even zero (not my favorite option, personally.) Second, I don't see individual HCs needing their own full time clergy/pastor for support, so there's a lot of room for multiple HCs to be served by one person as a shared coach or mentor.

And re. growth of the HC, my hope is that they don't just grow numerically by adding more people, but grow through multiplication to keep the group size down. I'm sure there will be resistance around that, so I would expect it to be a major focus of the mentoring they would need.

Re. your #2 - is sacrificial love realistic? - yeah, there is that. We are dealing with sinners here. (I could get som much more accomplished if I didn't have to work with PEOPLE!) But that's exactly why I want to tap into the institutional memory of sending overseas missionaries, becasue it is the paradigm for selfless love of others (strangers!) without expectation of retrn. But better yet, I envision the HC missionary primarily as coach to HC leaders rather than care-giver to HC members. So if anyone in the sponsoring conventional congregation wants that kind of attention, the missionary would be glad to coach them too! In that sense, what the missionary is doing is available to them.

In your last paragraph you start talking about networks, and that really hits the nail on the head I think. I'm totally with you there. That's what makes it a missional work and not just a free chaplaincy service offered for non-members only.