Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Twin Cities House Church Coalition

David Brown
I recently met David Brown, a UMC Pastor who has launched "A coalition of house churches across the Twin Cities living in the way of Jesus" called STORM Faith Community.  At some point I'd like to post a little profile/interview with him here but for now I suggest you visit his website if you are interested in House Church groups in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul Area.

I would add though, that this is one of only a couple of cases I know of where a mainline denomination is actually investing in a home-based faith community as a missional strategy.  (If you know of others please let me know!)  The proof of that pudding is that STORM only gathers for large group worship monthly.  That may sound familiar if you've been reading my blog from the beginning since that pattern was part of my very first musings:

I began to wonder… what would it do for the life of the people if they met weekly in small groups, and then monthly, perhaps even quarterly for a rip-roarin’ pull-out-the-stops large group, corporate worship celebration? I thought about the possibilities for spiritual growth and evangelism. I thought about the time and the money it would release. I thought about the amazing celebrations we could do if we had a month or more to prepare for each one. I thought about the enormous decrease in the facilities needed. Then I realized, there is a name for the kind of congregational life where the small group is the main thing instead of an extra thing.

It’s called the house church.

Blessings, Dave.  May your house increase!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Felicity Dale: House Church Going "Mainstream?"

Felicity Dale
Tony and Felicity Dale are prominent voices in the House Church community in the US, and good folks in general I've had the pleasure to meet and talk with several times.  In fact, their annual House2House conference was my first substantive introduction to HC, back in 2006.  So Felicity's blog is one I follow routinely.  Her most recent post, copied below, gives a nice snapshot of their early involvement in House Church in the UK, but more importantly provides a look into where the movement is at now in the States.

Note how her choice of "Option 3" at the end reveals a lack of competitive or us vs. them spirit.  I'm pleased to say that I have found that to be common among the HC folks I've encountered.  Also, if you go to her post and look at the comments, you'll see some good discussion around the poll numbers re. HC involvement.

If you want to keep an ear to the ground on HC developments, Felicity's blog is a good place to go.


How do we respond when our radical thinking becomes mainstream?
This post is a follow up on trend number 4 from the last post, that we will see an increasing acceptance of simple/organic church principles across the legacy church spectrum.
Back in the UK, in the 1970s and 80's, we were involved in what was then known as the "British House Church Movement."  It was a heady, exciting time taking place against the backdrop of the charismatic renewal that swept much of the world, and it transformed the church landscape of the UK.   Although it became a megachurch movement because we did not have a theology of multiplying the small, for its day it was a radical, forward-thinking movement embodying many of the principles we now hold dear--things like non-religious Christianity, every member participation etc.  We reckon that about one third of British evangelicalism was transformed by that move of God over the next decade or so.
Fast forward a few years to 1996.  We are now in the States, having gone through 9 years of God's favorite training school on the backside of the desert, and God starts speaking to us after 9 years of silence.  The first thing he says is,"You'll be a part of a move of my Spirit again."  The implications of this as we asked the Lord about it is that we would see a  move of the Spirit that would have a similar impact on the church landscape of America.
When the simple/organic movement began to gain momentum a few years ago, it was generally dismissed as, at best, irrelevant.  We were the radicals, the minority with some crazy ideas.  We never dreamt that these ideas would become mainstream. But this is happening right in front of our eyes!  For example, Austin Stone, one of the 100 fastest growing churches in the country, is a megachurch here in Austin.  Earlier this year they held a conference called Verge.  It was sold out within a few short weeks.  Around 2,000 people attended, almost all from mega- and legacy churches, with more than 4,000 joining online.  What is interesting is that the majority of the speakers were simple/organic/house church proponents--people like Neil Cole, David Watson, David Garrison, George Patterson, Alan Hirsch.  They spoke about missional communities, Luke 10 principles and church planting movements.  This coming year, Verge is joining with Exponential for the largest church planters conference in the country and the theme will be similar.
Not only that, Austin Stone actively encourages their people to start missional communities with unbelievers, not insisting that those people and those they reach, come back to the mother church. Maybe because of this relaxed approach, most choose to stay in close relationship with them.  Here in Austin, several of the mega churches are actively seeking to reach out with the missional community approach.  They recognize it as the only way to effectively touch every part of society.
The Lord has given Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of Northland: A Church Distributed, in Orlando, a new task.  They are to facilitate the start of 1 million house churches around the world.  In typical Northland fashion, they are doing this by partnering with other groups who are more directly involved in missions or house churches, and they seek no credit for their part in what is created.
Like it or not,  (and personally I am very excited about it even though I recognize some of the potential pitfalls)  simple/organic church concepts are in the process of becoming mainstream. Many mega- and legacy churches see this as the way forward. God is speaking to them, and he's saying the same things to them that he is speaking to those of us involved in simple/organic churches. And to be honest, as some of these churches embrace the principles of reaching out to the world via missional communities, they have the potential to change our cities even more than we do because many of them have large numbers of young, radical, on-fire disciples who are longing to reach out into their communities.
The secular media is taking notice.  There are an increasing number of articles such as this one about house churches.  According to the latest Pew Forum figures, 9% of Protestants worship in their homes. Legacy churches of all kinds are embracing simple/organic church principles and attempting to implement them within their context.
My question is, how are we going to react?  Those of us in the simple/organic church movement have several options:
  1. Are we going to criticize because they aren't doing everything right (according to our thinking)?  That we have the "pure" form of church and unless they do it our way, they are taking a lower path.
  2. Are we going to cheer them on from the sidelines?
  3. Are we going to work cooperatively with them, rejoicing in all that God is doing in their midst, helping where we can, accepting their help where they offer it? 
Personally, I'm for number 3.   What could happen in our cities if we all work together and nobody minds who gets the credit?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Love in a Glovebox - part 2

Recently I wrote about a service project, assembling "gift bags" that can be given to homeless people when you see them along the roadside. Today we followed up on that in my home and made ten bags containing the following:
Scarf, hat, headband, or a pair of gloves
2 granola bars
Small box of raisins
10 cough drops
Travel Kleenex
2 extra Ziploc bags
The cost for each bag came to $4.50 and half of that was for the item of clothing. We're planning to add a note to each bag, just to give a word of encouragement to the recipient and to let them know that this little act of love was done in Jesus' name.

I took my two daughters and granddaughter along to shop for these items, and had two of their friends from the neighborhood helping as well when we assembled the bags. Each of the neighbor friends got to take a bag home for their parents to give away, and we sent two bags home with my granddaughter. So the project is touching a couple of bases: blessing the poor, reinforcing our value of compassion in my daughters & granddaughter, and even letting the neighborhood know, if subtly, what kind of household we are (or at least are trying to be!)

One last idea that I may follow up on as well. I'm thinking of including a stamped postcard, addressed to my church, with a note inviting the homeless person to share any thoughts they wish. If they want to say something to me or to the church - even about what kinds of "giveaways" are helpful or insulting - that would be great. If they want to say something to the Church at large, or to society, or to the Governor or President, I'll promise to deliver their message as best I can. It may well be that some of those messages might end up on this blog. If nothing else, it will let them know that someone thinks their voice is important and is trying to listen. I think any of us would appreciate that.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Someone Saw This Coming

I recently came across this striking quote about people leaving institutional forms of Church for the sake of their faith, rather than as an act of moving away from faith. I first encountered this idea in Reggie McNeal's book The Present Future, but the quote below predates that seminal 2003 work by, um, a fair bit.

Multitudes of Christians within the church are moving toward the point where they may reject the institution that we call the church. They are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. Unless the church quickly recovers its authoritative Biblical message, we may witness the spectacle of millions of Christians going outside the institutional church to find spiritual food.

Care to take a guess as to who said it and when? I'll post the answer in a couple of days. If you can't wait, just go ahead and Google "the spectacle of millions of Christians."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Love in a Glovebox

Here's a great little service project from my friend Steve Bonesho and River of Joy community.

They call it "Love in a Glovebox" and all you need to do is gather a few items to have on hand in your car to give to homeless people as you encounter them at intersections. Hats, mittens, scarves; maybe a bus pass or gift card to a restaurant e.g. Subway; maybe some food items like granola bars. Put these into a little box or bag and have it ready in your car for the next encounter.

If you want, you can join them this coming Sunday as they gather to assemble gLoveboxes after their worship service Sunday October 10th at 10am at the Spring Lake Township Hall.

I'll be elsewhere with my family that morning but we are going to do this as our October service project anyway & send them an e-mail to say thanks for the idea & for being a good example. I encourage you to do the same! You can shoot Steve an e-mail at

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sunday Services: the Blind Spot and Sacred Cow in Church Decline

Dave Householder has written a bracing post about the decline of the Lutherans in North America that is well worth reading. He gets extra credit for leading off with this; "This article is not just for Lutherans. It applies to most North American faith families." I expect the comments are really good too, but with 90 at last count I confess I lacked the fortitude to actually read them all!

He cites ten factors contributing to decline, including:
  • Low birth rate
  • Poor retention of the babies we do have
  • Staggering ineffectiveness in evangelism
  • Unwelcoming if not toxic parish communities
  • Little or no effective use of media
Decline has been an ongoing topic of my blog. I've integrated several of his points into the "pond metaphor" where you can easily see why the church used to grow but is in decline now. I even threw together a metric for "evangelical effectiveness" that is pretty jarring to look at.

But after reading David's post I still think that one of the most significant issues is going unnamed: the inherent ineffectiveness of Sunday morning gatherings, both for discipleship and for evangelism. Yet we persist in making these gatherings the centerpiece of our faith-life culture, and investing the vast majority of our time, energy and money in maintaining them as I've discussed here. Sunday morning, large group, presentational, professionally led, property-dependent worship services are, I'm afraid, both our biggest blind spot and our most sacred cow.

And this central assumption about the way to "do church" is perhaps the most unifying feature of North American Christendom. It can't be much of an overstatement to say that we all do it that way. No wonder then, that the decline spans the decades so readily and cuts so easily across denominational lines, and the liberal/conservative divide.

Large group gatherings are not bad. But as the centerpiece of faith practice they can never be effective in spreading or nurturing the faith. That requires face to face, heart to heart conversation, which is notoriously difficult to have in a pew, disrespectful during the preaching, and drowned out by the performance be it the organ or the band.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Evaluating Wellbeing - a Tool for the Church?

Gallup has launched a new book and program focused on Wellbeing. Their StrengthsFinders work has been extremely valuable to me so I expect this will be good stuff as well.

It uses an online assessment questionnaire that you can take repeatedly in order to see changes in your wellbeing over time and the influence of events and actions you take. Suggestions are provided for making improvements in the five "Essential Elements" of Wellbeing their material presents:
  • Career
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Community
A couple of things come quickly to mind:

No "Spiritual" aspect to wellbeing? I can't imagine that's an oversight, so they must have reasons for not going there. I'll be interested to learn what they are.

Social and Community Wellbeing are two different things. The fact that I was surprised to see them listed separately is telling evidence that I really am a part of my Western culture, which is generally so focused on the individual that issues around community are generally off the radar.

What if your congregation picked this up and ran with it? Suppose your congregation made intentional, ongoing work with this tool a core practice of your community life (after adding in a Spiritual Wellbeing component, of course)? Imagine adding a faith-based perspectives to conversations on Career and Financial Wellbeing? Do you think this might be something your people would value and benefit from?

Do you think they might, just possibly, mention it to their friends, neighbors and coworkers?

Suppose you offered workshops and support groups around this to the community around your church... gave them the books for free as a sign of your commitment to the practice of being a blessing to others... made the sessions completely non-religious but offered an opt-in conversation after each gathering for those who wanted to add the faith dimension... I'm just thinking out loud here...

Do you think people outside your church might begin to see it as an asset to the neighborhood, a partner in the community?

I wonder!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Kiddie Pool Community Gardens?

Is your congregation looking for a way to serve - and meet - your neighbors? Interested in a ministry to help feed the poor or welcome immigrants from foreign lands?

Here's an idea - offer free garden space to the community in kiddie pools!

The materials are fairly cheap and reusable. You could probably get a grant for a project like this from any number of community-building or hunger related groups. (Know a good one? Please leave a comment!!)

Got apartment dwellers on the block? There have got to be some frustrated gardeners living in there! Give them a reason to cross the street and then go meet them as you garden together.

Does your local food shelf need fresh food? Why not grow some for them?

Are there immigrants in your community who are still trying to develop a taste for Mac'n'cheese but really miss the flavors of home? Offer them a place to grow the vegetables they are used to eating. Imagine what you might pick up from swapping recipes with them!

Maybe a small flotilla of tomato-laden kiddie pools isn't quite what you had in mind when you thought of ways to make your church landscaping more attractive. Of course, there are different ways to think about "beauty." Is Jesus really that big into well-mown grass? Or is a community meeting place a more likely field in which to sow the seeds he favors anyway?

As they say, it's all in the eye of The Beholder.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ownership vs. Posession

I had occasion to give my personal perspective on stewardship recently at my church and it was videotaped so I though I would share it here. The key moment is when, after placing my wallet, mortgage, car title, marriage certificate etc. on the altar I simply ask God; "What do you want me to do with your stuff?"

The video starts with the distinction between ownership and possession, covers my personal family journey into tithing, and affirms percentage-based giving as a grace-filled approach. It specifically advocates a three step process: start where you are but look at your giving from the percentage perspective, set a goal, then make a plan to grow towards it.

Plus, you get to see me ask my friend Rick to hand over his wallet to me in front of the congregation.

Pastor Tim on Stewardship from Gethsemane on Vimeo.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Why I Believe

My friend Jonathan posted an interesting question on Facebook yesterday:

Curious: Christian? Why? Or... Non-Christian? Why? Would love to hear your answers. Don't try to convince anyone of anything. Not a debate. Just interested in YOUR response, your story, your heart.

I've though a bit about that over the years, and more so recently, so I wrote a reply which I thought I'd share here too:

Christian. To be quite frank about it, I am a believer because my parents raised me in belief. As Christof says in The Truman Show; "We accept the reality with which we are presented."

More to the point, though - why do I continue to believe? As I have looked at that, two reasons are the most influential.

First, I have an actual sense of the presence of an Other, that resonates with the God of the Bible as seen in the person of Jesus.

Second, the whole belief system that is grounded in my relationship to that Other is something that I find comforting, inspiring, intellectually and emotionally compelling, and integral to my sense of living a life that has meaning.

I guess that's the short answer. ;)

As Jonathan, I'm also curious to hear from others. Why do you believe what you believe?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Curse of Abundance

Am I corrupting my children?

Recently one of my daughters came home from school and announced that she was hungry. I told her that she could have some fruit, or veggies and dip, or the vanilla yogurt that she likes. She was very displeased with these options. I was very displeased with her displeasure. In my standard scolding tone I informed her that having three choices of what to eat was nothing to turn one’s nose up at, and that furthermore, one of those options was in fact a category with six options within it. (Through unusual circumstance, we happened to have an excess of fruit in the house. I impressed this upon her by providing the list.) With great resignation and some irritation, she announced that she would suffer an orange.

Dissatisfaction is the curse of abundance.

On another occasion, with my other daughter, I found myself going through the morning “What Do You Want for Breakfast?” routine. Cold cereal? No thanks. Oatmeal? Cream of Wheat? Nah. How about some eggs? Fried? Scrambled? I could make an omelet… Nothing sounded good to her. “What else do we have?” was the question hanging in the air.

It occurred to me later on that by constantly presenting options and asking her to weigh them in her internal Desirability Center, I was training her to focus on her preferences, to keep on exercising the “want” muscles. And over time, this was resulting in more wanting, as well as a belief in the existence of The Magical Food that is so delicious, so wonderful, so special that it actually can fulfill all of one’s desires. I don’t know what it is, and neither does she, but hope springs eternal that if I can somehow speak its Name then she will recognize it and exclaim; “Yes! That’s it! That’s what I want!” So there we were. Me training my daughter in how to want, and her unable to revel in the astounding goodness of simply sitting down and having a hot meal appear before you that you didn’t even have to prepare for yourself, much less milk the cows and bake the bread.

From here it is a straight line towards the yearnings for The Magical Toy (adults: gadget) that is endlessly fun, The Magical Job that fulfills all your vocational and financial desires, and The Magical Spouse. Whatever you have now may well be good, but belief in the Magical will always invite you to wonder if there might be something – or someone – better.

How far our lives are, in the land of plenty, from the life Paul lived that led him to say; “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” and “…if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.” (See Philippians 4 and 1 Timothy 6.)

Those of us who want to be followers of Jesus should be mindful of two things: abundance and purpose. Constant abundance becomes invisible to us as we get used to it. We need to see people who have actual needs or we’ll lose sight of how much we have to share and instead fall victim to our endless wants. And the purpose of God in the world is something much broader and much deeper than fulfilling our desires. If we are not devoted to that purpose, it will be no surprise if we end up devoted to our preferences.

I know I have a need to see my abundance and to renew my purpose. And as a parent, I need to help my children find this life as well. The Land of Plenty, it turns out, can be a tricky place to live.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Welcome to PostChristendom

Here's a quote that caught my eye:
"We had numerous Catholic churches praying for us, a Buddhist temple, a bunch of Lutherans, a pagan sect and at least two Satanists that I know of, so we were pretty much covered."
I ran across that in a Star Tribune article about a guy who found a kidney donor for himself through Facebook. I'd say that's putting the "S" in "social networking!"

I know this is old news for many of you, but worth repeating especially "for some have never heard," that the world around us in the US is no longer saturated with Christianity, if indeed it ever was.

Of course, you can still simulate a Christianity-dominated culture quite easily. All you have to do is surround yourself with nothing but other Christians in your social world and be sure to rarely venture out. Listening solely to Christian music, Christian radio, and reading nothing but Christian books can also be a big help with this.

But do take note. If a collection of Catholics, Buddhists, pagans and "at least two Satanists that I know of" doesn't bear at least some resemblance to the world you live in, then you are probably living in a religio-cultural ghetto.

From which position it will be very, very, very hard to do effective mission.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Church Decline in the Public Eye

The decline of the church is something that borders on an "open secret" - "widely known to be true, but which none of the people most intimately concerned is willing to categorically acknowledge in public." (Lifted that from Wikipedia.)

If you want to see evidence of that, take a look at this Bizarro cartoon in todays Pioneer Press, near the top right corner. It actually points out both the reality, and the denial of those "most intimately concerned," in one punchline.

When church decline is well enough established and so widely understood that it can be the source of humor in popular culture, it's way past time for us to do something about it.