House Churches: Dos and Don’ts
I spent ten years on the journey, seeking to disciple those Jesus drew from our neighbourhood, discipling my own children as they watched and caught the vision of our journey and anyone who came to our home church via meal invitations, social settings and relationship building. It was a great journey until my wife endured a four year cancer journey and we had to put it all on hold. We learned so much about true Christianity, the ministry of Jesus and the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit. The highlight was attending the inaugural world house church conference in New Delhi back in 2009. In four days we got a glimpse of what God is doing globally. It is staggering! Now it is time to pass on some of the wisdom we built up so you can avoid the traps we fell into…
1. Leaving Christendom
Unfortunately the journey from traditional church to underground/home/discipling church is a difficult one for those steeped in the practices of Christendom like I was. It took us about three years to understand the difference. That is why I am writing this essay on the problem so others could understand the different mindset needed to make the transition. It is not a matter of just shrinking the church. It is placing the great commission at the centre of everything you do and creating whatever structure around that that helps facilitate that mission. In the west, mission has followed structure, Jesus did the opposite; structure followed mission. It’s that simple. Once you “get” the mission the rest will fall into place as you wait on the Holy Spirit.
If you can make the jump you will see a whole new world of spiritual growth and numerical growth open up. But you will have to model what you want others to do. You have to master the skills of discipling and multiplying disciples. That is the only type of leadership there is in simple church. Oratory and theological knowledge, doctrinal high horses and positions of power are out. Waiting on God, mirroring the life of Jesus, dying to self, having a passion for souls and serving are in. The Holy Spirit will be in control, not you. Before going any further please read this essay on the rise and fall of the Christendom worldview. It describes where we went wrong in history to get the western model of church.
Now analyse what you have been taught by the modern western church. Does it fit the Christendom or New Testament model? For a more in-depth study of the flow of Christianity through history go to the history tab in my website and read through each century of world history. You will see the slow decline out of New Testament Christianity into Christendom, then recently a flow back into New Testament Christianity around the world! Especially read the two last essays on what unfolded in the 20th Century and is now unfolding in the 21st century:
Many in the non-western world church leadership have re-discovered the New Testament model simply because persecution stops them from using the Christendom model. The result has sped up numerical growth around the world and enabled church leaders to create structures that combine their culture and their mission. Try to think through what model of church would best suit your local culture and mould your structures around that. Done!
2. What to look for in leaders
Typically a home church leader is one who has a passion for souls, has tapped into the heart of Jesus and wants to see Him planted in the hearts of others. If you want to transition to a house church model, seek out these people in your church and begin to train them. In the house church movement it is those who walk closest to Jesus who naturally rise up to positions of leadership, not those who are trained intellectually in Bible Colleges. Evidence from around the world suggests the majority of these leaders will be women as they are real networkers, servants and relational!
Begin to find out what everyone in your church’s spiritual gifts are and encourage them to use those gifts in the worksite and at home, on the street, anywhere. Invade the secular space of your city!
All home church movements must have strong spiritual dynamics within the marriage and family of those running them. Remember Paul’s letters to Timothy on the qualifications of leadership, so much of it was about leading your home well.
Another thing with house church is that people, including leaders, who have been hiding significant character flaws they do not want God to deal with won’t be able to hide in the smaller environment. House church deals with the sanctification of our lives much more thoroughly than larger church does. Leaders spend much more time building godly character than imparting theological knowledge. The result is a bride of Christ that is much more appealing to the wider community.
3. Food & Family!
When we met for house church we nearly always had a meal together. The result was that it was rare not to have a non-Christian present. Hey, who knocks back an offer to come to dinner! It is a great evangelisation tool, and it was central to the ritual of early Christianity that Jesus passed on in the communion meal. He was a master at knowing what would build community. At one dinner we were having once I looked around and there were conversations going off all over the house with people being encouraged, prayed for, built in their faith and loved. At that moment God spoke to me and said, “This is what I want Church to be, a spiritual extended family gathering.”
We also did a lot of Bible study to increase the biblical literacy of our group, which was woeful to begin with. I tried to incorporate Neil Cole’s system (see notes below) but my group was too lazy to do it. I soooo wish I had persisted and pushed them to get there as it would have been transformative. What we did learn is that you do not need any other resource outside the Bible itself, it has all the wisdom you need.
Kids fit into the whole house church scene much easier than traditional church as it is in the home, around meals, with an extended family of sorts. They watch and copy what they see, so if they see the significant adults in their life praying for the sick, reaching out to others, discipling neighbours etc, then they will begin to do the same. That was one of the delightful things we saw in our own children, they brought their friends to Jesus as well.
Super important is the issue of which comes first, discipling or house church? You cannot just shrink the church into a mini-church service in a house. It doesn’t work. Have dinner, argue, discuss, pray for each other, open up your hearts, share problems, vision together for unsaved loved ones and how to grow and duplicate the group, encourage budding leaders to have a go. But try not to preach, it is a killer. It is needed sometimes but not as a habit. Lead by discussion and probing questions. That’s what Jesus did with the group of 12 he was discipling.
Jesus set the perfect example with his house church, they ate together, did life together, became a family, argued, had their characters challenged and refined, watched the master do amazing things, and it lasted three years. That three year time frame by the way is about the limit of how long a house church should last, by then you should have raised up leadership and duplicated, if not earlier. The whole purpose is growth, not stability. Build that into the DNA at the beginning of the movement or it will stall quickly.
4. Listening to God
Plan, but at the end of the day, let the Holy Spirit lead each meeting, and the vision for the group. Pray for wisdom, words of knowledge, healings, prophecies, encourage all the spiritual gifts in these meetings, especially encourage people to learn to hear Gods voice. To that end here is a great resource and a testimony to the power of the teachings in this website. This is where we learnt to hear God’s voice. This guy, Stuart Grimenz is an Aussie and had a big church and healing ministry. Then God spoke to him and said “do you want a big church or a massive movement?” so he left it all behind, became a chaplain at a jail and made a deal with God. He was not going to do any ministry there that he was not told to do by God himself. The result was 400 prisoners saved in four years. I even met one of them! Anyway here is the link, with a testimony:
Jacob Phiri is the leader of a house church network in Zambia which has grown from around 40 members to 25,000 in just a few short years.
“I have taught in various Bible Colleges for 17 years, I regret that I instructed my students in things that don’t work in ministry today. My emphasis was on theology. But after studying with Spirit Led Academy, I have realized the most important thing in ministry is a deep relationship with God. My ministry has taken a new positive turn of imparting this knowledge to so many people. Because people have seen the difference it has made in my life, I have several men and women asking for this course to be introduced in many African countries, especially Congo D.R, Malawi, Angola and Burundi. Mary Wakuruzinza, the first lady, the wife of the President of Burundi is taking this course and she is now doing her final subject.”
This is the sort of training that will change a nation. The amazing this is that Jesus modelled this for us all through the New Testament but somehow we have defaulted back to knowledge about God instead of knowing him deeply and doing his will, like Jesus did. Learning to hear God’s voice and teaching others to do the same is THE FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT task of a house church leader, as you can see from the testimony above. As branches, we must be connected to the vine. I am still a learner in this department, and always will be.
5. Other Website Resources
On my website, (www.setfreeseminars.com) there are a number of essays under the “discipleship” tab that would be good to look at. They catalogue a lot of points we learned in our journey from Christendom to discipleship such as prayer, mission, understanding the harvest, healing the sick etc. One essay highlights the prayers Jesus asked us to pray continually for the harvest. Another tab that is full of amazing teaching that is having a big impact on India is the tab that says Victor Choudrie. This is a digital version of his book I bought at that first world house church conference in India back in 2009. Victor is the spiritual grandfather of a mass movement of Hindus into Gods kingdom that has now grown to somewhere between 5-10 million in just over 25 years. Many of the leaders in India, because illiteracy is a big issue, simply teach their people through this book, and then start again when finished! There are many very powerful and solid teachings in these notes that are culturally and spiritually transformative.
The first thing the Indians teach a new believer is to prayer-walk their neighbourhood on a regular basis asking God to expand the kingdom in that area. Most of their leaders are women. They also told me the majority of new believers were coming in through healings and miracles, since Hindus were very resistance to a message-only gospel approach, even here in Australia where I live it is fast becoming like that as well.
6. Neil Cole
At that conference in India we saw that non-western church leaders were bringing hundreds of thousands of souls into the kingdom, while westerners were bringing in just a few, with the exception of one man, Neil Cole. Here is his website.
I have read some of his books. He started out as a Christendom style pastor and began to push further into Jesus, eventually branching out into evangelism and discipling, but with a difference. His movement is now the largest in the western world, numbering who-knows how many as it is untraceable. But it is in the tens of thousands or more. They meet in groups of a maximum of four, reading 5-8 chapters of scripture per day, every day, up-skilling rapidly in their knowledge of God. Then they quickly split/duplicate if a fifth person comes along. The first saved becoming the other leader. Their larger group meetings are always missional, reaching out to a local “Goth” hangout etc. All the time the goal is souls and discipling. His book Cultivating a Life for God explains his journey really well. It may not work for everyone, but it has certainly worked well in the USA. He is the only western church leader I would bother learning from as he has the runs on the board.
Another thing we heard over and over again at the conference in India was the sad story that house church leader after house church leader initially tried to shrink the Christendom church into a house church, but it always failed. Then, after seeking God, they just began to go out and win people to the Lord and disciple the ones and twos. They said their thriving house church movements grew out of the individual discipling process. It did not happen the other way round. They had to get the DNA and purpose right before the structure followed. This is the essence of what Neil Cole discovered as well. It makes sense since Jesus said to go out and make disciples, not start churches. In addition, it is hard to recreate the DNA for discipleship in a traditional Christendom believer, but it comes completely natural to a brand new believer as their world is a series of networked relationships that they can leverage to spread the gospel. Christendom believers have, by default lost most of these relationships and only move among other believers.
That’s probably enough for now! You are on a great journey. You do not need to do more theological studies, but lots of Holy Spirit training. Simple men and women turned the world upside down simply because they had met Jesus and were transformed by it.
So that’s a lot of what we have learnt on our journey. God bless.