Sunday, August 23, 2015

What kind of church do you have, there?

A rainbow appeared over our Leander, Texas, home during a rainier-than-usual winter in 2014 -- the time of many life-changes for my wife and me. We'll take this as a sign of God's promises. (Credit: me.)

Two roofs on Sunday morning characterized much of our first two years of marriage.

The goal was to get our new family under one roof on the Lord's Day. Little did we know that roof would eventually turn out to be our own.

She was a 13-year veteran of a small Baptist church in Northwest Austin -- leading worship and administering the church office as her paid profession, while teaching children as her passion. Despite her tenure and immense talent as a classically trained singer, she felt increasingly unable to express her opinions to the pastor of three decades.

I was the Stewards committee chairman of an established but fluctuating-in-attendance Nazarene congregation in North Central Austin. I had been there five years, and our new pastor (originally brought in to help us develop a more home-based, simple church model) was working behind the scenes to inhibit growth and "merge" our 80-year-old congregation with a two-year-old non-denominational church of about 20 people with hopes of becoming a model megachurch.

Neither situation ended too well, though friendships remain. Within the space of a few years my wife and I both found ourselves without a "church home."

Then it dawned on us: why not reverse that with a "home church?"

Having flirted with the idea of a simply-structured, volunteer-led church for many years -- and me having met with a house church briefly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area -- it felt the time had come to finally reconcile various convictions we've both had on how a church should be organized (or not organized).

An energetic couple with children our age have been urging us for some time to consider a community outreach with them in our home of Leander, Texas.

So what we've decided to start with is a house church. There are a myriad of understandings of that phrase.

Does "house church" refer to ...?
  • A congregation meeting in a house until it has the funds to rent a storefront or build a permanent facility?
  • An extension of a local brick-and-mortar church as a means to reach an outlying or distant community?
  • A neighborhood Bible study with a little additional authority given to it by a parent church or denomination (such as permission to baptize, take the Lord's Supper, marry, bury, etc.)?
  • A church that cannot meet in a public space for government policy reasons (such as neighborhood zoning, land use laws, speech codes, etc.)?
  • An underground, persecuted church (as many in the "10-40 window" often are)?
  • A church that meets in a home intentionally and for simplicity's sake?
We are doing the latter. Current phrases being used to describe it include "organic" and "simple church," and to some degree "missional" (though I am reluctant to use that term -- more on that in a later post). Why not "just church?"

Our aim is to keep it is as "non-institutional" as humanly possible (keeping it a relationship of friends with no bank account, d/b/a, etc.) and cozy enough to share life together -- the ups and downs that are often hard to share in large company, and it's much harder to offer advice or counsel, unless you're whispering to someone at the altar while the band plays (awkward!).

Clerical titles will be avoided as much as possible, exchanging the concept of an official role for that of an essential function. ("Pastor" is a spiritual gift according to Scripture, and not an office per se, so it will be valued as such -- much more on this in a later post.)

Building a standard website for such a non-defined grouping of people didn't seem to fit -- so no mission statements or FAQs here. What resounded with my conscience was to keep a living journal of thoughts and events to demonstrate in real-life what it means to meet as a New Testament-styled church.

On that note, the New Testament doesn't contain a how-to guide or a list of core beliefs -- rather, it's a dynamic collection of personal letters, circulated letters, testimonials, and prophetic visions. "Living Letters," as the predecessor to the New Living Translation bible termed them. A blog seemed to fit that bill perfectly. Paul most likely would have had one!

My primary plan for this blog is to use it as a journal to chronicle the key events in starting a house church, our hopes and fears, and to rejoice in what God can do through even a small group of quirky folks! Especially when the children outnumber the adults 5 to 4 (as of 8/23/15)!

I intend to explore, from time-to-time, topics related to this particular movement of house churches, and to share resources and "best practices" that will hopefully inspire or guide others interested (or already immersed) in this hyper-local expression of the Body of Christ. Plenty has already been written on the subject, and I will do my best to glean from some of these online and print resources. I refuse to re-invent the proverbial wheel.

I resolve to not compete with more traditional forms of doing church, nor our former congregations. While many in the house church decry "brick-and-mortar churches" as dead and denominations as "religious Babylon," my aim is one of cooperation. As of the time of writing, our fellowship meets at 5 p.m. for dinner and the meeting so that we may reserve Sunday mornings for children's activities and visits to other area churches.

(And we'll see what my guest writers feel when they contribute posts! For every 10 people in a house church there are 11 opinions on how to do things. So I can't always speak for everyone on this blog.)

This blog -- like so many others -- may abruptly end. As do house churches as people grow and scatter. Do a Google search for house churches and you'll see both some very-much active pages as well as a boneyard of fizzled out links.

As for the movement itself, it seems to have plateaued. Many house churches have become more leader-focused during their transition to to "missional communities." Some have even purchased property, adopted a curriculum, and prescribed liturgy for worship. And quite a number who identified as "emergent" in the early 2000s have become full-fledged Mainline Protestant congregations. Change happens, especially among those looking for "the next new thing."

Our overall vision is to allow the Holy Spirit to "add to the church" and for us to meet "from house to house" until we're a network of house-meetings all over the Austin area. If we grow, then amen! We hope it grows "to the stature and fullness of Christ." If not, then we've already experienced that God can bless a small group and use a handful of people powerfully.

And if everything falls apart with our little flock, then the reader should know exactly why.

For as long as this blog or home gathering lasts, it is my prayer that God will be glorified and his Church edified by the open exchange of ideas. Keep that free-flow coming by commenting below.

Grace and peace,


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