By Keith Giles
I want to ask a question, "What if there was a way of doing church that made community easier, facilitated discipleship, and inspired organic growth? Why would anyone oppose something that helped people to follow Jesus in their everyday life, set them free to discover and practice their spiritual gifting in the context of worship, and helped encourage lifestyle of evangelism and personal mission?"
As someone who has been a licensed and ordained pastor for over 18 years now, in denominational, independent and charismatic expressions of church, I've witnessed first-hand the angst and frustration at the pastoral level in the traditional church. "Why can't we get people to give more? Why don't people feel connected here? Why don't these people take the words of Jesus seriously? How can we get people to share their faith and increase community?"
Even as I've agonized over these thoughts myself, I've also heard other pastors lament in much the same way when comparing their church with the one we see in Acts. "Look at the incredible devotion these people had for one another," the pastors say. "Why don't our people give and share and love in the same way?"
After years of struggling to help put butts in the seats, inspire the frozen chosen to serve others and live out their faith in their daily life, I finally did something out of desperation- I tried the method outlined in the New Testament, and what do you know, it worked.
Our house church has been thriving now for over 2 years and I can honestly say I've not once had to preach a sermon on tithing or giving, and yet our small gathering gave thousands of dollars to the help the poor in our community last year. In fact, we're on track to double last year's amount, and I've never had to beg or plead for our members to dig deep or give more. Why is this? What's the big difference?
The simple fact is that our people can tangibly connect every dollar and penny they give with how it directly assists people in need. We keep nothing for ourselves and give all of the money we receive away to the poor. When our members connect their dollars with actual people receiving assistance they are glad to give all that they can to help others.
I take no salary from the offering. We don't even use it to buy paper plates or coffee. All of the offering, every single penny of it, is spent on the poor in our community, and that inspires people to give hilariously.
THE GOSPEL- TO GO!
In our house church I've also seen people discover their personal mission and start to walk it out in their everyday life. One dear woman had always felt called to be a missionary to children overseas but that door never opened for her. Instead, she discovered that God had given her a mission field with her Fifth Grade class each week at a local elementary school where she teaches. We get to encourage her every week as she loves and serves these dear children God has given to her to bless.
Another woman has discovered that her art can speak to those outside the walls of the church and have a greater impact alongside works of art at local galleries. She's been liberated to take her art to the darkness and allow it to effect people who need hope and light. We get to support her art and encourage her as she encounters people in deep spiritual need who would never darken a church door.
Another man has realized a profound concern for the local homeless and has begun to spend his weekends befriending the homeless he encounters during his weekly job as a security guard. Our house church has helped him to purchase food and supplies to share with these new friends he's made. We get to encourage him and cheer him on as he struggles with how to love and help these people who are in desperate need.
Others in our house church have begun to identify their spiritual gifts and are being encouraged, many for the very first time, to utilize those gifts in the context of the weekly gathering, and to advance the Kingdom of God and make new disciples to Jesus, and live out the Gospel in their everyday life.
One thing about community is that we quickly realize that none of us is perfect. As our masks fall down we see the beauty, and the serious flaws, inside each of us. We get to learn how to forgive one another, how to love one another unconditionally, and how to extend grace to each other as we grow in Christ.
We know the early church wasn't perfect either. The New Testament makes no attempt to cover up their infidelity, pride and in-fighting. Yet it also makes no attempt to correct these flaws by changing the methodology. Instead, the Apostles encouraged the early church to love more, forgive more, serve more and be a true Family of God.
No, the house church isn't perfect. We are not more perfect people because of house church, in fact, we're probably a lot more imperfect than most, but that's part of how the power of Christ is revealed in us, as we embrace our weakness and cling to the goodness of God. (See 2 Cor 12:9)
Someone once said, "To experience something you've never experienced before you will have to do something you've never done before." The same logic applies to the modern church in America. If we hope to experience something we've never experienced before as a Body, we will have to entertain the possibility of doing something many of us have never done before.
THE QUESTION AGAIN
So, if there were a way to take our traditional churches into a new place of life and hope and encourage real community and empower every person to live out their mission and utilize their gifts, why would anyone oppose this? Why would anyone be against putting these New Testament principles into practice? Are we so committed to our corporate-inspired, big business model of doing church that we cannot imagine any other way?
WHY IS THIS SO HARD?
It's very curious to me how Jesus could inspire his disciples to start a certain kind of family-based system of worship and community and fellowship, which had never existed before, and how those disciples could promote and build and encourage a household of faith for over 300 years, only to have the entire thing thrown out in favor of a new model that effectively chokes community, stifles the spiritual gifts and encourages a retreat from the culture at large.
We could go into the history of how it happened, but I won't take the time for that now. I simply want to ask the question, "If we knew a way to fix what's wrong with the Church today and inspire community, family, mission, evangelism and discipleship, why wouldn't pastors be lining up to give it a try?" Why is it we'll try everything else under the sun except for this Jesus-inspired, Apostle-promoted, family-based, Biblical model outlined for us in the New Testament?
I know I'm a dreamer and an idealist, perhaps. But it seems to make sense to me that if we want what the early church had, we should at least be willing to attempt to do what they did in order to get it.
MORE LIGHT THAN HEAT
Even as I write this I know that the vast majority of Christians out there, and probably most of you who are reading this now, are part of a traditional church built upon some of these same principles I am calling into question.
Please know that I do not raise these questions to be divisive. My own parents attend a traditional church that they love and I have several friends who are currently pastoring traditional churches that are doing amazing things for the Kingdom of God.
My aim is not to tear down the good that God is doing within the traditional church, but at the same time I do have to ask these sorts of questions, because the answer to these sorts of questions are necessary to help all of us understand who we are in Christ and how the whole Body fits together in God's Kingdom.
FOR THE RECORD
God is at work in every expression of His Church and no matter what form or model we employ Gods Kingdom is advanced, peoples lives are transformed and the Gospel is preached. I fully acknowledge and celebrate this fact.
However, my struggle lies in finding the best way to communicate the joy of what I've discovered as part of a house church, and affirming that God loves and is at work in the entire Body of Christ, worldwide.
Please extend to me a little grace on this issue, my friends. I know that whenever I talk about the freedom and the excitement I've experienced in the house church, there are some who can only hear it as an attack against those who are not part of the house church movement. This is not my intent and I'm honestly still learning how best to share what good I've seen over the last few years without insulting everyone else.
What I hope to do is to allow the testimony of God's wisdom to be released like the aroma of warm bread from the oven and tantalize each of us to imagine what being part of the Family of God could be like, if we try something many of us have never tried before.
"If there was a way to help facilitate discipleship and community and mission within the Body of Christ, and if that way were clearly outlined in the New Testament and if that same method was proven over a period of 300 years, why would anyone oppose this?"
JACKIE PULLINGER MP3S ONLINE FOR FREE
The Non-Con is only days away now!
For those of you who didn't make the registration deadline, and/or can't wait until this Saturday to hear Jackie Pullinger, my friend Bob Moffat posted a whole host of great sermons from Jackie online.
REBELLION OF THOUGHT- DVD
Now available at Best Buy, Amazon and fine bookstores everywhere.
My great friend, Kent Williamson, has completed his film, Rebellion of Thought which is an amazing discussion starter for people who want to know more about why the modern church is broken and how our post-modern society views our faith and message.
The documentary release "Rebellion of Thought: Post-Modernism, The Church and the Struggle For Authentic Faith" explores the challenges of living a Biblically-oriented Christian life within the framework of an increasingly complex and confusing postmodern culture. ~ Nathan Southern, (All Movie Guide)
Well-worth your time and attention. My friends John and Lisa Wahrmund have a few songs on the soundtrack album too, along with J.J. Plasencio (formerly of Sixpence and Plumb). Check it out.