Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Okay...off again. This weekend I'll be speaking to the youth
at FCBC in LA for their winter retreat. Then the following Friday
I'll be flying down to meet with a Pastor from Singapore at
the SOP conference in Anaheim. What I'm really praying and
hoping is that I get to visit a Third Day House Church in San Diego
on this trip....I caught wind of this house church movement in SD
check it out...


It's happening...church is going to look alot different in the next
10 years... aw yeah.

Housechurching is Biblical
Many important biblical events took place in homes.
• Pentecost took place in a house. (Acts 2:1-2)
• The Last Supper took place in a house. (Luke 22:7-13)

Most of the miracles took place in homes.
• The wedding at Cana took place in a house.
• Jesus and Paul taught in many homes.
• "Greet the church in your house" was a common greeting of Saint Paul to various house churches started by him (1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2, Romans 16:5 and so on). He visited house to house and taught them everything. (Acts 20:20)

The House Church is the original New Testament church.
• The disciples went to the temple regularly and taught the people, bringing the seekers to their homes. They gave them food and discipled them (Acts 2:42). Soon they were jailed and punished by the temple authorities and banned entry into the temple but by then they had reaped a large harvest and many house churches had been established. "And the Lord added to the church daily those who were saved." (Acts 2:46-47, 4: 1-4).

• The intimate, friendly environment of a home provided the ideal stage for interaction, resulting in the rapid conversion and maturing of believers into disciplers. Multiplication of disciplers led to explosive growth of the church (Acts 6:1).

• The informal environment of the house churches gave opportunity for rapid maturing of "lay leaders" like Stephen, who was the first Christian martyr and Philip, who was the first evangelist to evangelize Samaria. The net result of handing over the baton to the seven Greek speaking ordinary men resulted in the conversion of priests, which in turn caused exponential growth in the church. (Acts 6:7)

• The rapid growth of house churches (Acts 8:3) resulted in severe persecution of the believers and Peter ended up behind bars. The church gathered in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, for an all night prayer meeting which led to the dramatic release of Peter from jail. (Acts 12:5; 12)

• There was no formal Sunday service. The meetings could last all day and all night. Believers therefore came equipped with lamps for such an eventuality. (Acts 20:7)
• Signs and wonders, including raising the dead Dorcas, took place in homes. Baptism of the household of Cornelius and the Philippian jailer took place in their homes.

History of the House Church.

• It is significant that other than teaching and confrontation with the temple authorities by Jesus and the disciples, no noteworthy activity, not even worship or prayer, took place in the temple precincts.

• In the church's first three hundred years the entire Roman empire was Christianized.

• The church was severely persecuted until 310 AD when King Constantine became Christian and built the first Cathedral. Paid clergy were employed, one of whom later became the Pope. Constantine converted "Daily Christians" into "Sunday Christians" by declaring Sunday a holiday. He also gave Christmas and Easter festivals to Christians. Constantine was only a nominal Christian as he built other pagan temples as well. Later a spate of cathedral building took place in Europe with domination of the professional priesthood, resulting in the demise of the house church movement. The church then went into the dark ages for more than a thousand years,
looting and killing ordinary believers. It is estimated that the established church killed 25 million people calling them "heretics." The church today is truly founded on the blood of the martyrs. No well-meaning man has done more damage to Christianity than Constantine. But for him the world would have been evangelized a long time ago.

• If our Lord is willing to be born in a cow shed then where is the problem with the humble house church? The first worship of Jesus took place in a cow shed church.

• Today, we need hundreds of thousands of pastors/elders for the church who cannot be produced in seminaries but can easily be equipped in the house churches.

• Finance is also not as big a problem as most house churches and house church networks can run on much "lower” budgets. There are fewer maintenance bills and mortgage payments, so the leaders can focus more on completing the task of the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28:18-20)

• A house church does not produce lukewarm Christians but quality Christians who quickly learn to be fruitful (Acts 16:5). People of other faiths usually find it easier to go to a friendly home than a formal Sunday church service, which in most cases does not cater to them. (Mark 11:17)

• We all know that the congregational model has failed and the denominational model creates division within the Body of Christ. The empty cathedrals in Europe are silent witnesses to the barrenness of the church. Why continue to imitate a failed model?

• Seminaries equip pastors for a single congregation while house churches follow the 222 formula (2 Timothy 2:2). They equip disciples to plant multiplying churches by multiplying leadership.

• The house churches are fulfilling the mandate of our Lord and reaching the "ends of the earth". Therefore, God is blessing them. Barrenness is a curse in the Bible. Therefore, the Bride of Christ must reproduce, multiply and fill the earth. The house church is by nature an immensely fertile model.

Housechurching is Functional
A house church is a group of Christians who meet regularly in someone’s home in order to be the church. A key component of this group is the way its members perceive themselves. In a house church the members see themselves as a kind of family. They feel connected to one another. They understand their responsibilities and commitments to one another. They don’t see their time together as extra-curricular but instead as crucial to their spiritual development. They are “owners” within the group and know that if the church is ever to realize its potential, it can’t rely on religious professionals to do its work for the rest.

An Inclusive Church
House churches make a place for Christians of both genders, all ages, all races, all socioeconomic backgrounds, all educational backgrounds. There is no discrimination along the lines mentioned above in order to have a more homogenous group. People are welcomed because Christ welcomes us. Because the church is inclusive, not exclusive, age, gender, education, level of spiritual development - none of these things matter. The church, by its very nature, is a family whose existence is based on a common faith in Christ. One can make a case for temporary, smaller-sized groups that serve a special purpose, but if this is the rule rather than the exception, we lose the family and mission aspect of the church. The young people lose the wisdom of their elders. The elders lose the energy of their youth. The men lose the special female perspective and the women lose the male view. The poor need the rich but we forget that the rich also need the poor.
So... a house church can’t be just for people in their 20’s or just for guys. It can’t be just for people trying to work through a particular personal issue or for people without kids. It can’t just include people with good manners or those who are white. A house church can’t make distinctions along these lines because it perceives itself as a real church. The people of Jesus
welcome and include all others who are attempting to follow Him.

A Functional Church
Because a house church usually meets in someone’s home, its size is naturally limited. But, the members of the house church see this natural limitation as a good thing because it provides a setting in which intimacy and care can flourish. The smaller size (typically 8 - 20) and the home or non-institutional setting of these churches translates into a functional church.

Members of a house church perceive themselves collectively as a true, functional church. Most traditional churches see the smaller gatherings of people as important but extra- curricular, maybe like vitamin supplements to a larger, primary event (usually the Sunday meeting). Numbers confirm this view. Most American churches have only a tiny percentage of their members involved in small groups. Even the churches with with the most successful small group ministries rarely have more than 50% participation in small groups. If actions really do speak louder than words, then what’s being spoken here seems clear: “The larger-sized meeting is more important than the smaller meeting.”

Although this situation is unfortunate, it’s also to be expected. The big meeting is what American churches have sunk most of their time and energy and money into. They build big, impressive buildings for it. They hold it weekly rain or shine. The pastor prepares hours and hours per week on the message for that day. It’s the only venue where money is collected. It’s where the professional musicians play and are the most visible. When people talk about “going to church,” they typically think of this time and place.
We would like to see this trend change and turned around, and in a day when “bigger is better” say that the smaller-sized groups are important and even critical to one’s spiritual welfare. And that when push comes to shove and you have to make a choice, go to the smaller group as a priority. Go to the place where you can know and be known. Be among people who
care enough to know the details of your life.

“House Churches” are simple, organic, relationship-based, biblical, flat-structured, networked, and round-the-clock radical discipleship centers. They are God´s solution to father the fatherless and His provision of a spiritual home for the billions of people who are spiritually homeless. “House Churches” neither need to happen in church buildings or in real houses, but will emerge as spiritual families wherever the “center of gravity” of life happens to be. House Churches can, therefore, happen in hotels, bars, discos, McDonald’s, the street, under a tree, schools, offices, businesses, and yes, even in real houses, villas, apartments, nursing homes, a slum hut or a Mongolian tent. Wherever people live and spend most of their time, God wants to move in and live amongst them, change their lives, and make them part of his mission and send them out to disciple the nations.
Church, in reality, is meant to be a collection of house churches. It is clear that the vibrancy of church life is directly tied to your connections with other people. In other words, if you don't really know others, church life is nothing more than another form of social isolation (and American church life already has way too much of that), or even as one brother called it, “A Rotary Club with tongues.”

The church is supposed to be a connected body of people, not just in name but in reality. We must try harder to let our actions demonstrate how we feel by structuring a church where the Small Groups (or House Churches) take precedence over the larger groups or celebrations. The small gathering of a house church is like a family and the large gathering on the weekends like a family reunion. As important and as fun as real-life family reunions can be, they are not even possible without first having the family relationship that precedes the reunion. Here we have to think small, not big! First, small groups (House Churches), then all groups (Larger city-
wide apostolic meetings).

The house church is where you can get to know people, get questions answered, grow spiritually, serve alongside others, share meals, eating with each other and with God and express your faith face-to-face in real time with actual people. It's true hands-on church. It's not an antiseptic, sterile, and lifeless form of church life where you punch your card in some religious time-clock on your way in and out of a building. Rather, it's an attempt to express faith in the truest of all places: in daily life and among broken people.

A Comprehensive Church
Because our lives are different, our gifts are unique and our personalities are diverse, when we spend time together in the house church, it becomes very quickly a comprehensive way of being the church. When house churches meet, they’re not together just to have a Bible Study. Nor are they together as a social group just to eat and hang out. They don’t come together simply to take care of one another’s needs. And they’re not together just to do some task beyond themselves, like helping the poor. In other words a house church is not a specialty group.

It’s more than a Bible Study, a Worship Group, a Social Group, a Care Group, a Prayer Group, or a special Task Group. It’s a hybrid of all these things because all of them are features of the church. When the church gathers, people worship, study Scripture, pray for one another, take care of needs, eat together, reach out to others together. Not all of these things have to happen in the same meeting or in every meeting, but all of them are regular features of house church gatherings over time because of the comprehensive nature of the church.

We obviously think the house church falls more in line with the nature of church life as described on the pages of the New Testament. But house churches are not just an old, worn out paradigm that no longer makes sense in the modern world. With the estimated two million house churches in China, and the renewed interest in house churches in Europe and Great Britain, America stands ready for a return to vital, virtual church. Inclusive, Functional and Comprehensive church in our homes.

- Excerpts from House Church Guidebook by Dave Nixon

Housechurching is Practical
What should we do when we get together? One of the important things to realize is that church as a small group is not like anything else you may have experienced as church. We get asked, Is it like a prayer meeting? We pray, but no, it is not like a prayer meeting. Is it a Bible study? No, it is not like a Bible study, although we will usually spend some time over the Word.

Perhaps the greatest temptation we have is to make it a mini version of a larger meeting, where someone has been delegated to prepare some worship songs, another has a teaching, etc. If we do that , we have not gained much from meeting in a smaller group. Small group dynamics are totally different from those of a larger group.

Church is family. A normal family, gathered around the dinner table, does not have, for example, the mother say to the children, Now let’s all listen to what Dad has to say, and then the father talks for 40 minutes explaining something that is not of much relevance to the kids. No. Normal family is interactive, participatory and intensely relevant to the people there. And church should be the same way.

I Corinthians 11-14 talks about what we should do when we come together. Chapter 12 spends much time explaining how vital every part of the body is, and how each part has a different function. This needs to be expressed in our times together. I Corinthians 14:26 is the key verse for our meetings. It says that when we come together, each one has a contribution to make. Whether a song, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation--everything must build up and edify the body.

According to Acts 2:42, when the believers came together, they devoted themselves to the apostle s teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayers. These are the four elements that we try to include in the times that we spend together.

Study of the Word
If our house churches are going to multiply rapidly, we will no longer have the luxury of taking several years to train a Bible teacher. Often, a new Christian will be leading something after only a short period. Paul faced this too--in some instances he moved on very quickly. For example, in Philippi he only stayed for several days. Therefore, we need to use an approach that allows the Bible to teach itself, where even the youngest Christian is able to lead.
We evangelical Christians tend to emphasize the importance of good teaching. This is missing the point. The essential is that people are genuinely learning and applying Scripture to their everyday lives. Statistics show that we learn far more by actively participating than by hearing alone. Scientists tell us that we remember 20% of what we hear, 50% of what we see and hear and 70% of what we hear and see and then say ourselves. In house church, we have the opportunity to involve everyone. In New Testament times, teaching was far more interactive; for instance, the word used for Paul s lengthy teaching in Ephesus is the word dialegomai, from which we get our word dialogue (Acts 20:7). Jesus tells us that we are to teach new disciples to obey His commands. In a small group, there can be some kind of accountability built in. More than once, we have had people say to us that they learned more in just months of home church than they had in years of sitting listening to good sermons!

We try to spend little, if any, time in teaching in a formal fashion, but rather elect to have interactive discussion of a Bible passage. Over the years, we have come back repeatedly to three different methods of Bible study that are discussed below. The method is not important, but the fact that the method leads to a participatory discussion is important. Each of the three methods requires a facilitator, who s responsibility is to make sure the study keeps moving, that everyone is taking part and that no one person (particularly the facilitator!) dominates. It is not the facilitator s job to answer questions that come up. Rather he should direct questions back to the group.

In this type of Bible study, everyone s opinions are valued and there is no such thing as a wrong answer. But what if someone starts teaching heresy? (Christians always seem worried by this possibility!) In dozens of these groups over the years, we have never seen one sidetracked by wrong teaching. Even with the youngest Christians someone always says, That doesn’t seem right, if anything too outlandish comes up. The facilitator is trained to require some kind of scriptural backing for any opinion voiced.

Usually our churches study their way through a book. Sometimes as much as a whole chapter will be covered in a session; more frequently, just a few verses. Because literacy may be a problem in some groups, we usually read only a couple of verses before stopping to discuss what we are learning. Then we will cover a few more verses.

A few verses are read, and then the group answers three questions.
· What does it say?
· What does it mean?
· What difference does it make in my life?
You may wonder if there is any difference between questions one and two. But take the phrase from John 1 where it says, In the beginning was the Word. There is a huge amount of meaning in there that could get missed if the second question were not included.
We use this method in our churches that meet in retirement homes. It is very simple and easy.

This is a modified Navigator s method. A couple of verses are read, and we look for things that correspond to three different symbols. The first is a question mark, which obviously symbolizes something a person does not understand. The second symbol is a candlestick and is used to represent something that sheds light, either on another passage of Scripture, or else something that is going on in a person s life. The third symbol is an arrow, and stands for where God is piercing a person s heart--they know that they have heard from God and need to do something about it. So a person might say, I have a candlestick on this verse. This describes a situation that happened to me at work last week...

We used this method to start our present group of churches. We pulled together a dozen non-Christian business people and studied the book of Proverbs, looking at principles relating to business and wealth. Over the course of the study, every person became a Christian!

The third method we learned from Robert Fitts.
In discussion Bible Study we simply read the Scripture, each taking turns reading a few verses, depending on how many people are present. While it is being read, everyone is invited to interrupt at any time and make a comment or ask a question.
If it seems that too much is being read, then the facilitator will stop the person reading and ask, Does anyone have a comment? It is unusual for more than a few verses to be read before a discussion develops.
Our churches that meet in the housing projects use this kind of study.
The method used is not important. It is just a tool to accomplish the goal of a participatory Bible study. Here the Bible itself is the teacher, and everyone in the group is involved in both the teaching and learning process and the application of what is learned to daily life.
Are we saying there is no place for traditional teaching? Our experience is that the small meetings in homes are not the best place for extended lesson-type messages. If God has revealed some helpful or exciting truth, do share it--in a brief form. But the cold fact is that listening to long discourses does not turn people into teachers!
Our larger monthly meetings, where several house churches come together, have two main differences from the smaller meetings: First, the chances of getting to say something are definitely smaller. Over time, everyone can speak, but not in every large meeting. Second, the larger numbers often justify inviting in a gifted believer who has a powerful message or anointing.

Studies of early church history show that it was as much the love that Christians had for each other, as the actual message itself, that won so many to their cause. That this love went across culture, religion, ethnic differences and even the slave/free barrier was a great testimony to all.

Just a casual reading of the New Testament forces one to the conclusion that the early disciples shared their lives together in a deep and meaningful way. In this country, and at this period in time, fellowship has tended to be superficial at best, and at times downright absent! How can we change this?

Jesus taught that the world would know we are Christians by our love for one another. The apostle John, described as the disciple whom Jesus loved, shared deeply on the nature of fellowship in his first letter. If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other... An old song we used to sing in England went like this:
Let us open up ourselves to one another,
Without fear of being hurt or turned away,
For we need to confess our weaknesses
To be covered by our brothers love,
To be real and learn our true identity.

True fellowship is like this. It is being real with one another, loving and caring for one another, genuinely and without hypocrisy. It is knowing if someone is having difficulties because we are familiar with them enough to recognize the signs. It is being willing to let down the masks we all put up (Yes, I 'm fine, thanks with a bright smile when inside we are barely under control) and risking letting people know us as we really are. True fellowship takes time and commitment.

John's conclusion in his letter: It is hard to believe that you love God who you cannot see, if this is not being matched by love for your brothers and sister who you can see.

Breaking of Bread
We have been involved in home style meetings now for most of the last 30 years, and we have come to the conclusion that there is one factor more important than any other in determining whether a group will be successful or not. Do they share meals when they get together? Those that eat together invariably do better than those that do not.
Eating obviously played an important part in early church life, as it did in Jesus life. Some of Jesus most effective times with unbelievers included food, e.g. Zaccheus, Matthew s friends, etc. Many of the occasions described with His disciples involved a meal, e.g. The last supper, and His times with the disciples after His resurrection. Acts 2:46 reveals that the early church shared their meals daily with great joy. I Corinthians 11 tells of the problems that arose when some people failed to share the common meal, during which they remembered the Lord s death in the communion, appropriately.
Eating food together does something to the way that people relate with each other. We have found that it produces an informal atmosphere that makes it much easier for people to share their lives together.

However, there are some guidelines that we use. As in everything else, we try to make it easy to duplicate. If a host family produces a gourmet meal, that makes it very intimidating for others who think they have to live up to that standard. In general, we have a simple potluck meal together. Everybody brings a contribution. If it is in the evening, we may have those who work just bring something that they can pick up at a store, such as sodas or a dessert. Occasionally there are drawbacks to not organizing it more, such as the time when every single family brought some kind of pasta dish. But in general this approach works very well. We try to make sure that people help with the clean up, and if we know there are families who are struggling to make ends meet, the leftovers provide a sensitive way of helping them out. (We will sometimes produce extra large amounts of food so that we can do that!) Our celebrations, when all of the local home churches come together, includes a meal, as do our leadership times. We love our meetings!

Our God is a creative God, and when we learn to follow the Holy Spirit in our times together, it is amazing what happens. Once in His presence, He shares His heart with us, and as we listen to Him, He draws us closer to Himself, and leads us in the direction that He has planned for us. It is as though we are the instruments of the orchestra, the Holy Spirit is the conductor, and as we each play the melody that He has given us individually, He produces a symphony.
I Corinthians 14:26 says that when you come together, each person has a contribution to make. An open time together when everyone can bring what is on their heart is one of the most characteristic things about church in the home. Perhaps a typical meeting (is there such a thing?) might include some worship including songs, scriptures, praise, then maybe a prophecy or picture that someone has with some accompanying discussion, ministry to the needs of those there, prayer over an area of the city where we are wanting to start a new church... The possibilities are endless.

Prayer for an individual is precious. Frequently, we have them sit in the center and some come and lay hands on them, to identify with them. Then we pray around the area of whatever has prompted the prayer. Often people have prophecies or pictures for them or are impressed with a verse of Scripture for them. This kind of prayer can be life-changing! For us, the teaching of John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Church movement has been so helpful. He taught us, You spell faith: R-I-S-K. It can be a risk to boldly pray for specific answers for a person, but God wonderfully responds when we step out in faith.
Following the Holy Spirit in our times together is an adventure!
Dr. Felicity Dale

Housechurching and Children
How do we integrate our children into this fresh move to house churches? This, of course, happens first at home. Your first question is how? Children learn what they see. If they see parents with faith, they have faith. If they see parents with adoration of all God has created, they get adoration of God’s creation. If they see parents who truly believe God will provide what they need, they believe God provides.
What we’re saying is this: include your children in your faith. If you’ve run into a particularly difficult time financially let them in. Not into your concern, your worry, but into your trust in God’s provision. This same principle works if someone is sick. Let them into your prayers of faith for healing. When you are in nature point out where you see the majesty of the Lord. The ocean is an orchestra of worship. Can you hear it? Share your gifting with them. Whatever your gifting is. Teaching, prophesy, healing, mercy, intercessory prayer, hospitality. Let them know that it is God who has given this to you and that you are being obedient to his call when you operate in it. Invite them in with you.

Pay attention to their gifting. Give opportunity for their gifting even, or especially, if it is different than yours. Explain that the Father gave gifts to men. Not earned. That all the gifts are important for the whole body of Christ. They are a part of that body and are counted on to give their part. Help them understand that when we all come together at church that is a time of celebration of our faith in Jesus. Help them find a way to celebrate being a part of God’s family. God doesn’t have any grandchildren. We are all children of God. Let them know that you care what they see or hear during the celebration and that you will help them understand or if appropriate share with the rest of the church.

We know that parents are concerned that their children will be bored in large, medium or small gatherings of Christians. There has been, for years, a program to avoid boredom in children. It is called Sunday School. There is no Sunday School in the Bible. It was not needed. We often think of the time Jesus went to the temple when he was a boy and stayed behind. It was three days before his earthly parents found him after looking in each family member’s tent. Children were a part of each event. They were included in every aspect of Church life. There never was an entertainment option. This will be a huge shift for some. A needed shift. We don’t read anywhere in the Bible where we’re told to entertain our children. We are told over and over to share our faith. It isn’t the job of someone else. It is clearly the parents’ job.
So, what do I do if my children get bored? First, you prepare them for the changes you are making. Let them know what to expect. What kind of behavior is appropriate, and what kind of behavior is inappropriate. Let them know that they will be active participants in the Family of Jesus and that everyone is staying together like a whole family. Tell them to pay attention to anything God shows them or tells them and to let you know. Invite them into whatever is happening. Dancing, singing, praying, eating, sharing.

Since children see from the Lord, it would be good to have paper and crayons available to let them draw what they see and hopefully share it with the group. On the way home let them share with you what they thought about the meeting and help them understand and make any adjustments they need. Pray together for each meeting especially that God would minister to and use your child.

Ways to Incorporate Children into the House Church Meetings.

• Expect children to be children. By this we don’t mean disruptive behavior. We mean that children have short attention spans and will be wiggly. They might even talk to their neighbor.

• At the meal include them as adults. However you are seating the adults, include the children in that seating. As opposed to a separate table for the children.

• Set up a place in the room with art supplies. Have the children draw what the Lord is showing them during any time of the meeting.

• When the children realize that you are not going to entertain them but include them, they will find a way to participate.
At times of prayer don’t pray "down" to children. Pray as you would to any one in the room. Have the children pray. Give them opportunity to share what the Lord is telling them about any prayer. Children see and hear from the Lord.

If you have been used to having children separate from adults ask the Lord to enlarge your view of this integration.

If there are very little children, have a designated area in the room with some toys or books. Children of this age will absorb all that is going on in the room while building a block castle.

Things Not to Do.

• Always put kids in another room with a video.

• Let children run around the house in a destructive manner.

• Allow children to argue with one another.

• Play only children’s songs during worship.

• If there is a child in the host home the tendency is to take all the children or just a few to their room to play. This isolates the children from the group and from each other. It also can create quite a mess for the host family to clean up. When children are viewed as part of the group, part of the family, they will make the necessary adjustments to be a part. Children will adapt. The adults are the one’s who need to check their view on including children in their church life. Parents should be helping their children make the adjustments but the whole group participates in their attitude toward children. Be prepared to see and hear some wonderful things from the kids.


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