Category Archives: Church Planting

Comfort from fellow travelers..

It is always comforting to find people and things that let you know you are not journeying alone.  Outside of Jesus being the only way to the Father, I don’t usually suggest that there is a uniform pattern in life other than we were created to grow and hopefully we will do so til we die.  In the case of the article below by Roger Thoman at simplechurchjournal.com I am not saying every person who is transitioning toward a simple, organic or house church will go through everything he experience nor should you pattern yourself after or expect the same.  However, in retrospect while on the journey I am on, I have found great comfort in knowing that what Roger has observed and personally experienced has in many ways been my journey as well.  For this I am grateful to know that what God is doing in my life he has and is doing in others.

I hope you will read and comment on the following article.

November 23, 2009

Stages in the Journey of Simple/House Church IStock_000002238315XSmall I have been reflecting, for some time, on the stages that I have seen and experienced in the simple/house church journey.

I would love to have your feedback on this to help clarify and further illuminate this subject.

When I speak of “stages” I do NOT speak of progressive steps.  I am not suggesting that one stage is better than the previous nor that this is about a plan to follow.  I am simply seeking to describe some aspects of the journey itself.  However, since the journey is one of change and transformation, I thought it might be helpful to try to describe some of the experiences in that journey that may be common to most.

Also, these “stages” typically refer to those who are transitioning from traditional church to simple/house church NOT to people who are discovering church-life for the first time in their life.

1. Letting go of old paradigms of church life.  This stage is described in a variety of ways from “taking the red pill,” to frustration with old wineskins to discovering what the Bible teaches about church life to…  It is sometimes accompanied with periods of disorientation, wandering through valleys of confusion, or (alternatively) great relief and a new sense of freedom.  People discover that they no longer want to “go” to church, rather they want to learn what it really means to “be” the church.

2. Exploring New Testament gatherings.  Since our old paradigm of church life has often revolved around the Sunday morning gathering, we often find ourselves on a quest to discover what “New Testament” simple/house church gatherings might look like and feel like.  In this stage, “the gathering” often remains the focus of our church-life as we seek to explore and experience small, Spirit-led, participatory, Christ-filled gatherings.  Our freedom continues to grow and we become more and more enamored with the reality that we really are 24/7, kingdom-living, Spirit-directed believers.  The dividing walls between secular and sacred continue to come down and we become excited about integrating our spiritual life with our “everyday” life.

3. Re-boot to Jesus.  Using Frost & Hirsch’s term (from ReJesus), part of the overall transformation we walk through is the re-centering of Jesus in our life.  This takes place as we find ourselves removing pieces of our religious life that have sometimes taken center stage alongside of Jesus or as mediators between us and Jesus: our church, our pastor, certain leaders, certain teachers, doctrine, our church’s culture (fitting in to the culture), religious rules for church life or behavior, etc, etc.  The result is often a personal renewal of our own relationship with Jesus, a greater longing to understand what it is to be an uncompromising follower, to hear his voice, to respond to him, and to live out of a deep intimacy and love relationship with him that is truly center stage in our life.

4. A new missional heart and longing.  It is inevitable that the process of re-booting to Jesus stirs in us a fresh desire to see his kingdom, his love, his power known and experienced by others.  However, this stage is sometimes fraught with severe challenges because our background around “missional” has sometimes been so pre-packaged and programmed that we are challenged to grasp the unique and fresh ways that Jesus wants to make himself known through us.  This is especially true for those whose spiritual gifts do not seem to fit into the “missional” spectrum.  However, for those who are more apostolic and evangelistic in gifting, this stage often leads to an entirely new excitement and fervor for taking the “real Jesus” into the streets, neighborhoods, and unreached segments of the world.  For those who have NOT seen themselves as “missional,” (in our previous church experiences) this stage can lead to some exciting discoveries of how God wants to embody himself uniquely through each of us (see stage #5).

(Side-note: It has been my experience that each of these stages may lead to changes in one’s own worship community and gathering.  For example, stage 4 may literally lead to someone moving geographically in order to better fulfill his/her calling.  Or, we may find that our own transformation draws us to connect with different people than when we started—or even NO people for a season as we become re-oriented.)

5. Fresh discovery of our own passions, spiritual gifts, and calling.  As we are freed up from church/religious boxes, we are able to more thoroughly discover our uniqueness in the way that God shaped us (passions, gifts, and calling) leading to a new understanding of how he wants to work in and through our lives.  I believe that, in some ways, this stage may lead to the most significant impact on the world as Christ’s church is renewed to walk in all of her splendor according to the unique way that each person is shaped.  This may be considered a “convergent stage,” a coming together of several stages at once: our experience of re-booting to Jesus, our missional excitement about seeing the “real Jesus” shared among our neighbors, friends, and world, and our discovery of how we are uniquely created and gifted to serve and embody Jesus.

(A second side-note: transformational journeys are perilous in that they may lead to new directions in our life that we never imagined.  My wife and I are spending much of our time traveling to developing countries which has come directly out of these converging stages.  Of course, this process will lead in different directions for different people, but it should be noted that transformation always asks us to let go of our own life and allow Jesus to re-shape it.)

6. Integration of an organic, fruitful lifestyle with organic gatherings that support it.  This is simply to re-iterate that gatherings may change as our life and lifestyle shift and that they ultimately support, synergistically, what God is doing through us as we experience stage #7

7. Our kingdom influence spreads and even becomes reproductive in its impact.  Since organic life grows and reproduces, we will discover the life that God has shaped in us not only influences others but becomes a living, reproducing influence.  For apostolic workers in unreached segments, this can lead to church planting movements.  Although our callings and influence may differ from this (and from one another) I do believe that similar types of reproductive fruitfulness can and will occur as we walk out this process of re-discovery of life in Jesus.  Ultimately, it is a transformational process that we are on.  As we are fully renewed in Jesus and he draws out of us who we really are, the Spirit’s influence through us becomes more and more dynamic, natural, compelling, and living (i.e. reproductive in influence).

Please let me know how you relate (or don’t relate) to these stages!

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Simple Church: Global & Generational Movement

After the last post concerning the House Church Movement in China, I ran across this article at World Mission Impact:

“200 Christian leaders from 40 nations met in New Delhi, India, Nov 11-14th, 2009, to explore the scope and significance of house-based discipling communities and emerging house church movements worldwide. Known best from the history of the underground house churches in China that report by now an estimated 100 million members, a similar phenomenon has emerged in the last 15 years in numerous nations outside of China. Conference reports indicate that, from very small beginnings, in many nations fairly sizeable house church movements have emerged, including on the continents of Africa and Latin America.”

Other Sources: Joel News and Wolfgang Simson

God will use many different ways to reach the nations.  However, there seems to be a momentum growing in the House/Simple/Organic Church around the world.  There is also a shift in evangelism, discipleship and Church Planting  to a Kingdom focus with a change from sharing the Gospel to build churches to sharing the Gospel to build the Kingdom.  This is causing the Church to be more relational and decentralizing the Church and its leadership by encouraging all members of the body of Christ to function in their gifts.

The House Church Movement is bringing the Church into a natural flow and rhythm of people’s lives.  Two things seem to be affecting this change and it’s growing momentum: 1. The shift from planting a Church to planting multiple churches and… 2.The decentralizing of hierarchical leadership to a Kingdom focused leadership that is recognizing all members of the body as equals by submit to one another based on their gifts and functions not titles of spiritual superiority.  This is becoming more and more attractive to those in their 20’s and 30’s, who think more globally.

Previous generations have thrown stones at the children of the digital age as escaping relational connection and developing pseudo-relationships through the internet and cell phones.  However, I believe the opposite is true.  This generation sees itself as a part of a global community and believes it can affect global change.  They are utilizing the tools of their generation to reach around the world.  I believe this has made them relational in a global community rather than just a local community. 

We need to embrace the zeal of our youth while our youth need to embrace and appreciate their father’s in the faith.  We must encourage the House Church movement while not dismissing what God has been and still is doing through the Traditional Church.  God always reveals new tools for each new generation.   However, these are not replacements.

Each generation of leaders has to deal with insecurity and legitimacy.  We need to embrace what God is giving us and what He wants to do through us without delegitimizing what God has done in and through others in order to feel secure about what God is doing through us.  God will not honor sons who do not honor their fathers.  Instead, He wants the fathers to turn to the sons and the sons to their fathers.  Unless we get this, we will bring immaturity into the next generation of the Church.  As my father taught me:

“You cannot be a father unless you first know what it means to be a son.”  John W. Hobbs

Simple Church: House Church in China

As I sit here in a little coffee shop in Wilmington, NC and reflecting on the last details to finish today for the Christmas Gathering of our House Church tomorrow evening, I am struck with a humbled sense of gratitude.  In all the business and planning we do for our churches in the West, we can lose sight or maybe never see the essence of what church really is.  We can so easily take the Church for granted when caught up in all that we do to run and maintain our traditional Church Organizations; with all the meetings, boards, committees, programs, classes, politics, and facility needs.   

According to the AP reported on November 26, 2009, “A court in northern China has sentenced five leaders of an unauthorized Protestant church to prison terms of up to seven years on charges including illegal assembly, rights groups reported Thursday.”  Among those arrested were the Pastor, his wife and three other church members.  The AP goes on to say, “The sentences are among the harshest in recent years for members of so-called “house churches” — congregations that refuse to register and accept the authority of the government’s Religious Affairs Bureau.” 

A few weeks ago I was sitting in our church gathering, a group of about 20-30 people circled up in a large room off the back of our home.  Looking around the room I was thinking about this story of a pastor and his wife who met just like we were that morning but knowing they were risking their freedom, maybe their lives and yet this did not deter them.  They were doing exactly what we were that morning; singing, reading, praying, studying, laughing, eating, loving, sharing our stories- our lives with each other, and meeting each other’s needs.  However, we were risking nothing that the death of pride wouldn’t fix.  They were risking everything.  It’s amazing how the thought of that can refocus you on what is really important and not, what the church is and not.  It makes you grateful.

According to a study done by the Barna Group, when a Chinese House Church pastor or leader is arrested or killed, the house church may disband, but out of it will form 5 other House Churches. This may explain the latest statistics reported on an article from the Seattle P-I on October 3, 2008:

Zhao Xiao, a former Communist Party official and convert to Christianity, smiles over a cup of tea and says he thinks there are up to 130 million Christians in China. This is far larger than previous estimates.  The government says there are 21 million (16 million Protestants, 5 million Catholics). Unofficial figures, such as one given by the Center for the Study of Global Christianity in Massachusetts, put the number at about 70 million.  But Zhao is not alone in his reckoning. A study of China by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, an American think tank, says indirect survey evidence suggests many unaffiliated Christians are not in the official figures.  And according to China Aid Association, a Texas-based lobby group, the director of the government body that supervises all religions in China, said privately that the figure was indeed as much as 130 million in early 2008.  If so, it would mean China contains more Christians than Communists (party membership is 74 million) and there may be more active Christians in China than in any other country.  In 1949, when the Communists took power, less than 1 percent of the population had been baptized, most of them Catholics. Now the largest, fastest-growing number of Christians belong to Protestant “house churches.”

It is clear that this incredible growth of disciples is a result of the unauthorized and uncounted House Church Movement under great persecution.  This has also served to keep Christians in House Churches focused on what is important and not hindered by Western consumer necessities.  Without our baggage, the House Churches in China have become relational not religious, flexible not rigid, creative not stagnate, inclusive not exclusive, adaptable not compromising, disciple building not building churches and giving not getting.  They are not worried about getting their church name out there.  The only name they are concerned with promoting is Jesus.  What if our Western  Pastors, Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and Churches were more concerned with making the name of Jesus famous than the name on the sign out front.

I am not throwing stones.  I’ve been there.  This is not to say that House Churches are where it’s at or what God is doing now.  It’s really not about leaders, traditional churches, buildings, money or programs.  It’s about evaluating what we think and do as the Church and refocus on what is true and really necessary to be the Church.  It’s about shedding unnecessary baggage.  It’s about seeing through God’s eyes, getting His heart and being led by the Holy Spirit no matter what the cost, even if the cost is how we’ve always done it.  It’s about Jesus and people – all else is negotiable and subject to change.

It about being grateful.

Simple Church – putting a number on it…

Ever feel like you are the only one?

Simple Church, Organic Church or House Church is no longer thought of as some fringe, obscure or illegitimate expression of the Church made up of hippies and those too strange to belong to traditional christian churches.  Let me take that back… some of us are strange.  However, there is a longing amongst many believers today for something more than the status quo, more than church attendance.  There is a growing desire to not change the structure of church but rather be changed people.  This is leading to a shift in how believers meet and gather.  It’s less about the building and more about the relationships and Christ being the center of communal life. 

So is this a passing fad?  It doesn’t seem so.  By the growing numbers it’s becoming a movement – a Jesus movement and is gaining acceptance even among mainstream traditional and denominational churches who are not only embracing it as legitimate but who themselves are now planting Simple Churches.

Give it to me. What’s the number?

One of Christianity’s most influential leaders, George Barna, who has both been a part of the movement for many years and has done extensive research share some interesting facts.  This is a recent article written by the Barna Group entitled “How many people really attend a House Church?”.  CLICK HERE

Simple Church video…

This is a great video about the Simple Church movement by House2House featuring a number of leaders and Simple Church practitioners.

The Vision and The Journey…

the journeyNot all journeys begin with a vision, but every vision is the beginning of a journey. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I am talking about something that originated from the heart of God, not the desires of man.  We have all felt strong desires and placing them in beautifully crafted words and called them a vision.  Church leaders are notorious for this , the proof being captured in many churches’ three part vision statements.  I’m not slamming on the desires of Godly men who want to do good things, but there is a big difference between the visions of men to do Godly things and the visions from God that only He can give and fulfill. 

“That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  John 3:6

God fulfills His visions through us and by the resources He supplies.  We cannot see or understand the full scope of this kind of vision.  If we did, we would run away from it like Jonah or run right out thinking we can fulfill God’s vision.  A true vision from God frightens you and captures you at the same time.  You don’t go looking for it, it finds you.

It was a typical Sunday service.  We were going through the same routine we go through every Sunday.  As we came to our time of worship, I was engaged as I usually am somewhere between sorting out the last thoughts of the sermon I am about to deliver and half listening for any last minute promptings from the Holy Spirit and trying to worship.  All of a sudden I am arrested by God with a vision.  I am engulfed by what I see in the Spirit as everything in the natural fades into the backdrop till I am only aware of God and what He’s showing me.  And, this is all I see…

I was taken outside of our Church building as I watched a storm appear.  It was sudden with no time to prepare.  You could not see the storm, only it’s effects.  It was like seeing one of those storm stories about a hurricane or tornado on the Discovery Channel.  The power of the wind began to tear the building apart starting with the shingles.  Piece by piece the building tore apart, shingles, plywood, timbers and bricks, til all that was left was the concrete slab foundation.  Then as quickly as the church was torn apart and stripped away, God began to build it back.  Suddenly, I found myself back standing in our sanctuary singing our last song if worship.

I tried quickly to compose myself.  What now?  I sensed in my spirit that God was about to do what I saw, but I had no idea what that meant.  As I said before, it frightened me and captured me.  I heard the Lord say, “surrender.”

I made my way up front and stood before the people God had been so gracious to bring together as our church.  I felt compelled to share what I saw and what God said to me.  When I was done sharing the vision, I said to the church that I sensed God telling us to surrender, that if He needed to strip anything away, we needed to surrender and let Him.  If I needed to go, the building needed to go, any programs, any people, finances, ideologies about ministry or personal issues, then we needed to surrender and let Him.   I asked everyone to pray with me a prayer of consecration.

What came next, I would not have expected.  And, so the journey began…

Come along with me.

Changes, changes, changes….

Life is an incredible journey and it is easy to lose sight of it if we only focus on the moment.  Some moments in life can be paralyzing if we let them.  Those of you who have done much flying have been stuck in a city or airport when you needed to be somewhere else.  It’s a layover, not your destination.  None of us decide to permanently stay there.  However, we are there.  We make the best of it, maybe even find a way to enjoy it, knowing it’s a journey not the destination.  We have to learn to enjoy the journey which means embracing changes.

Our Church has gone through many changes over the past 3+ years.  These changes have reshaped and reoriented who we are and what we look like.  There have been many moments in this journey that could have been paralyzing and maybe for a season even were.  But weathering and savoring the good and bad continue to shape us for God’s plan – a people who genuinely reflect Him and reveal Him.

I am not the same nor is our church the same but what we are changing into is something glorious.  This blog and our church blog will begin to reflect the changes we are going through.  Tomorrow I am going to share a vision God showed me 3 years ago that has shaken everything in my life. (Vision: not something I desired or dreamed up, but an actual, literal vision from God.)  This vision was the beginning of a journey.

Have you ever seen a literal vision?  What did you see?