Category Archives: Church

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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Insecurity in Church Movements…

Can’t we all just get along!  This expresses how I feel so many times when I read what people write about the church and others get their two cents worth in how they think.  I am all for a free … Continue reading

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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.

Simple Church: The mystery of God and the Beauty of the Journey…

This is a great post by Katie Driver about the adventure of Simple/Organic Church.  It can also be found at CMA Resources

The Journey of Discovery, by Katie Driver

Backseat driverI have a lot of conversations with people who are struggling with the blind adventure of the simple, organic and missional church life.
I hear things like; ” I don’t really know what to do!”, “I wish someone could show me how this works!”, “I tried that/that, and it didn’t work so what’s wrong?”, “What is this supposed to look like?”, “Is there a manual or something I can follow?”, “Can you give me a blueprint to work from so I know what I’m supposed to do?”

I empathize with these questions. These are real struggles from hearts that want to “do it right” and have been trained to follow models, leaders, organizations, and manuals so that what they do is “successful” and “correct”. I resist the tendency, which is so easy for me, to tell them what to do. Instead, we start talking about what they are learning in the process, what their goals are for living this organic simple life in Christ, what the Scriptures say we should esteem, and that it is okay to try different things and even fail a few times in the process.

God is certainly capable to get us where we need to be, when we need to be there, with all that we need in the process. The bottom line is; He is faithful.
Have you ever heard that saying of on “a need to know basis” ? I think that fits well with His leading of us. He takes us one step at a time. He gives us what we need to know and understand when we need it to lead us forward in faith. He also lets us struggle.

Most of us don’t want to hear that we learn best by what we struggle with and figure out on our own. We also don’t like to hear that failure is a better teacher than our successes. In fact, I recently read a medical study that concluded that we actually grow more brain cells when we fail! How’s that for “organically” rewarding our failures? What incredible Grace!

I believe, God is taking us each on our own wonderful, unique and unmapped “Journey’s of Discovery”. That is what the journey west, of the explorers Lewis and Clark’s into the then unknown, was called.

For those of us who admit to being ” a Trekkie”, you’ll be familiar with the saying; “of boldly going where no man has gone before”. I like to use the Star Trek motto to illustrate what the journey in the lifestyle of simple, organic, missional church is like. No manuals, no maps to follow, no clear guidelines and directions (yet,… just give it a few more years and the experts will have the ‘5 steps to simple church success’ available soon at your local bookstore….sorry, my cynicism again).

We do have some great folks out there who are sharing their own journeys of what they are learning and experiencing. Giving us some understanding of what this whole simple lifestyle is all about. Lewis and Clark types who, are on the “Journey of Discovery”, just like the rest of us, but are a little further along on their expedition and keeping great journals.

Tom and I have been doing something different this summer. We have been taking short three or four day “mini” vacations on the motorcycle, but we’ve been doing it in a totally new way from how we have done it before.

In past years we have had a general plan to our vacations. Not completely, but we would have an idea of where we were going, where the scenic spots were, where the camping areas and the places available to us for lodging, eating, getting gas, etc would be. We would, once in a while, drive off the planned course and see what we could discover, but that was the exception. Most of the time we just followed the mapped course we’d laid out together in the kitchen over a couple of nights.
In these vacation expeditions we’d also have a definite goal and agenda of what we wanted to see, experience and accomplish. We don’t have the name “driver” for nothing, and some days the only goal seemed to be how many miles we could push through in a day!

This summer however, has been different.

Instead of loading up the car and luggage carrier with all our necessities for camping, our suitcases full of “stuff” that we’d maybe use, coolers packed with food and drink, we packed small bags that fit into the limited spaces on the motorcycle. Usually not more than a change of clothes, our rain gear, a couple bottles of water, basic toiletries, a bible and extra jacket. We’d take along a map, but only for the sake of getting us back on track if we got disoriented and lost out on the back roads of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

We load up and take off in a matter of minutes (verses hours), heading out of the city, in the general direction we wanted to go. We would find some road unknown to us and take it, just to see where it would lead. Often times it would lead to some great and awesome place that we would never of found on our own. Sometimes we would find ourselves at a dead end, where we would have to turn around and go back a bit until we found another road and take that for a while. We found some incredible places and experiences that made us look forward to what new things we’d discover tomorrow! We felt alive and revived. Resulting in thankfulness for all that we saw God bless our journey with each day. A beautiful road, a person to encourage or pray for, finding new friends in towns we’d never of known, creating memories and special times of enjoying life together in the goodness of God. It was simple (unencumbered and portable), organic (let’s see what unfolds naturally in the process) and missional (what other lives can we bring some aspect of the nature of Christ to today in our encounters).

When Lewis and Clark made their journey into the western wilderness some two hundred years ago, they went not knowing what they would encounter with each day and decision of direction. Sometimes, the river they travelled just took them along it’s natural path and when that was no longer possible, they found their way through mountain passes and vast prairies with sometimes the help of those native to the area. They recorded information, observations and drew pictures of what they were discovering and wrote it in journals for those who would be following in the future. Even though this would be the beginning of the westward movement of settlement, each of the pioneers soon to head west on that journey still had to discover, on their own with just a few journal notes of information and helps, the path to where they would eventually settle.

Tom and I driving along this summer on the unknown back roads of MN and WI, not knowing where we would eventually end up that night was exciting, rewarding, adventurous, fun, a bit unnerving, tiring and stressful at times. All of the above and more! I wouldn’t give up one moment of it.

The simple organic and missional church life gives us no GPS, maps and instructional directions. Instead, we have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in the direction we are to go. We get to learn how to follow Him in a dependent and intimate way. When He says; this is the way, we go that way. We learn to have ears that hear. We learn to discover, on our own with Him, the unique adventure that Jesus has planned for us to experience more of Him and what He has in store of us while we walk this side of heaven. To know Him, and walk daily in an intimacy that is fresh, alive, exciting and dependent. We have the ultimate “journal”, the Word, that has all that we need pertaining to life and godliness. We have the journals of others on similar journey’s that can encourage and aid us, but in the end, we find our own Journey of Discovery with the Author of it all!

In the vernacular of motorcycle trekking………….”enjoy the ride”!

From Katie Driver’s Blog, Backseat Driver