If you’ve made it this far in my journey through radical house church then I want to thank you for exploring this topic with me. This subject is one of my great passions in life. I feel honored to share it with you and hope this series has provided a greater understanding into what is different with radical house church as well as a little insight as to how we in the movement arrive at our conclusions.
In this final post I will share what compels me to participate in radical house church as well as dispel some of the utopian expectations that can arise when one catches the vision.
THE BENEFITS OF TRADITIONAL CHURCH AND ITS DECLINE
Allow me to be clear. I’m not throwing the traditional church under the bus. There are so many awesome things that are by-products of the traditional church:
-Much can be accomplished using the top/down organization style of the traditional church: food drives, outreach to homeless, ministry to shut-ins and the elderly, distribution of financial aid to individuals and families going through rough times, mission trips, kids and youth activities, and so on. There is no doubt, stuff can get done.
-Many traditional church communities stay in existence for decades or longer which brings a certain level of peace in terms of continuity and community stability.
-Childcare is standardized and usually resolved with ease.
-doctrinal issues are usually non-arguments because one, those issues are centralized to leadership alone, and two, they are presented as indisputable fact and not as topical points for the Body consider and give input.
-Teaching and instruction is generously available through pulpit preaching, adult educational classes, and Sunday school.
-Folks with busy and hectic schedules find relief within the traditional format: no prep needed, no pressure to participate in the service, little to no energy needing to be expended, free child care, etc.
-The traditional church can also be inviting for unbelievers and for those looking for a zero-entry point into the Christian pool. This is accomplished though embracing modern styles of worship music, trendy decor, up-lighting effects, casual dress, watered down preaching, no commitment, be a fly on the wall, etc.
-And there is no question that some people have real life changing encounters with God and community in traditional church.
Even though I have issues with the format by which traditional church is done I am still very thankful that they exist. I applaud their work and share in their eager desire to further the Kingdom of God.
But despite some of their successes there are many who are leaving the traditional church. Google the phrases “mass exodus of the church”, or “America’s decline of the church” and you’ll come up with plenty of statistics and commentaries that reveal that the American church, both Catholics and Protestants, are losing attendees in droves – especially among millennials. Researchers love to argue the exact causation of this decline: scandal among priests, outdated music/meeting styles, controversies over whether science is incompatible with certain teachings of the faith, lack of evangelizing, Christian geocentricity, positions on LGTBQ issues, rise of independent thought and the “me” generation, decline in the nuclear family, cultural busyness and loss of local community connectedness, etc.
Some see the attendance decline in the traditional churches as a silent hemorrhaging disaster. Perhaps that’s true, but I can also see it as a great opportunity for radical house churches to thrive. Christianity wasn’t founded on a Sunday transactional event that took place behind the four walls of the institutional church. It was established in small groups of people, meeting house to house and in the community, where people through faith in Jesus reflected the love of God to one another. The church has always been an underground movement. The decline of American church attendance in fact may not be an epidemic needing to be cured. It might just be the thing that Christianity needs to help return it to is original and natural structure.
A CASE FOR RADICAL HOUSE CHURCH
The thing that compels me the most about radical house church is that its format allows the life of the Lord to flow out of you. One of my favorite scripture verses is John 7:38-39:
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water. But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive…” ASV Translation.
When I think of this verse I can’t help but imagining the fullness of the Spirit of Christ flowing out from each member, and specifically flowing out during the meeting. When I visualize this I see it in such a way that the living water isn’t just a little trickle of a river, but a gushing forth from all over the place! It’s flow is so heavy, and at so much volume, that everyone around gets absolutely drenched in the Spirit. The presence of the Spirit of God is so heavy, and the life being shared from one to another is so rich, that it becomes hard to leave the meeting. You just want to sit there and soak in God’s love.
In the traditional church model it is the pastor alone who is trying to let his living water fill up everyone else in the room. But that’s not what this verse in John says will happen. It says that whoever believes in me will have this river flow out of them. And that’s what I Corinthians 14 describes happening in the early church meetings. So, all Christians who gather together should be experiencing this flow. A flow where the living water is moving from in-to-out, from one believer to another, and then out into the world. In traditional church almost all of the flow is uni-directional from the pulpit. Church leaders are constantly trying to fill us up rather than discipling us and giving us opportunity to let the Lord spring forth. When I realized that the format of traditional church doesn’t facilitate or encourage a healthy flow I knew it was time to move beyond the confines of the institution.
If that resonates with you then I would recommend you explore radical house church. And even though some people out there may accuse you of being in revolt of God’s “holy ordained church tradition” be encouraged to know that there is a strong Biblical argument, historical precedent, and many others like you that are seeking out the same thing.
A BAD TASTE IN MY MOUTH
When I was first turned onto the idea of radical house church in 2006 it didn’t take long for me to develop a sour attitude for traditional church. This grew into an unhealthy disdain and arrogance. If I found myself in a conversation with someone who went to Sunday church I would be quick to criticize and often polarize the traditional church from the house church, subtly presenting my arguments in a way as if my conclusions were alone right and that any other church format was wrong and not Biblical. Looking back I can see that I was echoing the same mantra that cults and splintered denominations take up, but just in the context of community: only we in the radical house church are walking in Gods true revelation of church community. Everyone else is in the dark. It is very easy to fall into pride – and we Christians can be the worst purveyors of it.
As I dove deeper into house church I found this same attitude with its leaders and supporters. The whiffs of arrogance in some parts of the movement are at times overwhelming. Sadly, I have to say that I was also a foul scent among that odor as well. Then I caught a whiff of myself and found out that I stank just as much as the leaders.
It took a figurative slap in my face to see my arrogance. But I needed it. And thankfully it brought about a real change in my approach to sharing my passion.
A FRESH AND POSITIVE OUTLOOK
What I have learned is that the format for a church service serves only as a vehicle. The vehicle is only there to enable us to arrive at a destination. Our destination is to have an intimate relationship with God and His family. And my focus, to which I feel is the Lord’s focus as well, is on the destination, not the method that takes you there. A worship method doesn’t ensure a deeper walk with God. It might help facilitate it, but there are no guarantees.
I continue to believe that the vehicle of radical house church provides the best conditions to reach that destination. And through my studies I see radical house church as the most accurate model for church communities to emulate. However, I no longer see the issue in black and white, or right verses wrong.
Instead of trying to discourage someone because I think that they might be in the wrong vehicle I now prefer to encourage people to continue to seek out the destination, regardless of the vehicle. Are you in a traditional church? Great!! Tell me all about it! Tell about your life with Jesus! Share with me what you have learned. Testify to what He has done. Let’s celebrate His life together right now as we chat!
I find that in those moments we can actually share the life of Jesus with each other without even having to bring up any house church rhetoric. We can enter into a fellowship with the Lord, be encouraged, speak into each other’s lives, and share in many of the dynamics that radical house church brings without even broaching the topic. I may not be able to get as deep with someone in this setting as maybe I could with someone who agrees with me on house church, but as least our time together is spent focusing on the destination, who is Jesus, and making some headway toward expressing Him rather than just trying to intellectually convince someone to agree with me.
Perhaps, as these relationships develop, there will be a place to share my excitement around radical house church. But I’ve learned that I don’t need to lead with that or subvert in order to mutually share our faith. And if an individual is perfectly content with where they are at in traditional church, growing, seeing fruit, and becoming more like Jesus, who am I to say that they are not exactly where God wants them at? Perhaps God has them right where they need to be during this segment of their life. If God can use a donkey to speak to someone as he did in Numbers 22 then I’m sure that God can use an earthly inspired model of traditional church, or any other model for that means, to accomplish His purposes. God may have a preferred box to operate in, but that doesn’t exclude Him operating in other boxes.
BURSTING THE BUBBLE
So far I’ve painted a pretty glossy view of radical house church. The way I’ve presented it has neglected to tell the other side of the story. I will elaborate on some of the specific issues my family encountered on this journey in another post called “My First Attempts at House Church and the Desert”. But as I often like to do before I close out a post, I’ll throw out a teaser.
Yes, the radical house church can be a wonderful format for receiving and expressing Jesus among each other. But as a acquaintance of mine once said, “it’s not all rainbows and butterflies”. Going deeper in community with one another is harder than it looks.
-Finding people who want to fully embrace a lifestyle where radical house church can thrive can be difficult to find. Yes, you can Google some search results, find a particular house church leader’s website, sign up and be introduced to groups in your area that they have started, but be advised not all house churches are created equal. There are just as many doctrinal splinters of house churches as there are in traditional churches. Some house churches are Calvinists, some are Arminian, some are Sabbatarians and some are charismatic. Some claim that they embrace all Christian doctrinal backgrounds and still some others claim that they don’t have any doctrinal persuasion that they lead from. A few I’ve found even claim that they don’t have leaders in their movement and put this forth by omitting names and profiles of their leadership on their websites. So even though house church is a relatively small community there is a deep ocean of diversity to wade through. And if you are not careful you will get misled, let down, or burned.
-Then, unless you are coming from the same denominational background, you might have to deal with doctrinal disagreements with those in your community. When you have an open format, and everyone is allowed to share, you find out that not everyone has come to the same spiritual conclusions as you. Be prepared to work out issues about God’s sovereignty, healing, speaking in tongues, role of leaders, prayer, suffering, evangelism, and even the purpose of the church. It can get ugly.
-Everyone has a slightly different idea of what a house church is and how it should function. So, there’s always a push and pull from people trying to nudge the community in the direction they think it should go or what it should look like.
-Dropping the idea of a centralized pastor or presiding leader sounds good, but in practice dropping the hierarchical leadership is a hard pattern to break out of. Groups can default to stronger personalities and those folk can end up leading anyways – then you’re just back to doing the traditional church just in a home setting.
-You will have to come up with your own way to address childcare or how to/or not integrate children into your meetings.
-Lastly, one of the pillars that radical house church builds its success upon is that everyone is actively seeking God during the week on their own. This is so that when you come together as a body you are in tune with the Spirit’s leading and potentially have something to share. The problem with this is that often times the minutiae of day-to-day life gets in the way and seeking God individually gets unintentionally moved to the back burner. Yes, everyone can share in this open format, and we trust the Lord to be leading among us, but if our sensitivity to the Spirit has has been numbed out by the cares and troubles of the world then the meeting dynamics will directly suffer.
-There are natural dry seasons resulting in less than glamorous meetings. During these meetings it feels like nothing is clicking and the process is laborious. Sometimes those dry periods can last weeks or months. The group may start talking about implementing a chapter by chapter bible study or reading a book together to fend off the awkwardness.
So if you are ready to jump on the radical church bandwagon you might want to realign your expectations a little before you do so. It can be a slow, arduous, and even a painful process. The farther you go relationally with people you really start to realize the extent to how broken we all are as flawed human beings. Sorry to burst the bubble.
Bottom line: manage your expectations, there are just as many problems and obstacles to overcome in the radical house church as there are in any other church format.
WE ARE STILL COMPELLED
With all the obstacles why then are there people like me who are compelled to press on and continue to seek and practice radical house church?
It’s very similar to the red pill/green pill example from the movie, “The Matrix”. If you have seen the three movies then you’ll know the analogy immediately.
Taking the green pill of radical house church doesn’t in any way mean that life is going to get easier, or that you won’t have complaints or dissatisfaction as you may have had with traditional church. However, the green pill will expose you to a whole different approach to experiencing God within your meetings.
When radical house church meetings are on and clicking, and you can see the Spirit of God spontaneously linking the meeting time together through song, testimony, spiritual gifts, prayer, etc., it can be a fiery contagious experience! You stand back and say, “Holy cow, that was awesome!”, and you realize you’ve never had an experience quite like it compared to when you used to sit in a pew. You recognize God’s presence in your midst, His love for His Bride, and are in no small way are encouraged. At least that has been my experience.
And despite all of the problems the green pill brings you continue on in your quest to experience God in this awesome way – like the way a golfer keeps trying to find that perfect swing that gave him his first hole-in-one, or like surfer trying to re-catch another big wave, or a when a teacher finds the joy of connecting with that one student who’s been a tough egg to crack. These moments are precious and these are what keep you coming back. I’ve had these moments in traditional church, but I’ve had many many more of them in radical house church. That is why we press on.
IS RADICAL HOUSE CHURCH FOR ME?
Are you greatly encouraged when you attend a service? Do you leave feeling energized and charged? Are your passions for the Lord stirred up after Sunday morning? Are you being challenged in your faith to go further? Do you feel like Jesus is being well expressed during your meetings? Are you feeling the life of the Lord flowing out of you?
If you answer yes then you might be right where you need to be.
But if you answer no, then a radical house church might be another valid option to explore. Talk to God about it. Seek Him out. Pray and hear from Him. And at the end just do what He is telling you to do. By all means, don’t be guilted or pressured into doing anything. You should go out with joy and be led with peace (Isaiah 55:12). Read some books on the subject, and talk to others about house church and see what happens.
It’s always going to be easier to continue to sit as a spectator Sunday after Sunday. It’s easier to consume material that is produced for you. It feels safer, comfortable, normal, and you don’t have to step out where there is a possibility to fail. The traditional church makes it so effortless – all you have to do is show up. But radical house church is like going to a gym. You are going to have to put some effort into it to see any results. However, the payoffs could be huge!
There’s no guarantee that you will come to experience a deeper Christian life in a radical house church. No one can promise you that the journey will pay off in the long term either. But, it is equally possible that you will find yourself in a setting, where I and many others like me do, where you feel more at home with your brothers and sisters in faith, are better enabled to let the Spirit flow out of you, and are experiencing a greater tangibility of Jesus among the meeting.
This is the hope of radical house church. The adventure awaits!
*As always, I’d love to hear what’s on your mind so please drop your thoughts in the comment section below!