Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Pitfalls of Organic Church (Part 6)

Rotate Locations Early and Often.

For the first 4 years of our house church life, our family hosted every meeting together. That’s twice a week for four years! Today we only host twice a month (on Sundays) and other families take turns hosting in their homes the other weekends.

The reason we decided to rotate our meetings wasn’t because we felt burnt out, however. Not at all. In fact, we really love hosting the house church in our home and it’s very convenient for the kids on our street to join us on those Sundays, which makes it extra special for us. So, why did we decide to rotate our Sunday morning meetings? Well, it all started with a trip to Alaska. At least, an imaginary one.

As I’ve already mentioned, our house church group has been quite large for some time now. Over the last few years I’ve been pretty vocal about the fact that our group was too big and I really felt that there were plenty of mature people in our group who were more than capable of hosting and even leading a house church group in their own home. However, after a series of conversations and meetings with different people, what I learned was that none of those people saw themselves as ready, equipped or capable of doing this.

My epiphany came one evening when one of our brothers in the group asked everyone else this question: “If Keith and Wendy suddenly moved to Alaska next month, how many of you would even continue to meet together as a church every week?” To my surprise, and heartbreak, no one said that they would continue to meet together without our direct leadership in the group.

I think it was at this time that I recalled the words of wisdom shared by my friend Alan Knox who said that any church that cannot continue to function without the direct leadership of the leader isn’t a church under the headship of Christ. (Or something like that. I share this exact quote in my book, “This Is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended”).

So, right then and there Wendy and I knew that we had failed to make disciples of the people in our house church. We wanted them to understand that they were all following Jesus – not us - and that He had equipped all of them to be the Church, and to be practicing members of the priesthood of Christ. That’s when we started asking everyone in the group to step up and to start taking some of the responsibilities away from us and to start owning the group themselves. Sharing the weekly hosting duties was just one of the things we started to intentionally give away to the group. We also started not showing up to these meetings at all on occasion to underscore the reality that they could be the Church without any help from us at all.

The good news is that, about a year later, we asked some of these same people that question again about our mythical trip to Alaska and every one of them said that they would most definitely continue to meet with the house church family even if we were not there. I have to believe that hosting the house church meetings in different people’s homes, and allowing everyone to experience the meeting apart from us made a difference. People got to see that there was nothing especially holy about our den, or about us as leaders, and that they were all called by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be the Body of Christ no matter where they gathered or who was in the room – or not.


Monday, May 30, 2011

The Pitfalls of Organic Church (Part 5)

Practice Brutal Honesty and Shocking Truth. (No masks allowed)

One of the things I’ve loved the most about house church is that the home setting allows people to be themselves and communicate with one another without fear. At least, as long as you create an environment where people feel safe, that is. When people know that they can share doubts, fears, failures, and inconsistencies without being jumped on, attacked, treated differently, judged or pitied, they will eventually start to tell you the painful truth about themselves. This is where organic church really starts to get interesting.

Frankly, I have not been the first person to lead this trend in our house church family, but thankfully we’ve been blessed with a few people who just will not sit still for bullsh*t – and I love them for this.

One gentleman is constantly telling us how he doubts his faith or how he’s not sure he really loves Jesus the way he should. This sort of thing makes most of us uncomfortable, and we will often spend some time trying to “fix” this person, but really this isn’t why the person is sharing the truth with us. It’s simply because he needs to speak the truth and he needs to know that there are people who are willing to hear it from him and still love him just the same.

I can remember leading a home group in our previous traditional church setting. Everyone in that group admitted that we didn’t want to wear any masks. But in practice we all kept ours on and waiting for the person next to us to go first. Sadly, none of us really ever did. It wasn’t until we got to the house church level that people felt comfortable admitting their sin, their weakness, their inadequacy, their fears, their doubts, their lack of faith, and their pain.

Several of my friends have come through the Twelve Step program at Alcoholics Anonymous, and from the conversations we’ve had about these kinds of meetings I can see that they’ve been practicing this kind of honesty for long, long time. I think I’d love to go with some of my friends when they go to their next meetings just so I can see for myself what a totally honest and open meeting is really like. This is how all of us should come together as a Body each week; we should show up admitting that we are weak and that we need help; we should confess to one another often just how screwed up and helpless we are to overcome our sins on our own; we should listen to one another without offering unsolicited advice and try to find ourselves in the other person’s story without thinking of ourselves as being better or superior to them in any way.

If your group is still in the habit of pretending to have it all together, I must humbly suggest that you need to be the one to go first and take off your mask. Or, talk with your house church family about why your group doesn’t feel safe enough to share what’s really going on in your lives with one another. Ask some hard questions. Maybe even make a game out of it at first and go around the room sharing with one another your biggest doubts about your faith, or the most difficult thing about your walk with Christ. The goal isn’t to bring everyone down, but to take off the mask and get real enough with one another to start building one another up in the faith. We cannot do this if we never admit that we need building up. We cannot heal if we never show each other the wounds. We cannot comfort one another in our suffering is we never let anyone see us weep.

Get real.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Pitfalls of Organic Church (Part 4)

Plan to Multiply into New Groups from Day One.

For a very long time now I’ve been of the opinion that our little house church is just too big. We’ve been hovering at around 28 people or so for the last few years now and this is just too many people to have a healthy and productive organic church, as far as I’m concerned. However, our house church is not a dictatorship, so I don’t get to be the one who decides what we do or when we do it. I try to leave all of that up to God, and so far He’s done a pretty good job of it.

For example, when we first started out our group only met on Thursday evenings. My family got together in our den every Sunday morning and shared together, but everyone else was at their home church on Sundays. After a while I really wanted to draw a line in the sand and force everyone on Thursday evenings to either come with us and commit themselves to us as a church that gathers on Sunday mornings, or hit the road. Luckily, God in his mercy gave me a very wise spouse. Wendy advised me to wait and to pray and see what God wanted to do. She reminded me that Jesus said that He would build His church and that He didn’t really need my help doing it. Of course, if He did I would know it. Until then, we waited and we prayed.

Eventually, without any help from me, someone suggested that we start meeting on Sunday mornings, and suddenly people started calling the Mission their home church.

I share this because it reminds me that God really is in charge of His Church, not me. So, whenever I get antsy about the fact that our house church family feels too big I can remember that God can take care of these things without my intervention.

About a year ago two families left our group to start house church groups of their own. Again, without any help from me, both families decided that God was calling them to leave and start something in their home. Both families independently decided this on the same weekend. One went to Indiana, the other just up the road from us. Neither group asked for our permission but we all certainly gave them our blessing and we prayed over them to send them out.

Still, one thing that I wish I had done differently in our house church family was to communicate from day one to everyone that our hope and our plan was to keep the group small and to plant new house churches out of this one whenever we got too large to function properly as a family of believers. Not necessarily to create a benchmark number of people for this multiplication process, but simply to remind everyone involved that one of our goals as a church is to plant more churches out of this one. How we go about this, and when, is still up to God, but if your group starts out from the beginning with a clear understanding that this multiplication is part of the process, the easier it will be to actually plant new churches out of your group when the time comes.

Thoughts? Please share them in the comments section.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Pitfalls of Organic Church (Part 3)

Let Jesus Be The Leader.

For the longest time, our house church family struggled with the idea of leadership. First, everyone looked to me because they considered me to be the pastor. Eventually I withdrew myself from this title and position and functionally encouraged everyone to step into their gifting and to take spiritual responsibility for one another as members of the priesthood of believers. But still, we weren’t quite sure what it meant for Jesus to be the Head of our Church family.

I think every Christian would affirm the notion that Jesus is the head of their Church. However, in practice, the leader of the church is functionally the senior pastor. Of course, the assumption is that the senior pastor is hearing from Jesus and therefore the Church is being led by Jesus. But, according to Jesus himself, every believer is capable of hearing the His voice and responding to him. So, if all of us are able to hear the voice of Jesus, and if Jesus is capable of speaking to us directly, why would we limit ourselves and allow only one specific person to hear the voice of Jesus on our behalf? Maybe we should all come together and practice listening to Jesus together each time we gather? Maybe Jesus is actually serious about leading us into all truth through the indwelling Holy Spirit? Maybe Jesus really can lead our times of worship, and prayer, and bible study if we actually ask him to? Maybe Jesus is powerful enough to teach us Himself? Maybe He actually wants to direct our time spent in His presence? Maybe Jesus actually does show up whenever two or more are gathered in his name?

If so, it makes a lot of sense for us to collaborate together as an organic body of disciples to surrender ourselves completely to the Lord Jesus Christ and allow Him to speak, and move, and minister, and touch, and encourage, and edify everyone in the room. How? Through us! We are his hands, his feet, and his children. We are filled and gifted by His Holy Spirit. We are empowered and called out to use our gifts to bless our brothers and sisters in the Church. But, it’s not us doing the blessing, it’s actually Jesus doing it as we surrender our will and our lives to His control.

Now, this isn’t easy to do. It will take practice. It will involve praying together as a church family and asking Jesus to not only show up and lead you this way – but to help you as a group to learn how to respond to Him properly.

I can guarantee you that there will be times when someone speaks out of turn. There will be times when someone tramples on the Holy Spirit and does something, or says something, that is off base. Get used to that. But, don’t give up! The more you submit to one another, and to Christ, in this process, the better you will get at learning to hear His voice and respond to His leadership and headship when you come together as a Body.

Have any of you had any experiences like this? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.


Friday, May 27, 2011

The Pitfalls of Organic Church (Part 2)

Draw out the wallflowers and reign in the soap boxers

In a truly new testament house church, no one person (or persons) do all the speaking and teaching. I do know of some organic churches who rely on one person, or sometimes a couple of people, to do all the teaching for them. However, it’s my understanding that everyone in the Body of Christ has the freedom to share with everyone else in the gathering based on all the “one another” verses in the New Testament, and Paul’s admonishment that “when you gather together one of you has a hymn, a tongue, a scripture,” etc.

The challenge with the open share model of house church is that some people (like myself) have no problem talking at length about the Scriptures or their experience with God, while others are more shy or prefer to let others take the spotlight.

As a facilitator in our home church, my role has shifted from being the guy with all the answers to someone who limits themselves to no more than two soap box moments per meeting and spends most of the time trying to allow others to share their gifts as directed by the Holy Spirit.

In short, the less I talk the more opportunity I create for others to share from the heart and operate in their gifting to be a blessing to the rest of us. But, this takes practice and intention, and one of the most important exercises in this process is to start paying attention to those who are not talking. Look around the room and see if someone seems to have something on their mind, but isn’t jumping into the conversation. Sometimes these people just need a little nudge, or an invitation from the group to share what’s on their heart. Often in our group we’ll stop and ask if there’s anyone who wants to share something, especially if they’re someone who hasn’t spoken up in the group yet.

I believe that in every house church group there are those who are naturally teachers, some who are adept at providing color commentary to whatever someone else might share, and then there are those who rarely, if ever, speak, but when they do it’s profound. Do whatever you can to draw out those who tend to hide in the shadows of the room and allow them to share more with everyone else. The more you demonstrate your love for their insight and appreciation of their thoughts and ideas, the more they’ll feel comfortable sharing the next time you gather together.

There may even be times when you need to go privately to one or two individuals who seem to do most of the talking. Ask them to help you involve those who are on the sidelines more. Work together to wait before you speak and allow the uncomfortable silences to be filled by someone other than yourself once in a while. The results will be worth the effort, I believe.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Pitfalls of Organic Church (Part 1)

Break Your Liturgy

Early on in our house church experience we took the opportunity to embrace the boundless freedom of being the church together with our friends. Sometimes we would just eat together and share testimonies, other times we would plan to sit together outside on our patio and create a giant work of art on a shower curtain to express our passion for Jesus.

However, over time, we slowly settled into a more familiar groove that has now become our liturgy. We meet for a meal. We talk and eat. We eventually gather around and sing worship songs together. Then we have our open share time. We discuss the scriptures together. We pray for one another. We share communion. We dismiss. This is our liturgy.

My suggestion is that you do all that you can to upset the apple cart as often as possible in order to remind yourselves that you are free in Christ Jesus. You can meet anywhere – under a tree in the park, in a coffee shop, around the swimming pool, at the beach. You can do anything together – pray for an hour, sing spontaneously, create artwork, let the children lead the meeting, sit quietly and listen to the Holy Spirit, play games together, take turns sharing your testimony, invite an outside teacher to lead you through a book of the Bible, or wash one another’s feet.

Whatever you do, the point is to escape the rut and to embrace the spontaneity of being church together. God always does something amazing whenever we put ourselves in a position where none of us really knows exactly what might happen next. That’s where we’re outside our comfort zones and the unexpected moment can catch us by surprise.

Some of the most memorable and powerfully profound gatherings we’ve ever had have been because we took one of these detours outside our liturgy.

One of the most wonderful things about meeting in your home and sharing life with your friends and family in Christ is that there’s no “right way” or “wrong way” to be the Church together. All of your times together are sacred because Christ is in each of you and discovering Jesus in one another is actually more likely when you’re not going through the familiar motions and rhythms of liturgy.

Step outside your comfort zone. Take a path less travelled and rediscover the thrill and joy of exploring your identity as the Body of Christ off the beaten path. You’ll be glad you did!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Download My New Book: Free!

I'm giving away the eBook (Nook, Kindle, etc.) and PDF versions of my latest book, "This Is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended" with a foreword by Jon Zens.

So far we've given away over 903 copies of the book! I'm so amazed.

Help yourself to my book and if you've got a review you'd like to share please feel free to send it to me and I'll post it over at the book blog (www.WeAreTheTemple.com).



The Pitfalls of Organic Church

My wife and I started an Organic Church in our home about five years ago. It's still the best thing I've ever done in over 20 years with the word "Church" on it, but the process hasn't always been smooth.

After wrapping up a recent blog series, (What's Wrong with Organic Church?), I thought a natural follow-up to that would to talk about the Pitfalls of Organic Church. So, here goes:

*Break your liturgy. Embrace spontaneity and freedom.
*Draw out the wallflowers and reign in the soap boxers.
*Let Jesus be the leader.
*Rotate locations early and often.
*Practice brutal honesty and shocking truth. No masks allowed.
*Plan to multiply into new groups from day one.

I'll take each of these over the next few weeks and write a bit about each one. If you've been participating in an organic or simple church for a while now and you see that I've left some things off my list, please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.

Looking forward to this series.


Saturday, May 21, 2011


I am so overwhelmed with books right now.

Sitting by my bedside is a small avalanche of books I need to read:

Conversational Evangelism by Norman and David Geisler
Revise Us Again by Frank Viola
Letters to the House Church Movement by Rad Zdero
Journeys to Significance by Neil Cole
The Untold Story of the New Testament by Frank Viola
Zero History by William Gibson
The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitehall Smith
Second Variety by Philip K. Dick
War: Four Christian Views edited by Robert G. Clouse


When will find the time to read all of these?


Thursday, May 19, 2011

What’s Wrong with Organic Church? (Part 8)

Too Proud of Ourselves

I’ve saved this one for last because, honestly, it’s probably the one area where I’ve failed the most miserably. It’s also the one area where pretty much every person who embraces simple church has fallen victim to their own excitement – at least once.

When I first discovered the New Testament model of church I was so excited on the one hand (about how plainly the scriptures supported what we were doing) and so angry (that for so long I had been blind to these things) that I had to shout it from the mountaintops – or at least from the top of my blog – for all to hear.

One friend who felt especially insulted and defensive about my overzealous articles told me later – at a lunch meeting where we both did plenty of apologizing to one another – that my rapid fire, non-stop blasting of the traditional church model was so overwhelming for him that he felt that his only recourse was to escalate the discussion to the nuclear option. In effect, I left him no room for concession and my approach was so provoking and ungracious that he couldn’t have a friendly dialog with me over the issue. Hence the need for a make-up lunch meeting where we could both apologize, bury the hatchet and reaffirm our friendship.

I’ve often said that the best way to talk to others about the wonders of the simple church experience is to focus on the blessings, the good fruit that comes from this new testament-inspired ideology. Like bringing warm bread out of the oven, the smell fills the house and everyone stops what they’re doing to say, “Mmm...that smells great! Can I have some of that?”

Sadly, I’ve only recently learned how to apply this philosophy in my writing about organic church. And some people will still find ways to be offended or threatened by my writing no matter what tone I take or how much I attempt to be gracious. Still, as long as I do my part to share the story in love there’s nothing I can do about how people respond.

This is partly why my recent book about the Church, This Is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended, took over 3 years to finish. The first and second drafts were essentially collections of my previous articles on the subject and most of those were intentionally provocative and agitating in their tone. You see, I used to believe that the best way to get your blog noticed, and your articles shared and talked about, was to write the most incendiary and controversial article possible in order to wake people up and shake them into action. In some ways this strategy did work. I did get lots of comments, and I did generate a lot of reaction. But sadly, the only result was that those who already agreed with me felt justified to be just as confrontational as I was, and those who did not agree with me were only pushed further away from any possibility of taking me, or my articles, to heart.

This is why I started my book over from scratch after over 2 years writing, re-writing and editing. I knew that the people I wanted most to read the book and to consider my ideas would never make it past the introduction if I kept such an adversarial tone. So, I painfully scrapped my nearly-completed 250 page draft and started over from the beginning. My hope was to ask potential skeptics to give me some grace and to take a look at some amazing scriptures about what God’s plan for His Church has been from the beginning of time. Even if they didn’t draw the same conclusions as I did, at least it might be possible to show them – as my brothers and sisters in Christ – a little more detail about the New Testament temple than they’ve probably ever realized before.

Of course, I do understand that the implication of what I propose can seem threatening to someone whose entire career has been built upon full-time ministry through tithes and offerings at a denominational church. And I can totally understand why someone in that position might not want me to spread such concepts around so freely. But, hopefully I can at least communicate the wonders of God’s awesome plan for His people in a way that intrigues and inspires them to see themselves through the eyes of a Creator who loves them and has made plans to draw near to them as they realize who they are in Christ and actually begin to function as a true Body under the divine leadership of Jesus, the true vine.

This criticism about organic church practitioners being too proud and arrogant is, sadly, one we must own and perhaps also seek to change in order to invite more people to consider our oh-so-valid perspectives on ekklesia and organic church life.


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What's Wrong With Organic Church? (Part 7)

Lack of Strong Leadership?

This criticism of organic church comes from those outside the movement, not from those within. Mainly because the perception of what leadership should look like differs from what most of us have come to expect in the traditional church setting.

When I was a pastor on staff at a traditional church I was seen as a leader. This meant my success was literally measured by how many people were following me and, more importantly, how good I was at getting them to do the things around the church that needed to be done. In my case this was either serving the poor in one of our regular outreach events, teaching Sunday School on Sunday mornings, attending a youth event, or showing up for choir practice.

As a leader I was expected to read books on leadership, to attend pastor conferences where leadership skills could be developed, and to target those in our church who had leadership potential and recruit them for my particular ministry.

In a traditional context, a good leader is charismatic, inspirational, and motivational. He or she is graded on how many people respond to instructions and perform the desired activity.

In an organic church all of this is thrown right out the window. I once described it this way to someone who didn't understand what leadership was like in an organic church. I said, "instead of a top-down, CEO-style leader like we're used to seeing, imagine someone on their knees with a towel around their waist who is washing someone's feet."

Jesus is our model for leadership in the organic church, and frankly it's much, much harder to emulate his example than it is to just take charge and tell everyone what to do.

As someone who spent a few decades learning how to be good at being up front and telling people what to do and think, this new servant model was much more challenging for me. And it still is.

When our house church group first started I used to answer every question that was asked in our share time. Mainly because whenever anyone asked a question every eye would turn to me in expectation. Everyone saw me as the leader, the expert, and I was only too ready to demonstrate my expertise. Partly because this is how I was trained, and partly because I'm a little bit proud and being seen and treated as the resident expert on the Bible made me feel important.

One Sunday morning when one of our members asked a question about a passage we were discussing together I took a different approach. She said, "What does this verse mean?" and instead of answering I sat back and said, "I don't know. Does anyone else here have an idea?" And after that I did everything in my power to give away the spotlight to the rest of the Body.

Usually I allow someone else to play the guitar during our singing times, but lately I'm the only person who feels comfortable doing this for our group. The problem this created for us was that it put me in the front of the room and after the singing everyone was left staring at me, once again, in expectation of what I was going to do or say to lead our group. To counteract this I used to play the last song and then, while everyone's eyes were still closed, I would get up and leave the room. When people opened their eyes I wasn't sitting there and it forced the group to take responsibility for the share time without looking to me for guidance. I would only return to the group after I heard them talking from the next room, usually carrying my second cup of coffee, or a book I wanted to read from.

If anything, leadership in a house church context is more about what you don't do and how you facilitate the group to function and grow apart from your constant oversight. There have even been meetings where I'm not even there! Usually those are the best meetings of all, I say.

Leadership as Jesus modelled for us was not top down, it was bottom up. He always found ways to ask the right questions, to recognize the people on the fringes, and to model a radical form of service to those he was leading. Jesus was a master at leaving hard questions unanswered, and asked hard questions of his own in order to help people work out the answers they were seeking. Even though he was full of knowledge, even though his disciples desperately wanted him to just tell them what to do and how to think, he continually kept them mentally and spiritually engaged by always giving them some other mystery to work out, or some new concept to explore.

I am not like Jesus. Not yet. I mean, I really wish that I was, but the truth is that I'm still learning how to let go of my authority and position and to help others to grapple with His Word and to be lead by His Spirit as they follow Jesus daily.

Certainly, I do have something to contribute to the church family that God has made me part of, but I do not have all the answers. I have part of the message, but according to the New Testament, God will lead each of us by His Spirit and has already gifted everyone in our fellowship with the gifts they need to be a blessing to others in our fellowship. The ministry of the Body is found in the Body, and not in me or any other expert. Allowing Christ to be the Head of His Church and to lead us whenever we gather together is not always easy, but it does require much more faith and a lot of grace for one another as we learn how to share and to serve one another in His love.


Monday, May 16, 2011


I'm looking forward to my book release party for "This Is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended" this Friday night at Fuller Seminary.

After over 3 years working on this book it's finally out and I'm very happy share it with everyone.

So far the reader response has been overwhelming and humbling. I'm so blessed that so many people have been challenged and inspired by what I've written.

If you've not done so yet, be sure to download the entire ebook version for free at this link:

There are download options for Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony E-reader and other ebook devices at the link provided.

If you read the book, please let me know what you think by either blogging your review and sharing the link, or sending my your review directly.

We've also set up a special book blog where you can read all the latest reviews, updates and more at www.WeAreTheTemple.com.

Special thanks must go out to Jon Zens for writing the foreword to the book and for spending several hours on the phone and over email with me in helping me to edit and craft the book.

I must also thank Jon Philpott for setting up the ebook formattting (for free) and also for setting up and hosting the ebook download page on his own personal domain (again, for free)!

Big huge thanks to my mother in law, Ellen Engebrecht for encouraging me to finish the book at a time when I had made up my mind not to finish it, and also to Brent Kollmansberger for reminding me that my perspective in the book was unique and therefore worth sharing with others.

Of course, I cannot forget my wonderful wife, Wendy, to whom the book is dedicated. She has always been my biggest fan, my greatest supporter and the voice of reason and wisdom for me in times of uncertainty. I'm also especially grateful to her for planning this book release party and putting together a great menu of treats for everyone to enjoy.

In the next few months I've got a few radio interviews set up to promote the book, and I'm praying that God would open more doors to speak and share with others about the book.

My ultimate goal is to give away a million copies of the ebook version. So far we're almost at 500 copies after just about 2 weeks, so maybe we'll hit that mark by the time I finish my next book!

Thanks also to all of you who read my blog and post enouraging comments here. It really means a lot to me to know that someone is out there reading this and being inspired and challenged to "be the Church".



Why do my dreams seem broken?
Why are my fears intact?
Was I hanging in the balance?
Was it something that I lacked?

It's a topic for discussion
Perhaps another day
As I wrestle with the image of
the One from which I'm made

A little moment in the memory
A little dream within your hand
A little faith is necessary
And it's all that love demands

All the angels know
How I fall down on my face
And wallow in my sin in spite
Of Your Amazing Grace

Words: Keith Giles
Music: John Wahrmund
From the song, "Broken" on the Elysian Skies Cd, "Exquisite Whisper".

Download the song at Amazon

Download the CD at Amazong

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What's Wrong With Organic Church? Spiritual Covering.

Part 6 - "Spiritual Covering Or Accountability?"

Early on in our house church experience a member of our Mission House Church asked about our "Spiritual Covering".

Our House Church is truly an independent endeavor. My wife and I left our previous church to start the House Church without any official "covering" from any other church or organization. I've been a licensed and ordained minister of the Gospel now for about 21 years or so, through the Southern Baptist Denomination, although I don't consider myself to be the "pastor" of our house church family.

To be honest, before this question was asked I never really felt a need to research the whole idea of spiritual covering. Why? Because God had called me to step out and launch our house church and there had been no hint that we needed to do this with the "blessing" or "covering" of any other leader or organized church. However, once my friend asked this question, I wasn't sure how to respond. I had my own, very strong opinions about the subject already in place, but I decided to at least entertain the subject and ask some of the spiritual advisors in my life what their take on the subject might be.

So, I shot off an email to people like author Dallas Willard ("The Divine Conspiracy"), Todd Hunter (former National Director of Vineyard Churches), Paul Martin (Pastor at Soul Survivor USA and St. James Anglican), David Ruis (worship leader, author, songwriter), and also a few of my own personal mentors. They are former pastors, Chaplains, Seminary Graduates, and lay leaders. I asked them each to share with me their thoughts on the subject of "Spiritual Covering".

Quite honestly, I expected a robust series of heated debates on the concept. Of that list, only two of them had any real bias in favor of house churches. All the rest were either full-time pastors of traditional churches or at least former pastors. What I heard back, unanimously I might add, truly surprised me.

They each agreed with my conviction that "Spiritual Covering" was simply not a Biblical concept as most people understand it.

(*NOTE- Not all of those polled responded. Dallas Willard was too busy to weigh in, and David Ruis was in Europe at the time.)

First let me explain the basic idea behind "Covering" here. Whenever someone, like myself for example, decides to start a church (house church or traditional), it is usually expected that the leader will submit his group to a higher organizational authority in order to protect the leader, and the new church, from doctrinal errors (heresy), and to protect against moral failures within the leadership staff.

This sounds like common sense, and I have to admit that if we were starting a traditional church, I might agree that such a system might be prudent. However, the House Church by design is already a highly accountable group of like-minded people. In the House Church model, it's hard to be anonymous for very long. There is a high level of accountability in our small group. Plus, I do not lecture as the resident Biblical expert in our house church. Everyone, even my two sons who are elementary-age, is free to share scripture and discuss the Bible at length. Because of this, it's much more difficult for heretical ideas to flourish very long. In fact, just a few weeks ago my eleven-year-old son Dylan put me in my place by reading a passage out of Exodus that completely contradicted something I was saying. The Word of God won out and I had to concede my point.

In contrast, the traditional church (especially the larger ones) make it much easier for people to remain anonymous and to wear masks that suggest "everything is alright". A recent coffee meeting with a good friend of mine, who pastors a very large denominational church locally, confirmed this idea. He admitted that he usually hears about "secret sin" in His Body when the marriage is already over, or the surprise pregnancy has already taken place, etc. In our House Church, we encounter things on the front end, not the last gasp.

Each person who responded to my question about "Spiritual Covering" agreed that there was no Biblical foundation for such a teaching, although many churches use this as a way to control their leaders and manage their "flock" by fear.

Simply put, "Any church without spiritual covering is not, because of this fact, in error. However, if any church (with or without spiritual covering), believes or teaches or allows heretical ideas or doctrines or immoral activities to flourish, THEN that church is in error."

I think one of the main things that came out of this larger discussion was the idea that "Accountability" IS Biblical, but "Covering" is artifical, fear-based, man-made, and still not effective in preventing doctrinal heresy or avoiding moral failures in the clergy.

Most of us who have been around for while in the Christian Church can testify that our best systems of accountablity do not prevent adultery, heresy, embezzlement, etc. We've probably all seen good, Godly men and women fall hard. Sometimes the ones who fall are the very last ones we would ever expect to fail in such a way. Nevertheless, they do, and often.

As a pastor, I have personally witnessed such failures over the last sixteen years first-hand and it's never a pretty sight. Why do these things happen? Is there really nothing we can do about it? (That's another article).

Basically, there is a misunderstanding of what "Spiritual Covering" is and what Biblical "Accountability" looks like. I am happy to report that our House Church has "Accountability" by the truck-load. I am accountable to every single person in our group. I am accountable to the Men of the Mission who meet for coffee every-other week, and I am accountable to a handful of other Godly Men whom I am in constant relationship and contact with every day. I am accountable to my wife and to my two sons and to my parents, and yes, even to those of you who read these articles every week. (Because if I did something stupid I would be compelled to write about it).

"Spiritual Covering" is not the same as "Accountability". Todd Hunter had a great quote that I thought really expressed how arbitrary this idea of "Covering" is. He said that if Rick Warren or Chuck Smith (or some other Christian Celebrity with a large, succesful ministry, book, radio show, etc.) were to announce today that they were leaving to start a brand-new house church, no one would dare ask them, "Who is your spiritual covering?" But if you or I (or some other "regular guy") were to hear God's call to start simple house church, then suddenly the question of "Spiritual Covering" arises. Suddenly it's just too dangerous to do this without another, higher spiritual authority looking out for things.

The truth is, when Chuck Smith left the Foursquare denomination to start Calvary Chapel, he had no spiritual covering. When John Wimber left Calvary Chapel to launch the Vineyard Movement, he also had no spiritual covering. Does this mean that, to this very day, these large, international church-planting movements are without a spiritual covering? Yes, it does. Is that a problem? Not if you attend Calvary Chapel or a Vineyard church...and not if you reject the idea of "Covering" anyway.

For that matter, when Martin Luther left the Catholic Church of his day and started a Protestant Reformation, he also had no "Spiritual Covering" either. So, I suppose there is no need to go much further than this.

For me, it boils down to whether or not your are convinced that there is such a thing as "The Priesthood of The Believer" and how you define it. Scripturally, I believe, that every follower of Jesus is qualified to use their God-given spiritual gifts without the approval of a denominational leader or an organization. Basically, there is no need for a spiritual "go-between". We might need accountability, or discipling, or encouragement, or sometimes even rebuke from one another, but it is not necessary that we have a man, or an organization, to stand between us and God.

A few years ago, some friends of mine wanted to start a Bible Study in their apartment. Because the lead pastor of the Church they were attending couldn't be there to oversee the study, they were not allowed to have their Bible Study. That is a prime example of the complete denial of the Priesthood of the Believer because "regular Christians" were not allowed to read the Bible on their own and understand it without the direct oversight of an official Church representative.

We might as well trade in our modern English Bibles for Latin ones and apologize for the Reformation if that is how we feel about things.

I realize that there are good people, sincere followers of Jesus who would disagree with me on this issue. I am not trying to argue or sling mud at anyone. However, it is my very strong opinion (and also, surprisingly, that of those distinguished gentlemen I surveyed earlier this week...smarter men than I, let's admit), that all that is needed for a Church to operate properly is to submit to one another, and to Christ, and to let the Word of God (the Bible) be your guide. The Holy Spirit promised (and I really do believe Him) to lead us into all Truth. We do not need an expert or a professional to tell us we are "safe" or "official".

We are The Body of Christ. We are The Church. The Bible is our Statement of Faith. We are accountable to one another and to The Holy Spirit of God. Jesus if our Head and He will build His Church just as He pleases (1 Cor 12).

Even so, I have seen enough pastors fall into sin and self-deception and pride to know that no one is immune from moral or doctrinal failure. Accountability is essential. We must submit ourselves to God, and to our brothers and sisters in Christ, or we will never avoid the sin which so easily entangles.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

What’s Wrong with Organic Church? Lack of networking with other house churches

[Part 5 in the series]

When I first started hosting a house church in our home, about five years ago now, I was desperate to connect with others who were doing the same thing we were. Mainly just so I wouldn’t feel all alone, and so I could learn from the mistakes of others without making them all on my own.

One of the first people I got in touch with was Ken Eastburn of The Well. We started out meeting at a local Carl’s Jr. and over time we developed a friendship that continues to this day. Ken’s story was not the same as mine. He was the pastor of a local Baptist church that transitioned into a series of house churches after selling their building. Still, Ken and I were able to encourage one another and inspire each other to continue on in our journey into New Testament church.

Out of the many ideas we bounced around together, one of them was to create a network of local house churches in the Orange County area. We both knew the value of getting connected with others who were hearing the same call on their life and sharing stories, ideas and resources with one another. From here we added other local house church leaders and advocates like Bill Faris and Michael Bischoff.

Of course, not every house church wants to connect with others in this movement. I’ve had some people over for dinner who were hosting house churches locally who had no interest in meeting others, or in connecting with other house churches. I’m not sure why this is, but I do know from experience that it’s so much better to have people you can reach out to for ideas, for encouragement, for prayer and for support as you walk down this organic church experience. Not only that, I think there’s a biblical precedence for this networking together of churches. In the New Testament there were no maverick groups. Every house gathering in a city was considered as one church family. Paul letters to the church in Corinth, the church in Galatia, the church in Ephesus, the church in Collosse. He did not write to individual groups, or to pastors. He wrote to everyone who was in that city or region as one church family. So, there’s one church in Orange County, made up of house churches, and traditional churches, of all denominations and practices. We are the church in Orange County, and the more we get to know and to love one another, and to work together to preach the gospel, to feed the poor, and to advance the Kingdom of God in Orange County, the better.

Now, with a house church the idea of finding everyone is difficult, as we’ve already discussed in this series. House Churches don’t have signs out front or ads in the paper. Some have blogs or websites, but not all of them do. Some are closed groups for example and the last thing they want is to attract newcomers. So, getting connected with other house church and simple church groups in your area can be a challenge. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!

One good place to start is over on Facebook. There are several great groups like one that I help to moderate called "Organic Church Movement", and several others.  You can list your house church group and also search for the groups that are nearest to you. If you’re in the SoCal area be sure to check out the site I set up called OCHouseChurch.com.

You don’t need to agree with everything the other groups practice. Ken and I are like night and day on most things, and both of us are different from Bill Faris and Mike Bischoff, but we still meet regularly for lunch, share ideas, encourage one another and even hose monthly “OC/Organic Church Forums” where people can come to meet with others in the local organic church movement, and to discuss important topics, share ideas, etc. In fact, this blog series I’m writing came directly out of last month’s OC/OC Forum with Paul and Lori Byerly.

I’d encourage you do all you can to connect with others in your area who may be leading or participating in house church. If you’re all alone in the desert, I’d suggest connecting online at Facebook or try Googling for "Organic" or "House Church" or "Simple Church" in your area.

The organic church is especially relational, so the more we stay in relationship with others the more we can learn and the more we can work together to have an impact on our community for Christ.


Friday, May 13, 2011


What’s Wrong With Organic Church? Part 4 - Unequipped to deal with internal conflicts

In part four of our series, I wanted to talk about how Organic Churches sometimes struggle with church discipline issues, or even dealing with conflict inside the church itself.

What do you do when someone in your house church family is unrepentantly walking in sin? How do you respond? Do you just ignore it and hope it will go away? Do you talk about it behind their back with others in the group? Or, do you quietly pray for them and keep it to yourself because you feel uncomfortable with confrontation?

Frankly, most Christians tend to gossip about, ignore or avoid the sin of others in their church – house church or otherwise. Mainly because we don’t like to get into other people’s business, and because we just don’t like the idea of confronting sin in others.

Now, I know from experience that any discussion like this will inevitably lead to discussions about judging others and casting the first stone, or the plank in your own eye. I’m not talking about creating a legalistic, judgmental atmosphere in your church family. We need to have grace for one another and there is room for maturity over time on certain issues, but when someone in the church body is having sex outside of marriage, or committing adultery, or abusing drugs or alcohol, or otherwise damaging their witness and slandering the name of Christ by their actions, we do have a Biblical mandate to lovingly correct such behavior.

Both Jesus and Paul outline a clear series of steps towards reconciliation and restoration of a brother or sister trapped in sinful activity. The goal of this process is always restoration. The tone and the spirit of the process is always deep, sincere love and integrity. Church discipline, if it’s done properly, should always be entered into with tears and the aim should always be to bring the person back into full and complete fellowship with the Body of Christ.

Here’s what Jesus teaches us about how to handle conflict in the Church:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”- Matthew 18:15-20

This passage deals, specifically, with how we should handle interpersonal conflict in the Church (“If a brother sins against you”), but it’s a perfectly good process for handling the restoration of fellowship with someone in the Church family who is unrepentantly continuing in sin. Notice the first step is to go privately to the person in the hopes of restoring fellowship. If this isn’t successful we are told to take “one or two others” with us – again with the hope of restoring right fellowship between members of the Body of Christ. The goal is not to shame anyone. It’s not to point out their sinful failures. It’s simply, from the very beginning, about seeking peace between members of God’s family and bringing someone back into right relationship with Christ. The very last step is to take it to the Church body. This final step, again, is to be done with an eye towards hopeful restoration of the person’s dignity and fellowship. It should be done with tears and with a sincere desire to bring this person back into the fullness of Christ. It’s only if all of these steps fail that anyone should be removed from the community of faith.

Why should we employ this process in the church? Because we’re protecting not only this person’s spiritual health, we’re also concerned about the message they are sending to the world about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Paul is especially clear about this aspect of protecting the witness of Christ in one another when he urges the church to deal with error and sin in their midst. (see 1 Cor 5: 1-13)

Church Discipline is necessary because it’s not only important to help one another follow Christ with integrity, it’s also important that we stand up and together to more faithfully define for those outside the Body what a true follower of Jesus looks like. Someone who openly lives in disobedience to the clear example of Christ is not a true follower of Jesus, and if we will not point this out to the world, then who will?

Over the years, our house church family has only had to confront these sorts of things a few times. Only once did it come to asking someone not to return to the group, but in that case it was only until we could verify some disturbing information from another church about this person’s past history. Specifically, this person’s previous pastor provided some information that appeared to show that this person had lied to us, taken money from the church under false pretenses and was avoiding a host of addiction-related issues. I offered to meet with him privately at a time and place of his choosing until we could sort it all out. He nearly took a swing at me, but declined my offer to talk this out and never returned.

I wish I could tell you that we’ve always handled this process perfectly, but sometimes we’ve had to learn from our mistakes in this area. Thankfully, no one was damaged as a result of our foolishness and we continue to remain in good fellowship with everyone involved. (Except this person in the above example, although I did run into him about a year later and he embraced me and prayed for me and said that everything was much better now...so, I guess even this one worked out too, by the Grace of God).

So, whether you’re part of a house church, or an organic church, the need for church discipline remains, and it’s commanded by our Lord Jesus.

The major difference in the organic church is that church discipline is done by the Body, and out of relationship, not through an external or artificial hierarchy. Even Jim Belcher, local pastor and author of Deep Church, agrees that hierarchical structures aren’t necessarily capable of bringing about true repentance.

About a year ago I was interviewed by Jim Belcher for his book, and in it he references our discussion in two different chapters, touching on this very issue, saying:

“My greatest concern about house churches like Keith Giles’s is that there is no formal structure for discipline. When I asked him how he would mediate a struggle between him and another member or leader...he really did not know. He would try, he said, to convince that person based on the strength of their relationship. But I have seen firsthand that this is not always enough. Sometimes a higher court, like an elder board or a denomination is needed.”

Although Belcher sees a need for a denominational authority in these cases, he goes on to agree with my assertion that relationships are more powerful than hierarchy when it comes to addressing these concerns:

“Keith would agree that they have no hierarchy, offices and fluid structures. But he would disagree that they have no accountability. When I asked about discipline, he said it is done through the relationships that are built in the house church. He mentioned a few times that he has had to confront wrong choices people have made.

'If they are not going to listen to me, when I love them,' he said, 'why would they listen to someone above me in a hierarchy?'

I would have to agree."
(Jim says)

In the actual interview between Belcher and myself, he went on to share several very specific instances where he personally confronted people in his church who were behaving sinfully and they did not waver when he brought in the denominational authority.

Still, the issue of church discipline in an organic church can be a tricky thing. Mainly because most of us do not like conflict or confrontation, and if we’re going to respond to sin in our midst, or correct someone who is teaching something heretical, we’re going to have to do more than a little confronting.

Another friend of mine, Todd Hunter (now a Bishop in the Anglican church), once told me that the condition of the person’s heart is actually more of a determining factor in these cases than anything else, saying, “A good man will remain faithful, even with a poor structure of accountability, and a degenerate man will frustrate and resist even the most iron-clad system of accountability.”

I must agree.

So, while it may be one of the more difficult aspects of participating in an organic church, discipline within the Body is still a necessary part of growing in community with one another.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What’s Wrong with Organic Church? Too Isolated from Traditional Churches

Continuing in our series of “What’s Wrong with Organic Church?” the next item on our list is that we’re often too isolated from traditional churches in our community.

It should be easy to understand why this problem persists. On one side you have Organic Churches made up of people who have left the traditional model, and on the other side you have traditional churches made up of people who see Organic Churches as something of a threat, or at least an insult, to what they’re doing. It’s no wonder that these two groups don’t often work together. But, I’d like to suggest that this shouldn’t remain an acceptable condition in the Body.

There is only one Body, and there is only one Church. There are not House Churches and Traditional Churches, there is just one true ekklesia and different models of how this one church gathers and operates.

If we take this concept of “One Church” seriously, we must also take Jesus and Paul seriously when they instruct us to seek reconciliation and to live peacefully with all men. It really matters to God how we treat one another in the Body. This means that we cannot continue to remain in a place of animosity towards our brothers and sisters in the traditional church, or the ones in the organic church.

God has been graceful to me in this matter. He has continually thrown me into relationship with pastors and leaders at traditional churches locally. This is not something I would have sought after on my own. And God knew this, so this is why He made sure that our little house church would end up partnering with Saddleback (a mega church) to plant an organic church at a motel in Santa Ana together. God is the one who opened a door for me to lead a men’s bible study for a traditional church group each week. He has allowed me to pray regularly with a dear friend who is a local senior pastor of a large denominational church. Why? So that I could constantly be reminded that these people are my brothers and sisters. God loves them. They love God. They are seeking to follow Jesus too. We serve the same Lord. And our differences of modality should not prevent us from serving the poor together, or studying God’s Word together, or praying for one another.

My story involves stepping away from an on-staff position at a local church that we helped to plant. It also involves leaving another church staff position where I was deeply invested emotionally. This wasn’t done without some amount of pain and hurt feelings. But thankfully, God has allowed me to reconcile with the leaders of those churches I left. We still don’t see eye-to-eye about church hierarchy or a business model of church, but we do love each other as brothers and we understand that loving one another is more important than anything else.

Just a few months ago I was asked to preach at the church I left over 5 years ago. It was a huge blessing for me to return and to share some of what the Lord has been doing in my life. I was overwhelmed with their grace to me. They prayed over me for a half hour before the service. They embraced me at the end of the service. They even paid me a honorarium! None of this was expected, and frankly it would have never been possible if their senior pastor and myself hadn’t gone out of our way to stay in touch, to reaffirm our love for one another, and to work hard at maintaining our friendship.

If you’re unsure about it, let me assure you that God cares a whole lot about how we treat one another. The Greatest Command is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The second greatest command, according to Jesus, “is like the first” and it is that we love our neighbor as ourselves. Why does Jesus say the second (love your neighbor) is “like the first” (loving God)? Because they are integrated concepts. “If anyone says he loves God and yet hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).

This is why Jesus also tells us that if we are at the altar and we remember that our brother has something against us, we are better off leaving our sacrifice on the altar and running quickly to reconcile with that brother and make sure that our hearts are right before God. (Matt 5:23-34)

Remember, God looks not at the outward appearance, nor does He measure our behaviors apart from examining our deeper motivations and ultimately our heart condition. So, it matters to God how we relate to one another, and especially how we love one another in the Church. And, again, there’s only One Church. So, if you have something against a former pastor, or if you’ve shunned a brother or sister over disagreements about organic church or new testament models, (or any other reason), you really need to stop what you’re doing and seek for reconciliation and peace, “as far as it depends on you.”

If we are truly Kingdom-minded churches, then we will not ever decide to without love or fellowship or assistance from another christian because they disagree with us doctrinally or belong to another expression of church.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Organic Church: Too Inwardly Focused

One of the criticisms often hurled at those of us in the Organic Church is that we’re too inwardly focused, and that we can become too closed or even secretive, preventing newcomers from entering into our little clique, or sometimes even scaring them away entirely.

Our little group isn’t a closed group, and I don’t think we’re “secretive” or anything, but I have visited a few groups that were more inward-focused and there are a few things I'd like to say about this here.

Too Inwardly Focused?
I have to say that it's awfully hard to resist the temptation to be inwardly focused. I mean, no one has to be trained to be more inwardly focused. But we do need to constantly work at becoming more outwardly focused. It's a constant battle that we have to fight to take our eyes of ourselves and to look up to see the fields white unto harvest.

When my family first entered the wilderness to plant our little house church, it was primarily because we felt a strong calling from the Lord to plant a church where 100% of the offering could go to help the poor in the community. Because this was our goal, and our passion was to serve those who were trapped in poverty here in Orange County, California, we started a house church in order to allow all of the offering to be spent this way. Most house churches don’t have such a story, and maybe that’s why they tend to lean more towards isolation and inward-focused church life.

Being self-absorbed is an easy thing to do, really. The house church community is made up of people who, in many ways, feel like they’re on the outside looking in when it comes to Christianity. Many of those who are attracted to house churches either have felt exploited by the traditional church, have felt a strong sense of unrest in the institutional church, or either feel called to explore a more organic form of church found in the New Testament. These factors can create a sense of being an outcast from other Christians, not to mention the world itself.

I know many, many people involved in house churches now whose stories are filled with tales of lost friendships, damaged relationships with those in their previous traditional church who called them heretics, or who shunned them in grocery stores, or what have you.

These experiences are painful, and they are real. They also tend to create an isolationist mindset, because no one wants to get hurt in the same way again. Once you’ve found a like-minded group of Christians who can share your pain and who understand your grief at the loss of relationships in the church, it’s easy to pull the shades, lock the doors and bask in the glow of those select few brothers and sisters who really “get you” and who understand where you’re coming from, and where you’re going.

I think the people who are part of our little house church family at the Mission are largely not the “hunker down” type. Some of us can indeed share stories about lost friendships, or church leaders who threatened or mocked us for pursuing the house church model. But, thankfully, we are not a group of wounded soldiers.

Most of us have been in leadership ourselves at the traditional churches we once attended. We’ve seen first-hand how broken the American version of Christianity can really be and we’ve made a conscious decision to move away from that top-down hierarchy model (of which we were once among the leaders), into a more shared version of church where members of the Body submit to one another and to Christ as our Head. At the same time, we know that it’s important for us – as the Body of Christ – to “be the Church” to our community as well as in our regular weekly gatherings.

What To Do?
For those organic churches who are too inwardly-focused, and who are interested in becoming more outwardly-focused, I’d recommend a few things:

*Partner with another house church, or traditional church, to serve actual people in your community. Your goal is not to find a charity to write a check to. That’s not going to change your inward focus into an outward focus. Look for ways to touch real human beings who need help, food, shelter, hope and the Gospel.

*Talk together about ways your group can serve the community. It doesn’t have to be huge, either. Think simple. Maybe host a pancake breakfast in the neighborhood to start with, or visit a local senior home together with your kids once a month.

*Find a local charity, non-profit, rescue mission, etc. to volunteer at as a group.

*Read my series, “How To Start A Ministry to the Poor in Your Community” found

The goal of becoming more outwardly focused is not to lose your inward focus. There’s nothing wrong with having an inward focus when you’re together. That’s called “community” and it’s one of the primary strengths of the church. It’s not that inward focus is bad, it’s that not having any outward focus is tragic, and it’s an incomplete picture of who we are called to be in Christ.

Too Secretive or Closed?
I do know of a few house church groups that are closed; meaning that they do not accept any new people to visit or to join the fellowship. While our group isn’t one of these kinds of groups, I must confess that I have secretly thought about starting just such a group myself. Why? Because there have been times when my family really wasn’t getting as much out of our current house church experience as we needed to. Specifically, our two sons were not growing spiritually and my wife and I were also beginning to feel distant from the rest of the group. So, for a while we fantasized about leaving the church we started in order to gather with just one or two other families so we could really focus on going deeper with fewer people.

Eventually we changed our minds about that idea, but if we had decided to take such a step I don’t think it would’ve been such a bad thing. I think, sometimes, there is a need to create a more intimate and intense space for people to pour into one another more directly. Although I’d quickly add that I think these sorts of groups should only be entered into seasonally, and that there should be an agreed upon expiration date for when the closed nature of the group will end and others will be welcomed into the fellowship. Perhaps this is where some groups fail? They start out with an inward focus to address specific needs of those within the group and then they just can’t bring themselves to rock that boat and risk losing the good thing they’ve got going with one another. I don’t know since I’ve never been part of a closed group like that myself. But I can see where the temptation to stay closed might come from.

Embrace the Mystery
One thought I had when considering the secretive nature of the house church to those on the outside is that it might be possible to leverage this perceived secrecy in a positive way. I mean, if we're never going to advertise our house churches in the newspaper or on a billboard, or set up a big sign in our front yards, then why not go the other way? Why not play up the secretive part and use it to intrigue people into finding out more about why we meet in homes, and what we do there, and what makes it so different from everything else? People are naturally curious. What's wrong with appealing to their built-in desire to learn more? Especially if what people want to know more about is why you have to escape the man-made religious systems of the day in order to follow Jesus more and love your neighbor as yourself.

As followers of Jesus we are called to be set apart- to be different from the world around us. If being part of a house church creates an even greater opportunity for us to set ourselves apart from the world and to live different sorts of lives among others, we might as well make the best of it.


Monday, May 09, 2011

Invisible: Organic Church

A group of local organic church members recently got together to make a list of things that are "wrong" with Organic Church. More specifically, to identify weaknesses in the simple church and to think of ways we can address these challenges.

The first one I wanted to talk about from our list was that "Organic churches are often invisible to the community."

In our discussion we reflected on the fact that house churches don't have large signs out front, and don't market themselves the way traditional churches do. Because of this, it's often likely that a house church could exist for years right down the street from another house church and not even be aware of each other. Not to mention the fact that people in the community are also not aware that the house church meeting is taking place in their neighborhood.

So, what are the solutions to address this concern? I'd like to start out by isolating a few specific items first and addressing them individually.

*House Churches aren't as good at marketing themselves as traditional churches are.
Why is this? One of the main reasons is that house churches are not, by nature, attractional model gatherings. That is, the point of a house church is not to attract or to gather as many people as possible each and every week. In fact, in our house church family, our goal is to gather with as small a group as possible every week. If our group were to suddenly have 20 new people start attending our gatherings every Sunday, we'd have to split our group into two or even three other smaller groups in order to continue to maintain the quality of our fellowship together.

Simply put, in the house church, bigger is not better. Now, that doesn't mean that we don't value evangelism. Our group just baptized 3 people last weekend, but this was after several months, even years, of relationship and discipleship over time.

Here's the difference. In traditional churches I've served at in the past, our goal as a staff was to find new ways to attract a certain segment of people - young marrieds with children. We strategized ways to attract them. We flat out marketed our church to them with booths at local fairs and logo branded water bottles passed out at shopping malls and worship concerts in the park, etc. If we were successful we'd have 10 or 20 new people show up that Sunday morning and they'd eventually decide to join our church and tithe: SUCCESS!

Now, with the house church it's almost completely upside-down from that. In our house church we prefer to meet regularly with other disciples of Jesus; people who are seriously trying to follow Jesus in their everyday life and who want to connect with others who simply want to learn how to put the teachings of Jesus into practice daily. We're not perfect. Far from it. If anything we know how weak we are and we know that, without the help of the Holy Spirit and the support of our church family, we'd never make it alone. If we kept on adding new people all the time we'd dilute our ability to share deeply with one another - because there are some things that you'll share with a group of five or six that you would never share in a group of 25 or 30 people. Also, if we were to grow too large too quickly, we would struggle to build relationships with one another and the quality of our community would suffer.

So, what do we do? Well, first of all we don't attempt to artificially increase the number of people who fellowship with us. At the same time, we do not attempt to eliminate people or turn anyone away who wants to join us. In essence, we do our best to let Jesus build His Church. And you know what? He does!

When our family first planted our house church we did not recruit anyone to come with us. Only one other family, and one single woman from our previous traditional church came with us (and only because they wanted to, not because we convinced them to). Everyone else who has ever come to our house church has found us, we have not found them.

Secondly, I want to address the issue of being invisible to the community we're planted in. To me, this is a more serious problem. We've always felt that our calling was not only to plant a house church in our home, but that God was planting a church in this specific neighborhood. In other words, we were here in this house because God had a plan (and He still does) to love the people on our street through us.

So, from the beginning (about five years ago now) we started reaching out to the kids in our neighborhood. At first that involved leading Kids Church in our home on Sunday mornings. Mainly because Wendy and I had been children's pastors at our previous church (and we loved teaching kids together), and also because by inviting the kids in our neighborhood to come on a Sunday morning we would figure out which families already went to church somewhere and which one's didn't. Most of them, we figured out, didn't attend anywhere on Sunday mornings.

Later, we hosted pancake breakfasts for everyone in our cul-de-sac on the Fourth of July and we intentionally went out of our way to meet our actual neighbors, invite them over for dinner, take out their trashcans for them, and serve them in whatever ways we could. In essence, we determined that we would become missionaries to our neighbors.

Over time, (and this is an ongoing story), we got to pray for families in real trouble. We got to encourage them. We got to share Jesus with their kids. We got to see their kids fall in love with Jesus. We got to share groceries with families in financial need. We got to tutor their kids in math and spelling. We got to babysit when they were in a bind.

Suffice it to say, our neighbors know that there's a church on their street, and they know that we love them and that Jesus loves them. We're still hoping to make a deeper impact for them and to bring the Kingdom of God into their lives in a more powerful way, but we also know that God wants this even more than we do and He will lead us as we continue to submit ourselves to Him.

Friday, May 06, 2011

What's Wrong With Organic Church?

In our recent OC/Organic Church Forum, our facilitators Paul and Lori Byerly from House2House.com asked us to make a list of what’s wrong with the house church movement.

Specifically, we were tasked to look at how our brothers and sisters in the traditional church were better equipped than simple churches to handle certain tasks, and to contrast what they do well with areas where we sometimes struggle.

It was a refreshing break from our usual flag-waving, back-patting conversations and allowed us to really step back and take a look at ourselves and gain some much-needed perspective.

Here’s what our list looked like:

•Organic churches are often invisible to the community
•Too inwardly focused
•Isolated from traditional churches
•Unequipped to deal with internal conflicts
•Too much spiritual pride – i.e. “We’re doing it the right way”
•Lack of networking and connection with other house churches
•Too closed and secretive
•Reluctance to confront error, sin, in the Body - i.e. "Church Discipline"
•Lack of resources to deal with divorce, addiction, depression, etc.

In addition, we also identified perceived problems that our traditional brothers and sisters see in us:

•Perceived lack of strong leadership
•Lack of spiritual covering
•Prone to heretical doctrines and practices

What would you add to this list? How do we address these problems or weaknesses within the organic church?

I’d love to hear your thoughts as I will be blogging over the next few weeks on several of these topics.

Thursday, May 05, 2011


I recently found a scrap of paper at the bottom of my book bag. It’s in my hand-writing, but I think it may have been something I copied down a while back after listening to a friend of mine, Jared Smith, share something similar. So, either I wrote this and forgot about it, or I copied it down from Jared. Either way, it’s worth sharing with all of you.

I am sick.
Jesus is here (always).
I need the constant, ever-present life of Jesus in me, always.
Jesus will be messing stuff up now.
He is not sitting quietly in the corner, waiting for his turn to speak.
He is the Lord. He is active, moving, dynamic, radical.

My home, my family, my life should be better because Jesus is in it.
My marriage, my work, my neighborhood, my heart.

Let Jesus in. (Behold, I stand at the door and knock)

Why is he on the outside trying to get back in? It doesn’t matter.
Let him in.

Confession: I am sick. I need to be healed.
I need to have my need for recognition surgically removed.
I need to have my need to be right removed.
I need my “expert tumor” cut out with a sharp knife.
Jesus is the only physician who can perform this operation.

I need to let Jesus kill the Pharisee in me.
I need help removing my mask.
I need help being authentically weak and vulnerable.
I need help un-compartmentalizing my life.

I need a thorn in my flesh to remind me of my weakness.
I need a river of living water to remind me of how much I need Jesus.
His love is better than life.
His life is better than anything else.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Download a free Ebook version of THIS IS MY BODY

Thanks to the hard work of Jon Philpott, my new book, This Is My Body: Ekklesia as God Intended is now available in an EPUB format. Mr. Philpott volunteered to create the ebook version for free, and then he hosted it on his own domain and created the landing page too. Wow.

So, as you download and enjoy this free copy of my new book on your iPad, iPod, Android phone, Sony Reader, Nook, Kobo, and other e-reader devices - be sure to say a prayer of blessing for this dear brother in Christ whom I only met a few days ago.

Download the EPUB version (for free):

PS- You can buy my book in print or download a PDF file for free at my online store