Tuesday, December 13, 2011


We talk a lot in the house church movement about "Being the Church" versus "Going to Church" but what does that really mean? What does it look like in practical terms to "be the Church"?

I can only speak for myself and share what we've experienced in our own house church family regardign this idea. A few years ago, when my wife Wendy and I started a house church out of our home called "The Mission," part of our rationale for that name was to serve as a reminder to all of us that, as followers of Christ, we are all missionaries. This means that we all have a mission field. Yours may look different from mine, but being a follower of Christ means living out our own individual mission or calling.

For some of us our mission field might be our Fifth grade class that we teach every day. For others it may be the homeless in our community. For still another it might be a handful of young people we're taking the time to tutor after school, or it may simply be our neighbors across street.

The important thing is to realize that we have a mission and to help encourage one another to live out our calling to have an impact for Christ in that mission field.

One illustration that we've developed to help us understand how to live this out in our daily lives is something called "Concentric Circles of Love". Here's how it works:

Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. He said the second greatest command "is like the first" - to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What did he mean, "the second (loving others) is like the first?" I think the New Testament is pretty clear that how we love God is reflected in the way we treat others.

"If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother."(1 John 4:20-21)

"And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’" - Matt 25:40

So, the way we love others reflects our love for God, and vice versa. This is where the concentric circles come in.

If we ever really hope to obey Jesus in this area of loving God and loving others we have to start with loving God. Why? Because the love we need to share with others isn't our own brand of love. It's the "agape" love of God that isn't selfish or arrogant. That kind of love isn't in us by nature. We can only receive it from God.

So, at the center of our circle we need to spend time learning how to love God. But that's only the beginning. The next circle is our immediate family; our spouse, our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters. If we can't love those people with the love of Christ we have no hope of loving total strangers.

The next circle is the Church family. I believe that Jesus commanded us to love one another because He knew how hard this would really be. Love isn't easy. Especially if we follow Jesus and love others sacrificially - putting their needs ahead of our own.

Next we need to practice loving our neighbors, our co-workers - the people God has put us in community with on a regular basis. This is our mission field. We need to cultivate the love we receive from God in the inner circle, share that love with our family and church, and allow it to drive us (or "compel us") to serve our co-workers and neighbors in Jesus' name.

On the outside circles we need to share the love of Christ with the poor, the homeless, the outcast and the lost. And, our ultimate goal is to bring those on the outer circles deeper inside the circle. This means we want the outcast and the stranger to be welcomed into the community of faith, into the warmth of our homes, and into the love of Christ.

Beyond learning how to love God and love others we also need to practice receiving the love of God and receiving love from others. Love is not a one way street.

I think this can be one of the most challenging aspects of "being church" together. Washing the feet of another person is always easier than being the one who is having their feet washed. It involves humility and transparency.

Keep in mind that all of us should happen holistically. It's not a "step one, step two" process. In other words, if we wait until we get really good at the first or the second circle, we'll never move on to the other circles.

The truth is, we're all constantly learning how to love God and love others in our lives at the same time. The important thing is not to neglect one over the other, and to always remember that everything flows from that center circle who is our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This illustration is only part of what it means to "Be the Church" but it's a great place to start.



Patti said...

Hi Keith-What if many of our family members are smooshing with the world, and that we've heard the Lord clearly to come out. We have different involvements, and not very much in common now. There are gaps there because of how we see God, frankly, and then how that makes our lives very different. It even seems like God's endtime sword (I come not to bring peace but a sword which divides families) is what is dividing us, and that it is even a "sanctioned" divide, if you will. Doesn't God sometimes then put others outside your extended family to love and serve in these cases? Today there are so many Christians by name only, that even in families, there is this great divide that love is not even allowed to enter, due to the receivers requiring that you embrace their compromise. In this way, they want to say you then love them. Jesus said that if you leave all to follow Him then you will then have 100's of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers. I am finding that because of the path He has led me on, that many who were once on this same path, are now gone, and so agape love cannot even reach here, because of the decision of the other person. I live in the reality of "though none go with me" and in that reality, God sends others who are open to His love to my life, but unfortunately many family members have gone by the wayside indulging in the world and it's trappings.

Keith Giles said...

Patti, I'm sorry to hear that you've had to walk this path alone. And you're correct, the Scriptures do tell us that we may have to give up relationships here as we follow Jesus into the Kingdom.

I think we are still called to love our family members with the love of Christ, however. His love isn't based on what they do or don't do. His love just 'is' because this is who Jesus is.

In other words, Jesus loves us because he is loving, not because we are lovable.

In the same way, we are called to partake in that painful process of loving our family members who refuse the love of Christ. This is part of bearing our cross. It's where we partake of Jesus' sufferings and by His Spirit in us we can say, 'Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.' as He did.

We don't have to like or approve of the actions of our family members in order to love them. We can show kindness to them, in spite of their anger and abuse. We can serve them and bless them, in spite of their dismissive attitudes. We can pray for them and forgive them in spite of their unrepentant hearts.

This isn't easy, you know. But Jesus did warn us that following Him would carry a price. This is part of that price.

Peace to you, my dear sister.

Patti said...

Thanks for responding, and I do agree with your comments to love anyway, and I thank you for that exhortation. Yes, I do love them, but the distance felt is still very disconcerting because they once listened to God's Spirit, and walked in His ways. So, either they were deceived or they entered with their eyes opened. What I am saying is how can we love, if they are defining love subliminally as accepting their lifestyles, which the Lord has told us is not His way? I don't know how that looks on a relational basis, because that tension is still there. They feel I am judging them by not joining in, but I am just following a different path than them. It's like, I must obey God rather than man. My loyalty is to Him first.

Rachel Virginia said...

Hello, Keith! i'm really glad you posted this. i noticed that you wrote that it's harder to be the one having their feet washed, the one that is receiving the love. That really hit home, because i thought i loved myself enough... but the people who are loving me are proving my idea otherwise. They make me realize how hard i am on myself. It's hard for me not to. i don't know what loving oneself looks like that much, i suppose.