ChurchETHOS

Why I’m Not Planting a House Church

Posted in church planting, discipleship, ecclessiology by Nathan Creitz on January 29, 2010

Image courtesy of patchworkpottery

In the past few weeks my wife and I have made the decision to start another church in the Boston area. We have been thinking through what form or expression this new church should take and we’ve come to the conclusion that it won’t be the house church model.

So what is wrong with a house church?

Nothing!

The house church model is one of many church plant models. I believe the creativity and variety that God gives us as we make disciples and start churches is a strength of God’s kingdom. House churches can be effective and can perform biblical functions of fellowship, worship, and disciple-making just like other sorts of new churches can.

I hold the house church movement in high esteem, not just because some people do them well but also because I have friends who are starting house churches and I believe God is using them in a powerful way. But, in addition to all of this love sauce that I’m pouring on the house church movement, I want to go one further:  I am in total agreement with everything that the house church movement values. Values of community, authenticity, relevance, experiential faith, discipleship, etc. I even agree with the form that these values often take; that is, small gatherings and intimate settings where fellowship and discipleship can flourish. Let me go still further: I hope that our church plant will embody ALL of the positive values, forms, and expressions of the house church movement!

In short, I believe the house church movement is a valid model of church planting. I have tremendous respect for my friends in the house church movement. And, I hope our new church will embody all of the positive qualities that can be found in house churches. I should also say at this point that ANY model is subject to fail if the leadership doesn’t possess a high Christology and ecclessiology that is informed by God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

So what is missing?

I have a high regard for the house church movement, but I personally believe that something is missing. The piece that is missing is in how Jesus made disciples. I’ve accepted for years that Jesus made disciples by investing a considerable amount of time in a few men who would then go on to do the same. In that way, Jesus multiplied His own ministry. This is the discipleship model that I often hear from the house church movement. I always have a question mark floating around anytime I hear this discipleship model but I never knew how to ask the question.

Not too long ago, the question popped into my mind: “What about the seventy?” Jesus had been investing in His disciples and spending a lot of time teaching and healing the crowds and in Luke 10, Jesus appoints seventy people and sends them out in pairs “to every town and place where He Himself was about to go.” This passage immediately follows the discussion Jesus has with three would-be disciples that He turns away because He knows their hearts are not in it. In other words, it’s clear that these seventy people weren’t concerned about their own comfort or other worldly distractions. These were true disciples who would be sent out as lambs among wolves and who would rely on God’s provision for their daily needs. They were spiritual warriors to whom even the demons submitted.

Where did they come from? Jesus couldn’t have spent the same kind of time with each of these seventy people as He had with the Twelve! Instead, they must have come to Jesus and said, “I will follow You wherever You go!” just as the three would-be disciples did in Luke 9:57-62 and Jesus knew they were speaking the truth. We can conjecture that He did spend at least some time with each of them – maybe a conversation. We can also conjecture that they had heard Jesus teach and possibly been healed at His touch. In some way, their lives had come in contact with Jesus and now they would never be the same.

In other words, Jesus didn’t just make twelve disciples. There were hundreds of disciples. In fact, by the time Jesus dies and is resurrected and then ascends, the disciples get together in an upper room and there are 120 gathered together. That’s a HUGE house church!

Jesus made hundreds of disciples who were touched by Him and were taught by Him and He didn’t spend a considerable amount of time with each one personally. After the Spirit descended on Jesus’ followers, they began to speak the gospel with boldness and in one day the church grew to over 3,000 people! Again, that is a huge house church!

What does all this mean?

At one time in Jesus’ ministry, there were at least seventy committed disciples that Jesus knew He could trust to send out into the towns and advance the kingdom. These seventy came because Jesus was willing to engage the crowds and not just a few. That number grew exponentially, not incrementally. Jesus is the foundation of the church and the Spirit is the One that empowers the movement. If it were up to me and my few relationships, my town of 15,000 would never be reached. My conclusion, as I have been thinking about what it means to start a church is that I need to be relational (just like Jesus), but I also need to reach the masses and allow God to touch lives and draw them to Himself (just like Jesus).

I believe every new church leader has the desire to make disciples. I don’t question anyone’s motivation, but the purpose of this post is to think through our methods. Whatever method or model we use we must remember that every person deserves to hear the gospel! I will use whatever avenues at my disposal and that are contextually appropriate to advance God’s kingdom. I’m not saying that house church leaders don’t, I’m just explaining where I’m coming from.

Now it’s your turn. How has this prompted your thinking concerning church planting? Please be clear, this is not an attack on the house church movement. I am simply stating why we’ve made a personal decision not to plant house churches and some of the principles that led us to that decision. Thanks for your considerate response!

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10 Responses

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  1. Jugulum said, on January 29, 2010 at 3.26 pm

    “If it were up to me and my few relationships, my town of 15,000 would never be reached. My conclusion, as I have been thinking about what it means to start a church is that I need to be relational (just like Jesus), but I also need to reach the masses and allow God to touch lives and draw them to Himself (just like Jesus).”

    Hmm… How would you respond to someone who wanted to plant a single church for a whole state, saying, “If it were up to my and my few relationships, my state of 1.5 million would never be reached?” However you respond, why doesn’t it apply to your conclusion, as well?

    The dream of missionaries is not to evangelize a nation by themselves, but to see a self-propagating movement of churches planting churches. That’s how they seek to reach the masses.

    So… Why not stick with house-churches, hoping to see a self-propagating movement reach your whole town of 15,000?

    (Note: I don’t actually think house churches are The way to go, I’m simply critiquing your argument.)

    • Nathan said, on January 30, 2010 at 10.51 am

      Thanks for the healthy critique Jugulum. However, I’m suggesting that I DO believe house churches are the way to go in many contexts and for many church planters. I tried to make it clear that it was a personal choice based on the way God is leading me and based on the context in which I find myself. I could add another reason is because of the gifts and experiences God has given to me. My post was not an attempt to discredit the house church movement but to say that I hope all of the positive qualities will be found in the new church that we are starting.

      Now, as far as if I could apply my same logic to my state I would say, yes, it still applies. My point is that it’s not up to me! Jesus has already established His church and we are simply given the mandate to be like Him and make disciples. That is multiplication at its most basic level. So, as I consider how to be more like Jesus I believe it is important to broadcast the message broadly using whatever contextual and Biblical means are at my disposal.

      I am praying for a movement of God that will extend into my town of 15,000 and will spread from here into our region, our country and our world. That should be a part of the DNA of any new church (and old church for that matter).

      One last point about the state and the city. The New Testament is full of churches and they all have to do with the town they happen to be in. Paul is a good example of one who went from town to town evangelizing and making disciples, encouraging them and teaching them and appointing elders to lead them (see Acts 14:21-28 for example). I’m committed to my town because no one else here is making disciples, teaching them, and appointing leaders in the church…there is no gathered church here. I fully agree with you, the gospel spreads at the will of the Spirit and I believe He has brought me here to show people Jesus and to make disciples.

      Thanks again for your comment. I hope you see my point. I think we were already in agreement but you may have misunderstood what I was saying. Let me know if this helps clear things up.

  2. Sara said, on January 29, 2010 at 9.11 pm

    If it were up to you, your town wouldn’t be reached at all. It is up to Jesus, after all.

    Charles Finney used to pray before he went into a town, and when he got to the town the people were crawling on their hands and knees trying to find someone to tell them about Jesus. He had been drawing them to Himself and just used Finney as the vessel.

    Jesus didn’t have intimate fellowship with all 70, but he knew their hearts via the Spirit. He did have intimate fellowship with the 12 and even more so with the 3 special disciples.

    (Note: I am for the home-church movement, but I am proud of you no matter what you do!)

    • Nathan said, on January 30, 2010 at 11.05 am

      Hi Sara. Thanks for the comment. I can see that what is confusing people is my point about whether or not the church being planted is up to me. You are basically making my point which is that it isn’t up to me. As with the previous commenter, I basically agree with everything you just said. 🙂

      Also, Charles Finney is a good example of what I’m envisioning for our church. Let me explain:

      For too long, churches have focused on a main event on Sunday. They weren’t calling people to costly discipleship, they were just asking people to fill a pew for an hour and put something in the offering plate. Many in the house church movement left the established churches because of a desire for something much deeper – and rightfully so. Because the large Sunday gathering represented shallow, impersonal Christianity, many have abandoned it altogether. But men like Finney and Paul and Jesus spent time addressing the masses AND spending “a considerable amount of time with the disciples” (Acts 14:28). Our church plant will be a church of large and small gatherings with a commitment to mission and compassion to our neighbors. I believe the multiplication that happened in the early church was not just happenstance but it is a value that should be embraced by any group large or small that considers itself to be a church.

  3. bjones said, on January 30, 2010 at 2.13 pm

    yo dog, like how you are thinking. i have had a lot of thoughts lately that i am trying to put together. we should chat.

    one thing that I am thinking through now is how to think about a few questions…or maybe how to ask them. 1) would Jesus “attend our churches”? i keep going back to his comment that we will worship neither on this mountain or that, but in spirit and truth. Just trying to envision that mindset with Christians today. 2) would he “pastor” a church? 3) I am also thinking about Christians as “little christs” and thinking what should our world look like if millions, thousands, or hundreds of christs were dropped into different communities. what would happen?

    Finally, i think that there is a reason the focus of the gospels are on Jesus loving discipleship relationship with the 12. It was his primary focus. I think that trying to do any sort of regular “event or service” makes it hard to focus on discipleship; even in the house church setting. There are expectations, and so much focus needed for the event time, that it makes it difficult to truly focus on displaying love the way Jesus calls us to. I’m not saying its impossible. but you know me and my heart and I can assure you that if i had to start over from scratch, my focus would be on learning how to love rightly and letting church spring from that, with no conceptions as to how that should look.

    still praying and working through “how” that works now. I think the only model is love. not institutional or house or whatever….THE MODEL IS LOVE.

    speaking of, love you!
    b

  4. Steve L. said, on January 31, 2010 at 12.11 pm

    Interesting thoughts Nathan. I like how you think things through and share them like this, probably knowing that you will always have to face those who agree with you, as well as those who don’t. It’s one of the many challenges you have chosen to undertake, and I admire you for it.

    What jumps out to me, is that you have good points about a few different ways to start a church- that there is often more than one ‘right’ way to do the things God has provided us to do. There are many ways to reach people, and we may be wrong when we act as if there is one way that’s always best, or another way that never works. I like your point that there are probably ways/methods that are more appropriate for different given situations, and that you are willing to use whatever avenues you believe best. It takes great discernment to know what to do when, and how to go about it.

    As someone pointed out, it’s really God’s responsibility to take what you offer and use it: our efforts are useless on their own. I believe that more or less any form of church, as long as it fulfills the requirements of a church, can be used by God. Not to get all relativistic here, but I’ve always believed it’s more about HOW you do something than it is WHAT you do that is most important.

    Keep a close and healthy relationship with God, do as you believe, and let God use and bless your work for his kingdom. Anyway, just some of the thoughts this brings to mind this morning. Keep at it Nathan 🙂

  5. Bob Mayfield said, on January 31, 2010 at 7.56 pm

    Very interesting post Nathan. I agree, it takes all types of churches to impact lostness in a culture. I really like the way you have addressed an issue that you are dealing with and then how you responded to it. Some folks respond very well in a house church environment, others respond to the gospel better in a more liturgical church like Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC. And some will receive the gospel in a neighborhood church of a couple hundred folks. Why not plant them all kinds!

    My view is that we need to have churches and pastors who have a vision not only for their neighborhood, city, and state; but also for the entire world. I am reminded of the Old Testament Great Commission given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 “…in you all the famiilies of the earth shall be blessed.” (that’s ESV btw). Paul prays for the salvation of an entire nation (Israel) in Romans 9:1-5 and again in Romans 10:1. In the Great Commission texts in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8, Jesus gives us a global vision to a) make disciples; b) witness, to the entire planet. To redirect one of your quotes: Every person deserves to hear the gospel. That includes Boston and Botswana!

    My point here is that Jesus was telling us that the church needs a global gospel presence. It includes your town, my town, and towns we’ve never heard of before. So go plant that church brother, and may your tribe increase!

  6. Felicity Dale said, on February 2, 2010 at 9.59 am

    In our city, house churches and mega churches are beginning to work together. One of our local mega-churches is starting house churches. The question we ask ourselves, “What could God do in our city if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit?”

    Since many people will never darken the doors of a church building, why not use house church principles as a means of outreach. But if you want this to multiply, the new believers never become part of the original church.

  7. Father Robert Lyons said, on February 23, 2010 at 10.58 am

    Thank you for putting some words behind the struggle I am currently having as I seek God’s guidance in planting a church in my new home town. As a liturgical Christian, I don’t feel the house church environment is the best forte’, but I struggle with how God is leading me in planting a congregation our area, located south of Indy’s suburbs.

    My prayers for your work, and I would cherish your prayers for mine.

    Rob+

  8. Mary said, on March 3, 2010 at 4.35 am

    I’m a lay person and have no experience starting a church. However, I read Purpose Driven Church and was blown away by it. I hope everyone who thinks about starting a church reads it. It may not be for everyone but I got some great things out of it – like know who you are targeting! =)


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