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?
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!
After three years of planting churches in Boston, I am discovering more and more that I don’t know what I am. Church planters have to be evangelists, shepherds, teachers, entrepreneurs, fundraisers, visionaries, counselors, disciplers, mentors, coaches, researchers, cultural apologists, theologians, friends, motivators, time managers, administrators, students, networkers, and servants. I may think of some more and just republish this post with the new additions.
Some days (like today), I am overwhelmed by my responsibility. Today, however, I met with a small group of pastors for the first time to begin holding each other accountable specifically for personal evangelism. Ultimately, we have been called ambassadors for Christ as though God were making an appeal to the world THROUGH US that the world might be reconciled to God. In view of all the other things that I have to do in a typical week, I can never forget that I am here (just like all believers) to make known the good news about Jesus Christ and reveal the story of God in the hearts and lives of the people I interact with.
Church planting is a daunting task, but when it boils down to what God requires of all believers, we should be following Christ every day. I’m sure I can accomplish my administrative responsibilities in a couple of hours a day and leave the rest of the day for personal study and personal relationships. Those are the important things.
I was watching a Mark Driscoll video today on the calling to be a church planter. He said the mission of the church planter should be to find the men…an idea that I agree with, although I’m not always sure about how to do that. He mentioned that “the least likely person to go to church in the United States of America is a young man in his twenties.” That’s especially difficult for our church since we focus on university students in Boston, one of the least churched cities in America. The challenge we have of finding, equipping and discipling men in the university setting in Boston is tremendous. However, it must be our mission. I love the way Driscoll puts it:
“They are banging their girlfriend, they are blowing all their money…staying up all night playing world of warcraft, finding free porn on the internet and trying to figure out how to get a bigger subwoofer into their retarded car. Those are the guys who must first be gathered, they must have a swift boot in the rear, they need to be told that Jesus Christ is not a gay hippie in a dress and that they are dealing with the King of kings and Lord of lords.
You can watch Driscoll’s video here.
So, if you’ve read much of my blog, you know I am a church planter in Boston. I didn’t know much about being a church planter before I started, but I have learned a lot in the last two years. I now realize that there can never be a professional church planter. I also now realize that every follower of Christ should be involved in church planting.
That’s hard to understand because there are a lot of things that every believer should be encouraged to do: caring for the homeless, looking after orphans and widows, having concern for the nations, loving our neighbors, promoting love and non-violence, etc. How can we have our hand in every one of those things? Honestly, there are only a few homeless people near Boston University and I don’t know where to begin with orphans and widows. In reality, some believers, using their strengths and passions are involved in different things. One believer might open a homeless shelter, while another believer owns a business and is ethically responsible. We give to our communities in different ways. We express our love by our involvement in the community.
Church planting is different. I always thought of church planting as a vocation. A team of people see a need in a specific community where there is no church and they work together to meet those needs. The church planter is the guy. He’s the leader. He’s the guy with the vision and the direction. Recently, I was teaching about church planting to a group of teenagers in Chicago. There was a guide that I was supposed to follow as I taught over a period of five days. The guide said that most church planters have three things. They have a definite call from God. They are called to a specific people and they are called to a specific place. True, there is a vocation for people who want to lead new church growth in an area, but that’s not all church planting is meant to be.
It’s ironic because my move to Boston was after a long time of frustration with how the church sets it’s pastors up as the ministers. My view shifted along time ago to realize that everyone in the church is meant to follow Christ and serve their community. Not just the pastor. And here I was allowing the same deception to creep in to my view of a church plant. Sure, we were basing our church on the idea that we were all there to serve each other and serve our community, but I still had the concept that the church planter is the man. He calls the shots.
I’ve found the truth. You may have found it already. I have a definite calling from God: to love God and to love people, and, to make disciples of all nations. That’s my call, but that’s not my call as a church planter, that’s my call as a follower of Christ.
I have been given a specific group of people to reach out to. For me it’s college students and young adults, but for you it might be a family member, a co-worker, a classmate, a roommate. It’s whoever God has placed in your life. That is your specific group of people.
I have been given a specific place. Boston. I had to move from where I used to live and from what was familiar to me, but that’s not the case for everyone. You don’t have to go to another nation to make disciples of all the nations. You may not be called to move to another city.
My realization of church planting is that we all have a definite call, a specific place, and a specific people. Churches need to be planted in your community. They need to be planted in Boston. They need to be planted in Istanbul and in Chicago. And I need to be involved in planting churches. We just need to understand and apply the following:
I am the church and I have been planted with a definite call, in a specific place, to a specific people.
Well, I can say I have been extremely busy. I just got back from a trip to Istanbul last night. I will be leaving today for a conference in Greensboro. My church is planting another church near Boston College so I have become the lead pastor at “the mother church”. I have been developing our leadership at our church and have asked three new people to come on staff. I have been dating a girl for 3 and a half months now. I am preparing for a mission trip to Tokyo next week. I will be moving into my own apartment next month. Like I said, I have been busy.
None of that is to make excuses for not posting on this blog and I’m sure many of you will look back through the first paragraph and say something about my lack of blogging being about the girl. Honestly, I am trying to figure out how to balance my time. I want to keep things in perspective and I view this blog as important for me to express my ideas specifically about church planting. I know that there have been several people express their gratitude for a blog like this and so I want to be consistent with my writing for my own benefit and if it is of benefit to others I hope you will join the conversation.
I want to get things started again by asking a question. I will preface the question with something I have encountered and have been thinking a lot about over the past two years. I probably won’t get much response to this post because most of my regulars have given up on me.
I have been thinking a lot about house churches. God has given me a vision of where we need to be as a church here in Boston and it’s not house churches…at least not in the way that I am hearing about them. I am hearing some really good things and some not so good things and just because I haven’t been led to do the house church thing doesn’t mean I think they are completely wrong ideologically or that no one should do it that way.
Actually, I believe the most important aspect of our church is our time spent in the homes. We have weekly Community Groups that are for the purpose of fellowship and following Christ together with a smaller group of believers. My vision is that those CG’s would be the first priority. Of course, there are people that come to our church that either understand that or they don’t and the ones who don’t are probably coming with their ideas that our Sunday night large gathering is the first priority…at least for them. And that’s fine, the vision doesn’t happen over night. Anyway, the point is, our church engages in “house church” without neglecting the regular gathering together of the ekklesia in our area. My concern is that in our effort to do something different that will connect with the next generation we will abandon some very important aspects of the church.
Another issue I have is that there are 300,000 university students in Boston. There are 16 million in the US. Very few countries in the world DON’T have a student studying in the US and the nations of the world are sending their very best to study here. As a church that is intentionally reaching out to college students, I believe there is a great harvest. I know the result of house churches is supposed to be multiplication…the very thing that we are doing in our church…but is that theory or practice. Is that happening with the house churches in the US? Is that happening in Boston? Jesus says that the harvest is plentiful, and I don’t want you to think that I judge success by numbers, but shouldn’t we be praying for a bountiful harvest? I believe there should be growth and, yes, even large numbers. The house churches that are isolated from one another, are they really New Testament in their concept? What is the glue that holds these groups together.
For us, our Community Groups are basically house churches and I want that to be emphasized above everything that we do as a church, but our larger gatherings are like the glue that keeps us together in the larger community. I’m not really making a big point here. I’ve just given you some brief thoughts about this question I have and I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Any questions. Any comments. I hope after such a long absence you haven’t given up on me being a part of the blogging world.
Two years ago on Ash Wednesday I spent the day fasting because I was hoping to determine what God was doing in my life. I did not even know that Boston was on the horizon at that time. However, God had been placing in my heart over the weeks prior to Ash Wednesday a desire for four different things: missions, pastoral ministry, collegiate ministry, and church planting. I remember going to see the Passion of the Christ with a group of friends that night in New Orleans.
Several months prior to that day, I had received an email from TJ Odom saying that he thought it would be cool if I could move up to Boston to help him with a church plant that he was working with. It wasn’t God’s timing and I didn’t feel led at the time to move to Boston and so I emailed back and said thanks but no thanks.
The weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, two years ago, however, God began closing a lot of doors that I wanted to be open. With a list of about ten options on a piece of paper, I began crossing off the doors that were closing. There were youth ministry positions and other church positions as well as various other ministry possibilities, but one after one I began crossing off the invalid options. Finally, I saw only one item left on the list. It was the possibility of moving to Boston. I had not heard from TJ for several months at that point and was pretty sure the opportunity in Boston was no more.
So, on Ash Wednesday, armed with the knowledge that God was calling me to missions, pastoral and collegiate ministry and church planting, but not knowing when any of those might be fulfilled in my life, I prayed and fasted that God would show me His will. The very next day I was thinking about calling TJ just to see what was going on in Boston. My phone rang and it said, “TJ Odom” on the caller I.D. I immediately thought, “Okay God, what are you up to?” I answered the phone and after talking for a minute or two, TJ said, “Nathan, I want you to pray about moving to Boston to co-pastor a collegiate church plant with me.
I never thought that the four passions that God was putting in my heart could be wrapped up in one sentence, but TJ, without knowing what God was teaching me, described the very ministry description that incorporated all four. I didn’t put all of this together until about an hour or two after his call, and so I told TJ that I would pray about this for a week and call him back and let him know what I was thinking. Within an hour, however, God brought back all of what He had been teaching me those previous months. I waited out the week just to make sure I was hearing God’s voice clearly (as if there can be any doubt in retrospect) and by July of that same year I had moved to Boston.
Today, Ash Wednesday, two years later, I am amazed at how God has taught me so much about His will, His timing, and His passion. He has given me a glimpse of His heart for the city of Boston and I am following Him. A lot of people have been visiting this blog recently because a guy here in Boston has a blog where he has ranted against all the church planters who are moving to Boston “to save our heathen souls”. I can only say that I will go wherever my God leads me. There is no question that God led me to Boston. I can’t speak for all the other church planters moving to the area, but there are people that need to know Jesus in every city and in every country. I don’t know why God calls some to certain areas, but I don’t have to know. I can only speak for myself when I say that I don’t condemn Bostonians. I have been given a message to share, a context in which to share it, and a glimpse of what God sees in Boston and I’m grateful that He brought me here to do His work. I want others to experience the leadership of the Spirit and the joy of the Lord that I have experienced in my journey to Boston. My motivation is not to save the heathen, my motivation is to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. If that is offensive to anyone, that’s their problem, not mine.
Boston (42° 21′ , -71° 7′)
Well, this week Satan has certainly been at work in the life of our church, but God has been victorious every time. I have heard dozens of reports of people in our church sharing their faith this week. Seven BU students decided to go and do surveys in the student center at BU on Monday. They talked to several people in depth about faith and what distinguishes Christianity from the other religions. Others have had conversations with people and sat down with friends to be intentional about their conversations. Still others have told me about some sacrifices they had to make in their schedule or in their comfort levels, etc. just to do what they knew God was asking them to do.
Another great victory that we are seeing happen has to do with discipleship. Disciple-making is our church’s approach to reach the world for Christ and almost all of our leadership team have found someone to disciple and someone to disciple them and some of those relationships have formed in the past few days and weeks. Many of those that are being discipled by our leaders are unbelievers who value the time they can spend with an authentic believer. I don’t know what you might call it: friendship evangelism, lifestyle evangelism, relationship evangelism. I just call it being intentional about the relationships God has brought us and we are seeing it happen.
This week has been extremely productive in every way. Our team prepared for a mission team from New Orleans that just arrived tonight. ESL and an Alpha course are both picking up steam on campus. I have been able to get a lot of things done on my to do list and at the same time have some quality time with a few people that I needed to spend time with.
On the other hand, there have been some major things come up that are obvious attempts by Satan to destroy what God is doing. Satan wants to steal the seed that was emphasized Sunday night when we talked about sacrificing EVERYTHING for the message of Jesus Christ. A couple of people in our church are even going through some things this week that would have been difficult for Job.
Sunday night I developed a head cold because I couldn’t sleep all that night. My concern for our church was heavy and oppressive. I knew the storm would come in light of the gravity of the message and the amazing response from the church to sacrifice all for Jesus. I had trouble sleeping that night but Monday was a really good day (despite the cold that I was developing). Tuesday morning was HORRIBLE. I have never experienced so much frustration and for a couple of hours I was completely defeated and angry at life. Glory to God that He pulled me out of that and helped me to see that the circumstances of the morning were the spiritual forces that wanted to bring me down. They were succeeding too until my Father rescued me from it. The rest of the day was spiritually and logistically very fulfilling and productive.
Finally, I am encouraged by something that I thought was a negative thing at first. I have been traveling a lot and I have another trip this weekend (in 4 hours I head to the airport). However, God is doing a great work in my absence. Our leaders and others in the church are stepping up and taking responsibility for a lot of things while I am gone. Jessica will be leading worship completely on her own other than the instruments this Sunday. Josh is going to serve as my co-leader for the team we will be taking to New Orleans next week and he will be hosting the team meeting this Friday. Trisha, Anne and Dena will be doing most of the hosting of our current mission team (something TJ and I usually do). Others in our church will be spending time with the mission team and will serve alongside them. Others are planning upcoming events and my heart is overwhelmed at the things God is accomplishing through our church.
What a victorious week. I am encouraged. I am challenged. I am overwhelmed by God’s amazing leadership and guidance and His beautiful presence here in Boston. This round fought here in Boston between Satan and God, as always, goes to God Almighty.
Boston (42° 21′ , -71° 7′)
Well, over the next two weeks maybe all of my posts will be catch up posts like my last one. I will be doing a lot of traveling and may not get to update everyone very often. I will be in a wedding this weekend and my church is hosting a mission team at the same time so I am making sure everything is ready for that to happen while I am gone. I think me being gone so much is actually doing some great things for our church. There is so much that is happening without me having to be around. So many people are stepping up and getting things done. It’s been incredible to watch all of these college students take on more responsibility than most deacons I have known.
Over the next couple of days I will try to write down some thoughts about what I’m learning as I plant a church in Boston. Actually, I wanted to relay some of the stuff that happened tonight at church. TJ and I have felt incredibly burdened that about half of our church really needs to get to the next level in their faith. We have been preaching through 1 Thessalonians and tonight’s message was from chapter 2 verses 8-16. The title of my message was “Sacrificing Everything for the Message of Christ”. Paul said, “We were pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives.” The text revealed that sharing the message of Christ demands sacrifice, requires integrity, needs accountability, motivates others to share, and invites rejection.
This was an incredibly difficult message, and I knew that spiritual forces were rallying against me as I spoke. There were about five distractions during the first 10 minutes and after the last distraction I told everyone how important I felt this message was and that I fully believed that Satan was trying his best to distract us from this message. And so we paused and I prayed that God would be victorious in that place. Even as I prayed, God gave me a peace and I believe He helped us to focus on the message. There wasn’t a single distraction after that. Praise God for circumventing the attacks of the devil.
This was a powerful message…for me! It brought a realization to my own life that I don’t have as much urgency in sharing my faith that I need to have. Yet, God was reconciling the world to Himself through Christ and He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Sure, I get opportunities to talk about my faith, but when was the last time I really sacrificed something to do it? How often do we keep a tight reign on our schedules, our rights, our agendas, our money, our resources, our time? We are so inflexible that we are missing opportunities everyday to reveal the goodness of God.
It also was a tangible awareness of God’s presence with us tonight. Phones were ringing, the water fountain had to be unplugged because it was distracting, and there were other minor distractions. After we requested God’s authority over the room there was perfect peace. Undeniably, He brought everything back in to focus so that we could learn from His Word. It was powerful!
Please pray for our church every chance you get this week. I told them that if they accepted the challenge to follow Christ and to be more intentional about sharing their faith, they were going to experience persecution, rejection, and even spiritual attack but that the Lord is with them. Please be praying for all of us that we will be bold, that we will rise to the challenge to share our faith, and that we will resist the temptation to give up when those attacks start happening.
Boston (42° 21′ , -71° 7′)
I’ve always been taught that the mark of a successful youth ministry is a teenager who continues to follow Christ faithfully when he or she leaves for college. I did youth ministry for 3+ years and I know the difficulties that youth ministers face. Tonight I went to the YEC for New England teenagers. It’s a conference of about 700 teenagers and they feature a speaker and a band and games, etc. It reminded me of how grateful I am to be working with college students.
I went because I want to take a more active role in supporting our youth programs throughout the area. I went to make an appearance at the major youth event because I want to begin developing partnerships with youth leaders in New England.
About a year ago, I was prayer walking at Emmanuel College and I was asking God to bring one student (a “person-of-peace”) to our attention that we could connect with at Emmanuel College. Otherwise, we have no reason to be on campus. There is nothing we can do to reach out to Emmanueal College students. Then the idea hit me that there are probably hundreds of New England students going to Boston area universities that grew up in the church or went to a youth ministry. If we could identify those students and get them plugged in to the church planting movement here in Boston, we would already have some people that could invest in their campus.
It’s not a complicated idea, but it seems like a lot of good would come from discovering teenagers that have a background in the church and could help bring the gospel to campuses in Boston. Through partnerships with New England youth pastors, we can communicate with these students even before they come to college.
It’s sad, but sometimes even the best from the youth group ends up falling away when they get to college. I want to help keep those students committed and connected to the body of Christ while they are in college, plus, they can help our churches get a foothold on some of these campuses where there is no evangelical presence.
Boston (42° 21′ , -71° 7′)
Students Reaching Students