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!
Most Christians in America are overwhelmed.
The typical Christian in America works 50+ hours per week and sleeps about 50 hours per week. That leaves about 68 hours to spend on everything else: family, friends, hobbies, exercise, cooking, eating, housework, watching TV, playing video games, homework, lectures, and – oh yeah – God.
Our culture is on the move. A typical church attending Christian doesn’t want to spend more than an hour on Sunday spending time with other believers. In fact, many Christians have the perception that they go to church instead of recognizing that they are the church. As a result, church has become a place rather than a people, an hour rather than an identity, and an obligation rather than a privilege. The Christian begins to view their responsibility to church as the minimum set of requirements necessary to be considered a “regular”.
There are a lot of ways we can simplify our lives so that we can spend more time with other members of the church. I want to explore that in more detail in a forthcoming post entitled A Gathering Church. Meanwhile, how are we to perceive our role in the world?
#Should there be a secular vs. sacred dichotomy in our minds?
#Should we feel guilty if 95% of our time is spent in the world and only 5% is spent in “sacred” activities?
#How can we move from “regular attender” to become a faithful follower of Jesus (regardless of how much or how little time we spend in a church building)?
#How can we be the church when we aren’t with the church?
I’m Glad You Asked
Too many Christians are not asking those questions. If you are one of the few who is genuinely asking questions like these then you are on the path of a disciple. You are learning what it takes to truly follow Jesus. Keep asking those questions and others like them. Now let me see if I can provide some thoughts on the matter.
A church that merely packs out a church building for an hour each Sunday with regular attenders may look successful but is in fact disobedient to Christ. If the leadership of a church isn’t calling its members to costly discipleship then it is ignoring one of the most central teachings of Christ. We aren’t called make converts or church attenders, we are called to make disciples. But where do we look for new recruits (so to speak)?
A Church on the Move
In the Matthean Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus tells his followers, “As you are going, make disciples…” Every pastor has pointed out this nuance that “Go” is not the command because it is a participle and it means “as you are going”. In other words, this isn’t new stuff but it is a very important point: “Make disciples” is the command. Jesus commands his church to be on the move. It’s hard to escape from the busy pace of the American lifestyle, so let’s take advantage of the fact that much of our day is spent with unbelievers.
We are on the move because we are Americans and we are the church because we are Christians. So, as we go about our daily activities, let’s keep in mind that we are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. It’s kind of silly to think that we would try and be ambassadors only when we are in the walls of a church building during “holy hour”. America doesn’t send out ambassadors to America, they send ambassadors to places and people that need to hear the message we have to communicate. In the kingdom of God, our role in the world is to go to the people that need to hear God’s message of love and truth. We are going anyway (job, gym, restaurant, store, etc), so why not fulfill Christ’s commands “as you are going”?
Following Jesus 9 to 5
I once waded through every single verse in the gospel of Mark to determine where Jesus spent his time. Jesus spent most of his time on the seashore and in the marketplace with business people. Coming in as second to spending time with business people, Jesus spent his time with his disciples. Then, Jesus spent time in homes, and finally he spent time in the temple complex. So, in order of importance Jesus spent most of his time in the marketplace, then with his disciples, then in homes, and finally in the temple complex. Jesus made disciples as he was going.
We are called to be the church, not just when we are with other believers, but significantly we are called to be the church when we are not with other believers. It’s easy being the church with like-minded friends, but discipleship wasn’t the easiest thing in the world for Jesus’ original Twelve was it? We don’t just choose to be disciples when it’s easy for us. Peter and John said they considered it a privilege to suffer shame for the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:41) Suffering was one of the core values of the early church. We will never experience the kind of suffering of the first disciples, so can we not have enough boldness to share with a co-worker or a friend about our relationship with Jesus?
We freely talk about our spouse, our children, our pets, our hobbies, and our interests, but not about our God?!
The reason God never comes up in conversation is because we have misplaced priorities. Our job is something that is of absolute necessity so that we can pay the bills and eat meals. We forget that we are a child of the King. He is the source of our needs and He has placed us in our jobs and in our circles of friends to share God’s love with others. That is why we are employed: not to make money but to make disciples. Rather than view the workplace as a mission field for making disciples, too many Christians just try to get through the day so they can collect their paycheck and go home, never thinking about what “as you are going, make disciples…” might mean for their lives.
The church needs to develop the habit of calling its members to follow Jesus. Our leaders are often not willing to challenge the church to go beyond regular attendance at worship gatherings. Success for a church is not in filling a building on a weekly basis. Success is determined by how many lives are being transformed. It’s about quality not quantity, depth not width. Followers of Jesus recognize that church gatherings are pointless if the church is never going. But when the church is a going church, the church gatherings are that much better!
Related Post: My Top Concerns for the Local Church
The Role of General Revelation in the missio dei
General revelation (G.R.) is the idea that God has made Himself known through the created order and through human conscience. Special revelation (S.R.) is the specific and necessary revelation found in the Bible and in the incarnation of Jesus. According to my professor, there are some who believe that G.R. has no role to play in drawing people to God. Their view is that it is only after one has heard about Jesus that they realize that God was at work all along.
We also talked about the preparatio evangelica that is found in religions and philosophies of the world. In other words, there is a debate whether or not God can use the (t)ruths of, say, Buddhism, to prepare them for THE (T)ruth. Dr. Tennent gave an example of new Christians in India who would either witness to the role Hinduism played in opening their eyes to the Truth or would say once they became a Christian they wanted to have nothing to do with their Hindu faith because it was so destructive.
It seems difficult to me to suggest that G.R. has nothing to do with bringing people to salvific access to God. Simply to mention one example from Scripture, Paul says, “From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.” (Romans 2:20) Some argue that Paul is writing from the perspective of having S.R. so now He is able to see the G.R. that was there all along. The text flat out rejects that notion by saying people are without excuse precisely because they should’ve sought after God from what could be known from the created order. Paul is writing about people who haven’t had S.R. but could clearly see the G.R. of God and rejected it.
Since G.R. is accessible to every person, of every time, in every place, many people have developed philosophies and religions that incorporate some of the wisdom that arose from what can be understood about God. This is not a saving knowledge of God, but it certainly points to a God who saves. As a result, religions have arisen that contain a modicum of truth. God is often seen to be just. He is often recognized as creator and often, people obey many of God’s laws simply because of their conscience (but not always). Therefore, when someone comes to Christ, often they recognize how God was drawing them to Him all along.
Therefore, when it comes to the new Hindu Christians who had a personal experience and either accepted or rejected the role that their philosophy played in their salvation, there is no evidence to oppose G.R.’s role in the eventual salvation of those new Christians. One group actually bears witness to the valid role of G.R. but the other doesn’t explicitly refute it. It is simply their experience that G.R. didn’t play a role in their lives, but it can’t therefore be determined that G.R. never plays a role in people’s lives.
I was a bit surprised that people have a hard time believing that God can use creation and conscience to draw people to Himself. In my view, even the philosophies of this world, though fallen, still bear the marks of a loving Creator. On a very broad level, why would we even have so many religions if there wasn’t a God? So people’s beliefs that there is a God (or gods) has led them to create a man-made religion. Even barbaric practices like human sacrifice in ancient pagan religions reveals that people thought God required a “propitiation” for their sins. Their beliefs were tainted making God vindictive rather than just, but the sense was innate that they had done something wrong that angered God. Many other examples could be given, but the truth is that we live in a world created by a God who left His fingerprints everywhere.
What do you think? Are we overemphasizing the role the General Revelation plays in people coming to know God?
I am currently attending a two week course at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary on the subject of World Missions. This winter session is the start of my final year of seminary and this particular class ensures that it will be a good year. Yesterday I simply shared some of my notes from Day One and thought I would share, not necessarily the outline, but maybe some insights from Day Two. Hopefully, I will keep doing this for the next two weeks (with a few unrelated posts besides). As always, I invite conversation in the comments section because this is helpful to you and me as we think through these issues together.
The Great Commission
Today, Dr. Tennent spent the entire 3 hours discussing the Great Commission. There were a few things that were familiar and a few things that were brand new to me. The outline was quite simple. He went through each of the gospels and ennumerated all of the references to Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles. This culminated into the Great Commission passages from Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 (and Acts 1:8), and John 20.
The Usual (but still good) Insights
1. The Matthean Commission
The command in Matthew 28:19 is not “Go” as most people seem to think, it is “make disciples”. I’ve personally been saying this for quite some time and wish more people got it. My professor talked about the imperatival use of the verb “make disciples” whereas, the other verbs are participles that modify the main verb: “as you are going”, “as you are baptizing”, “as you are teaching”. This is a church that is already on the go, and their task is to make disciples.
The full phrase is to “make disciples of all the nations”. The nations here are not meant to be geo-political entities. They are specifically meant to refer to people groups.
2. The Markan Commission
Mark 16:9ff are not included in the earliest Greek manuscripts. As a result, we cannot place the same authority on this text as we do on the rest of Scripture. Mark’s ending could’ve been lost, or he intentionally meant to end His gospel abruptly in the middle of a theological point. The new ending is anonymous but has been accepted by the church and it is not inconsistent with the thought of Mark and can still be preached.
3. The Lukan Commission
Luke emphasizes the sovereignty of God and the fact that we don’t “do” missions, we join God in HIS mission. He opened the eyes of the men in Luke 24 so that they would recognize Him. He opened the minds of His disciples so that they would do His will. Apart from God’s work in people’s hearts, there is nothing that we can say or do to make someone trust in Christ.
The New Insights (that I hadn’t thought of before)
1. The Matthean Commission
Most people in the Church associate the phrase “Great Commission” with Mt 28:18-20. We should delete that file and talk about the Great Commission (singular) that is found in all four Gospels. The Great Commission refers to the overall mandate that the One who was sent is now sending the Church.
2. The Markan Commission
Mark’s account seems to focus on individuals rather than people groups. Jesus says to “Go into all the world” World is less specific than Matthew’s “nation”. The imperative here is to “proclaim the message to all creation”. Since the world population of Jesus’ day was only 250 million and now is around 6.2 million, world population has changed the scope of Jesus’ commission to His first disciples. We have to go where the people are. Right now, around 60% of the world’s population are in China and India. If they are not receptive to the Gospel that will have huge implications on the future of the Church.
3. The Lukan Commission
There are no imperatives in the Lukan Commission. In fact, Luke is the first one to record actual content OF the Gospel that is to be proclaimed in the commission. The content of the commission starts with the prophecies that the Messiah would come and be killed but would rise on the third day and that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be preached to the nations. The next verse simply calls attention to the fact that the disciples are witnesses that this has taken place and He tells them that He is sending them the Spirit to help them. No command, just observation, but it’s an observation with implicit action involved.
Though Matthew, Mark, and Luke share some material, the Great Commission passages found in the Synoptics and also in John and in Acts 1:8 appear to be 5 separate sayings. For one thing, they take place in at least three different settings: Bethany, Jerusalem, and a mountain in Galilee. For another thing, they have completely different wordings and emphases.
Tomorrow I will be learning about the Johannine Commission. I’m looking forward to it. Meanwhile, what thoughts do you have in follow up to these other points. I should point out that these insights are not the entire content of the lecture. I just wanted to give you a couple of things that Dr. Tennent pointed out that were of interest to me.