Almost 4 years later we have seen the slow but steady development, from one house group, to five. These unite once a month for combined fellowship, prayer, and usually an ‘agape’ or ‘love feast.’ My wife and I act as resource-people or facilitators rather than primary leaders. The ‘leadership’ is horizontal rather than hierarchical. From the start I insisted that I not be called ‘pastor.’ We choose to get input from those gifted in the ‘4-fold ministry’ of Eph. 4:11, which describe servant-functions rather than ecclessiastical offices.
One of the hardest things is to get institutional church-ism and consumerism out of believers, in more ways than one. The pacificism of sitting in straight rows, listening to a single preacher/pastor year in and year out, dies hard (‘service’ so often = ‘serve us’), but it does with perseverance! Hence our best members have been new believers, or believers who are ready to change for the sake of the Kingdom, no matter the cost.
Right from the start we also insisted that each believer would:
- take responsibility for themselves – no more ‘wheelbarrow Christians’ who only go when pushed, usually by the ‘pastor’ or leader.
- we would jointly take responsibility for mission on our doorstep and to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8 – “both in Jerusalem and in Judea…. to the ends of the earth” as a simultaneous process). We are involved, together with other churches, in a home for abandoned children, a local disadvantaged school, prayer meetings in the work-place, etc.
- while we engage in house church planting, we see this as the outcome of NT disciple-making (Mt. 28:16-20). More often than not, new converts, under the leadership of the Word and the Holy Spirit, will find their own authentic way of gathering/being church, within the context of their own culture and without missing any of the basic ingredients of ‘church’ as expressed, for example, in Acts 2:42. Along these lines our members are all slowly (not as fast as one would like!) beginning to make disciples in their own family as well as in the marketplace.
Something exciting, as recent as last night… Melanie and I have been ‘discipling’ a couple involved in setting up their own business, for some months now on Tuesday nights. This has involved mainly: coffee around the table, relevant Bible input, discussion and mutual prayer, challenges to personal growth and application, beginning in the home. Last night something very exciting happened. The businessman had come across another vibrant Christian couple (while seeing his car attended to), sovereignly converted some 4 years ago in a Roman Catholic church, which they left after much input on their part and then clear guidance from the Lord. Here is the exciting thing – within those 4 years they have been radically transformed by God and, together with another couple, have gone into their community, visiting homes experiencing crises, ministering the Good News in the power of the Holy Spirit through anointed prayer. Scores have found Christ, including drug addicts, would-be suicides, etc. These continue to be informally discipled around the family table. They attend a very good megachurch in our city, Port Elizabeth (South Africa), but in many ways ‘have left the building’ in order to ‘be Christ’ to broken people in their community. Without my saying anything about house church, they shared last night how they were convinced that God was beginning to re-shape His Church in homes, according to the pattern of the NT. The extra component they brought to the table was: a time of very meaningful worship in song lead by a guitarist, quiet meditation before God, vibrant testimony and sharing around the table. To my way of thinking, a perfect ‘house church meeting,’ a little bit of heaven come down! Everyone in the group was profoundly aware of the presence of God!
By the way, by ‘house church’ we do not mean a ‘cell group,’ or simply a group meeting in a house practising ‘traditional church’ or even ‘NT church’ – there is nothing special about a house, although it does radically connect with the family, the basic building-block of society and, I believe, of the Church as well. More about that later… In other words, ‘house churches’ are ‘simple churches,’ organic in nature, meeting wherever most suitable, penetrating families and society, networking with house churches in the city/town/area, working even with more traditional churches where the common uniting factor is the Kingdom of God and its extension locally and globally.