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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.

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It all started…

21/09/2010.

It all started with a feeling, ‘there must be more to the Christian life and to the ministry than this!’ This was after some 38 years in mainline denominational, pastoral ministry in three provinces of South Africa. This ministry included about 12 years (latterly) of functioning as a ‘pukka’ cell church, with many rich and fruitful times, and yet also frustrations because of being looked to as a ‘senior pastor’ who had to constantly drive and administrate the ‘vision,’ in a fairly hierarchical way (this encouraged by some large, national cell church conferences in Johannesburg, Cape Town, etc – when it wasn’t really ‘me’). I can remember going away for a week or two (during my last pastorate, i.e. in the traditional, ‘institutional’ sense), having been asked by my leadership to bring fresh ‘vision’ to the church, only to have the basics of this vision rejected on my return. That was the beginning of a ministry that had been very ‘successful,’ denominationally speaking (many baptisms, dynamic youth ministry, multiplying cell groups, placement of missionaries in various parts in SA and abroad), but was now beginning to ‘fall off’ in unity and impact…

I felt like I was tired of just being with ‘believers’ and seeing to their needs day in and day out. I craved meeting with ‘real people’ again, sharing the Good News with people at the coal face, getting my hands dirty with ministry to the poor and forgotten, etc. I believe it was God Who, amongst other things, reminded me of a pre-publication copy of a book on house churches, given me at an international cell church conference in the late nineties in Hong Kong. I had read it on my return, but not been taken with it… until I re-read it some 4 years ago, in a sense with ‘new eyes,’ looking for a lifestyle and ministry that felt ‘real,’ authentic and biblical at the same time (I had seen too many church movements and programs come and go in my time…).

It’s been quite a journey since, one which I would not change for anything in the world. So here’s my first blog, from a hopefully maturer man who desperately wants to keep nimble and useful in the work of the Kingdom, with the technical help of his son who also finds himself somewhere on this journey in a manner of speaking…