Essential House Church Truths, Part 1

I’d like to share how house church is different than the traditional, how to start, what a house church meeting looks like, big questions, how to stay balanced, etc.

Things I Learned Along the Way
The basics of house church I could see from the Word, but the ‘how to’ came about as a result of putting things learned in the Word into practice, making adjustments, and many “OH, that’s why Paul said what he did” revelations.

The foundation was that I realized the whole of the New Testament was written to people in homes scattered throughout the Roman Empire. That means every understanding of every chapter and verse Matthew through the Revelation must manually and purposely be brought up in the reader’s mind to apply to a living room full of people. If you pull it out of context and apply it to an auditorium with a paid pastor up front, you will have a hard time understanding the Word in context. You have to renew your mind to this truth one truth at a time.

I knew from Acts 2:42-46 that they were “in the temple daily” and the apostles fellowship and teaching, and they all went ‘house to house’ breaking bread and praying. It seemed they had 1 foot in the temple and 1 foot in house church.

That only lasted no more than 18-24 months, because within that 2 years Acts 8:1 says all believers left Jerusalem except the apostles due to Saul of Tarsus’ persecution, and even after his salvation and the return of some to the city, we never again see them going to the temple for gatherings.

I learned however that the Father graciously provided that 18-24 month time frame of one foot in each place to allow them to adjust from temple thinking (God is in the building) to New Testament thinking (God is in me), and that people go through that same 18-24 month adjustment time today.

People DO often take 1-2 years to decompress from the old temple way of thinking to the New Testament way of thinking. Part of the difficulty is that we use the same Bible terms, so each though has to manually and purposely be interrupted, changed to the context of the NT, and then thought through.

I could see that every NT letter was written not to leaders, but ‘to the church at …’, and that the writers expected the body to take care of problems rather than ‘leaders’. Examples include I Corinthians 5 and 6 where Paul told the whole body to deal with the man involved in the incestuous relationship and then for the whole body to deal with the 2 brothers suing one another in open court. He never said to have leadership deal with it – he told them all to deal with it, taking responsibility for their own spiritual lives. (there’s a thought)

I saw the names of the various initial hosts: Lydia in Philippi, Crispus and Justus in Corinth, Jason in Thessalonica, Aquila and Priscilla at various times in Rome and Ephesus, Philemon in Colossae, and Nymphas in Laodecia to name a few. That meant when I read those letters they were originally sent to these people and those gathered in their homes. When they outgrew a house 4-6 or more divided out and went to other homes. We do the same today.

Common Questions and Context
The thoughts I had to change after 25+ years in ministry and walking with the Lord, even to understanding study guides which were written by people with a temple based Christian mentality, involved studying out the questions as each thought presented itself and letting the New Testament answer itself.

The questions I had to find answers for in the Word about understanding the NT in light of it all being written to those in house church are the same questions I get today via email and phone calls. I’ll answer a few common ones here:

1) Q: What about the 5-fold? A: The NT was written within context of 5-fold manifesting within home churches, and thus that is the natural environment – and I might add, it all flows wonderfully, smoothly, amazingly organic. (The trouble is that because we’ve had 1700 years of traditional church using 5-fold out of context, people who ask about it are doing so with no visible example in their life experience to compare it to.

It is like trying to describe the animal hippo-ele-monkey-saurus. If you’d never seen a hippo-ele-monkey-saurus no matter how someone explains one to you, you have no point of reference. Such is trying to explain the New Testament house church to those who only know the 1700 year old non-Biblical way of ‘doing church.’ They have to gradually re-learn all they learned within NT house based context.

2) Q: What about accountability/covering? A: Read your New Testament. What does it say about accountability? It speaks of accountability to Jesus, and to each other. The traditional church measures accountability by attendance, giving, and volunteerism.

The NT measures accountability by growing in the Lord/discipleship and being in relationship with each other – the quality of the relationships automatically brings each into accountability with the other. At first, people’s minds practically go ’tilt’ and their eyes roll back in their heads in confusion when I tell them it’s as simple as 2 friends being accountable to each other and those then being accountable to a larger living room full of friends, and then that living room being accountable to several living rooms full of friends around town…it’s all very natural, organic, and not a program – it’s relationship.

If one offends, the other goes to them alone, and if they hear them they’ve gained the friend back. If not they gather 1 or 2 other friends and go to the person – hey, that’s something Jesus taught! Imagine that, putting relationships back into ‘church’ actually works – not a formula, it’s real.

3) Q: How do you keep balanced? A: How did they do that in the NT? They were connected to each other (in this case Paul’s) network, they communicated with each other, they traveled back and forth, they remained connected and active in the larger body of Christ and they were connected to their communities. If you throw in balanced apostolic teaching and relationships all flowing together in a larger community of faith – you remain balanced. Any church no matter the structure can get off if they choose to become an island to themselves.

As a side note to accountability let me add how “witnessing” is done in the New Testament. It’s all relationship based; in John 1:40-42 Andrew introduces his brother Peter to Jesus – family. In John 1:44-50 Philip, from the same small town as Peter and Andrew, introduced his friend Nathanael to Jesus – friends and community. In Luke 5:5-10 it Peter introduces his partners in the fishing business, James and John, to Jesus – co-workers. These are concentric circles and also overlapping circles: family, friends, community, co-workers.

You are looking for the person of peace of Luke 10: 5-9. They are a person of peace to you, not yet Jesus – they accept you initially, not Jesus. In Luke 10 Jesus says to find a person of peace, stay with them, eat and drink with them…and oh yeah, on down the road in verse 9 he says to ‘heal the sick therein.’ It’s relationship based, we are not trying to present ‘the deal’ and close it all in one fell swoop of a Bible banging down on their head – care about them FOR REAL. Get to know them FOR REAL. Be a friend – let them be that person of peace, after you truly know each other, then and only then present Jesus. As Jesus said, if they don’t want you, go to someone else.

Why do you think Paul went into the synagogues at first? (This is a good one to debrief from the traditional thinking that says ‘Well of course he was Jewish and they had first rights to the gospel…’) Of course that’s true, but put it in context that maybe, just maybe, Paul was trying to obey Jesus and look for people of peace. He’d go into a synagogue, some people of peace received him while others rejected him and Jesus, and he (over and over it says) “separated the disciples”…and went into the home of….

Those are the top questions in terms of initial questions I had with answers I found, but many more came when we started putting things into practice…more on that later.

What a House Church (HC) Looks Like
In Acts 2:46 they went house to house, yet in several places Paul addresses specific people ‘and the church that meets in your house’, as listed above. When we first started I wasn’t sure how to balance going from house to house with ‘the church that meets in your house…’, but it soon became clear once we started.

We started in our living room with a handful of people who were de-churched like us. (A simple invitation to de-churched friends was all it took) For 6 weeks Barb and I hosted in our living room and I led. We talked about house church, walked through the Word together putting scripture back into a home context, put it into practice to see how it played out, etc. Before week 6 the Father spoke to me one day: “You’ve talked enough, now delegate out to others.”

So after I shared that 6th week I told them that the next week one of them would have to lead. So we went another 6 weeks in our home rotating a different leader each of those weeks.

Each meeting was different because the gifts among us were so varied. One brother was more of a teacher – don’t bother with a worship CD, just bring your Bible, a Concordance, a word study. Another was more about prayer and worship, so we spent the time praying for one another and in worship. During that time people who had never moved in the gifts of the Spirit did so, while Barb and I remained quiet and let them take the initiative.

Lesson – Let whoever is leading, lead. Let God move through others. When they do things differently from the way you would do things, learn it isn’t wrong, its just different, and be at peace with that.

By that time it was 12 weeks in a row hosting. The pressure had been building for some time on Barb, but finally she said something to the effect of, “John, someone else has to host, you can’t expect us to do this every week – the Word says they went house to house, so lets do that.”

So we did. At week 12 we passed around a list to draw up a monthly schedule and began rotating to a different home each week. Usually the host/hostess also led/leads, but not always. Sometimes the host/hostess says something like “I’ll open my house, but it’s been too busy a week to get the mind of the Lord, so someone else will have to.” We go with that, someone else volunteers to lead, and that’s fine.

Lesson: Some water/juice/drinks, some basic finger foods, helps people feel at home.
Lesson: If you don’t rotate homes and leaders each week, people fall back into human nature of looking to the hosts that do it each week to be the leaders.
Lesson: If you do rotate homes and leaders each week everyone gets used to sharing from what’s on their heart, and you’ll be amazed at the discussions that follow as a result.

What we’ve found is that house churches that meet weekly in the same person’s house usually don’t go on very long (no more than 3 years usually) before it either stagnates, gets off balance in focus and teaching, or people simply stop coming for various reasons.

In the Word every time Jesus, Paul, Peter or whomever went somewhere, they had something to say. Paul said in I Cor 14:6 they would not benefit unless he came to them with revelation, teaching, life experience to share, the gifts of the Spirit, and so on. He told them that when they came together “every one of you has a Psalm (prayer/worship), revelation (something God showed me), doctrine (something the Lord taught me), or tongues/interpretation (gifts of the Spirit in operation).”

By contrast there are very few meetings where no one was in charge, where no one had anything to share. We see a meeting of 120 praying at Pentecost with no apparent leader until the Holy Spirit came and Peter shared once they spilled out into the street. We see a meeting in Acts 13:1-3 where 5 men were seeking the Lord with no apparent leader – but that’s it – and in those cases the Lord did take the lead.

Lesson: God moves through his people, but if once in a while the leader doesn’t have anything from the Lord, it’s fine to just seek him as a body and see what the Lord does. But otherwise, He will have something to say through those present or those leading.

John Fenn

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