BACK TO THE BUILDING!

Six years ago we did something that must have left many of my ministry friends scratching their heads. After spending ten years planning, building and paying off a new church centre … we walked away from it. And the reason? Well the reason is well documented in my blogging at the time but basically we came to the conclusion that the future for the church of Jesus in general was for it to get back to ‘how it was in the beginning’. Back to when the Holy Spirit breathed on the fledgling church and something unique sprung into view – an organic community that was fresh and simple and had in it the seeds for  growth and revival. There were no buildings, programs, hierarchical structures, distinctive church names or advertising gimmicks – just believers around a meal table sharing their lives in Christ.

Six years ago we were attracted by a vision to recapture that simplicity and, although we can’t say we are there yet (because it involves more than leaving a building), we know we did the right thing and aren’t looking back. However, following the vision did leave us with an interesting dilemma. What does a house church do with a building?

Well it actually didn’t turn out to be much of a dilemma since, as it turned out, there were many with a different vision that were happy to use it. In fact over the ensuing years four other churches, the local bridge club and our own successful playground were happy to call it home. And while they did so we wrestled with our own longer-term vision for the building.

And the result of our wrestling? We’re going back!

Let me explain …

When we stepped out of old style church I also stepped out of paid ministry, meaning I now needed a job. After various short time jobs, including driving a bread van and early morning cleaning the local Sailing Club, I was eventually snapped up by the local Salvation Army to manage their Red Shield Family Store (Op Shop). And although it turned out to be a God thing, re-employing my natural skills and putting me in touch with the community in a way that I never was before, the down side was that I inherited a shop building that was awkward, hot and very un-inviting. It didn’t take long before I knew we needed another building. And … well yes, you guessed it. After searching all over town for a more suitable place I found the keys to the perfect building hanging up in our kitchen.

And last week, after some months of arm-wrestling with beaurocracy and a couple of weeks of transforming a sparsely used meeting place into a potentially week-long meeting place, we moved back to the building! We now have the classiest looking Op Shop in town in a building that you would swear was designed exactly for that purpose.

Plus, we now have triple the rental income coming in to sow into local and overseas projects, such as the school we are helping Lhoy and Venus Edaniol build in the Philippines.

How wonderful and surprising is our God? Who would have thought that He would lead us back into something we thought we had no further use for? Or that I’d be pleased to be going back? And I am. The Op Shop represents a great opportunity to befriend a whole level of people, both shoppers and volunteer workers, who may never have stepped into the building for a church service but who may well be lined up by God to experience his love via a different and more inviting channel.

Thank God for the Salvos! And thank God for the building!

DEAD MAN WALKING (2)

Continuing the journey into homechurch ….

THE BATTLE OVER PREACHING

I read once that every person needs, at least once or twice a week, a positive experience that fills up their need to be loved or appreciated and to engage in something significant. For most pastors that sense of personal fulfilment is associated with their one moment when all eyes are upon them, the Sunday morning preaching time. They give a lot of attention to that moment, working hard during the week to come up with a finely tuned word, full of wisdom and well developed logic, just enough humour to endear them to their congregation, and a passion and power of conviction that hopefully will, under the anointing of the Spirit of course, result, hopefully, in at least a mini revival, bodies scattered on the floor, catchers exhausted.

They wish.

Most times they are happy to settle for a few positive, appreciative comments by the more spiritually astute, enough for the Pastor to wend his way home feeling fruitful and needed, a good shepherd with contented sheep.

Actually it was before we went homechurch that I noticed how discontent I was becoming with the weekly preaching routine. It came to a head one day when I had finished my ‘performance’ and we’d broken for coffee. I noticed that, although I’d preached well and the word had been received well, the moment we finished the conversation immediately turned to fishing, work, kids etc. But I was still on a high from the word. Why wasn’t everyone else buzzing with it? Well, the fault was not with the congregation. I had simply not engaged them in any interaction with the Word.

Not only that but on this afternoon there was less than 15 people there. It would have been far more productive to pull our chairs into a circle and throw the topic into the ring and let them, under the inspiration of the Spirit, teach themselves – with me just acting as a facilitator. Sure it may not have had the three points, the brilliant ending and altar call but maybe we ALL would have gone home buzzing with the experience of the Spirit speaking through EVERYONE and not just me. Maybe Paul’s picture of each person having a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation – all for the strengthening of the church – maybe that is actually a much more fruitful way of meeting. (1 Cor 14:19)

Anyway, that’s what we do now. Not that it’s always easy. The preacher in me often wants to dominate and has to be tamed. And the trained passivity in the rest of us is also pretty intransigent at times. But when the real thing happens we go home buzzing, each of us having been engaged in the process of being taught by the Spirit.

There is a place for preaching though and I’m not walking away from it. I sometimes really miss it. But it’s all about horses for courses and getting away from religiously doing church the way we’ve always done it. Too many church meetings centre on the performance of the preacher and the worship team. If they perform well you go home feeling good. If they don’t you don’t! It isn’t meant to be that way and I suggest that there is a lot of dying that has to happen in those ministries before we truly become the mature man that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4, which is growing up into Christ as “the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

Personally I think that most Christians could go without hearing the weekly sermon for a couple of months without taking a nose dive! Especially if the time they spent listening to sermons was spent actively engaging themselves in spending purposefull visiting time with their ‘not-yet-believer’ friends. In fact what they would probably find is that every sermon they’ve ever heard would come alive inside them as they faced the challenge of being Christ in the market place instead of in the pew. Perhaps we preachers have to give them freedom to experiment. And perhaps when they do turn up for the next sermon they’ll have a disciple in tow – and a fairly well grounded one at that!

DEAD MAN WALKING (3) coming up

DEAD MAN WALKING (1)

OUR JOURNEY INTO HOME CHURCH

Our journey into home church over the past year has been a mixture of life and death. Along with the enjoyment of discovering more refreshing and satisfying ways of relating has been the battle against the old foe of the church, religion. And it is very ingrained. I thought I’d briefly record a few of the battles and the victories gained along the way.

1. THE BATTLE OVER TRADITIONAL MEETING STYLE
Part of our reason for change was a sense of disillusionment with a meeting style that was based around the performance of a worship team and a preacher with little involvement from a congregation that had been unwittingly trained into passivity. If the performers did well you could go home with a feeling of satisfaction without having had to do much except sing along, listen and participate in the offering and communion. We sensed that the early church meetings were not like that but ‘each brought a song, a teaching, a revelation etc etc’

What happened though, when we moved into our house, was that we found ourselves after a few months doing in the house just what we were doing in the building. Same format of singing, then announcements, then preaching all led from the front. Fortunately we recognised it and gave some thought as to why we were meeting and what were the basic ingredients necessary for us to experience Christ among us. We examined whether we have to sing four songs (or any songs), formally take up an offering, having a three point sermon etc and finished up laying aside much that we were used to in favour of developing the kind of interaction that builds relationship.

2. THE BATTLE OVER THE OPINIONS AND EXPECTATIONS OF OTHERS
When you are leader that has at one stage built a church of 80 or more people, in a new building with a good worship team and activities program, and are then reduced down to half a dozen or so couples, some singles and a few kids crammed into a house, you go through a lot of self examination. Am I like Moses leading the people out into the wilderness only to die? Is there really a Promised Land of a better way to be the church or am I just a tunnel-visioned idealist? And what must this look like to those observing us? Surely it just looks like we are in some kind of a freefall destined for an inevitable nasty meeting with annihilation and oblivion.

Well, although I’m sure we are not in freefall, that doesn’t mean we are not dying. The Bible is full of people who on the outside looked like failures. Sarah in her barrenness, Job on the ash heap, Joseph in prison, Moses in the desert, David running from Absalom, Paul in Tarsus, John in the dungeon, and Jesus on the cross, all surrounded, not just by concerned, head-shaking friends, but also by the taunts of those who measured success by outward accomplishments and the standards of men. For all of them, obscurity, barrenness and the wilderness where vital times of preparation. But they were also times of death – death to their own techniques and expectations, and death to the opinions of others.

Not that we are closed to the input of others. After all we are surrounded by people who love us and walk in wisdom. But we need to discern where counsel comes from and what older mindsets are sometimes in play. That’s always the challenge – how to walk in the integrity of your own convictions whilst also maintaining and honouring the important relationships and accountability structures that God has given. Lord, give us wisdom to discern.

Coming up: DEAD MAN WALKING (2)

WHY WE CHANGED

A year ago we made a big shift as a church away from the traditional church meeting, based around a Sunday worship/preaching event, into home church. We now meet around a meal rather than a program and we love it. I thought I’d add to this site the letter from our website (slightly revamped) that explained our reasons for do so.

THE REASONS WHY WE AT LONG LAST WENT HOME CHURCH

1. IT HAD BEEN PART OF OUR VISION FOR A LONG TIME
From the start home groups, cell groups, house church, whatever we called it, had been a feature of our church. We started in a house and had always felt that it was in homes that we’d experienced our most valuable times of connecting to each other. It was in our homes that we relaxed and opened up, and often where we’d learned the most, both about God and each other.But we’d also been a church that had valued the Sunday corporate gathering. It was the value that we placed on that that eventually led us, via a number of rented facilities, to build The Fellowship Centre. At the time we felt that Sunday morning church was an important expression of what it meant to be a church. Building the Fellowship Centre was in fact a bold and exciting move. I had no doubt at all that God was in it. It was a very prophetic action requiring faith and a unity of vision that was rare among the churches on the Coast.

However, as we were about to move into our building, I was troubled by a concern that the building and all that happened in it would become for us ‘church’. And so in ’96, quite prematurely and with a lot of enthusiasm but not much wisdom, I embarked on a bold experiment to make sure that that did not happen. We put our home groups on Sunday morning and met for our Celebration on Saturday night. I loved it – no dressing up, no musicians practice at 8am, no late night sermon preparation, relaxed Sunday morning breakfast – just the way it is now!

But it seems that only fools rush in where angels fear to tread, and I hadn’t noticed the look on the angels’ faces. I’m sure that they knew in their wisdom some things that I was about to learn. Namely that you can’t rush people into change and that the prophet, although he can see what the church is meant to look like in the future, has to live in the now and be much more patient and pragmatic in bringing about God’s purposes. The experiment lasted three months and then we were back to church ‘as normal’.

I learned a lesson from King David in this. You will remember that David wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem and how his first attempt finished in failure. This was not, however, because his vision and enthusiasm was misguided. Not at all. This act was driven by a hunger to see God’s glory and was profoundly prophetic and strategically important. What was at fault was simply his understanding of God’s ways. It took him awhile to get that right but the day eventually came for him to carry out God’s purpose which is what he did.

Last July I felt that we were standing at such a time. The years since ’96 had been valuable years. They had matured us, refined us, clarified the vision within us and prepared us to make the move into home church. It was a natural move for us

2. IT’S HARD TO BUILD HOME CHURCH UNLESS YOU ARE IN A HOME.
Another thing I realised last July was that if our vision is to build a network of home churches on the coast then we can only effectively do that by making the home the centre of our activities rather than our building.

I had long felt that while we meet on Sundays in a special building we will continue to see that as ‘church’. We therefore needed to move out in order to get our thinking in line with New Testament thinking. In the New Testament we only really find one main setting out of which the church operated and that was the home. It was in the home, gathered around bread and wine, that the church experienced the fellowship of Christ and the life of the Spirit. It was simple church, unadorned by the clutter of activity that goes into modern Sunday church services. And it was powerful church, an underground movement that was able to be easily reproduced. It turned out radical disciples and changed the world.

For sure there were other settings in which they met. There was Solomon’s Porch, a large outdoor gathering where they initially met daily, and in Ephesus we find Paul teaching daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. But note that these had little resemblance to the public meetings of today. They were almost exclusively for the purpose of teaching, preaching and evangelism. It is highly unlikely that they included musicians, worship or the breaking of bread or any of the other things that are part of ‘normal’ Sunday worship services today. Not that we are at all tied into copying such early church meetings. My point is that in the NT these public meetings had a definite focus of teaching and training. They were not where the main life of the church was at.

We do have a building, a nice one and fully paid for. But the building cannot dictate our vision and will be an important asset to us in the years ahead. For now we are blessed that it has become a greatly appreciated meeting place for a number of other church fellowships in town leaving us free to explore an alternative way of meeting.

3. GOD IS CHANGING THE EXISTING EXPRESSION OF THE CHURCH
Mike Bickle, in his book Growing in the Prophetic, relates a revelation that came to him in 1982, in a hotel room in Cairo, where the Lord said to him, “I will change the understanding and expression of Christianity in the earth in one generation”. When I ask myself what is the main ‘expression’ of Christianity in the earth today it is, apart from our denominational systems, the way we meet. To most onlookers the church is ‘a group of religious people who gather each Sunday morning in a special building, sing special songs and listen to a sermon by a specially ordained pastor or priest’. Whether it is the Catholic mass or Hillsong (or all that is in between), that about sums up Christianity for most onlookers.

Well, God is changing that expression of the church. I suspect that in the future, although there will remain an important place for teaching and preaching, the main meetings of God’s people will be far more informal and will be for interaction, fellowship, prayer and hands on, practical outreach. Like Mary and Martha there will be a sorting out of what is really ‘necessary’ in order to be the community of Christ on earth. This will involve the slaying of not a few sacred cows along the way (see Stuart Gromenz’ Micro Church site for a few that have to go).

But the move back to simplicity and the stripping away of the excess baggage will in the end produce a church that is very different to what we see today. A church that has thrown off the trappings of this world, discarded its techniques and values, and is sold out for Jesus and Him alone. Mat Redman summed it up in ‘The Heart of Worship’. It’s all about You, Jesus. Let’s go back to when it was more simple.