John Eldredge, in an interview with Christianity Today, gives a much clearer picture of his views on church and on his own house church in particular. John is the well-known author of Sacred Romance and Journey of Desire and will be the speaker at the national house church conference in Colorado. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
One of Eldredge's most striking and controversial comments concerns the demands of attending church. "When the deepest treasure becomes our most dutiful burden, it really kills our hearts," he writes in The Journey of Desire. "You might even need to give up going to church for a while or reading your Bible. I stopped going to church for a year; it was one of the most refreshing years of my life. I hadn't abandoned God, and I very much sought out the company of my spiritual companions. What I gave up was the performance of having to show up every Sunday morning with my happy face on."
What prompted Eldredge to take such a radical step? "The biggest clue was that I found myself sitting in the parking lot reading Scripture because I couldn't find God inside. For me there was absolutely no life in it. It was routine," he says. He spent the year reading the book of Psalms. "What is described in the Psalms is so much more passionate, so much more honest, and so much more true to human experience."
Eldredge did not return to the congregation where he felt at such a loss for God's presence. Instead, he has spent the past few years in a home church of about 20 people, including his colleagues at Ransomed Heart, their spouses, and friends. For a few years the church called itself the Nebuchadnezzar, named after the hovership in The Matrix, says member Aaron McPherson, who came to know Eldredge while studying at Focus on the Family Institute.
"We listen to one another's stories. We worship together, and we minister to each other in the four streams," Eldredge says. (In Waking the Dead, he spells out these four streams of ministry—walking with God, receiving God's intimate counsel, deep restoration, and spiritual warfare.) Church members gather frequently, and not just for worship. They go camping together, celebrate one another's birthdays, and share holidays such as Thanksgiving.
Eldredge says he wants the church, now called Imago Dei, to multiply into several more small groups that will meet weekly and come together monthly for a larger gathering. Eldredge says he asked his old friend McConnell to lead Imago Dei because its members need to hear teaching from a variety of people.
Some argue that Eldredge's theology of church is thin, and thus ultimately inadequate. But Eldredge believes this different approach to church is more spiritually demanding than attending a larger church outside Ransomed Heart's orbit. "It would be so easy to go to a large church right now. You really don't have to love people there," he says. "If you really want to know somebody, go camping with them. Our camping trips have really brought out some great awfulness."
McConnell agrees with Eldredge that the intimacy of Imago Dei is its strength. "So much of what is asked of the church—life, vitality, engagement, bearing one another's burdens—can only happen, it seems to me, in small groups," McConnell says. "Living with these people is a whole lot harder than being in a large church, because they see my blemishes and I see theirs."