It's been a little while, but I am continuing to review the seven life-patterns of a fruitful "Insider" (one who is effective at sowing Kingdom life into the people around him or her). This is from Petersen's book, "The Insider." We have already mentioned the first four: taking little initiatives, praying, serving, and conversing the faith.
The fifth life pattern of an insider is "partnering:" joining with others in the process of sharing our faith. We would call this step "church planting." Petersen's comments are powerful when applied to house churches.
First... a summary of his thoughts:
At this point, the insider has invited a few people to "come and see." Petersen gives another example, from his own life, of what this looks like. When he and his family moved to a new community he was having difficulty making new friend because of his travel schedule. After a time, however, they realized that their children were connecting with the children from a couple of families so they developed relationship with the parents. After a time, Petersen and his wife approached this couple this way: "We like to get together with friends to read the Bible. It helps us keep our lives pointed in the right direction. We don't have anything like that going on right now, and, as you know, my travels make it hard for us to do anything like that with much continuity. But you travel too, so we figured you would understand."
The couple responded by saying, "We don't know much about the Bible, but we'd be happy to help you with this if we can."
So... Petersen, his wife, and a couple of others who "partnered" with them began this study. By the time they completed the book of John together, faith was being birthed. Petersen then asked this couple if they had any friends they would like to invite so they began the book of John over again with several more couples. Today, 20 years later, there continues to be a significant flow of the gospel to many people from that initial study!
This brings us to the discussion of "parntership."
We often think of sharing our faith as a solitary effort when, in fact, we were meant to join with others and use a diversity of gifts in serving nonChristians. Just as different gifts bring different aspects to the Body when we gather, so too, when we reach out to love and serve the nonChristian, different gifts bring different contributions here as well.
So, when Petersen has a nonChristian interested in Bible study, he looks for other Christians to partner with him. Resources are pooled. The need for prayer, coordination, hospitality, communication, facilitation can be shared among several and each one can contribute according to their giftedness. This allows every person, not just the "gifted evangelist" to participate in the process of reaching the lost.
This kind of "partnering" also provides support and encouragement along the way. We were designed to work with others in these endeavors to keep us motivated and built up.
Now... here is where Petersen's thoughts really become interesting for the house church. From his experience, it's very difficult to get a nonChristian to join a small group that already has some history together!!!
This is because any group that meets with any regularity will quickly acquire its own culture. The members accumulate a set of shared stories. NonChristians especially sense this history and often feel uncomfortable with it. Their most common fear is that they will be embarrassed by their ignorance of the Bible. They are certain that everyone else in the group has already mastered it.
So what do we do? It is usually better to reconfigure the existing group into something new than it is to try to insert nonChristians into it... Insiders multiply, not by adding numbers to their groups but by dividing up to fit the needs of the people who are responding. New people need to feel they are participating in the formation of something new, that there are others like them who are also just getting started.
This is such a powerful insight for house churches. And a challenge to all of our "existing" churches. Could it be that we will have to be very open to the rapid re-formation of churches? This would mean being open to "starting something new" whenever nonChristians are interested, birthing a new sprout/church to accomodate the new growth so that the nonChristians feel comfortable to join in.