The process of thinking about, practicing, re-thinking, re-imagining, and re-experimenting is exactly where the church needs to be today as it struggles to shed some irrelevant outer garments and seeks to uncover the shape it is morphing into.
I have seen the benefits of moving away from more traditional structures and into church forms that are simpler:
- Small, so that community and family can be experienced
- Participatory, so that every person’s gift is valued and developed
- Non-positional in leadership status, so that submission is mutual and leadership is situational and gift-based
- Non-programmatic, so that mission, discipleship, and leadership training is relationally-oriented
- Simple, so that it supports a 24/7, Jesus-following way of life
Yet, I have also noted the many downsides of working with simple/house churches:
- Community/family life in small groups is challenging.
- Despite good intentions, the consumer attitude of “what’s in it for me” can still be the prevailing attitude.
- We can talk a lot about a 24/7, Jesus-following lifestyle, but the reality is often that the only real change is that we gather in a small, participatory gathering rather than a large, stage-oriented one.
- Participatory gatherings, that seek to have the Holy Spirit lead, often fall short of such an ideal.
- Simple/house churches can become a place for Christians who are done with traditional church, for whatever reason, but who are not really ready to move forward into something truly, substantively different in terms of lifestyle.
Does this mean that I am ready to abandon simple/house churches? Not at all.
But re-think? Always. I believe that God is on the move at this time like no other season I have been through in a long time, and the challenge is to keep moving with Him.
“Your old road is
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.”
(Bob Dylan—whew… where did he come from?)
Keeping First Things First: How Hard It Is
I have spoken and written about the following statement over and over in many different ways:
“Simple church is not about ‘doing church differently,’ rather it’s about a way of life, the Jesus way of life, and supporting that way of life through simple, organic gatherings.”
In other words, the “way of life” really is the primary focus while the structure, format, or type of gathering is completely secondary. Our communities/gatherings must consist of people who are living or learning to live dynamic, purposeful, intimate, prophetic, missional Christian lifestyles rather than just being house-sized containers for passive Christians to gather in.
Tom Sine, in The New Conspirators, comments: “We are concerned that fewer than 10 percent of the believers we work with in North America have any time outside of home and church to work in ministry with others.”
I am concerned that meeting simply and in houses has not actually changed this. We are spending less time in church meetings and programs, but has this really translated into more ministry outside the walls? Has our way of life changed?
I am concerned that we fall into the “downsides of working with simple/house churches” (mentioned above) precisely because we sink into the habit, once again, of just “doing church” rather than living out the type of ministry and lifestyle that Jesus modeled.
My confession is that I fall into this far more often than I choose to admit. My intentions for living as a radical, whole-life disciple dissipate into a few weekly Christian activities. I begin just “doing church.” I begin to look at my Christian friends and the church communities I gather with as though they are the problem when, in fact…
- I am the one who is no longer purposefully engaging with God in His intentions to bring His Kingdom to earth all around me and through me.
- I am the one who is trying to replace a lifestyle of listening and following Jesus’ voice and footsteps with a pre-formatted, Christian routine and a simple/small gathering.
- I am the one who is hesitant to fully explore with God what it means to lay down my life in order to allow His compassionate, missional heart to beat in me and change the way I live.
Re-Imagining Church With a Whole-Life, Missional Ethos
So, I am once again seeking to re-imagine what “church” can be. Or rather, what it means to be the church in a way that actually reflects who Jesus is. It is certainly about pursuing a constant intimacy with Jesus developed through practices, both personal and corporate, which nurture and develop that relationship with Him. It is certainly about doing life with others in community which, for me, means small, participatory, shared-life communities.
However, I also see the need for a clear missional ethos that actually challenges my comfortable, North American lifestyle and propels me more often into the world of people’s hurt, pain, need, and lost-ness that Jesus engaged daily.
The Praxis Church offers the following as a partial definition of their church family: “As a Missional Church we value the time you spend in the world and so instead of filling your life with a variety of church events we would rather send you into the culture equipped with the Gospel.”
This type of statement is a good start. However, I also sense the need to bring this type of ethos into the discipleship process so that I am being discipled into a radical, missional, Jesus-following life and discipling others in the same vein. I believe a healthy, fathering/mentoring discipleship chain is essential to Christians living full-of-life, dynamic, intentional, intimate, purposeful, kingdom lives that propel us out of our cultural sloth.
I am re-imagining simple church that places a whole-life, missional, counter-cultural, Jesus-following ethos at the very center of its gathering and intentional discipleship processes.
There is, obviously, much more to explore together so consider this an invitation to think, re-think, and re-imagine with me.