Starting House Churches With
Note: This was in
response to someone who is being used by the Lord to start house churches
in Central America asking some questions about leadership.
Most of us are having a difficult time finding believers or unbelievers
who are willing to commit to being involved in HC (House Church). Most of our groups are
relatively small, and are composed of believers who have been led of the
Lord to live the Christian life differently from what we've experienced
and been taught in the institutional church (IC), and are now embarking on a
new journey to figure out exactly how to do that. Ironically, for some of
us, it was the IC that challenged us to live this way, but just never gave
us the opportunity or taught us how to really do it. We realized we had to
get out of that context to do it.
To say that no one is "leader" does not necessarily mean no teaching takes
place. Nor does it necessarily mean that no one leads. Anytime you have a
group of people together, there will be someone who seems to wind up
leading in some sense. Most of us in our HCs avoid having someone in a
heirarchical position of leader -- in which they are seen as the one "in
charge," "in control," "the authority over others," etc. Yet there often
will be one or two people who have known the Lord longer, have been
involved in HC longer, and as a result are looked to for encouragement,
instruction, guidance [some or all of these]. They may do more of the
teaching, but they will look for ways to help others learn how to share
what God has taught them. They may be better at praying in public, but
will seek to encourage others in this. They may know more songs, but will
encourage others to share the songs they know, to follow the Spirit's
leading if they feel prompted to share a song, etc.
I guess one of the key guidelines would be that your leaders will not Lord
it over you as happens among the gentiles. I think this is a lot of what
is involved when we talk about there being "no leaders."
Your house church groups are unique compared to what most of us are
experiencing since you are actually dealing to a large degree with
unbelievers. In that situation, you are right that they need to hear the
Gospel taught, and that would need to be by a believer. That person would
be the "leader" and primary teacher of the group.
However, assuming some of those non-believers become believers, what then?
Does the one person continue to be the sole teacher? What do they teach?
Do they only preach the gospel, as in calling people to salvation and
repentance? Or, do they begin to teach those new believers how the message
of the cross that got them into the kingdom, applies to how they live in
the kingdom day by day? Do they begin to help those new believers learn
how to live the Christian life? Do they help them learn how to share the
truths they have embraced so that they fulfill Paul's exhortation to
Timothy to teach what they have learned to faithful men who will be able
to teach others also? i.e, do they stay in the role as sole leader, and
establish a heirarchical relationship with the new believers, or do they
reproduce themselves and "work themselves out of a job" (or send workers
out to start new works)?
Here in America, I know there are places where works like yours can
happen. I have an acquaintance in Dallas who basically does what you are
doing, in apartment complexes. He starts "house churches" or Bible studies
which draws a number of unbelievers as well as believers. For most of us
though, in suburban USA, it seems to be more difficult to get unbelievers
to respond, until you have spent some time just getting to know them,
building a relationship. Then they are more open to hearing what you have
to say about the Lord.
When I read about your 15 or so recently begun house churches with more
unbelievers than believers, my heart leaped at the thought!! I would love
to experience even one hc like that! But I am convinced beyond any doubt
that God has called me to this semi-rural community with its difficult to
reach demographics. Somehow, He's going to show me what He's doing here,
how He has chosen to reach the lost here, and how I am to be involved with
"It is fine to be relational if everyone is a believer and is growing
in the Lord, but how do you do this with people who don't even own a
Bible and aren't even Christians?"
"Relational" goes beyond leadership structure. Relational is primarily
lifestyle. That lifestyle _then_ affects leadership, not the other way
around. Relational is "love your neighbor as yourself." How do you love
yourself? Food, clothing, shelter, painting your house, cleaning your
house, mowing your lawn, washing your car, bicycles for your kids....
Then, those are the ways to love your neighbors, whether they are
believers or unbelievers. That's being relational, and it not only opens
the door for the gospel, it exemplifies Christian love and lifestyle for
both believers and unbelievers.
I had a friend/seminary instructor/mentor once who taught that "the most
important word in the English language [apart from proper nouns -- which
designate individuals] is relationships." It's more important than "love,"
because without relationships, love has no track on which to run. I don't
know what the word for relationships would be in Ecuador, but the
principle would still be true, I think.
Relational is also "love one another." By this all men will know you are
my disciples when you love one another. All men can't know it when we love
one another unless they see it. They can't see it if our only expression
of love is a hug and a smile and a friendly greeting when we meet together
inside a building. Loving one another looks a lot like loving our
neighbors, except our neighbors may or may not be believers; our "one
anothers" are. When the love of Christ for our one anothers motivates us
to action, there is an intensity and a passion to it that goes beyond just
being a good guy, a friendly person, a good ol' boy who'll help anybody.
There's a uniqueness to it that is impossible to describe, but which even
an unbeliever will recognize when they see it. They will be forced to
acknowledge that there is something different about us that could only
come from the God who filled us with His own love. Then they will be
forced to make a choice as to what they will do with Him, accept Him or
"Many of these people are very open and receptive to the ministry,
fellowship, encouragement, love, and teaching they are receiving from
the hc believing "leaders." Would you consider what they are doing to
not be church just because they are leading?"
I hope I answered that. It really was a valid question. What they are
doing is very much "church."
The concern I personally have with "leadership" is when someone is so set
on being the "leader" that they fail, or even refuse, to truly _equip_
others to BE who God has called them to be. We get so hung up on "and God
gave some [this role or that role]" that we totally forget, or choose to
ignore, the "equipping of the saints who we think will also make a good
pastor...." No, wait, that's not it. Let's see, the equipping of the
saints who seem to be especially attentive and tell us what wonderful
teachers we are? No. You know, I don't think he set any parameters on
that. It's the "equipping of the saints [apparently all of them] for the
work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ until we all
[yep, there it is! ALL!] attain...to a mature man, to the measure of the
stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ."
If "leaders" get so sold on being leaders -- shepherd/teachers, apostles,
prophets, evangelists, deacons, elders, pastors, bishops, whatever you
want to call them -- that they fail to get out of the path between the
rest of the believers and the Lord [so that all can be a chosen race, a
royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession so that
they may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called them out of
darkness into His marvelous light], then they are no longer the kind of
leaders the body of Christ desparately needs. A good leader should be a
tool of the Holy Spirit to help others learn how to hear from and obey the
Holy Spirit's leading in their own lives. As my children are getting
older, parenting is not so much telling them what to do or not do, it
isn't even as much lecturing them, or telling them what I believe is right
or wrong. They now need to make their own choices more and more. I'm
available for my adult children to give them insights and encouragement,
to pray for them, etc. [My oldest son recently emailed me and ask me for a
story I used to tell them to teach them to consider the feelings of others
and not complain. Then he emailed me today and said he had opportunity to
share it with his own children.]