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Starting House Churches With New Converts

Rick Carr

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 that.

You wrote:

    "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 reject Him.

You asked:

    "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.]