Having just returned from another two month trip through Africa, I paused to reflect on what I learn from traveling in another continent among people from various cultural and socio-economic backgrounds:
1. Starting small does work. Jesus’ example of beginning with only twelve disciples reflects his many examples of how the Kingdom grows from a single seed or small lump of yeast. I have seen a single ‘good seed’ (a key person of peace), with a heart for God, begin to multiply his influence among one and then another and then another until, over time, many around him had also become good, fertile, reproducing seeds. I have seen hundreds and then thousands of people’s lives touched that started with such a single seed, seemingly small and insignificant, but patiently planting the Kingdom life in others. As an aside, such an impact generally involves keeping processes, such as church gatherings, as simple and unencumbered as possible.
2. The DNA of obedience to Jesus does lead to multiplication. I don’t want to divorce disobedience from a love relationship with Jesus as I believe these go hand in hand. But when that love for Jesus translates into the obedient longing to go and invite others into the Gospel life, this becomes the core for seeing disciples reproducing disciples, simple churches reproducing churches, and leaders reproducing leaders.
3. Heart, passion, and kingdom vision trump big money and big programs every time. Africa is filled with big money that has been thrown at big programs and projects. I am not demeaning any of these efforts. I’m simply commenting that the Gospel was never an enterprise that required money to spread, influence, and change lives. And I am continually impressed by how much power is in the Gospel to do just that when faithful people, armed with nothing but the Word of God and the Spirit of God, move and work by faith. God is more able than we sometimes give Him credit for.
4. Living with a clear view of eternity is a dynamic and thrilling way to live. Many of my friends in Africa simply live closer to eternity than many of my friends at home (myself included). Much of this is no mystery since they are people who are less encumbered by the things of this world and very aware that their lives, here on earth, will never be filled up with material goods. They simply have less. But the result is that their passions and visions are often highly focused on Kingdom concerns and it shows in the way they organize their lives around those things that make an eternal impact. To miss a meal, for example, because of a God-assignment is often no big deal. The latter easily outweighs the former. Or to take risks for the Gospel that we might consider unwise or unsafe is often not even questioned. The result is a life of faith-living that often goes beyond my own comfort level, but which clearly results in a deeply satisfying, God-engaged kind of life.
5. Blessed are the poor in spirit for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. Wherever such people are found, you can be assured there will be a harvest. Certainly, in Africa, there is a great abundance of those who are poor and poor in spirit. Such people represent a very fruitful harvest field. But I believe the same field exists in every part of the world, including our own neighborhoods, if we are willing to seek out such people. They are in our backyard and they want/need the light of the Gospel.
(Note: reprinted from 2007)
One of the most difficult things to communicate regarding simple/house church is that we really, really do not want to just re-invent a new (or ancient) form of church. Instead, we are seeking to re-capture the essential “church life” that Jesus taught—a way of life. We are, at the core, radical Jesus-followers lived out in the context of everyday life, not church-goers. The form (when and how we gather) should, simply and fluidly, support the dynamic life that Jesus’ lit-up followers are living and not replace it.
Andy Zoppelt wrote the following in an email:
"We have an obsession for form. We find some new truth and we quickly create a form. In the past 41 years I have experienced every form possible, all of which is designed to replace the life and power of God. Today it is the house church form. Everyone is seeking some aspect of the New Testament to restore the church…
"If there is a method in the NT church, it would be one based on life: humility, brokenness, love and faith."
Frank Viola stated the same thing:
"When we raise up a church, we rarely if ever talk about form. We do not talk about the wineskin. We give the people the wine. We preach Christ. We give them Christ. We show them how to know Christ. Out of that emerges naturally the ekklesia."
We have been programmed in our mechanical culture to do just the opposite. “Build the structure and the people will come.” Planning, building, and organizing is so engrained into our way of life, that we are certain that if we put the externals in place then life will flow.
The result is that when people want to learn about simple/house church, what they come wanting to learn is how to structure the thing. They want to start with form. They want to know how to get this thing “right”—referring to the external “how tos.”
I am not saying that we cannot learn a thing or two, from one another, about how to gather: letting the Spirit lead and releasing the spiritual gifts of the entire community. But I am suggesting that we cannot start there. I am suggesting that when these “how tos” become the focus, we are back to elevating form and we will snuff out the life. Structures are meant to support life. When they become the focus then we will soon find ourselves following an external form of religious practices instead of following Jesus. Before long, the structure itself replaces the living relationship and power of the Christian life.
Let me ask it this way. How much time did Jesus spend teaching on what to do when you gather for worship or prayer? How to do a Bible study effectively? What to do when the church gathers together? Conversely, how much did Jesus spend on the “way of life”:
Love God with your whole heart
Love your neighbor as yourself
Let your light shine
Do what you see the Father doing
Give (live generously)
Go into all the world
Following Jesus is life. Following Jesus is the way of life. Want to know how to do simple/house church? Do that: follow Jesus. Make it a lifestyle. Then find some friends who want to do the same thing. Then find some friends who do not know Jesus and help them to do the same thing. Then the rest will fall into place:
- You will learn how to share life with one another—building authentic community
- You will discover how to fully appreciate every person’s spiritual gift that you gather with
- You will continue to live missionally individually and as a group
- The dynamic life of a Jesus follower will multiply from one disciple (follower) to the next.
Voila! Simple church is birthed.
I just wanted to revisit a post from 2007 which I titled 'The Compulsive Minister' based on a chapter from a Henri Nouwen book. I find this post, still, very relevant as it challenges me to look deeply at the motivations behind my 'service for God.'
Today, I might name this article, "The Secularization of Ministry."
Read the post here!
I believe in gatherings that are small, because we need the support, encouragement, and deeper growth that comes from this type of community.
I believe in gatherings where everyone is known so that no one gets lost.
I believe in gatherings where we can learn from each other’s personal lives and stories (not just head knowledge) so that growth and discipleship takes place in the context of genuine, healthy relationship.
I believe in gatherings that are participatory because this involves and engages the entire body of Christ.
I believe in gatherings that call the body of Christ to take responsibility for its own spiritual life and stop relying on mediators, events, or someone else to “bring us the goods” because we need to grow up.
I believe in gatherings that are simple so that we are free to spend time with nonChristians and have the time to invite them into our lives.
I believe in gatherings that are easily multiplied, so that we can see people released to reach people anywhere, disciple people everywhere, and start “churches” at any time in any place.
I believe in gatherings that are inexpensive so that money is freed up for apostolic workers and the needs of the poor.
Is there one particular “model” that all of this fits into? Not necessarily. I think God will constantly challenge, stretch, and re-shape our man-made attempts to “do” church gatherings. And I think that is good. The point is to keep focusing on maximizing our life with Him, our partnership with His purposes, and our spiritual growth.
We like to say it this way.
1. A service or event I attend
2. A denomination or organization I become a member of
3. A program I participate in
Simple church, real church, is:
1. A way of life (extravagant lovers of God engaging the world 24/7 with love, power, and word)
2. A simple community (a spiritual family that gathers with full participation)
3. Natural, organic multiplication of Jesus followers who, in turn, engage the world
Let's keep it simple, but seek His power and presence in all things! May His Kingdom come!